How Section 106 is funding community arts in Hackney

A young man and woman work together with clay over a potter's wheel,
Hoxton Gardenware by Create London and Troy Town Art Pottery. Pic: Emil Charlaff

Developer contributions usually pay for infrastructure or possibly public art. Find out how LB Hackney uses Section 106 to fund community arts projects that support people affected by development.

The Shoreditch and Hoxton art fund run by LB Hackney has used Section 106 public art contributions to create a participatory arts scheme that has enhanced local representation and strengthened community ties in the area.

Developer contributions have typically been used to commission high-profile artworks by established artists. Choosing to support community art is a radical change. This new approach is informed by the understanding that the social impact of the arts is strongest when close to local communities.

The fund was set up by Andrew Scott in 2019 and project managed by Caroline Westhart when she took over as Area Regeneration Manager at LB Hackney. Drawing on underspend from two Section 106 developments, the fund has supported 13 arts organisations to run a programme of events that involved over 5,000 participants across three years.

From poetry to live-streamed theatre

From ‘poem vending machines’ stationed around schools, to plays live screened in living rooms during lockdown, the creative outputs have been varied. Andrew describes them as “joyous”.

People from diverse backgrounds and experiences have benefitted from these events, including young refugees, older people, women from migrant communities and people recovering from strokes.

Find out more about our research programme, Unlocking Social Value, here.

The LB Hackney team recognised that conventional public art contributions often fail to create artworks that reflect the local cultures in which they are placed.

This disconnect could be particularly divisive in Hoxton, where there are pockets of severe deprivation and residents don’t often feel the benefits of rapid development in neighbouring Shoreditch.

Building social capital and collective belonging

Community art was the team’s solution for making art work for the public by enabling local people from diverse backgrounds to build social capital and collective belonging.

Thinking about art as a process and not just an output has allowed the fund to use art as a vehicle to unlock numerous benefits for Hoxton residents.

From the £250,000 funding pot, priority was given to arts organisations that could explain how their projects would support key aspects of Hackney’s arts and cultural strategy. These include careers and economic benefit, health and wellbeing, community and education.

“With participatory arts, lots of people got lots of different direct benefits.”

As Andrew explained: “The main challenge was how to take the large sums being contributed and channel them so that local people would feel that they’re directly benefitting.”

“For everything going previously, local people were only getting indirect benefits, say from walking past a sculpture that looks beautiful. With participatory arts, lots of people got lots of different direct benefits. We’re creating public arts with and for the communities, and we can add in all these other benefits.”

A poster on a brick wall and empoering creative young people, while a woman pushes a pram past
Your Future Worlds by Eastside Educational Trust. Pic: Tom Harrison

LB Hackney evaluated the project in partnership with Social Life. The benefits to the local economy are clear: 86% of direct beneficiaries report gaining a new skill and 37% said that taking part made them feel differently about their career paths.

The team also created a good practice toolkit to encourage other local authorities to take the same approach, explaining how to set up and run a grant scheme for community-based arts.

Strengthening pre-existing social value

In many ways, the Shoreditch and Hoxton art fund exemplifies a social value intervention that carefully identifies pre-existing social value and then works to empower what’s already there. As Caroline explained, the team was able to build momentum off the strong arts and voluntary sectors:

“One of the reasons we set up the fund in this way was because many arts and cultural organisations in the area already had strong local partnerships. In other areas, there might be lots of cultural organisations, but not the same foundations built on resident engagement and voluntary work.”

“Building these partnerships and connecting organisations takes time but is very valuable, so it could mean that other local authorities would need more officer time to resource this.”

Developers back Section 106 for community arts

Developer negotiations were also galvanised by the positive policy context created by LB Hackney, which emphasises the importance of the arts in its local plan and arts and cultural strategy.

So what does it take to spot an opportunity like this and make it a reality? Besides the initial hurdle of getting people on board, both Caroline and Andrew described flexibility as a key ingredient for success.

They carefully revised their policy recommendations over time, as the community arts projects developed and new quirks or intricacies became apparent. Part of their success was thanks to the autonomy the team was afforded at LB Hackney, which enabled this iterative process.

Rethinking developer contributions

The Shoreditch and Hoxton art fund offers a blueprint for rethinking developer contributions and moving beyond single headline offers to teasing out numerous benefits for local people.

If fully realised, its applications could transform how neighbourhoods across London are experienced and stewarded.

The team at Hackney invites other officers to build on their success and play with other applications. This might be funding communal workspaces and transport infrastructure contributions – or whatever else comes to mind.

Further reading