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Lord Mendoza opens 'Cultural Cities: the recovery'

Future Cities Forum hybrid event at the Weston Library on Broad Street, Oxford with Lord Mendoza of the DCMS giving his address on the cultural recovery

We were delighted that Commissioner for Cultural Recovery at the DCMS, Lord Mendoza, opened our Future Cities Forum last week, with a speech highlighting the funding work carried out by the government for the cultural recovery of our towns and cities post pandemic.

Hosted by the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, it was a hybrid event where speakers presented physically in the Weston Library, in Broad Street, but also digitally via Zoom from around the country. The Chief Librarian of the Bodleian Libraries, Richard Ovenden spoke of the importance of the restoration and remodelling of the 1930s New Bodleian Library into the Weston Library for the benefit of the city of Oxford, where local people and businesses can now meet.

The Chief Executive of Warrington Borough Council and former Chair of the Libraries Taskforce, Professor Steve Broomhead added to the discussion talking about the important recommendations for the life and expansion of libraries across the UK. Director of the Ashmolean Museum, Xa Sturgis, highlighted the vital expansion of digital reach for cultural organisations as did the directors, Vanessa Lefrancois and Louise Chantal of the Oxford Playhouse. Lord Mendoza made a special mention of Claire McColgan, Director, Culture Liverpool, who also joined towards the end of our debate and who, he said, has done so much for the City of Liverpool in expanding the arts and festivals sector. He said that Claire remarked that half of Liverpool's revenue comes from arts and culture.

Other speakers included Jamie Andrews, Head of Cultural & Learning Programmes at The British Library, who spoke of the work already being carried out to encourage local people in Leeds to welcome and use the planned regional 'spoke' of The British Library at Temple Works on the Leeds South Bank, Cllr Jonathan Pryor, Cabinet Lead for Culture & Economy at Leeds City Council, Oxford City Council's Cabinet Lead for Culture, Leisure & Tourism, Cllr Mary Clarkson, Brendan Hattam, Westgate Oxford Centre Director at Land Securities, Historic England's Ellen Harrison who is Head of Public Programming/High Streets HAZ programme, Head of Grimshaw's London studio, Kirsten Lees, MICA Architects' Director Stuart Cade and Stephen Smith, Partner at Wright & Wright Architects.

In his speech, Lord Mendoza, spoke of the difficult time that ensued from lockdown in March 2020 where 90% of income in the cultural sector was lost - a sector that in 2019 contributed to £34.6 billion to UK GVA and exported £10.3 billion of services to the rest of the world. He stated that the £2 billion Culture Recovery Fund had been a huge success in supporting thousands of organisations, large and small in every part of the country, village, town and city. Very few organisations failed he said.

He commented on the wider, more systemic, societal and philosophical change that the pandemic has brought, accelerating the existing trend of our pivot online with the livestreaming of ballet to interactive plays via Zoom, the behind-the-scenes tours of galleries to concerts, with the result that two-thirds of Britons think it is possible to have a meaningful cultural experience online. Libraries he noted have also expanded in an increasingly digital shift with some virtual events drawing up to 10,000 views and registrations of e-books, e-magazines and e-newspapers growing.

Lord Mendoza also made important points about the levelling-up that has taken place during the pandemic because of the focus on place and community. He included mention of the Levelling up fund - £4.8 billion to support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets, and stated that he was:

' pleased that Future Cities Forum has given the 'High Streets' category of its summer awards to The Burges, Coventry, our High Street Heritage Action Zone in collaboration with Historic Coventry Trust and Coventry City Council - delivered though Historic England. If we are to improve living standards, create dynamic and prosperous places to live, build back better after Covid and provide people with a sense of place, identity, purpose and joy then the positive effects of culture must be harnessed - all across the country.'

He stated that the scheme is an early demonstrator of the overall programme and focused on the restoration and upgrading of one of the few remaining medieval/Victorian streetscapes in Coventry.

Lord Mendoza went on to quote the Nobel Prize winning economist, Robert Merton Solow: 'Over the long term, places with strong, distinctive identities are more likely to prosper than places without them. Every place must identify its strongest, most distinctive features and develop them or run the risk of being all things to all persons and nothing special to any.'

Film production, a booming area for the UK, was also included in Lord Mendoza's discussion of financial support packages from the government.

'The Film and Television Restart Fund is a £500 million fund created to allow productions to go ahead during Covid-19 and this has generated £2 billion of film production in the last year - the industry is booming and now can't find the skills to support the growth. Culture as a sector has also benefitted from the cross-national interventions like the furlough scheme, the self-employed income support scheme, business rates rebates, as well as VAT reduction.

'DCMS has the Culture Investment Fund, a manifesto commitment, amounting to £250 million which includes the Museums Development Fund to help finance capital projects which can be less glamorous, and also the Culture Development Fund providing funding for Local Authorities to make cultural investment in their places outside London. The Heritage Action Zone projects run by Historic England have worked very well too.'

Culture he said can make places vibrant, attractive, as places to live, as drivers of inward investment, jobs and skills. He illustrated this by saying that The Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre recently reported that every creative job adds at least a further two non-tradable jobs to the local economy, for instance at Salford where investment in culture and media has seen great results. Salford's creative, digital and technology sector employs 84,575 people across 8,000 companies that contribute to the region's economy which is expected to add £62.8 billion to the UK economy by 2030.

Future Cities Forum is extremely grateful for Lord Mendoza making the opening speech to our 'Cultural Cities' event and contributing such highly valuable content on the topic.

Further write-ups of other contributors follow as well as our full-length report on the cultural recovery.


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