The South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) has reinforced its ongoing support for the creative and cultural sector as a driver for economic growth following the COVID-19 pandemic with a new project that will focus on communities of the future, and how high streets and town centres can continue to be economic hubs across the South East.
The aim of the project—Developing Cultural and Creative Offers in High Streets—is to develop a better understanding of how cultural and creative organisations can be embedded in high streets. This will include looking into how the creative sector can take on the role of attracting residents to high streets and public events in a post-COVID economy.
The pandemic accelerated some negative trends that were already being seen across the country, including the hollowing out of the high street. To combat this, many towns in the South East are pursuing opportunities including the Towns Deal, Future High Street Fund and High Streets Heritage Action Zones to support economic, social and cultural recovery. Furthermore, the pandemic emphasised the shift to online shopping, presenting longer-term challenges and opportunities for the role of high streets and town centres in the future.
SELEP has launched a request for quotation (RFQ) for the project, which is jointly funded by SELEP and the Arts Council England. It is expected to lead the production of a narrative report that would identify and explore the key initiatives in the cultural and creative sector that are being developed for identified high streets.
The project will be closely aligned with SELEP’s creative working group, South East Creative Economy Network (SECEN), and its Creative Workspace project. It will also link with the Creative Estuary CFD project, in particular its Spaces and Places strand, and will inform further policy development in the South East for the Arts Council England, as well as informing the delivery of SELEP’s Economic Recovery and Renewal Strategy.
SELEP Deputy Chair Sarah Dance said:
“The way we live and work is evolving. Our high streets have to adapt to continue attracting customers and new businesses, and the creative sector is the ideal partner to
breathe new life into our high streets, delivering a resilient and thriving mix of shops and services within easy reach—from creative workspaces through to creative offers. This is about reinvigorating high streets by taking former retail space and using it in a new ways, to support high street retailers with added draws.
“Not only that, but we must do all that we can to support this incredibly important industry, which has been hit hard recently. We’ve seen the undeniable value that this sector brings to our communities during the last year, supporting residents, tackling isolation and providing meaningful engagement during an extremely difficult time.
“We must work fast to ensure that the creative and cultural arts are in a prime position to take advantage of high streets reopening in the coming weeks. This project will form an important springboard to start this work—to reinvigorate our high streets and get behind our creative organisations and businesses.
“I am delighted that we are working so closely with Arts Council England for this vital work. We as a LEP are ideally placed to bring together organisations with the aim of creating true strategic vision and delivering leadership for projects such as this which will drive growth in the South East and help bolster the sectors that are such assets to this part of the country.”