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Five examples of how councils can promote culture

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Bank holiday inspiration for local authorities looking to do more with culture

As the summer holiday draws to a close, many will be keen to use the August bank holiday to squeeze the last fun from the season before kids, politicians and at least some of the rest of us return from our breaks.

One council that will not have been resting in recent weeks is Kensington & Chelsea RBC. Over this weekend perhaps a million revellers will visit Notting Hill Carnival, a celebration of Caribbean culture, for one of London’s key cultural events.

The carnival has not always had official backing, gaining a reputation for public disorder and inconveniencing residents – shown this year by the presence of security arches for detecting knives – alongside the images of plentiful food stalls and flamboyant costumes.

It is a mark of the festival’s acceptance that Kensington & Chelsea is now closely involved in it, participating in ‘war game’ sessions alongside the police, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London, as well as the organisers.

As Sue Harris, the council’s executive director for environment and communities, outlines in LGC’s latest Idea Exchange, the relationship is based on collaboration rather than leadership from officials.

“We don’t appoint or commission [the organisers] to organise the event. Instead, we respect it as theirs and work alongside partners,” she writes. “It means finding consensus about what works best for everyone, rather than just referring to a contract.”

It is the spirit of the age that local citizens should have both more say in running their areas and more involvement. For many in local government cultural events are a focal point for how that can work.

Leisure and culture are likewise a focus in our newly-relaunched Idea Exchange microsite, which lets users easily search and access detailed best practice and inspiration for future projects – all of it written by council officers facing the same pressures.

In the last weeks of summer, it seems apt to consider some of the standout pieces within leisure and culture. 

1. Waltham Forest LBC: How we became London’s first Borough of Culture

Chief executive Martin Esom explains why his borough was named next year’s key cultural destination in London, celebrating the area’s people, places and identity. He adds that the award ”could be just the catalyst” to ensure creative businesses thrive, creating the careers the borough’s youth need.

2. Thanet DC: Investing £20m to restore Dreamland’s former glory

Madeline Homer, the district’s chief executive, discusses how the council worked to put together a funding package to rescue one of Britain’s oldest surviving amusement parks, which holds a unique position in British cultural history. By enabling development of Dreamland through compulsory purchase and private investment, the council has helped to create a more sustainable attraction, boosting wider regeneration of Margate.

3. Southwark LBC: Excavating the first Roman sarcophagus found in Southwark

Gillian King, senior planner of archeology, reports on Southwark’s remarkable Roman settlement and cemetery, which contained a complete fourth-century stone sarcophagus. She advises on how to ensure archaeology is discovered, understood, protected and preserved in the face of development pressure.

4. Rochdale MBC: The only council building to host Dippy the dinosaur

Chief executive Steve Rumbelow explains why the Natural History Museum included his council’s offices in the first UK tour of one of its major exhibits. Key to the succesful application was the enthusiasm of the council and the opportunity to open access to Dippy beyond its usual audience.

5. North Somerset Council: Hosting Banksy’s Dismaland put Weston-super-Mare on the map

Mike Jackson, the council’s then chief executive, says the five-week “bemusement park” art installation brought the town worldwide publicity and attention beyond what the council ever imagined. The town wanted to build on a reputation for hosting events, including the annual air festival, major music events, and sporting events including beach volleyball and kite surfing.

Jimmy Nicholls, features editor

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