Culture and community-led recovery

This is a guest blog by Laura Davy, Head of High Streets at LB Lambeth and FoL Alumni Rep, writing about the importance of supporting local culture and community-led recovery.

Last week I visited an exhibition at the Southbank Centre, and it has never felt so exhilarating to experience art in person after missing out on this for over a year!

It’s so encouraging that cultural institutions in Central London are beginning to reopen their doors and welcome back culture lovers. However, it’s fair to say that it’s a gradual return rather than a big bang. Many locations are reliant on easing of social distancing restrictions and increased visitor footfall in order to kick start their recovery.

Supporting the cultural-sector recovery

There has been significant focus in recent months on supporting the cultural sector’s recovery at London, UK and international scales.

As part of the GLA’s mission-based approach to London’s recovery, the challenge encapsulated by the High Streets for All mission is:

“Creating thriving, inclusive and resilient high streets and town centres, within easy reach of all Londoners. Promoting local employment and near home working, protecting existing community and cultural spaces and introducing new types of businesses and civic organisations.”

culture and community-led recovery
Borough Market, LB Southwark

Within this mission there is a particular focus on the cultural, creative and night-time economies, given their social and economic importance – noting that the cultural and creative industries in London contribute £58 billion to the UK economy[1].

In terms of national support for the sector, a £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund has been established in the UK, overseen by the Cultural Recovery Board, with £261 million paid to arts and culture organisations across the country, 30% of which for those based in London[2].

And from the international perspective, London is also one of the global cities forming part of the Creative Cities Challenge, along with Berlin, New York and Paris, which was recently announced by the Global Innovation Collaboration[3].

Celebrating local culture

As well as highlighting the continued struggle that the cultural sector currently faces, my gallery visit also made me think about how we perceive and experience culture across the capital.

Whilst many people will jump to thinking of big cultural institutions like galleries, theatres and events spaces, we forget that culture is all around us – local street markets, community centres, local arts and theatre organisations, and the range of local community events we all hope to be enjoying again soon.

The creative industries sector is also a significant economic driver for London. It captures a diverse range of creative, arts, digital and other business activity that has shown substantial recent growth within London’s economy, and nearly half of the UK’s total GVA (based on 2021 data)[4].

This local manifestation of culture is going to be crucial as part of our ongoing economic recovery journey. It links strongly with the opportunity for community-led recovery…

Community-led recovery

culture and community-led recovery
Westway Street, City of Westminster

Local communities are closest to the cultural identity of their area and undeniably best placed to champion its cultural assets, organisations and opportunities. This is reflected through another of the GLA’s nine recovery missions, Building Strong Communities[5].

As well as the importance this has for supporting cultural-sector recovery through an existing and enhanced cultural offer in town centres across London, this could also have a huge role to play in tackling high street recovery challenges.

Given our continuing economic uncertainty, planning system changes, unemployment rises, worsening inequalities and the host of other economic challenges we now face, we should be asking ourselves how turning to local communities could provide the answers we need. Their involvement could help with re-activating vacant units and spaces on the high street, increasing their diversity, reuniting people and attracting them back to high streets and town centres, delivering new skills and employment opportunities, and the list goes on.

Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) are a model that London could adopt to achieve this kind of community-led investment and economic development, taking a lead from the Business Improvement District (BID) models. Some London BIDs are already engaging with cultural stakeholders in a way that achieves cultural outcomes beyond expectations.

Yet whatever the model for realising community empowerment and leadership to deliver positive change across London, it’s clear to me that striving for a community-led approach to our economic recovery is crucial. It should go hand in hand with our focus on cultural activation and a culture-led recovery.

Leading the way for cities

This blog is part of the alumni-led Leading the way for cities series of events, podcasts and blog posts. Find out more here.