I’ve been heard to say that, when I was in my late teens, if you wanted a fight you came to Belper on Friday night.
Fifty years ago the town had a reputation for being ‘a bit rough’.
But every town has to change and adapt as old industries fade and disappear. Reinvention is inevitable and with the collapse of the textile industry in the 1990s Belper was left with a big challenge.
The use of culture as a tool to stimulate local economic development and urban regeneration is proven as a way in which declining industrial centres across the world can salvage their economic base, establishing the ‘creative industries’, which have a significant impact on the economy in terms of jobs provided and wealth created.
Re-generation that embraces culture has created towns that are lively and vibrant. In the past ten years the artistic community in Belper has grown and embraced the opportunities. Collaboration is common place as cross fertilisation of ideas flourishes, leading to a growing arts based economy.
Remember that community arts projects aren’t just about pretty pictures or perfor-mance. They help achieve social aims and stimulate young and old alike. To do that an understanding of the people, of the town and its history is essential. Artists can identify needs and work and engage with their community. One of the biggest worries within regeneration is that people are going to be left behind.
Change is difficult for everyone and one role is about helping local people keep up with it. Voices should be heard and art is a great way to communicate. Artists have the capacity to work in a deep, meaningful way with community groups that are facing change, to facilitate individual expression, and enrich social and cultural development that occurs within communities.
The thing with regeneration that is often forgotten is that it never stops. If regeneration does stop the result is stagnation and the elimination of motivation.
To me, creativity is the life blood of regeneration and should be encouraged everyday. The results in Belper speak for themselves.
By George Gunby