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St Helens set to become a thriving cultural centre

Artist’s impression of how the St Helens Arts and Culture Centre could look

The arts and culture scene in St Helens has taken another boost after councillors gave their support to the development of a new arts and cultural centre for the town – and agreed to support a programme of events to celebrate St Helens’ 150th anniversary.

St Helens has a growing reputation as a centre of excellence for arts and culture, and in particular socially engaged arts, with the inclusion of both the Heart of Glass and St Helens Libraries Cultural Hubs programme in Art Council England’s National Portfolio.

To further place St Helens as a thriving cultural centre and town, a programme of arts and cultural activities has been approved for 2018, which will celebrate the borough’s 150th anniversary of receiving its Royal Charter from Queen Victoria in 1868.

Throughout 2018, Heart of Glass – in partnership with St Helens Council and a variety of local community partners – will develop and deliver a core programme of events called St Helens 150. This will include a diverse range of events, some of which are new to the events calendar, while others build on popular established events such Spark in the Park, promising something for everyone.

The year will acknowledge and reflect upon the history and heritage of St Helens, renowned for glass making, coal mining, pharmaceuticals and rugby and will also launch the new narrative of the borough, as a place for ingenuity, innovation and culture.

The vision positions St Helens as a recognised national and international centre for socially engaged artistic practice, underpinned by a commitment to strengthening artistic infrastructure in the borough, promoting new ideas, experimentation and innovative practice, and supporting artists to grow and develop as St Helens grows and develops.

The St Helens 150 programme will see a series of core events throughout the year put together by the Heart of Glass and St Helens Council, but in addition to this will be a number of smaller local events, such as the GPW Recruitment St Helens 10k in association with the Steve Prescott Foundation, which will be run and managed by various groups in association with St Helens 150.

Funding for 75 per cent of the 2018 celebrations programme has been secured by Heart of Glass from Arts Council England and other sources. A contribution of £500,000 (25 per cent) has been agreed by St Helens Council, as a one off investment to support the wider aim of raising aspirations and ambition.

Councillor Gill Neal, Cabinet Member for Public Health and Wellbeing, with responsibility for Arts and Culture, said: “2018 won’t only be about recognising the legacy of St Helens’ impressive past, but is very much about celebrating our innovation, ingenuity and culture.

“Our young people are our future and 2018 is about showcasing their talents as well as raising ambitions and aspirations.

“Together with the Heart of Glass, St Helens Council has put together a programme of events with something for everyone – young and old, families and individuals, from all walks of life and from right across the whole of the borough.

“There can be no denying that this is a lot of money to commit – especially during times of Government austerity – but that said, we feel that it is important that throughout our anniversary year we can provide everyone with the opportunity to celebrate and offer an inclusive, accessible programme of events which can improve mental health and wellbeing, as well as increase participation and confidence in the future of St Helens.”

In order to develop its reputation further, and help local art organisations to become more self-sustaining over the longer term, an approach has been agreed upon to bring together the collective strengths of the arts and cultural sector across the borough to form an Arts and Culture Partnership.

This partnership would be housed in a newly developed St Helens Arts and Cultural Centre, which would be located in the heart of the town. It is proposed that the centre would be located within the existing World of Glass building, which will require redeveloping and extending to accommodate key partners and allow for a greater selection of arts and cultural activities to take place.

An arts and cultural centre within the town will provide people with an attractive alternative to visit the town centre and it a competitive advantage over nearby towns, as well as forming part of the wider vision to redevelop and transform St Helens Town Centre.

The centre would also include conference and exhibition facilities.

Councillor Gill Neal continued: “The council has been working with various arts organisations in the borough for some time now to try and establish a more sustainable way of delivering this type of offer.

“The financial model supporting such organisations needs to shift and it is intended that these organisations should work more collaboratively, while the council will also look at opportunities to provide income, but on the basis of a new model whereby delivery activity also produces desirable outcomes.

“The new model needs to use income sources through initiatives such as social prescriptions. St Helens already has a strong reputation for working in this way, and has dedicated resource located within the St Helens Cares design team looking at how social prescriptions for arts and culture programmes can be embedded within the models for health and social care integration.”

Patrick Fox, Director Heart of Glass said:

“Our borough wide programme will be “place driven”, and we invite our diverse communities to join us in the making of meaning, establishing in the process a range of events, activities and opportunities which will appeal to a wide range of people throughout next year.”

Everyone who lives, works and visits St Helens can get involved in celebrating its 150th anniversary.

We are particularly keen to encourage and support local community groups with any local events they may have planned in the borough in 2018. If you are looking to host an event in St Helens next year and would like to link to the boroughs 150th anniversary plans, you can find out more by emailing sthelens150@sthelens.gov.uk

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