02 July 2024

Culture as a driver for change

Our world is becoming increasingly homogenised and at the same time people have more choices in how to spend their time and money. In influencing these choices to support the regeneration of towns and cities we need to build upon the existing attributes of a place to enhance, and sometimes create, a distinct identity that sets the location apart from others. 

The use of culture is a key tool in achieving this distinctiveness. Culture is a much-used phrase in many walks of life but what does that mean?

The reality is that there is no single concept of culture. Culture is essentially the things we do as people and is therefore multi-layered and highly subjective. The culture of a location and what happens there, is essentially what makes it interesting.

When it comes to regenerating a town or city space, architects, developers and planners must first get to understand the make-up of the location and its people to even begin to capture the essence of that place. Providing distinctive attractions for both local people and visitors to visit a place is the foundation of regeneration.

Towns need a distinct identity, away from the ‘anytown’ features, and the culture of a place can create that differentiation.  Don’t just do something, do it differently or do it better. If lots of towns are opening food markets, then why should your town do the same, unless you’re going to do it in a special, distinguishing way? Schemes must recognise the importance of distinct cultural features.

The attraction can be anything from a sporting venue, specialist shops, niche restaurants or more traditional cultural venues such as venues and theatres. What matters is that it helps to make the place distinctive and acts as a catalyst to further activity and investment.  

A good example of this is our decision to buy the Playhouse Theatre in Liverpool during our period of work on nearby Queen Square. 

The theatre had called in the receivers  so we purchased it, secured grant funding for a complete refurbishment , refurbished it and sold it back into a newly created theatre trust for a similar sum, leaving it in much better shape than we found it. Why? Not for an instant return in terms of uplift, but because we understood that a vibrant cultural asset adjacent to our site would have a positive impact on footfall and patronage for the restaurants and hotel within the new development.

You can look at Chester for another example. The birth of the Storyhouse kickstarted a strong cultural and leisure quarter in the city centre that had previously been lacking. It helped to attract younger audiences into the area and change how people viewed Chester. It has become the exemplar of how a cultural venue can change a location 

Our plans for Derby MADE, working alongside Derby City Council, also reflect that need for a cultural purpose to help create a clear sense of place. This new development will provide a cultural hub in the heart of the city centre, where a range of commercial space and gathering will combine with a multi-use performance space to bring people together throughout the day and evening.

Derby already has several cultural assets, including the Silk Mill Museum of Making,which is a World Heritage Site, the Joseph Wright Collection and the historic Derby Cathedral. 

2025 will see the completion of the new 3,500 seat Becketwell Performace venue and the reopening of the huge and stunning Derby Market Hall which will both provide the foundations for our future developments and put derby back on the map as an attractive and distinctive place to be.

Culture drives regeneration, regeneration drives culture, and long may it continue.

Our expertise.

We are an urban regeneration specialists who develop cityscapes cleverly and sympathetically. As successful with heritage and listed buildings restorations as with new builds, we have the experience, knowledge and capacity to deliver large development schemes and sustain lasting successful partnerships.