Using culture to regenerate communities

March 17, 2022

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Local Government Chronicle | 17.03.2022 | Carol Beattie

Carol Beattie CEO Stirling Council
Carol Beattie, Chief Executive Officer, Stirling Council

Stirling’s bid to be named UK City of Culture 2025 will provide investment and support to improve the lives of its residents, writes the chief executive officer of Stirling Council.

Situated in the heart of Scotland, Stirling is steeped in the history of the nation. Iconic landmarks such as Stirling Castle and the National Wallace Monument tower over our stunning landscape as visible reminders of Stirling’s central role in the economy, power and politics of Scotland over the centuries.

But what makes Stirling special is its people. An incredible passion for culture, creativity and innovation flows through our communities. Our ambition is to use this energy and creative spirit to unleash Stirling’s full cultural potential, driving the regeneration of our communities and improving the lives of people living here and indeed the whole of Scotland. Securing UK City of Culture status will provide the investment and support for Stirling to achieve this mission.

The bid is not just for the city of Stirling, but the whole area. The benefits of a successful bid will ripple out across the nation. It will be the catalyst for substantial investment, opening up fantastic opportunities for businesses and organisations the length and breadth of Scotland, providing a significant economic boost as the country recovers from the pandemic. Internationally, it will raise the profile of Stirling and the wider region and create more tourism and event opportunities across Scotland.

Meaningful engagement

The power of collaboration in Stirling is key to increasing participation in cultural activities and fostering a truly inclusive arts and creative sector. We have worked closely with a wide variety of national agencies and built on already positive partnerships with the likes of Historic Environment Scotland, Visit Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Cities Alliance.

Stirling is ready to rebound from the pandemic and use culture to break down barriers, increase participation and boost Scotland’s economic growth in the process

The importance of meaningful engagement with local stakeholders is also vital to our strategic cultural aspirations. This means talking directly with local institutions, businesses, organisations and community groups and ensuring that their voices are heard and input valued. We only have to look at the successful Sistema Scotland ‘Big Noise’ programme which started in Stirling and has spread across Scotland to see the regenerative power of culture on communities.

Stirling has already demonstrated its commitment to use culture to drive regeneration through a number of significant investments. As part of the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal, £10m will be invested in a new international Tartan Centre and creative hub, while an additional £15m will be invested in cultural projects across the region. Stirling’s city centre will also benefit through a £3m conservation area regeneration scheme which will conserve and enhance the city’s unique built heritage. Further investment in Stirling’s vibrant digital district will continue to showcase Stirling as a thriving destination for tech start-ups.

We are small but dynamic city, constantly innovating and evolving; a place where creative careers begin and develop in our tech start-ups and digital hubs. With almost 4,000 businesses, 14,000 university students and a 4.8% forecast increase in population between 2018 and 2028, Stirling is ready to rebound from the pandemic and use culture to break down barriers, increase participation and boost Scotland’s economic growth in the process. Winning the UK City of Culture title is proven to provide significant investment, creating more jobs, skills and volunteering opportunities in the area. Young people will also have more reason to study and stay here, retaining the rich pool of talent developed through the University of Stirling and Forth Valley College.

Inward investment and international attention

Culture is for everyone but we know not everyone starts out on an equal footing. Stirling is home to some of Scotland’s most affluent neighbourhoods but also some of its most deprived communities. Stirling’s bid will use culture and the arts to bring transformative, lasting change for all its communities, through regeneration, innovation and investment. Our vision has been embraced by Stirling-based and national organisations, community groups and businesses, with more than 300 already pledging their support, along with Scotland’s leading arts, tourism, heritage and business organisations. This gives us renewed impetus to achieve our goals.

All of Stirling’s communities are guardians of its culture. Together, we will deliver a year of culture that is inclusive, diverse and accessible. It will increase opportunities for those who need them most and deliver wide-ranging economic benefits for the people of Stirling and Scotland.

We will capitalise on collaborations with wider networks such as Scottish Cities Alliance, and regional/national initiatives including the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal and Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022, to broaden the reach of our cultural appeal. Ultimately, we are determined to ensure that every citizen of the UK can see a little bit of themselves reflected in Stirling.

Stirling has drawn inspiration from Dundee and Paisley, whose status as cultural destinations soared following their City of Culture bids. This is why, with or without the UK City of Culture 2025 title, we are committed to investing over £28m of capital in culture to power inclusion, economic growth and regeneration. Nevertheless, winning the bid would bring more inward investment and international attention to Stirling, providing us with a visible and meaningful platform to celebrate our rich heritage and achievements, together with opportunities to scale up our activities.

The centrepiece of our official bid submission saw lines from a collective poem by the people of Stirling celebrating their home city projected onto the National Wallace Monument as part of a spectacular light show. It was a major milestone in our bid journey and a celebration of Stirling’s passion and creativity. It was also a visible statement of our desire and belief that we can do much more. By fully unleashing Stirling’s distinctive, inclusive and universal cultural potential, one that is authentically drawn from our people, we are ready to open an exciting new chapter in Stirling and Scotland’s history.

Carol Beattie, Chief Executive Officer, Stirling Council