high streets

Historic England unveils first phase of ‘biggest ever’ community-led arts and heritage programme

Image: Street and fairground, Powis Street, Woolwich High Street © Hayley Madden

Billed by Historic England as the “biggest ever community-led arts and heritage programme in the public realm”, the first details of a £7.4 million Cultural Programme benefitting dozens of Engand’s high streets have been announced.

The launch of a High Street Tales podcast series and accompanying ebook has kick-started a four-year national Cultural Programme led by Historic England, in partnership with Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The scheme has been created with the goal of making high streets more attractive, engaging and vibrant places through the installation of digital and physical artworks inspired by the local area.

Ellen Harrison, Historic England’s head of creative programmes and campaigns, says the organisation is “taking a unique approach in combining cultural programming, community engagement and physical regeneration to transform high streets”.

Hastings - Trinity Street, Church and Library © Alice Hepple

The £7.4 million Cultural Programme is part of a broader £95 million High Streets Heritage Action Zone initiative, which is currently working to bolster the high streets of 68 English towns and cities.

£40 million of the project’s total figure comes from the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport’s Heritage High Street Fund, £52 million from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Future High Streets Fund, and a further £3 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Alongside the national Cultural Programme, the 68 High Streets Heritage Action Zones will each receive grants from Historic England for their ‘cultural consortia’ of local arts organisations. This money will be used to create area-specific cultural offerings for their high streets over the coming three years.

What's on?

The Cultural Programme 2020-2024 comprises:

  • High Street Tales
    Storytellers have captured the everyday magic of high streets, working with local people to record ‘local legends’ and create a set of short stories about today’s high street, in ebook and podcast format
  • Future of the High Street
    10 short films by contemporary filmmakers exploring our high streets
    (Released March 2021 onwards)
  • Twin Towns
    A group of contemporary artists each create artworks which connect high streets that may be distant geographically, but close in experiences and spirit
    (From summer 2021)
  • Sound Walks
    Organised with the National Trust, this commission will see artists working with local High Streets Heritage Action Zones communities to create six immersive Sound Walks during Heritage Open Days
    (10-19 September 2021)
  • Picturing England’s High Streets
    A three-year photography commission to creatively document the changing face of the nation’s high street
    (Concluding in 2024)
  • Outdoor Arts Commission
    A large-scale outdoor arts commission, created in collaboration with local communities and young people across five high streets in 2023

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we believe that culture can play a crucial role in reanimating the high street and bringing life back to our historic town centres,” states Laura Dyer, deputy CEO, Places & Engagement, Arts Council England.

“This dynamic Cultural Programme will help realise that ambition, giving a range of creatives – from photographers and filmmakers to visual artists and writers – opportunities to celebrate the stories and communities linked to high streets across the country. As well as create engaging physical and digital artworks, making them more attractive places to live and visit.”