New community network to put Swindon on cultural map

By Claire Dukes - 16 May 2019

CommunityArts and Culture

'Want more out of Swindon'? A new community network is launching to bring the town's creatives together in a bid to throw Swindon's cultural scene into the spotlight.

This evening will see the launch of the Creative Swindon Network - a community group looking to push Swindon's arts and culture scene onto a bigger map.

As part of the Swindon Spring Festival, the new initiative is inviting residents to have their say on the progression of the town's creative and cultural development. This evening a panel of industry experts will share their vision for the town at Swindon Arts Centre.

Hannah Parry is one of the leading figure heads behind the new group. She said: "The idea for the Network came from the opportunity to submit an application for Arts Council funding specifically for towns that the Arts Council classed as having limited arts engagement.

"We had so much interest from people wanting to be part of potential projects. Well over 100 local people came to meetings to talk about what they’d like to see happen. Unfortunately, there was a really short time between us finding out about the opportunity and the application deadline and there just wasn’t time to get a bid together.

"We realised that although we weren’t ready for that bid, what would help us be ready next time was creating a network and to start creating small projects and building skills and relationships, then start scaling projects up and gradually applying for larger amounts of funding, building up to the big Arts Council application.”

Ahead of the launch the Creative Swindon Network has already gained interest and backing amongst the town's creative circles including organisations and community groups such as Swindon Libraries, Swindon Artswords, Swindon Learning Town, Prime Theatre, Artsite & The Postmodern, Mechanics' Institution Trust, Swindon Pakistan Foundation and Swindon Viewpoint. 

Mark Powell, Artistic Director of Prime Theatre, says Swindon deserves to be recognised for its underlying creative talent. He said: "Creative Swindon Network is a rare thing! A group that formed itself because of several positive ambitions coming together at the same time.

"As a mix of individuals, organisations, artists and audience, it’s the catalyst Swindon needs to achieve the cultural step change it so deserves.”

Allie Brown, another brainchild behind the scheme, added: “It’s a really informal group and anyone is welcome to join. Probably the most common complaints about Swindon are that nothing happens here, or people don’t know how to find out about what’s happening. The Network is the perfect way to meet people and find out what's happening. And for people who want to, to start talking about ways to help improve Swindon's cultural life - either as an artist, an organiser or an audience member.

"You don't need to be a professional artist or fantastically talented. You might think you have no creative skills at all, which is fine. You just need to be interested in helping to improve what happens in Swindon. That could be anything from having the idea for a small project in your local community to helping out with a major festival for the town.

"We hope that being part of the network will enable people to come together and make things happen that they couldn't do alone. It’s about being stronger together.”

The launch will open with a five-minute film from Swindon Viewpoint showing the last 180 years of Swindon's cultural life, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session.

Who's on the panel?

  • Angela Atkinson: author of the books Secret Swindon and the forthcoming Swindon in 50 Buildings, writer of the Born Again Swindonian blog, and Chair of Swindon Civic Voice.
  • Atiff Ghafar: Founder and Community Engagement lead for the Swindon Pakistan Foundation, a community-based organisation which aims to empower and inspire the Swindon Pakistani community, with Arts and Culture as an area of focus.
  • Dale Heenan: Cabinet Member for the Town Centre; Conservative Councillor for Covingham & Dorcan.
  • Jane Milner-Barry: Spokesperson for Town Centre Regeneration, Heritage and Culture; Labour Councillor for Old Town.
  • Olly Webb: Artistic Director of Swindon-based Darkroom Theatre Company and freelance theatre practitioner working locally with youth and inclusive theatre companies.

After the panel discussion there will be drinks in the bar from 9pm to 10pm. BBC Wiltshire's Culture Club with Sue Davies will also be broadcasting live from the Arts Centre café from 7pm.

The Launch takes place at Swindon Arts Centre from 8pm Thursday 16 May.

For tickets visit http://bit.ly/CSNLaunchComps.

For further information on the Network, see their Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/369969336524154/.

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