The Head of Housing and Health and the Community and Wellbeing Programme Manager presented a report that invited Members of Overview and Scrutiny Committee to review the draft Cultural Strategy ahead of its submission to the Executive and before its determination by Council, on 2 March 2021.
The Head of Housing and Health said that the report was an opportunity for Members to bring to the attention of the Executive, the comments of the Committee before the Executive made a recommendation to Council that the strategy be adopted.
Members were advised that 2020 had been intended to be the Hertfordshire Year of Culture 2020 (HYOC2020). Despite the pandemic lots of arts and cultural organisations had been able to deliver virtual sessions in a creative and innovative way and this had benefitted residents in the District. The Head of the Housing and Health said that the importance and benefits of a Cultural Strategy remained and were, if anything, even stronger in 2021, in respect of re-engagement and recovery from the pandemic.
The Community Wellbeing Programme Officer explained that the Cultural Strategy presented a very broad overview of the role culture played in people’s lives. Members were reminded that the strategy contained visions and ambitions that required partnership organisations to work with the Council. The Officer also said that a broad range of organisations had signed up to deliver the strategy in partnership with East Hertfordshire District Council.
Members were advised that experience and learning gained from HYOC2020 activities delivered via digital platforms had been incorporated into the strategy document along with input from the Leadership Team, Members and from Officers. The Committee was also advised that in November and December, the strategy was circulated for public consultation. Officers had taken on board comments and suggestions in amending the strategy document which were generally positive.
The Community Wellbeing Programme Officer said that she was very pleased that the Council had attracted some Arts Council funding via the Royal Opera House Bridge project even before the Cultural Strategy had been completed. Members were advised that the renamed Hertfordshire Lifestyle Network wished to learn from East Hertfordshire District Council’s experience in developing a cultural strategy for Hertfordshire.
The Executive Member for Wellbeing made a number of comments in support of the Cultural Strategy document. He said that some more work would be required in terms of an engagement plan and delivery. He emphasised that his vision of the strategy was to “plug into” things that the Council was already doing such as the healthy hub and social prescribing. He said that he hoped the strategy would enable the Council to reach residents who did not have access to arts and culture.
Councillor Goldspink said that this was an excellent strategy and was particularly pleased to see the inclusivity of the Cultural Strategy and the emphasis that had been placed on the fact that the strategy was for everybody in the community. She referred to the very clear and honest comments that had been made by various respondents and in particular, those made in respect of difficulties that were posed by the lack of funds for running cultural events.
Councillor Goldspink made a suggestion that the image on the very last page of the document would be more in keeping with the ethos of the strategy if this could be changed to reflect a more inclusive picture of a group of people representing East Herts community.
Councillor Curtis said that the Council needed to have targets and actions in terms of measuring how effectively the strategy had been implemented and asked how progress towards meeting those targets would be monitored. He said that there was no mention in the document of the Old River Lane development in Bishop’s Stortford and how this would fit into the Cultural Strategy. He concluded that it needed to be made clearer how the Council would refer back to the Cultural Strategy in terms of the Corporate Plan.
The Executive Member for Wellbeing said that a stakeholder session might need to be arranged with some Members and key stakeholders, and that he had been having discussions with Officers about the viability of carrying out some measureable work on the impact of the cultural strategy.
Councillor Snowdon said that the document was a good start. He said that he would like to see some more action points in the strategy document and he felt that the focus of the strategy was very much on the arts as opposed to culture. He also pointed out that heritage did not really feature in the strategy.
The Community Wellbeing Programme Officer said that the £5,000 Arts Council funding, through the Royal Opera Bridge House Project, was for consultation with young people of what they would like to see happening for them in East Herts. She said that this consultation activity would be led by Hertford Theatre.
The Executive Member for Wellbeing said that there had been no intention to limit the Cultural Strategy to exclude things like heritage. He stated that there was always the opportunity to work with organisations that were interested in heritage and its impact on society.
Councillor Bell commented on the importance of not excluding residents with a range of different disabilities. She said that people with disabilities often found accessing culture very difficult and she asked whether a section on this could be added to the Cultural Strategy document. The Executive Member for Wellbeing referred to the future work of the overarching steering and delivery groups. He also commented on the idea of themed cultural weeks and seasons as well as the idea of tapping into the work of volunteers in East Herts.
Councillor Drake referred to the statement on page 8 of the document in terms of relative deprivation which could hamper access to arts and culture. She said that the document needed to go a bit further in terms of tackling deprivation with a particular focus on children who lived in such areas and the inability of families who lived in deprived areas of being able to pay to access cultural activities. The Executive Member commented on the availability of community grants, locality budgets and the East Herts lottery and targeted funding and fundraising towards particular needs.
Councillor Frecknall commented on the importance of smart targets and the use of active and passive language and he said that everything that the Council was doing should be as active as it could be. He commented on the things the Council could do in terms or working with providers in respect of climate change. He said that it was important that it be set out what the impact of the Cultural Strategy document could be so that this could be actively measured.
The Community Wellbeing Programme Officer commented on the development of smart targets and said that before the Cultural Strategy action plan was developed, this would be subjected to an equality impact assessment. Officers would take on board comments and suggestions in respect of topics such as access for people with disabilities and enabling deprived people to access and participate in arts and cultural activities.
Councillor Symonds made a number of points about access for residents who lived in deprived wards in East Herts and how the Council could reach the residents of those wards.
Councillor Kaye asked about the feelings and sentiments of the various organisations that had responded to the consultation in terms of whether there was cautious optimism regarding the Cultural Strategy or more of a sense of enthusiasm.
The Community Wellbeing and Programme Manager highlighted the various ways that organisations in East Herts had reacted positively to the situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councillor Stevenson said that the strategy document was a very good start and it would be a good idea to identify more organisations such as Courtyard Arts who could take ideas out into the community. She emphasised the importance of involving people who had creative ideas and who could use that creativity.
Councillor Wyllie made an observation that the only town and organisation that was mentioned in the document was the Hertford Night Community Voice. Councillor Buckmaster said that were no limits to the imagination in terms of who the Council could connect with in terms of reaching out to the people who really needed to be reached.
It was proposed by Councillor Curtis and seconded by Councillor Drake, that in respect of the proposed draft Cultural Strategy, Members’ comments be forwarded to the Executive for consideration and prior to Council for determination. After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that in respect of the proposed draft Cultural Strategy, the comments of Overview and Scrutiny Committee be forwarded to the Executive for consideration and prior to Council for determination.