To consider the attached report.
The Museum Culture and Heritage Specialist, Tony O’Conner advised that he would be presenting a report on the Epping Forest District Council Cultural Strategy (2020-2025). He introduced his colleague Carly Hammond, Museum and Culture Heritage Specialist who shared the same role.
The driver for the creation of a cultural strategy for the district came about from recommendations from the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), it was the government organisation which recommended the establishment of these types of strategies for local authority areas and it was supported by some of the major funders including Arts Council England who had laid out a lot of the support information in terms of what should consist of a cultural strategy.
The Peer Review in 2018 identified the production of a Cultural Strategy, which had been developed for the Epping Forest District to identify programmes of work which support the role culture played in the Council’s corporate objectives of Stronger Communities, Stronger Place and Stronger Council as well as those of key external partners.
The Cultural Strategy fulfilled a role in supporting place making economic wellbeing health agendas across the Councils wider agenda, there was an extensive cultural offer across the district. Much of it was operated within the voluntary and other parts of the third sector, but one aspect which was really missing was the joining of all of those cultural offers together and really celebrating and promoting within the district and beyond.
In developing this strategy, consultation was undertaken with a representative range of cultural organisations and partners across the district, this included an online survey undertaken by residents and visitors to the district and face to face interviews with community, culture and wellbeing partners.
The key findings of this survey were:
· The core age group of respondents were from the BeWell target market (working age adult market set out within EFDC’s Health & Wellbeing Strategy);
· 82% of respondents had visited a museum or art gallery in the last six months;
· Over half had also visited the library;
· Most people undertook cultural activities with family, friends or alone;
· Over 91% of respondents wanted to find out more about heritage based activities;
· 99% of those respondents thought that culture was important; and
· 98% thought culture played an important part in individual and community wellbeing.
Developing the Strategy drew upon all of those elements of consultation and advice from various bodies and the Strategy document, attached to the agenda, had six key outcome areas in order to focus on.
(a) To ensure that Epping Forest District Council continued to celebrate and provide a sustainable strong cultural offer for current and future residents and visitors.
Action: To achieve the creation of a cultural hub in Waltham Abbey. In the Peer Review the Museum was recognised as more than just a Museum and the coming together of the cultural and health and wellbeing teams to make use of the venue in Waltham abbey had really enhanced the community value of that. The proximity of that building adjoining the library provided by Essex County Council also provided a unique experience to build on within the district and to recreate wider opportunities for the community. Across the rest of the district to encourage the growth of cultural clusters across there are a whole range of cultural groups, venues and sites around the district to get those to work more closely together. To ensure that cultural opportunities could be taken forward by the Council’s Local Plan and other development opportunities so that leisure activities were available for future residents.
(b) To champion increased partnership working between the Council and external partners to increase culture participation and access
Action: To create a framework to bring together existing cultural providers across the district. Identify and Develop partnership funding to build capacity and pursue opportunities for investment into cultural programs to support community wellbeing and economic development. Epping Forest District Council will actively seek to develop partnership projects across the district to increase awareness and access to the cultural offer.
(c) That cultural priorities were reflected in emerging plans and strategies.
Action: EFDC will identify funding opportunities and encourage a district wide strategic approach to maximize the role of culture in supporting community health and wellbeing and economic development.
(d) That the cultural offer in the district was inclusive and was accessible to all ages, cultures, communities and abilities.
Action: To introduce a district wide cultural festival to be held biannually at the EFD Museum and other venues across the district. To identify, support and drive forward inclusive approaches to the cultural offer across the district.
The Museum in Waltham Abbey had been given the approval as an autism friendly venue by the Autism Society which again opens up a range of developments that we can offer at the Museum.
(e) That the cultural offer was linked to education and well-being agendas.
Action: To expand the success of the Council’s Health and Wellbeing networks by expanding and linking to cultural providers to maximize the role the local sector provides in supporting the district economy and community health and wellbeing. Develop the Epping Forest Creative Network to work with cultural education practitioners and providers to support access to a rounded and innovative cultural curriculum.
(f) To support the economic prosperity of the district, including the visitor economy.
Action: Work to make the Epping Forest district more ‘visible’ regionally and nationally, trialing a branded district wide cultural festival weekend, which will combine heritage open days, exhibitions, art trail and advertised talks as a district package. Develop mechanisms to encourage and enable cultural groups to have a presence on the Visit Epping Forest website to promote their activities.
Much of this wasn’t about creating new things but building what was already there and bring it together in a much more coherent and visible format.
The meeting was then opened up to questions from members.
Councillor I Hadley commented that only just over half the people surveyed had visited the library and asked I this was correct.
The Museum and Culture Heritage Specialist, Carly Hammond advised that was what was reported from the online survey, we have met with Essex Libraries to explore opportunities to work with them more closely and what was interesting to find out that the focus on the libraries was much more about public engagement and social engagement and they replicated many of the activities that we do as a museum service next door. We will look to link our work together with the library to ensure that we are not duplicating the work.
Councillor H Whitbread stated that she had just spent some time in the city of culture in Hull and what they did really well was signposting. Hull had a lot of investment from Central Government and they were particularly good in marketing and promotion which was sponsored by local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce etc. She asked what the Council were doing in relation to bringing culture and activities to peoples attention and also in terms of history. I know a lot of other Councils had blue pack programs
The Museum and Culture Heritage Specialist, Tony O’Connor advised that being a City of Culture was one of the great examples of where culture could play a huge role and it was helped with a massive amount of money from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It really took route within the local community and signposting was really important. We work with a range of partners across the district to promote and signpost the Museum where we can. We are very conscious that within the district it was very fragmented and that joined up publicity isn’t really there at the moment.
Councillor D Wixley stated that he had visited the Ice Age exhibition before Christmas and although he found it very interesting. He stated that he realised that a lot of the ice age artifacts came from the Lowewood Museum and where would all the artefacts now go.
The Museum and Culture Heritage Specialist, Tony O’Connor advised that situation with Lowewood that we will be ending our service level agreement at the end of June 2020. After that Broxbourne Borough Council have indicated that they are to close the museum after us stepping away. We have been advising Broxbourne Borough Council as to their responsibilities as an accredited museum is closed and the collections are to be disposed of. Firstly Broxbourne Borough Council would need to contact the donors of the artefacts to see if they would like them returned and try to identify accredited museums to ask them if they would like to take on any of their collections.
There were a number of items we would like to take over especially the River Lea fossil collection and the prehistoric related material.
The Chairman thanked the Officers for presenting their report to the Select Committee.
That the report on the Museum, Heritage and Culture LGA Peer Challenge be noted by the Select Committee.