Wiganers are voting with their feet and turning out in force to support the transformation of a shopping centre into a cultural hub.
Town hall figures show The Galleries Shopping Centre having six exhibition rooms and performance spaces installed in its upper level to support the borough’s new cultural manifesto means the venue is bucking a national trend for declining numbers heading to the shops.
In addition the new artistic offering in the town centre has drawn bosses from some of the biggest arts venues in the country to Wigan.
A total of 23,672 people coming through the doors on the day The Fire Within was launched was a 12.6 per cent increase in footfall from the same day 12 months before.
During the entire first week of the galleries and stage being opened there were 103,841 visitors to The Galleries, a 5.3 per cent rise on the same week the previous year.
The week after saw a 6.4 per cent increase on 12 months beforehand, while the Saturday of that period saw a 34 per cent year-on-year spike.
At the same time the Wigan figure was a 13 per cent increase on the national benchmark for shopping centres across the UK.
Wigan-based artists Al and Al, the artistic directors of the ambitious project, said: “The Fire Within is transforming the heart of our town centre.
“We have been overwhelmed by the response to all the great work local artists have created and everyone is really excited about the future.
“People are visiting Wigan from across the nation to see the show and discover Wigan’s magnificent heritage. Everyone across the cultural world is talking about Wigan.”
Among the high-profile visitors was star of stage and screen Ian McKellen, who took a tour of the premises as he returned to the town he spent some of his childhood in to do two sold-out shows at Wigan Little Theatre during his 80th birthday celebrations.
He saw the new portrait of himself located in The Fire Within and described the work to Al and Al as “beautiful”.
A number of national curators from top arts institutions have also been coming to Wigan for guided tours around the exhibitions.
Representatives of Manchester venues The Whitworth Gallery and Home arts centre, the Manchester International Festival and Imperial War Museum have all made the trip to the borough along with senior executives from Arts Council England and Historic England.
Wigan Council leader Coun David Molyneux said: “We are absolutely thrilled with the reaction to The Fire Within. It’s fantastic to see a surge in footfall to The Galleries thanks to the new atmosphere we are collectively trying to create in the town centre with more events and a different offer.
“Culture is a driver in reducing social isolation and in improving health and wellbeing. Increasing cultural activity, seeking investment and putting resource into cultural activity is a key priority for us.
“This work will help to position Wigan as a culturally thriving district in the North West and will provide fantastic economic benefits as we know that culture plays a big part in regenerating areas.”