Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

microsite page text

Idea Exchange: How we became London's first Borough of Culture

  • Comment

London mayor Sadiq Khan (Lab) set out in his manifesto that he wanted to create an annual award that would challenge London boroughs to use the power of culture to transform lives and celebrate the unique areas that make up this great city. 


  • Project: London Borough of Culture
  • Objectives: To deliver a year of cultural events and ensure a lasting legacy for residents
  • Timescale: 2019
  • Cost to authority: £1.35m granted by Mayor of London to winning borough
  • Number of staff working on project: Eight
  • Outcomes: A new town hall in the centre of the borough where residents can access a range of public services in one place, as well as securing ongoing annual savings of at least £5m. Savings/income: Capital receipts: £78.2m to £91.2m from potential disposals; Revenue savings: At least £5m from rental of current accommodation, additional savings from more efficient working
  • Officer contact details: Eddie Townsend
  • Officer contact details: Martin Esom

Inspired by the UK City and Capital of Culture programmes, the London Borough of Culture awards, is about naming a single borough as the cultural destination for a year to celebrate that areas people, places and identity for all Londoners to enjoy.

I’m delighted to say that last week Mr Khan named Waltham Forest as the first ever London Borough of Culture. We will hold this accolade in 2019 and it comes with a windfall of £1.35m.

Martin Esom

How we became London’s first Borough of Culture

Martin Esom

To beat the other 22 boroughs was an amazing achievement when you think of the cultural map of London. Waltham Forest, in the north east of the city with a population of 275,000, has come a long way in a short space of time and we know that our creative industries have been a major driver of this change. The number of creative businesses in the borough has doubled in the last five years, accounting for 16% of all its businesses. We knew that this award could be just the catalyst to ensure this burgeoning sector of our economy could thrive to enable it to create the careers our young people need and deserve.

Even before this award was announced we knew that recognising the importance of culture in our borough’s story was essential. Culture has the ability to create identity, community cohesion and a sense of place which is why even during these stringent times for local authority finances we have increased investment in our events programme as well as in our cultural infrastructure. From our world-renowned William Morris gallery to the opening of the largest urban wetlands in Europe we have put the time and the resources in where it is needed.

So when the mayor announced the award back in June 2017 we knew we were ready and that by being bold and harnessing our amazing grassroots cultural offer we were in with a chance. We were first to launch our campaign and from the very beginning asked our residents to pledge their support as community involvement was the cornerstone of our bid. We asked our cultural leaders to be our guide throughout the process ensuring that this wasn’t just an authority-led exercise. I was thrilled by how the people and businesses of the area got behind the bid. So much so that by 27 February when I arrived at City Hall for the announcement, it was as much in anticipation than hope because I knew we, and the 15,000 people who pledged their support, had done all we could to put ourselves amongst the leading contenders for the award.

As the first ever London Borough of Culture we have been given the responsibility of setting the standard for the award as a whole and we promise London an exciting year of cultural events, including a film festival in Leytonstone; laser installation in Epping Forest and a digital art extravaganza on Walthamstow Marshes. But it will be about showcasing local talent as much as the place itself. There will be something for everyone to enjoy and most importantly get involved in. We will have a special emphasis on our young people to ensure the lasting legacy of the award can be measured by those who go on to have careers in the creative industries.  That is why we are creating work placements and apprenticeships through a new creative education partnership that will continue long after our year in the spotlight ends.

The award will bring people to Waltham Forest who have never visited before, or maybe even heard of us. This gives us a massive opportunity to shape our identity and with it our future. But our year will be about bringing culture to every community and corner in our area. It is an exciting time for Waltham Forest, we are a place that increasingly people want to live in or open a business in and with this award they will now want to be entertained here as well.

With only 10 months to go before the start of 2019 we have a lot to do but I am confident we are ready to put Waltham Forest on the map. 

Martin Esom, chief executive, Waltham Forest LBC




  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.