London's boroughs are creating a lasting cultural legacy

  • By jourdanwongmuhammad

Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ Executive member for City Development

London is at the nation’s heart of arts and culture and London boroughs actively strengthen the capital’s position as a leader of innovation in this sector. 

However boroughs’ ability to promote the arts face significant challenges including: falling arts funding, which means that they need to seek new ways to support the arts; rapid population growth, which puts pressure on boroughs to develop at the pace and scale necessary to meet the needs of their residents and businesses; and some of the lowest rates of participation in the arts nationally. 

Yet many councils are using their resourcefulness and ingenuity to develop plans for their arts and culture assets that serve local communities, contribute to the economic, social and cultural value of the capital and create a cultural offer for everyone.

The forthcoming London Borough of Culture Awards will showcase the breadth of impressive work taking place across London local government, working with communities, and provides an opportunity to celebrate and energise those efforts. This exciting new competition is a chance for boroughs to inspire local talent and highlight their hidden treasures: bringing communities together and encouraging a renewed connection with the arts.

To date, twenty boroughs have launched campaigns to compete for the London Borough of Culture title, and will be rated on their artistic vision and ability to deliver outstanding cultural initiatives in their local area. The winning prize is £1 million, but up to £600,000 is also available for up to six runner-up boroughs to invest in their communities.

The competition is an opportunity to build on the good work already being undertaken by London boroughs in using culture to shape places and work with communities to encourage them to participate in and create arts and culture.  

In my borough of Barking and Dagenham, we have placed enriching our cultural offer at the heart of our regeneration plans, including the establishment of Barking Town Centre as an artists’ enterprise zone, providing affordable artists’ workspace. 

In Wandsworth, former industrial land at Nine Elms is being transformed to create a new residential and business quarter on the Southbank, including a wide range of new cultural facilities, driven by a cultural plan for each of the seven phases of development.

Newham Council’s Every Child a Theatre Goer programme is giving every school child in Newham the chance to go to the theatre free of charge. Organised through Stratford Circus, Theatre Royal Stratford East and London theatre partners, the programme aims to introduce children to the magic of theatre and help develop their literacy, literature, creativity, citizenship and issue-based learning. 

Arts and culture not only bring vibrancy, dynamism and a sense of identity to local areas but also play a vital role in gelling communities together in a time of rapid population growth and churn. That’s why, as the London Borough of Culture Awards demonstrate, boroughs remain committed to doing all they can to support their arts and culture assets so they continue to thrive and contribute to their local communities. The competition has generated a huge amount of energy and sparked great ideas across London. 

London Councils will be looking with the boroughs and the Mayor to see how we can take this activity forward and ensure that the London Borough of Culture provides a lasting legacy – not just in the winning boroughs, but across the capital.