Sarah Dance’s closing remarks with event highlights

Our intention for today was to celebrate, explore and debate new practice and models for cultural assets and creative infrastructure.

Over the course of the day we have been on a journey. From vision and ambition, through to the ‘why?’ the ‘how?’ and ‘with whom?’, and we gained an insight into some of the tools and models that we will need to deliver success.

Starting with Sadie Morgan’s inspiring keynote we heard about her work and her vision. Sadie set out how planning for culture can contribute towards raising people’s quality of life and wellbeing. She clearly set out the case for focusing the debate around people, and involve both developers and the public in how homes and communities are created.

For me there was a clear message, an imperative that we plan and build high quality, flexible and healthy, connected places, relevant to our communities. Planning for culture can contribute towards raising people’s quality of life and wellbeing through the improvement of the built environment.

Next our lively panel, expertly chaired by Max Farrell, made the case from the perspective of a range of organisations and roles, for the value of culture and creative industries in placemaking; the drivers as well as some of the challenges. The message was clear: partnerships and new ways of working both within and between organisations is vital. It is also clear that the responsibility doesn’t (and possibly shouldn’t) sit with the ‘usual suspects’ – the culture team in a local authority for example, but across all disciplines.

Our case study from Kevin McGeogh, Geoff Shearcroft, and Laura Kavanagh celebrated the great work that the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation has delivered. They outlined how they had laid the foundation for an innovative approach to cultural planning with their Space in a Place report and then built on that work through the co-location pilots. Laura spoke about how vital to future success and sustainability the work that they are leading is, work which has seen her organisation grow in reach and impact, working with and for the growing community.

I hope our roundtables allowed you to dive a little deeper into some of the key areas of interest. I hope that you found them constructive and insightful, and most importantly that these conversations lead to further work, discussions, and new partnerships.

In my own session on high streets and town centres we talked about:

  • Language and not only how we need to use different language for different audiences, but how we need to be careful about what language is used. For example, changing the word ‘meanwhile’ (as in meanwhile use) to ‘transient’, as meanwhile seems to suggest that something better will be coming along.
  • The importance of evidence and data.
  • The importance of ‘super connectors’, whether that be the local authority or the Arts Council, or the LEP.

And thanks to Tom Reynolds for leading a walk around Gravesend and giving an insight into some of the plans for the town. No doubt you only managed to scratch the surface in an hour.

After lunch we heard a bit more about Gravesham from Jamie Izzard and how Gravesham Borough Council are putting culture at the centre of their plans and their ambition to be a key place for creativity and cultural production in the Estuary.

Our presentations and panels this afternoon focused on ‘making it happen’. Thank you to the speakers and panellists and to Marie Kirbyshaw for her expert chairing. Marie’s work in Luton is an inspiration, showing great vision and bravery. We have been very lucky to benefit from her insight and support over the past 3 years.

I truly believe that delivering the vision for the Thames Estuary Production Corridor requires new models and ways of working. It isn’t about doing the same old things in the same old silos. And so a key part of our work at Creative Estuary has been to commission research and studies to create the evidence base and tools to drive this forward and to help unblock sites and projects.

Sara Turnbull set out how WorkWild have identified the partnerships, opportunities, skills and capacity needed to deliver a pipeline of affordable creative workspace, tailored to the needs of the creative and cultural sector. They have also been looking at how we have been developing long-term collective and strategic models to provide space for cultural production. This research will guide our work and that of our partners over the next phase of the Estuary’s creative evolution.

Katy Lock and Andy Farrall spoke about their work to address how arts and cultural infrastructure can be secured through development, redevelopment, and the planning process. We are really excited about the toolkit which the TCPA have been developing for us and look forward to being able to share it in an accessible and usable format in the not-too-distant future.

Hearing Gerard McCleave talk about Thurrock, and Anna Sinnott about the exemplary work in Barking and Dagenham, during the panel’s discussion, shows just how much has already been achieved across the Estuary. The panel also highlighted the importance of political will and leadership, and policies and partnership. Linked to all of this, the panel highlighted how key evidence is to make the case, and how you also need capacity and capability. Partnership and looking beyond political boundaries are imperative, which leads me on nicely to Adam Bryan.

Adam, who spoke about how all this fits into the wider context for the LEP and for the region, addressed the question “what opportunities might there be for the CCI sector, and for communities across the Estuary flowing from these major projects?”. I believe that better connectivity, more high-quality homes and communities, the provision of the right employment and good skills will help us attract the creative businesses, the workforce and the investment that we need. Ultimately at the heart of SELEP’s work and at Creative Estuary’s is partnership – the power of partnership to do things better together.

We hope that your heads are full, and that you are going away inspired and informed. It is you that makes the difference, and it is your energetic and thoughtful contributions that have helped to make it a fantastic day. But, let’s not stop here.

It would be great to know what you’ll be taking away from today and most importantly what you will commit to. It is easy to come to a conference and be inspired and then go to work the next day and be inundated with the daily minutiae of our busy work life. So, I’d like to ask you all to now commit to some clear and achievable actions – what will you commit to, and with whom?

And finally, a few thank yous. Events like this don’t happen by magic.

Thanks to you all for your thoughtful contributions, your commitment, and your ideas. And of course, a huge thank you to all of our partners, our working groups, our chairs and our funders, the local authorities, Arts Council England, and DCMS. A massive thanks to our speakers and our panelists – you have been truly inspiring. And finally, a huge thank you to all the team who have worked so hard on this event – especially Jennifer Yard and our fantastic Director, Emma Wilcox.