A Young Arts Fundraisers event in March explored the challenges and opportunities that Levelling Up presents to the cultural sector, how the
initiative can be authentic and sustainable, and what changes we might see in social ecologies as a result.
Two rounds of Levelling Up Funds (LUF) have been awarded in October2021 and January 2023, including numerous cultural projects. We have also seen the reshaping of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio in response to Levelling Up ‘Priority Places’ and ‘Priority Places for Culture’. If you are interested in seeing what a LUF bid looks like, successful bids are published on local authority websites. My organisation, the De La Warr Pavilion (DLWP) is a combined arts centre in Bexhill, East Sussex. We are a key partner in a successful Levelling Up bid by Rother District Council, awarded January 2023. Following YAF’s event, I am delighted to share information and about our project; one example of the impact Levelling Up can offer arts organisations and our communities.
Led by Rother District Council, the successful bid was titled ‘Bexhill: Culture, Community and Skills’. The £19.2m investment will enable the cultural-led regeneration, focused on improving the lives of the most disadvantaged people in Rother. The bid focused on two connected sites in Bexhill: major renovation and improvement of the De La Warr Pavilion and new community facilities in Sidley, creating new jobs, skills and training opportunities, and bolstering careers in the area’s creative and cultural sectors, particularly for young people.
Despite being in Southeast England, Bexhill contains acute deprivations: Sidley Ward is in the UK’s 1% of most deprived areas, with Bexhill Central in the top 20%. Both areas have a seven-year life expectancy deficit compared to the wider region, low wages, and job density. DLWP itself is one of the most significant modernist buildings in the UK. Opened 1935, the seafront Grade I Listed Pavilion has faced over 85 years of exposure to the elements and needs investment to secure its future. A 2005 refurbishment kickstarted the Pavilion’s current combined arts programme, but it was delivered for under half its original budget, leaving unresolved structural challenges; our teams are fight widespread leaks and curved glass windows are prone to cracking.
Our 1,500 capacity attracts headline acts such from Suede to The Flaming Lips, Warpaint and Kate Tempest. However, it was excluded from the 2008 project and has never received major investment since 1935! Bar and toilet capacities are stretched by our flagship events. Finally, artist and community spaces are not prominently positioned and lacking capacity. The Levelling Up development includes improved accessibility, new auditorium technical and learning facilities, the redevelopment of spaces for outdoor community events, and environmental systems to meet net carbon neutral ambitions.
The short window for LUF applications posed challenges for some applicants. However, our shared ambitions with the local authority, in conjunction with DLWP’s existing community relationships and longstanding capital ambitions, meant that our shared ambitions were already thoroughly developed. DLWP has extensive experience delivering creative activities in partnership with community groups and education providers in Sidley, notably Big Local Trust Heart of Sidley. Furthermore, prior to Covid-19, our team had been working behind the scenes to develop a major capital project for several years. This meant a comprehensive evidence base and delivery plan in place when the opportunity for Rother District Council to submit a LUF application arose. Maintaining a dialogue with key stakeholders meant that Rother District Council’s vision for Bexhill’s future – with culture playing a leading role in skills, tourism and employment in the town – aligned with ours; with the Pavilion recognised as a key catalyst for the region’s cultural and skills ecology.
The process reasserted the importance of relationships with local authorities and community stakeholders. For early career fundraisers across the country, I would encourage you to familiarise yourself with regional public authority strategies around skills, tourism, and culture. If relationships with key local stakeholders sit with Trustees or Senior colleagues, ask about how these relationships work and how you can help to cultivate them. When organising events or receptions, consider how you can keep local stakeholders engaged; many of them are probably part of your audiences already – and perhaps may even be prepared to join your individual giving schemes!
Looking forwards, the De La Warr Pavilion team is excited that work in Sidley, a state-of-the-art hub for community and creative activities, alongside new sports changing facilities, can begin relatively quickly. For the Pavilion’s team, further hard work is to come. The overall cost of our planned capital project is £23.2m, with funding to be raised from other sources to cover the remainder of the project costs hereon.
Posted Nov 28 2023