Big plans for Peterborough to become a ‘Bronze Age’ York and host BBC cultural archives

Turning Peterborough into a historical city similar to York, welcoming the BBC’s precious cultural archives and transforming education are just some of the ideas which have Pat Carrington full of excitement.

Bronze Age discoveries at Must Farm
Bronze Age discoveries at Must Farm

But while all those plans remain at the early stages there is just plain joy at having sheep and a shepherd at her disposal, rather than just classrooms and children.

That is because the principal of City College Peterborough is now in charge of the crown jewels in Peterborough’s cultural, heritage, arts and library services following the collapse of Vivacity’s finances due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The sheep and shepherd relate to Bronze Age site Flag Fen which is not only at the heart of Ms Carrington’s plans for the future, but also caused one of her earliest headaches when a fire broke out shortly after the college became responsible for its operations.

Fortunately, no collections were affected by the blaze, and plans are being developed to re-open Flag Fen later this year.

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    The pandemic has played havoc with arts and leisure services across the country, but in an exclusive interview with the Peterborough Telegraph Ms Carrington outlined an optimistic vision for the future, stating: “I’m really excited. I just think the potential that we have - that can be driven by the strong and committed staff that we’ve got, the opportunities are endless.”

    It was revealed during the interview that:

    . Talks are ongoing to bring the BBC’s cultural archive into a new library and cultural hub in Bridge Street (currently occupied by TK Maxx)

    . The hub may also host T Levels - the technical equivalent of A-Levels - with courses linked to those being offered at the new city university

    . Flag Fen could re-open on the shortest day of the year (December 21) with efforts being made to get Time Team present

    . The Vivacity shop in Queensgate is expected to re-open in the coming weeks and offer a wide range of services

    . Plans to expand entertainment at the Key Theatre are being drawn up

    . Services taken over by the college are now being run by a new, not-for-profit trading company called City Culture Peterborough which Ms Carrington heads up

    The services previously run by Vivacity were handed over to the college in Brook Street and Peterborough Limited at the end of September with the latter taking on leisure provision. Both bodies are part of the council.

    The handover was “planned like a military operation” and went off “smoothly” according to Ms Carrington, who said there was no hesitation in taking on services which have been devastated by the global pandemic, with some even remaining closed months after lockdown ended.

    “It was an easy decision because the value all of those areas can bring to the city and local people we have to make work,” she said.

    “I’m in the business of education, but education in the broadest sense. Qualifications are important, but what we feel is just as important is the way you develop the individual as a whole.

    “It’s about developing people’s capacities to develop their social mobility, to achieve their potential, to give them opportunities they may not have experienced in their life so far.

    “Museums, libraries and culture do that, so for me it’s an extension of how we can make those services support people to enrich their lives.

    “So the decision wasn’t a challenge. What will be a challenge is how we manage it in the most cost-effective way.”

    The college currently looks after libraries in Cambridgeshire, which prompted the initial conversations after it became clear not-for-profit trust Vivacity would have to hand back the services outsourced to it by the city council a decade earlier, with staff transferring to both the college and Peterborough Ltd.

    There will be “economies of scale” as the college already has senior staff in place, while it is in talks with Arts Council England and Heritage England about attracting funding.

    It was announced earlier this month that £493,068 from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund had been awarded to support the Key Theatre, Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery and Flag Fen.

    For the time being, Ms Carrington has been trying to make sure the 142 members of Vivacity staff transferred over to her care are reassured about their futures and encouraged to help boost their workplaces.

    To begin that process, each individual had a hand-written welcome card sent to their front door, while a series of virtual meetings between managers and staff have been held. On each occasion managers placed themselves in venues as they answered questions.

    “From our point of view it was good to do and I thought it went well,” Ms Carrington said.

    As for whether redundancies will be needed as the financial support from the Government comes down, she added: “We are going to need those front-serving staff and cannot deliver services without them.”

    There remains huge uncertainty about the immediate future, but the ambition remains large.

    Peterborough is currently forming a cultural strategy which is expected to be revealed later this year, and even though the council has only committed to the current arrangements with the college and Peterborough Ltd for 12 months, plans are still being made both for the short and long term.

    “We have to deliver some things pretty quickly to gain confidence,” Ms Carrington said.

    “There will be some things we can do very quickly and some which will be longer term plans. But what’s important is we do this in a managed way, not a scattergun approach.”

    That includes getting venues such as Flag Fen and the museum back up and running successfully but also getting input from the wider community, including from ‘Friends’ groups of the museum and Key Theatre.

    For that purpose, a community consultation plan is being produced so views can be shared before the overarching “vision” for the city is finalised.

    Council leader Cllr John Holdich has been chair of the college’s board of governors for more than 40 years.

    He told the PT: “I think this is brilliant. We can plug into different areas of the community and bring people together.

    “I wouldn’t have let it happen if it was going to affect the college. Our view is we can expand the college and the vision of the city by doing this.

    “It’s a great opportunity for us at the city council and for the college. I’m genuinely excited about how we can expand the offer of what’s already there.”

    This is one of a five part interview with Pat Carrington on the future of cultural services in Peterborough. All articles will appear on the Peterborough Telegraph’s website at: https://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/.