Forget What You Think You Know... about culture

Following a turbulent two years for the cultural sector, Esther Barrott explores the benefits that local cultural services provide for us all, and the challenges that culture and the arts still face today.

Forget What You Think You Know

Episode 10: culture

When you think about the culture sector, you might think of a trip to the Library, a theatre show or an art exhibition. With so many other issues facing our communities, it's tempting to see these services as a luxury, entertainment or a pastime additional to the essential services we need to survive. But quality of life is about more than just surviving. As the pandemic showed, culture and the arts offer fundamental benefits to our communities beyond the enjoyment of participation - from tackling loneliness and supporting mental wellbeing, to bridging the education gap, creating new future-proof jobs and growing local economies. 

Councils are the biggest funders of public culture, spending over £1 billion a year on local cultural services and organisations, but a challenging decade of funding pressures, a pandemic and cost of living crisis has led to real questions about the future of the sector.

In this episode, Esther Barrott explores the role of culture in supporting people and places, and what is needed to ensure the sector can survive the multiple challenges thrown its way. Esther speaks with Baroness Lola Young, a Crossbench Peer and Chair of the LGA's Commission on Culture and Local Government, Bobby Seagull, Presenter, Journalist, Maths Teacher, and Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director of UK City of Culture in Coventry 2021.

It's time to Forget What You Think You Know about culture. If you like this episode, please subscribe to our channel and listen to other episodes in the series. 

Listen via

View the podcast transcript

Esther: Hello and welcome to the Forget What You Think You Know podcast. I’m Esther Barrott, a Policy Adviser at the Local Government Association. 

In this episode I’m exploring culture and how it impacts us all on a daily basis. Like most of us I spend much of my free time embracing culture in some way, whether that’s visiting the theatre to watch a show, a concert hall to listen to music, visiting the library to take out a book, or a museum to learn more. 

Councils are the biggest funders of public culture spending £1 billion a year on local cultural organisations. It’s no secret that the pandemic has hit culture and the arts hard, and despite welcomed investments such as the Culture Recovery Fund, further long-term funding is crucial so that its benefits can continue to be felt by all. 

In this podcast I want to look at the importance of keeping cultural services running, explore the wider benefits that these services offer, and understand what more we can all do to protect the sector and ensure culture has a secure future. Join me as I speak with Baroness Lola Young, Bobby Seagull, and Chenine Bhathena to find out more. 

It’s time to forget what you think you know about culture. 

In my first stop on the podcast, I spoke to Baroness Young, a Crossbench Peer and Chair of the Local Government Association’s Commission on Culture to learn more about the relationship between councils and cultural services. 

Esther: Lola, I'd like to begin by learning a bit more about yourself. Where did your passion for acting first start?  

Lola: Um, actually what it was was, um, I, I felt quite unconfident. Especially in social situations. So I took up amateur dramatics with a friend in order to sort of overcome that initial shyness. 

I thought it would be helpful in that. And then, um, I, uh, discovered I was actually quite good at it and was encouraged to go on and do other things. So I did. Yeah.  

Esther: And growing up, did you use any council facilities and did these experiences have any impact.? 

Lola: Absolutely. Um, uh, more than you might imagine, but if I confined it to, um, culture and art sector, um, I would say libraries, I mean were absolutely like a lifesaver. 

I was always reading. And, um, uh, so I was always at the library, whether it was at school, the local authority in, um, various parts of Islington I'd walk down the road, reading books, I'd read library books in different shops because I was so engrossed in stories, et cetera, et cetera. So that's what looms the largest for me when I was a kid. 

And as I grew older, then I began to find out more about things like, I'd go to. Cinemas and museums, um, and, um, uh, and a little bit of theatre, but of course at that age, you don't kind of make that distinction between what's private and commercial and what's, um, local authority. But really, um, you know, I, I had lots of encounters with the council, let's put it that way. So I was very well aware of the social services side of the council, but not so much of the culture side, growing up. 

Esther: Lola, you haven't just been an actor. You're currently a cross bench member of the Lords. Could you tell me about what drove that change from acting into politics? 

Lola: Yeah, well, I wouldn't, I wouldn't say it was such a big change as it might appear on the surface because when I was, uh, when I did finally become a professional actor, I was involved from the get, go with equity, the actor's union, um, and, um, on issues about representation, and, um, what we now call diversity. 

Um, but also, uh, when I was an academic, I was very much engaged in cultural politics again, um, most frequently around the politics of representation, whether that be around race, gender, or, sexuality or disability. So I've never not been engaged with politics, just not party politics,you know, that’s not been my thing. And, um, also prior to going into the Lords, I think our job title Arts development officer, so myself and a colleague, we were in Haringay, and we worked very closely with the Haringay council on various arts and cultural projects then, and that, so that would've been in the eighties and, and again, so that was sort a highly politicized, um, you know, moment, And then subsequently, as I say, I became an academic worked with, um, cultural organizations that again, liaised with councils on various subjects. 

So it's never been sort of out of my life. That sort of sense of the, the entwinement, if there is such a word that the integration of politics and culture. 

Esther: So you've worked in the cultural sector throughout your whole life in various different capacities as you've touched upon. I'd be interested to learn what changes you've seen to the cultural sector over the years? 

Lola: Mm, it, it's very interesting because when people talk about changes, they often sort of think of a linear change. So we progress in some way everything gets better or it gets worse or whatever. Whereas the reality is that change happens all the time. And so different things happen at different times. And it's actually quite hard to put your finger on something and say, boom, definitive change there because that change when you look back was always coming along. 

But I think there's more, um, awareness now of, of some of the different issues around culture and arts and how, um, there is this kind of. Uh, sense that culture and arts are bigger than just, um, a play thing for rich middle classes. So I think that, um, whole a sort of movement around access, um, and, uh, diversity and inclusion has been growing, that's not to say that, um, that work is complete, or that huge changes for the better have been made.  

But I would argue that there's certainly more awareness of some of those issues now and how they permeated, uh, the cultural sector. So I would say that that's one thing. And I think also similarly, not, not so easy to say, oh yes, a definite sort of progress, but there's certainly been more recognition of arts, culture, creative industries as, um, of places to work, as contributors to the economic recovery as we’ll go on to talk about, regarding the pandemic. So there are, there are sort of movements in the way that people and particularly governments of, of thought about, uh, the arts. 

But one of the things that, that, that I found distressing is that actually. The more important arts and culture have become, and the more that recognition has grown, the more there seems to be an attempt to undermine that in terms of the education system. So the arts are kind of relegated to kind of second, third or, worse, you know, kind of options. 

And then they're seen as kind of frivolous in the icing on the cake, whether that be at school level. In the curriculum or indeed at university and further education level. So I think that, that that's something very much to keep an eye on and, and make sure we combat that. 

Esther: I think a lot of different and important topics covered there and one I'd like to explore in a bit more depth is the impact of the pandemic. We've seen how it's been devastating to culture and the arts, despite that we've also seen people turn to culture for solace and connection during these really tricky times. What changes have you seen to the sector following the pandemic and what challenges do you think it faces going forward? 

Lola: Yeah, well, I, I think that the changes and the challenges are interconnected and, and as you say, there's this kind of, um, you know, kind of movement forward, but also a kind of, uh, regressive movement as well. Cuz frankly, you know, if there's not the money there to fund the art, then it's not going to happen. 

And again, we need to recognize that, that very fundamental approach to saying that arts and culture are important and that's backed up by over 1 billion pounds worth of investment by local authorities, you know, by saying that we need to have people who are, um, trained and have the capacity to work in those sectors in order to make that work even better. 

But in terms of the pandemic, I think we all felt across every sector that here we were, with all of these inequalities in our society, which had just been exacerbated by the pandemic. And that goes for the arts and cultural sector as, much as anywhere else. So, what does that actually mean in terms of how we, um, begin to address that? 

Because clearly we do have to, and, and, and clearly the government's whole levelling up agenda is something that is kind of primed to do that, we hope. Within the art sector, freelancers, and those who are self-employed came up particularly badly. Um, uh, partly because furloughs schemes didn't apply and the funding for self-employed people didn't apply in the same way. 

So there's a massive kind of, sort of disruption within the sector around that. It's interesting, you know, um, one of the big factors to emerge from the pandemic was the way people took to books. And I think a lot of people who work on screen all day every day and zoom and team meetings got a little bit sort of fed up with that. 

And so wanted something that was different in their hands to, to, to read. So yeah, lots of different complex moves and, and narratives, but all of it actually very challenging.  

Esther: It's a really interesting point. And it's clear that with long term and sustainable funding and investment in culture, as you've mentioned, there are so many knock on effects for communities such as better health and wellbeing, strengthening community pride, addressing education, inequality. The list does go on and on doesn't it. And as you said, councils are the biggest public funders of culture. Um, What is the role that local government plays in the cultural sector?  

Lola: Well, I think put simply, and, and relatively briefly is it's, it's a kind of a glue. And so what, what, you know, you, you belong, you, you live in a borough, you live in a local authority area and, and that's your locality. 

And that, again, that emerged as being even more important than ever during the pandemic, because you were stuck in that locality. Mm-hmm . I mean, for example, I discovered a whole range of parks that were within a mile of, of, of my, my house. So when we were able to walk outside for that little bit of exercise, um, there were these new adventurous places that I could explore. 

So lots of things, um, uh, have, have emerged. I think about local authorities that people have really underestimated before. And of course the commission. The reason why I'm here. The commission on arts and culture is, is, is, is looking absolutely at that. And how can we support local authorities to develop that sense of belonging, that sense of pride in place and, and, and sort of, you know, strengthen that glue as it were. 

Esther: The work you are doing is crucial if we are to realize genuine diversity and, you know, it's clear that this is going to require commitment from everyone. What practical steps do you think need to be taken, um, to achieve greater diversity and inclusion within the sector?  

Lola: Uh, well, I think, um, we have to identify what the barriers are and there's plenty of evidence to suggest that it's not just a simple case of, so for example, in the, in, in the, on the issue of race, it's not just a simple case of, oh, well institutions are racist and therefore et cetera, et cetera. Um, there is that, but there are also lots of other complex factors. You're not just one thing. Um, you might be, um, a working class person with a disability, and then you've got to look at what are the barriers. That prevent working class people and people with disabilities from entering into the sector. 

And I think much more awareness needs to be raised around how it is so difficult for some groups, some communities within our society, how difficult it is for them to penetrate those walls. 

Esther: It’s clear from my conversation with Lola that the public sector and cultural services go hand in hand. While we’ve seen some positive progress for culture over the time, including this renewed awareness of the importance of local culture as a result of the pandemic, it is clear that it continues a huge number of challenges. 

I was surprised at the way in which culture and the arts were treated as an afterthought within the Education sector. 

If we’re going to inspire the next generation of cultural leaders, then surely the involvement of culture within education is vital. To learn more, I wanted to explore this some more, so as a starter for ten, I thought I would speak to Bobby Seagull, a Maths Teacher, former Captain of Emmanuel Cambridge on University Challenge, previous Libraries Champion, and Commissioner in the LGA's Culture Commission. 

Esther: Bobby, you've been really active in championing the role of public libraries. What effect do you think the early trips you had to East Town Library had on your future career path?   

Bobby: Yeah. So you have to cast your mind back to the, the early nineties. So you've got bum bags that are popular fluorescent dresses, Mr. Motivator, do you wanna, see's actually back now on tell. The in the 1990s, um, and every Saturday, my dad used to take myself and my brothers to East Ham library. We walked down East Ham high street, um, end up in this beautiful red brick building. 

So I think it was built in the early 1900s. Um, again, a classical period for, I think building, I think Pastmore Edwards was someone that was involved as a sort of philanthropist in building lots of libraries and town halls. So our library is connected to our town hall, and we sit there for hours cross-legged on the floor reading all sorts of books. So books on the Aztec civilization, Victorian engineering, uh, the fiction of Tolkin. And I found actually the Saturday afternoons that gave me the love for learning and knowledge. Actually, I'm quite renowned for nowadays.  

But we'd always make sure we'd leave. We had the shopping trolley full of books. We'd end that back home, but my mom would send my dad back to the high street because the trolley was meant for food shopping, but we'd get, so my dad would be in trouble, but we we'd make sure we'd get back to watch final football score on BBC. 

Normally West Ham would've lost that wasn't great news, but, um, Actually. So when people meet me nowadays, they often like, oh, I'm like a public mathematician, someone that's renowned for good general knowledge, especially, uh, for my time on university challenge. But if it wasn't for my visits, the east hand library, every Saturday, I would not be sitting here today in this position of being a, a library champion. 

Esther: And libraries are often quite overlooked as publicly funded communities faces. Can you tell me some more about the lesser known but vital services that they provide?  

Bobby: One thing is that I think that libraries are beating hearts of communities, a, a free point of access for anyone of any background or social class to visit in one place. And I think that, uh, the point I wanna talk about is digital exclusion because during the pandemic we saw, actually there are still millions of people who find it challenging to pay for broadband. 

And in this sort of inflation environment, that's even more of an issue. We'll get the latest smartphone that can, you know, reach all the different types of networks. So I think library and librarians are organisations that really think carefully about how they can make sure the digital experience is provided, uh, to all sorts of people, whether it's, uh, students that need to come in there, uh, to access the internet for homework or whether it's adults trying to get healthcare information or whether people need computers to, uh, let's say, uh, access universal credit or apply for jobs. 

I think the digital provision is saying that people often don't think about because, adults, you know, now we think of libraries' place of books and of course, books are very important by the digital side of libraries that people aren't actually are, not quite as aware of.  

Esther: I really like the reference to libraries as the beating heart of communities. I think that's really important. And you've highlighted how important as a local resource they are. It's been an incredibly challenging couple of years, as you've touched upon, we've had the pandemic we're in the middle of a cost of living crisis. What are the other threats that are facing library services? 

Bobby: In a sort of increasingly digitized world, people are not visiting high streets as much because they'll buy their shopping online. So again, my family, my dad, my own experience was we'd go to the library because we wanted to do some shopping. So dad would take us to the library. Then we'd dad would do some shopping on the way back, maybe visit a charity shop. 

So actually that physical, again, a use of physical services that is changing the nature of a high street. 

Ultimately, if people don't use our libraries, then it's harder to justify them being sort of gain the funding, uh, that they receive from local authorities. So what I would implore people is to use your libraries, whether it's physical books or eBooks, because the number of people that go onto various services online, I won't say their names, but big books services online is only one I can think of, sounds like a rainforest uh, but you've go on there and people can buy books very cheaply. And of course that's brilliant. It means that people can access and have their own little libraries and homes, but actually using something that's free. 

Why not use it? I've got this great little mathematical. Back here. So, uh, one in two adults in England have a library card. So in the UK have a library card. And if we stacked up all the library cards in the UK, you know that you know how tall it would be gonna be mind blowing. It'll be three times the height of Mount Everest. 

We stacked up every library card in the UK. In fact, that's actually taller than the largest mountain in our solar system, Olympus Mons about 25 kilometers on Mars. So it just shows you people have library cards. Because obviously a lot of people have had good library experiences, but my sort of, sort of imploring plea to people is if you had a positive experience at libraries, go and use it don't necessarily go, I know it's so easy to go onto, uh, a search engine and buy book online. It comes with a literally like six hours sometimes, but go and use your library, their fee, and they're incredible resources, but they only exist if people keep using them.  

Esther: There you’ve touched upon inequality of access and opportunity, what’s the role of culture in improving equalities for people and also communities? 

Bobby: Yeah, so actually, This is one where we had an organisation, uh, called dash arts so that they could disabled their visual arts charity. Uh, and they did a lot of work in the pandemic, um, supporting lik e, um, residencies for arts students for disabled curators, but actually my own family, my own brother, we experienced them in a positive way. 

So, um, recently, in fact, just a couple of weeks ago, we held, uh, an event at the Tate Modern, so Tate Modern late. So my brother Davey, uh, very sadly had a car accident when he was a couple years old, um, is now an artist as well as a works in finance and his art’s about, uh, imagining, uh, Classic works of art, but reimagine with disability. 

So imagine like Mona Lisa with like a spinal cord injury or a Vermee painting with a plaster cast. So recently we held an event at, uh, the take modern, but dash arts made sure that it was livestreamed for people that wouldn't be able to travel. And this is something that the pandemic has helped before the pandemic, this event, would've just been a in person event. 

And if you can attend brilliant, but if you can't, then that's really sad for you. But now. Because of the pandemic, actually people that aren't able to access services can actually, yeah, the digital side of it means that people were able to interact with us, ask questions from online, as like in actual in person event. 

So I think digital is still a way of yeah, reducing that health inequality.  

Esther: It sounds as if DASH is doing really important work in changing and challenging perceptions of disability, and culture has this really important role to play in tackling societal inequality. Bobby, finally, if you had a magic wand what one thing would you do to ensure cultural services have a safe and secure future? 

Bobby: If I had a magic wand, I'd probably make West Ham win every single football match, but obviously we're not allowed to do that for this. What I would say is that if culture is to be something that's pervasive across society for adults and for everyone, we as society, in fact, governments need to make sure that there's a significant value placed in arts in the school curriculum.  

I actually, in fact, recently I was asked to go on a television debate where they wanted me to discuss, like, is it, are arts more important than the sciences? And I actually said, I actually didn't take part in the debate because I, I was gonna, they expected me to say that math is more important than art, but I wanted to say, actually the arts suggest is important.  

Once we've met our basic needs, like having shelter, accommodation, food, and water humans, we create, we create art. So actually, in schools, it should be like, we should magnify the value of how important arts are because without art, I think we're not human.  

Esther: So I think that's a really pertinent point to finish on, Bobby thank you so much for your time today. 

Bobby: Thank you. 

Esther: Chatting to Bobby, I really understood just how important his trips to East Ham Library were for his own personal interests and eventually professional career. Bobby echoed Lola’s calls for greater recognition for the arts in schools and made a really pertinent point about the importance of visiting cultural services from a young age.  

Every person deserves access to culture, no matter where they live, no matter their background. Councils across the country are working hard to offer these services for their residents, and I wanted to hear from someone doing just that. I next had a chat with Chenine Bhathena, Architect of the UK City of Culture Trust for Coventry’s reign in 2021, to gain an understanding of the work behind place-building and developing an area’s cultural offer for residents. 

Esther: And so Coventry the UK city of culture, which I think is just the most wonderful way to celebrate a city, particularly after the last couple of years that we've had. Can you tell me more about the city of culture trust and what it does?  

Chenine: Yeah. So the trust was set up, um, back in, I think 2015 um, and, uh, the city had decided to bid to become the UK city of culture and spent two years bidding and going through the bidding process. And then December 17, we won. So it was a really big kind of campaign to win. Um, and then I joined the trust, uh, in the summer of 2018 once we'd won. Um, and there's now something like 130 people that work for the trust, um, in various different ways.  

Um, and so that's what we've really set out to do. And through our program, we wanted to make sure we celebrated the internationalism of our city. Uh, we wanted to think about the youthfulness of our city. You know, um, the average age of Coventry is 32. Um, and the average age in the UK is more like 42. So we're actually a very young place. 

And we wanted to celebrate the spirit, uh, of youthfulness, you know, curiosity and invention and playfulness. Um, and so we, we actually were inspired by three global movements. One was called, um, the caring city movement, which has, um, started in South Africa. One is the collaborative city movement, which started in America. 

And the other is the dynamic city movement, which is a European thing. And the caring city movement is really about inclusion and care. Um, and how you really respect all of the people in your place, um, and listen, you know, give, give space for all of them, uh, to share their lived experience and to put lived experience at the centre, to value human rights, all those kinds of things.  

Collaborative city is very much a movement, it's a people powered movement, which is about democracy, really, um, and about how people can shape, um, the cities a nd the places that they live in, um, and have a voice in that and be part of the decision making, um, and dynamic cities are really about the future and being smart and playful and innovative and pioneering. 

So we wanted to embrace those three movements, uh, within the trust, so that all of our work, um, really represented that and talked, talked about that.  

Esther: Could you tell me, why do you think Coventry won? What made them stand out from the rest of the applications? Was it those three themes that you spoke about?  

Chenine: Yeah, I think, um, I think we were, we were a very youthful city and that came across, um, when the judges visited the city, uh, when we presented, we had young people on our panel, but the, the way we presented and the way that we approached the, the campaign, um, we did, you know, we took it very seriously, but we were also very playful with it. 

We also put co-creation at the centre and active citizenship, um, and we wanted to really make sure that we followed the stories that people wanted to tell rather than just flying in a, an amazing arts programme from other parts of the country or the world. 

So I think it’s about how you find a balance of that, because of course you want great art, and you want people to have a great time, and you want it to be joyful and celebratory, but it’s about how you can co-create events like that that are still large-scale and high-impact but that have the people of the city at the centre. 

And that that's been my real commitment that we build this program together. Um, also we reimagine what a city of culture program is, I think, you know, whilst, you know, it's known as the festival for me, it's a city change program as well. It's about the journey that we are on as a city and, and how being city of culture enables that kind of next step, uh, for the city. 

And a big part of that is about how we celebrate one Coventry. You know, the city has this real mantra, um, at the heart of council policy, which is about one Coventry and how we work together across the public sector, the private sector, the education sector, the third sector, um, and, and the, and the cultural sector. 

So that we're really working together to make the city better. Um, and with citizens at the heart of that discussion, um, we're a place that's always been international at our core, a place that people have come to live in, um, or working or studying, um, lots of different reasons why people come here, city of sanctuary. 

I think our status is a place of peace and reconciliation and our ability to reflect and focus on, um, what's going on and have a real social conscience at the heart of our programme has been really visible, um, but not, not kind of making it too boring or dry or serious, you know, still being playful and joyful with it and, and, and making people smile, but hopefully making them think and, and want to take action. 

Esther: And you speak of co-creation and putting citizens at the heart of decision making. Can you tell me about how being the city of culture has benefited the residents of Coventry?  

Chenine: Yeah, I mean, we'll find out more, I suppose, as we go forward, as we start to really pull together all the data and the monitoring that we've done, but already, um, we've seen that the majority of tickets have been sold to the lowest, um, earners in the city. 

So we've already made that change where, before you would've looked at people buying tickets for arts events, would've been much more the higher, um, earning bracket. Um, so I'm really proud of that. Really, really proud of that. And also. People come up to me all the time to tell me that they really didn't think it was gonna be for them, they didn't think city of culture was for them, and they have just had the most amazing, wonderful time. We've also invested hugely in individuals in the city and in local people and communities and local artists in talent. Um, we've supported the cultural sector to develop and grow. We’ve found new talent, lots of new talents from lots of different places. 

So it's been a real year where we've celebrated difference. Um, and it's brought us together and I think it's made people realize what is so important about Coventry and that the difference in our city makes us stronger.  

Esther: And you talk of bringing people together. And I think that's been more important than ever after the last two years in the pandemic and the many other crises that we've been through, as you've mentioned, how have you overcome the many hurdles that the pandemic has created for the cultural sector? 

Chenine: It's been really, really challenging, you know, immediately, when the lockdown started back in March, 2020, we were just about to announce our programme. 

Um, and we had to regroup, um, very quickly and immediately we had to just look after people. We had to look after our team and make sure they were all okay. Um, we had to look after the art sector, who's, you know, their living, their, uh, their way of living is so fragile. You know, their income is dependent on working in schools, working with the business community, uh, touring, festivals, and suddenly all of those things were gone. 

And then the other big impact for us was no fundraising, so for nearly a year, maybe more than year, um, there was just no ability to fundraise because people either closed down or shut down or went on furlough or they re-kind of directed their funding, um, to, um, pandemic related, um, uh, projects. So it was, it was very challenging, but I think, you know, we're a really resilient team. It's been a very, um, interesting time and we'll go down as the probably the only pandemic city of culture.  

Esther: I think the only pandemic city of culture, other title to add to Coventry, many . Um, and so over the last couple of years, we've seen local cultural services have played a vital role in our national recovery. Can you tell me how important you think local government is within the cultural sector? 

It's really important. I mean, I suppose they set the tone, they set the vision, they set the policy and actually in the pandemic, you know, we worked really closely with the director of public health at the city council who was a fantastic partner to us, um, who really, um, you know knew that we had to get on with doing a city of culture, but also knew we had to be very careful, we had to continue to be safe. 

We had to continue to build confidence in communities that what, what we were doing was safe. Um, we've also worked very closely with the events team at city council, just to really make sure that in terms of licensing planning, working with police, um, blue light services, more generally, um, that everything has been done properly and safely and again, during a pandemic, even more important that we do that carefully. 

Um, so all of that has been vital, but for me, um, you know, it's a two-way partnership. So, um, it's absolutely vital that local authorities set the tone and, and the lead around arts and culture and creativity. Um, when I was in London, we, um, we, we instigated the London Borough of Culture competition, and really coming out of London 2012 and the austerity that local authorities were facing, you know, we wanted to challenge local authorities to say, actually, it's easy to cut the arts and culture department, but actually at these times, you know, the arts and cultural department is more important than ever, you know, what did people do in the pandemic? 

The first thing they turned to was creativity. They took part, you know, people were drawing and singing and dancing, coming out on their doorsteps and singing. Um, so it's really vital to me. Um, and I think it's important that local authorities set that tone, but also, that culture is embedded across all departments.  

So in our year we’ve worked very closely with the regeneration and public realm team to embed artists in the work they’ve been doing in the city, so when you come to the city on any day, art is all around you whether it’s lighting or street art, or art interventions in the public realm, benches, seating, planting, all these things that artists have been involved in and it’s really transformed our city. 

And also the work we have done with our housing team around working with homelessness and poverty. 

Esther: And Chenine, looking ahead now, do you think the events of the last year will have a lasting impact on Coventry? 

Chenine: I think, absolutely, I think we made the right decision to co-create our programme. We’ve built such a strong kind of community collaboration, we’ve embedded co-creation and the idea and the notion of co-creation across all production that we worked on with all of our partners, and they’re now all seeing that as a way forward. The local sector and our venues are now much better connected, and I think that’s because in lockdown we all came together in a new way, and we had to find solutions together, we had to collaborate differently and in better ways, very often. 

I think we’re on a journey, it’s just the beginning, I think there’s more to come, so really excited about the future. 

Esther: Thank you Chenine for your time today. I really appreciate you having you on the podcast. 

Esther: Despite the challenges Coventry have faced with their city of culture year, it’s amazing to hear the work produced and people reached through their cultural programme.  

From my conversations today, it’s clear to see that accessing culture provides so much more than entertainment or a hobby, it can pave the way for employment and it can even improve our health.  

Of course, the hurdles that cultural services face are not going to be easy to overcome, this makes raising the awareness of its benefits all that more important, particularly as areas across the country face closures of local cultural services due to funding cuts.  

Our Commission on Culture and Local Government intends to amplify the importance of local culture in addressing health inequalities, increasing social mobility, giving value to places and contributing to sustainable economic recovery. Our final conclusions will be out later this year following a series of roundtables and further discussions with our expert commissioners, including Bobby and Lola. 

I hope that my journey today has helped you understand the multiple benefits that our local cultural services provide, maybe even persuaded you to access them if you don’t already. 

Until next time, I’m Esther Barrott and I hope this has helped you forget what you think you know about culture.