Culture boom in Wigan that has seen £14.3m investment leaves one ward feeling "neglected"

One ward in Wigan is feeling “neglected” from the culture boom in Wigan that has seen £14.3m worth of external funding hit the borough since 2019.

The Fire Within festival, launched in May of 2019 by using empty spaces in the Galleries in the town centre – which is currently undergoing a huge multi-million pound redevelopment – to showcase dazzling art displays.

The most recent rendition of The Fire Within came in the form of the light trail along the canal towpath which dazzled thousands of residents this month. The culture team’s ambition is to “attract external investment, grow the cultural sector and increase resident engagement with arts and culture” has been deemed a “great achievement” by many at the latest meeting of the Confident Council Scrutiny Committee.

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An artist's impression of the revamped Wigan Pier buildings

But Coun Sheila Ramsdale, one of two councillors representing the Douglas ward who said that their constituents “feel left out”, grilled the culture officers for information on the progress of the Wigan Pier redevelopment.

“I am still sitting here wondering what is happening with it,” she said. “Is there something councillors are not being told?

“One of the engines in Trencherfield Mill is one of Wigan’s greatest historical features. Nothing has been done about that for years and I feel upset when people say nothing is happening and nothing is happening in Douglas.

“There is not a lot of excitement for people in Wigan, but I see nothing here for elderly people. What about the people who are stuck in wards?

The start of Wigan's recent Night Light trail

“There are some in Douglas that feel neglected.”

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Answering this, officer Tony Clarke explained that progress was being made with Wigan Pier after multiple delays but said there is hope that work will resume after Christmas. The Diggers’ Festival, which was cancelled this year due to the Queen’s funeral, was a hot topic for both Coun Ramsdale and her ward colleague Coun Mary Callaghan – both of whom believe this was a big deal for people in Douglas and want more things like this for the area.

This was one of the only drawbacks from councillors of the culture team’s mission which has seen Wigan “put on the cultural map”, officer Peter Hughes told the committee in Wigan Town Hall. Since The Fire Within started, investments have created the Heritage Action Zones in Wigan and Tyldesley, Leigh Spinners Mill developed into a cultural hub, and Haigh Woodland Park secured £3.8 million, the chamber heard.

Wigan's Night Light festival was sold out

“The level of engagement was really low to begin with and now we’re having national acclaim,” Mr Hughes said. “We’ve had big names like Ian McKellan visiting the galleries as well.

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“We are working to change that perception of culture in the borough.”

Giving a scale of the success the area had, a report into the culture stated that the Wigan & Leigh Arts Festival attracted 6,000 attendees across 60 arts and cultural events and activities in 2021, and Light Night brought 30,000 visitors to see internationally acclaimed artist Luke Jerram’s Floating Earth at Pennington Flash. It went on to say a further 4,500 visitors attended the light trail at Wigan Pier.

This summer, the Women’s EURO art and heritage programmes saw 3,438 local participants engage with some of the best international artists, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with an audience of just under 23,000 across events.