Cultural Placemaking to reduce inequalities and improve health outcomes and quality of life

Cultural placemaking and creative health are central to Northumberland County Council’s regeneration programme for Blyth. This programme exemplifies what can be achieved through a systems-wide approach incorporating culture and creativity in all aspects of local decision-making, and the benefits of using creative approaches to engage local residents, facilitate co-production and regenerate deprived neighbourhoods. Areas of Blyth have very high levels of income deprivation, impacting quality of life and life chances. These areas also experience health inequalities, high levels of crime and antisocial behaviour, and the town centre is struggling, with many empty shops.

Heart of Blyth is a 4-year project (2022-26), attracting a combined total of £1.8m funding which combines a Shaping Places for Healthier Lives (SPHL) project called the Heart of Blyth with a Culture and Placemaking Programme funded by the council and a Town Deal. The microgrant element of the Heart of Blyth Project is part of the Shaping Places for Healthier Lives programme supported by the Health Foundation in partnership with the Local Government Association.

A series of creative pilot projects have been used to capture the aspirations, knowledge and stories of local residents through creative activities including artworks, photography, video and animation. Residents have co-designed and co-produced the wider regeneration programme, which will support a true sense of ownership of the projects that are developed by, for and with local people. The hope is that people will feel listened to, and empowered to have greater control over their lives and build stronger community connections and reap the positive health benefits from the projects they have helped to create, develop and deliver. Microgrants have been made available to help residents to come together, with a common purpose to take more action in their local area. The Heart of Blyth Residents panel, is a group of residents from Blyth who distribute the microgrant fund. Many of the small projects funded by the microgrants have included grass-roots creative, cultural and heritage projects celebrating the assets in Blyth. The creative outputs have been exhibited across the town in shop windows, on hoardings, on bus stops and on banners as the programme develops, turning the town into a gallery. A year-round public arts and events programme will be embedded into new, quality public realm as part of a culture-led regeneration of the town centre and will inform the development of a new Culture Centre with wellbeing and creativity at its heart.

This approach combining culture and creativity with health is embedded across Northumberland County Council, through the Cultural Strategy ‘Our Creative Landscape’. Health and Culture intersect - the cultural strategy has a health and wellbeing goal, and the 2019 Director of Public Health Annual Report focussed on creative health, including the potential for cultural activities to engage and empower people and communities and ultimately reduce inequalities.

Photo Credit: Northumberland County Council - Heart of Blyth ©
Photo Credit: Northumberland County Council - Heart of Blyth ©