First Art programme, Ashfield, Bolsover, Mansfield and North East Derbyshire

First Art has delivered over 200 events in former Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire coalfield areas, delivering social and economic benefits in areas where arts engagement is historically very low. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - regeneration section of our online Culture Hub.

Tumble Circus in City Arts Dome, Active Ashfield. Source: Ashfield District Council

Background and history

Backed by a three-year, £1.5 million Arts Council England ‘Creative People and Places’ programme, First Art is a collective of four cultural and community organisations (City Arts, Creswell Crages Heritage Trust, Junction Arts and the Prince’s Trust) working within the former coalfield areas of Ashfield, Bolsover, Mansfield and North East Derbyshire. At the outset of the programme, these areas were amongst the bottom 20 per cent of areas in the country with respect to engagement with the arts.

The partners began delivery in 2015 and had delivered 200 events in this area by the end of 2017. They are currently negotiating funding for a second phase of the programme.


  • 2013/2014 – Funding awarded from Arts Council
  • 2014 – Phase 1 of First Art commences 
  • 2017 – Programme came to an end
  • 2018 – Phase 2 funding being sought

Delivery of activities

Funding for First Art programme £1.5 million from Arts Council England for 2014-17

The First Art programme has been designed to engage with communities and individuals who have historically had less arts engagement. This has involved working closely with local authorities and other bodies to connect the programming into wider festivals, events and local services, such as libraries. They have also utilised wider marketing and promotion channels and undertaken targeted social media activity.

The programme has been structured around the key strands of events, commissions, touring, local support to existing events, ‘go see’ programme of visits, and providing disadvantaged young people with opportunities to learn about art. In practice this has involved supporting grassroots cultural activity in local areas, bringing touring performances into areas where there is a lack of cultural infrastructure, and subsidising opportunities for individuals to travel to see exhibitions, festivals or theatre in other cities.



80,000 people engaged across 200 events in 2015-17


high-quality cultural activity delivered in local areas, increasing community pride and cohesion


joining up a network of cultural organisations to share knowledge and reach new audiences

  • 80,000 people engaged – across 200 events held by First Art during 2015-17, supporting enhanced wellbeing and quality of life for local residents
  • enhanced confidence – local residents were supported to try new arts activities for the first time, including travelling to other cities, boosting their confidence to engage with arts and culture
  • community pride and cohesion – by bringing together communities, often in geographically isolated areas, and delivering high-quality cultural activity in their local areas
  • cultural and creative sector growth support – by supporting the development of audiences, bringing together a network of cultural organisations to share knowledge, and stimulating new interest in the sectors among local residents.

Learning points

Rebuilding community pride: for many of these former coalfield communities there is a sense that the once strong community spirit has faded, as the industry disappeared and levels of deprivation rose. The focused engagement of the First Art programme offers an opportunity for many of these communities to reignite that sense of pride and community.

Rural cultural sector strengthening: maintaining a strong cultural and creative sector is challenging in more rural isolated areas, but through building networks between local cultural bodies, creative individuals and public-sector partners, sharing knowledge and resources and building up audiences, the programme has supported strengthening of the local sector.

Council collaboration to refocus arts and cultural strategy: councils have collaborated closely with the First Arts programme, enabling a refocusing and prioritisation of arts and cultural strategies. Ashfield District Council consulted with First Art on where to host arts and cultural events, leading to a shift towards hosting in town centres, accessing wider audiences and increasing participation.

“First Arts’ ambitious approach to the programme delivery in Ashfield has gone from strength to strength. It has inspired the local community to build on meaningful and long-lasting experience. It is a great opportunity to engage with communities and individuals, enhancing their confidence and bring pride to the community. By supporting this development and working together with organisations, we hope that it will continue to grow and develop into the future.”
Councillor Tom Hollis, Deputy Leader, Ashfield District Council