Lancashire needs to tell a better cultural story if it is to make the most of all it has to offer visitors from home and abroad.
That is the conclusion of a report commissioned by Lancashire’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) exploring how the region can better use its cultural assets to boost its economy.
The document describes the county’s geographical diversity as one of its greatest cultural strengths – but also an obstacle to be overcome.
It says the potential benefits of culture to the county is “compelling”, but warns that Lancashire is in a “chicken and egg” situation when it comes to securing national funding, because of the relatively small size of its cultural institutions.
A meeting of the LEP board heard that nine Lancashire organisations are regarded as having national significance by Arts Council England – including The Harris Museum in Preston, Blackpool’s Grand Theatre and the Burnley Youth Theatre.
However, the arts body invests just £7 per head of population in Lancashire, compared to £38 in Manchester – over 80 per cent less.
Board members were told that Lancashire also needs to develop a better “overarching story” as the basis for selling its cultural identity to investors and visitors – and to improve the county’s international links.
The draft report, by the Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy, says there are “gaps and challenges” which are holding back Lancashire’s cultural economy.
“Cultural organisations in Lancashire are, broadly, relatively small and struggle to develop the capacity and strategic muscle required to give confidence to investors.
“Geographically, the unique mix of a long coast-line, large rural areas, towns and small cities, is both a challenge – [because] it lacks the catalysing power of a large city – and an opportunity to make the most of its diversity and extraordinary post-industrial heritage,” the document notes.
However, the report also describes culture in the county’s as “thriving” and stresses the potential for Lancashire’s universities to play an even bigger role in the sector that they already do. The document lays out the many cultural strengths of the county and identifies more than 100 cultural assets – from festivals and museums to theatres and football clubs.
It also repeats previous recommendations for the creation of a cultural investment board to advise local authorities and the LEP on how to harness the county’s cultural strengths. The board was identified as being the “natural overseer” of any Lancashire bid to be the UK’s City of Culture in 2025.
A separate report commissioned by the LEP recommended earlier this year that the county apply for the status, which was described as a “transformational opportunity” by Marketing Lancashire chair, Tony Attard.