Agenda item

Cheltenham's new Culture Strategy

Objective : To understand the final version of the strategy, how it will be implemented and how success will be measured.


Richard Gibson (Head of Communities, Wellbeing and Partnerships), Ali Mawle (Chair of the Culture Board), Andrew Lansley (Culture Board Co-ordinator)




The Head of Communities, Wellbeing and Partnerships said his report sets out the progress undertaken over the last couple of years to develop a culture strategy for Cheltenham, in partnership with the Culture Board.  He acknowledged that more work is needed on the action plan, but said that for the first time there was a real sense of direction of travel.


Ali Mawle (Chair of the Culture Board)  said this is the first time the town has come together to think about how a wide range of cultural organisations and the wider infrastructure can work together collaboratively on achieving its collective aims for Cheltenham.  The growing trust and networking between partners is massive.  The Culture Board can act as a first point of call for artists, liaise with developers (including the MX and Golden Valley teams) to ensure opportunities are fairly shared, develop projects together, and improve communication and consultation by working with Marketing Cheltenham, to not only reach visitors but also Cheltenham residents.  She said there is still a way to go, and funding is challenging as always, but with an action plan, together with good will, trust and hope, these are brave steps for the good of the town, and she feels privileged to be part of it.


The following responses were provided to Members’ questions:


-       whilst it’s true that Cheltenham already enjoys a cultural and artistic programme that is the envy of many towns, funding for the arts is low and the strategy aims to increase this, to reach large sections of the town which currently don’t engage, and to tap into grass roots talent.  It is about pushing beyond for the greater good, increasing participation and bringing more excellence to the town;

-       the restrictions placed on live music venues situated in conservation areas, listed buildings, or noise-sensitive premises is an important and challenging question, highlighting the need to balance community, a broad range of music, creative opportunities and the environment.  Sharing specialisms is key, as demonstrated by the recent re-opening of The Bottle of Sauce as a music venue, with advice from the Music Venue Trust, a national organisation which understands the challenges in that environment.  The Culture Board can bring cohesion to this sort of project.  A Member commented that it would be helpful if the Culture Board could speak to Licensing Committee about this at some point;

-       without local press or engagement from supermarkets or schools, some areas currently receive very little or no information about events, but the Culture Board is working on communication to ensure events are publicised all over the town;

-       the Culture Board is working to ensure that groups representing our ethnically and culturally diverse communities in Cheltenham are represented and engaged in its work;

-       engaging with young people is also a high priority, and the Culture Board is waiting for the Cheltenham Trust to establish its young creatives’ board  to ensure their work can be dovetailed in an effective way.  Improving youth engagement across Cheltenham is also being discussed by Cabinet and Council;

-       it will be difficult to say when the Culture Board will feel that the strategy is working and its job is done.  In one sense, it will never be done until every person in Cheltenham is thriving, but the extraordinary on-going attendance at Culture Board meetings is evidence of the engagement and enthusiasm of all participants.  Increased funding will be a real achievement,  and KPIs through the action plan will also be a measure of success;

-       the remit is broad and unashamedly ambitious, with the three-year strategy set out in bite-size, achievable chunks. Having a huge cultural offer is a blessing and a curse - the economy must have a central voice, but sustainability is also a priority. Resources are limited, but the Culture Board Co-ordinator can bid for Arts Council funding, and potentially increase his hours which could make a real difference.  A lot of the input at the moment is based on volunteers and good will, but this forum will bring together large and small organisations.


The Chair summed up, saying that culture is a huge part of Cheltenham’s DNA, and the establishment of the Culture Strategy and Culture Board can only enhance its reputation.  He appreciates that it is in a formative state at present, but its scope is ambitious.  At a time when it would be easier to cut back than to expand, the Culture Board has made a brave decision to embrace as many aspects as it can.  He wished them well, and invited them back to a meeting in one year to report on how they have progressed and what benefits they have brought to Cheltenham. 


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