Wigan’s Fire Within

May 30, 2019   By Alison McKenzie-Folan, Chief Executive, Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council

Two weeks ago, after months of hard work, we opened the doors to a brand-new cultural hub in the centre of Wigan. The hub is situated in one of our shopping centres, spread across six empty shopping units. Thinking creatively about how we make the most of our empty units to attract more visitors and potential shoppers to the town is crucial, not just in terms of promoting culture but encouraging economic regeneration. It’s important we think creatively about how to make the most of the assets we have and this was the perfect solution.

Curated by our partners, world-renowned, Wigan-based artists and filmmakers, Al Holmes and Al Taylor, The Fire Within exhibition marks the launch of our exciting five-year strategy to ignite the arts and culture in Wigan Borough.

The strategy is based on five themes – a theme for each year. This year’s theme is all about Wigan’s Future Artists. As part of our ambition we want to nurture the creativity and imagination of our younger generations, to raise their aspirations and inspire them to become what they want to be.

We know the arts sector is booming – the latest figures from the Arts Council shows a £8.5bn contribution to the UK economy, so giving our young people access to those opportunities is a key priority for us. At the launch event we had performances from a local band, local youth orchestras and a young dance group. The aim is to give our young people the opportunity to showcase their skills by working closely with our local education providers to connect pupils to these opportunities. With support from Curious Minds we have invested £200k in thirteen cultural education projects across Wigan Borough to be delivered in 2019/20.

In 2020, we’ll celebrate ‘Digital Wigan’ which aims to highlight and celebrate the digital age and its contribution to the arts. We know the way we communicate and display our creativity is evolving. That’s why our strategy artwork puts so much emphasis on the power of the emoji as a tool for communication – essentially, it’s the modern-day equivalent of the Egyptian hieroglyphic. During 2020 we will harness the power of digital by working closely with regional new media arts organisations and commissioning digital public art works. Our new Heritage Lottery Funded digital archives will also open at Leigh Town Hall, with the creation of a public searchroom, heritage exhibition space and expanded specialist storage strongrooms, providing a network of digital resources for artists and the public.

We understand the impact arts and culture can have on our health and happiness, which is why in 2021 we will begin a programme of cultural events and activities designed to improve our mental and physical health and wellbeing, linked to hosting a series of Rugby League World Cup games in Leigh. We’ll build on existing programmes of work, like our annual health and wellbeing festival – Wellfest to make it even better, while exploring how we can use our expansive greenspaces to stage cultural events and activities. In addition to that we’ll provide more publications about positive mental health in all fifteen of our libraries.

In 2022, we’ll bring the stage to local communities to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access a platform to express their creativity, with a wide range of cultural events and performances taking place across the whole of the borough. We are working with the Royal Exchange Theatre to deliver community programmes.

Ensuring we protect and promote our rich cultural heritage, in 2023 we’ll begin cataloguing Wigan and Leigh’s heritage, from personal stories to Museum archives, engaging with volunteers in the process. We’ll promote heritage days and support local projects. We’ll also ensure we’re making the most of the borough’s industrial heritage sites, like Wigan Pier to keep Wigan’s heritage alive.

The next five years are going to be really exciting for the arts and culture sector in Wigan. I can’t wait to see how The Fire Within sparks creativity and excitement in our town.

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