No, dear reader, please don’t laugh – I’m being serious, very serious. And very serious is the situation that Peterborough might find itself in if it doesn’t adopt a strong, coherent vision for culture in the city from now until 2030.
Over the past few years there have been numerous attempts to promote and invigorate the arts in Peterborough and the City Council has created organisations to make this happen.
Vivacity was the last of these – this disappeared in 2020 and many would say that some of its demise was down to a top-heavy and remote management structure.
Vivacity has now handed its services (and its virtually empty coffers) back to the council which has decided that arts and culture will now come within the remit of the City College under the leadership of Pat Carrington MBE.
There are many in Peterborough who not only wish Peterborough well but who also have a wide range of experience and expertise. Stuart Orme, currently curator of the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon, has ideas that will certainly be of use to future decision makers. Kate Hall of Jumped Up Theatre has vast experience of engaging individuals and communities. Cllr Steve Allen, the cabinet member for Housing, Culture and Recreation, is Peterborough through and through and undoubtedly wants the best for the city.
However, Peterborough itself might not be able to solve its own problems. The city needs to bring in leaders from outside with proven track records in promoting the arts and giving them high visibility. The city also needs to involve citizens hitherto disinterested or even excluded. We know how people can become involved and motivated. I vividly recall the Polish family, newly arrived in Peterborough, enthralled as the English Civil War re-enactor showed off his musket at a recent Heritage Festival. I have been in a room full of people mostly under the age of 25 captivated and entertained by local poets Keely Mills, Charley Genever, Pete Cox and others. My wife Irene fondly recalls her involvement in the fantastic community project ‘In Search of Angels’ from a few years ago. Demand and interest in the arts and culture is there.
Peterborough is full of people who could be involved in the arts and culture in the city in specific or wide senses – either as audience members of eager participants. In Peterborough we are ready to be challenged, incorporated and involved. People of Peterborough should be encouraged to frolic, not put out to graze!
We already know that Peterborough has a great deal to offer. Here are ten things off the top of my head – Key Theatre, Museum, Flag Fen, Lido, Cathedral, Longthorpe Tower, John Clare Cottage, Ferry Meadows, Libraries and the Heritage Festival. There are plenty more so please don’t shout at me for omitting your favourite.
But have we made the best use of those places and locations? Probably not. And of course let’s not forget our new university and how that could enhance the city’s cultural offer.
So, what do we need to ensure that post-Covid Peterborough becomes THE place to be? The solutions are straightforward but nevertheless challenging. We cannot escape the elephant in the room – funding. Sadly
Peterborough is currently so strapped for cash that we can’t even afford the elephant. So we need people with entrepreneurial skills who can attract grants and sponsorship from arts organisations and businesses near and far. Time for Amazon to become involved? We need people who know how to consult with local communities to find out what is possible and what are non-starters. We need people who know how to successfully coordinate and market events. But perhaps most of all Peterborough needs a vision, not just for the next couple of years but one that looks further into the future – Peterborough 2030.
Stuart Orme reminded me what Peterborough’s very own Frank Perkins once said, “Where there is no vision the people will perish”.
All of the above leads to one key word – leadership, political leadership right down to on-the-ground leadership. Wanted: leaders with flair, talent, charisma, empathy, ambition as well as realism. I know those words are easy to use but that’s what’s needed. Some in this city have power, some vision – we need people with both.
Culture and appreciation of the arts is what changes our lives from monochrome to technicolour and once we have that colour back let’s hope that we can go even further and become a High Definition city with the best surround-sound that money can buy! On your marks, get set, GO!