Every quarter, the Cultural Development Fund (CDF) 1 peer network group gather together at various locations across the country. Our first meet took place in Birmingham in January 2020 and then Covid came. That meant, like most other people, we were limited to meeting online for the next 2 years!
That wasn’t the only change due to Covid – all projects were extended by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) & Arts Council England (ACE). As such, 2022 became the year of visiting the peer places that we’d heard so much about, seen pictures of, come to life.
Plymouth was the first visit in June 2022 for James Trowsdale, Strategic Lead for Culture, and myself, Sarah Smith, Grimsby Creates Programme Manager. As it’s a 6 hour journey from Grimsby, we decided to take in some creative and cultural sites along the way to break the journey. Our aim was to find places of a similar size to Grimsby, possibly with similar characteristics.
On the way down, we stopped at Cheltenham where we happened upon the Science Festival in a central green space amongst lots of school visits, experiments and discovery.
We learnt that Gustav Holst was born in Cheltenham hence why his statue sits alongside a solar system ‘Planets’ sculpture.
We wandered along the high end high street near the crescent with pedestrian area for pavement café/dining surrounded by grand architecture with signage in keeping with the heritage. It was perhaps less similar to Grimsby than we thought although useful to see what a mid-size town in the south west has to offer and we did walk through a less vibrant shopping area of the town!
After a bite to eat, it was back on the long road south and a quick stop at Taunton to see what they were offering. We took a short tour of the town and stumbled across the Brewhouse Arts Centre (just away from the main central area) which had been extended over a number of years to create the main auditorium, a dance studio, cinema along with a loft gallery and theatre bar.
Despite the typical 70’s municipal building, the Central Library had a modern vibrant feel with a café, gallery space and a community area in the open plan ground floor library amongst the ‘core offer’ were great additions. The community area was used by the NHS trust, wellbeing service, Citizen’s Advice etc to provide additional services from a public building.
We were pleasantly surprised to see Taunton through the ages displayed on the old Debenhams building, a prominent building on the high street. The timeline has been collated and arranged using early oil paintings, watercolours, engravings and vintage photographs.
On we travelled to Plymouth, Britain’s Ocean City, where we were meeting up with colleagues from Creative Estuary (Emma and Catherine), Wakefield (Ros), Worcester (Elaine) and Plymouth (Tracey, Marlainer and JoJo) for dinner.
After quickly checking into the hotel, we walked the 30 minutes to the restaurant away from the city centre and towards an old naval dockyard Royal William Yard. Along the way there were interesting elements of regeneration with newly laid paving where new buildings were being constructed and Georgian townhouses providing an abundance of colour. Despite the drizzle, we were enjoying our magical mystery tour with the dockyard yet to be discovered.
As we were a little early for dinner, we decided to have a wander, seeing the marina with pleasure boats as well as the naval harbour beyond this now decommissioned dockyard.
The late Georgian naval buildings were all similar in stature and size and had mostly been beautifully refurbished to accommodate restaurants, bars, events & you can even enjoy yoga classes on the lawn. One or two of the buildings didn’t have quite the same level of restoration, one of which housed a creative workspace which we had the joy of visiting the following day as part of our organised visit by our fantastic colleague at Plymouth.
The following morning, I woke early and took myself off on a morning stroll around the cobbled streets of the Barbican visiting the Mayflower steps and the zig zag pathways of the Hoe with the distinctive red and white beacon of Smeaton’s Tower. Regeneration was evident around the Barbican with bars, eateries, museums, reuse of heritage buildings and tourist attractions which I imagine would usually be much busier than at 7am!
The walk back to the hotel to meet the others for our programmed agenda took me through the city centre which after everything else we’d seen so far, sadly felt as though it lacked its heart/core.
Our groups met at Market Hall for a tour of the creative workspace by Real Ideas Org and their transformation of an older building with modern extension and a 360 degree immersive dome – it was a real WOW factor!
Next on the agenda was a visit to The Box, a museum, gallery and archive with cafe, shop and bar which opened in 2020 following an extensive transformation. We heard from delivery partners engaged on the Plymouth CDF programme including the Arts University Plymouth, Crowdfunder and Creative UK as well as The Box Chief Executive Officer, Victoria Pomery OBE, founding director of Turner Contemporary in Margate. All 5 CDF programme leads then provided our summary updates to each other as we have done over the past 2 years.
Lunch was followed by a mini tour of the gallery space at The Box which houses archives collection in the sky, hence the name!
The Worcester, Wakefield and Grimsby contingent then headed back to Royal William Yard for to meet with Francesca Hawkesworth, Programme Coordinator at Ocean Studios, another creative workspace run by Real Ideas Org. This was a more gritty, industrial, dirty space with communal print making and pottery areas as well as studios and a co-creation space.
On our way out of Plymouth, we stopped at Tour de Moon which was being hosted in a large park atop the city below. Only a few weeks earlier, we’d seen the touring sustainable convoy in Grimsby’s St James Square. An opportunity to see how the interactive experience welcomed visitors n a different place in the country. In essence, the set up was similar although proximity to the centre was quite different.
Nearby was Home Park, Plymouth Argyle’s football ground, we couldn’t resist and had a quick peek there too!
Then it was back up the M5 to Gloucester for the evening. Arriving at 7pm, we headed straight for dinner, we always make time for food! We were spoilt with so many choices along the quayside from Greek, Italian, Fish, Mediterranean and a quirky bar similar to our very own Docks Beers! After an evening wandering around the quay imagining how this looked before regeneration and how similar Gloucester is to Grimsby, we were looking forward to our planned visit to colleagues in Gloucester in the morning.
Adam Coleman (Chief Executive of Gloucester Culture Trust) met us at Jolt Studios on the 1st floor of a council building that had been stripped back to bare walls with infrastructure in the ceiling space to create co-working/hot desking space with small and medium pods as well as individual studios. A peek at the 2nd floor revealed a slick music studio, collaborative and learning space.
Kate Biggs, heritage conservation officer from Gloucester County Council (GCC) showed us the High Street Heritage Action Zones (HSHAZ) and Philip Walker, Head of Culture at GCC took us for a tour of the Gloucester Guildhall. The Gloucester Guildhall, a vibrant music/arts venue with a 75 seat cinema room has recently been awarded a significant sum from ACE’s capital grant scheme to make changes to their refreshment offer in the building, a beautiful space celebrating the venue’s rich heritage with a modern outlook.
We were both impressed by Gloucester and would recommend a visit. It had not been on our radar before and is something of an undiscovered gem if you’re heading or around that way!
Reflecting on our visit to the south-west, we recognise that Grimsby is on a transformative journey like other towns and cities. When compared to the places we’ve visited, Grimsby is striding ahead in many aspects and also following those who have taken some of those steps already. What is really clear is the pride we have in and of our places where bright futures for culture and heritage led transformation responding to resident and place needs. Gloucester was perhaps the most similar having a largely industrial port (albeit inland) that has repurposed heritage warehouse buildings into mixed residential, office and leisure space creating a vibrant waterfront where people gather day and evening. The central retail area is easily accessed by foot in 10 minutes from the quayside and appears to be buoyant despite the effects of the pandemic and changes to shopping habits. A newly opened transport hub also featured in our visit where heritage has been incorporated into the design with a timeline of Gloucester’s history. We’ve shared the learning with colleagues in our regeneration team leading on similar projects in the borough.
Our most recent Go See learning visit took place on Wednesday 20th July to Sheffield with Grimsby artists. And we’re planning on one or two more visits with East Street Arts, national portfolio organisation, working with us on delivering an artists support programme in North East Lincolnshire. Watch this space for more details on our learnings!
We’re keen to learn and seek opportunities from outside the area to network, enable and facilitate conversations with creative practitioners and organisations in the borough. So if you’d like to connect or share your story with the creative sector in Grimsby and Cleethorpes, please get in touch at email@example.com