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Using culture and heritage to regenerate towns

Published: 7 February 2022

The AHRC funded 'Towns and the Cultural Economies of Recovery' project brings together researchers from humanities and social sciences to identify future research priorities for culture and economic recovery in towns. The project is led by Professor Nicky Marsh and the Southampton Institute for Arts and Humanities (SIAH), working closely with the University of London, NESTA, Historic England and the Centre for Towns (CfT) think tank.

Impact of the 'Towns Fund' 

In 2019, the Government invited 100 towns to develop proposals for a 'Town Deal' as part of the £3.6 billion ‘Towns Fund’. The towns qualified for additional support in four key areas:

  • transport
  • broadband connectivity
  • skills
  • culture.

The research team is exploring the processes and decision-making behind the fund and examining how it has been received by local communities. 

This project will give Southampton’s new research institute a chance to help set the civic regeneration agenda.

Importance of a multi-disciplinary approach

An essential part of the project is the unique series of partnerships that have been built across the heritage, creative and cultural sectors. Dr Will May, Associate Professor in English, who is leading the research work on people and skills explains that "It’s only by this collaborative work we can develop the cross-disciplinary research agenda which best supports economic, cultural, and environmental regeneration."

Cultural highlights

At the end of the project, the team will produce a scoping report based on workshops, interviews and literature reviews. Some of the event highlights so far include:

  • a giant map of Boscombe, lead by artist Michelle Rumney, showing the town as children hope it might be in 2050 
  • a poem called 'Darlo Matters' written by Lisette Auton from discussions with Darlington residents
  • a performance of 'Hope for Hereford' where young people expressed their views of the town and the changes it needs
  • a digital art project by artists Emma Edmondson and Lu Williams called 'What makes good public art?' inspired by research about how artists are valued in Southend.

The scoping report will propose ways that researchers can respond innovatively to the cultural and creative industries as they support social and economic regeneration. It will inform UKRI’s future research priorities.