Author Topic: Swindon's Culture: Where is it, what is it and who's responsible for it?  (Read 10299 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Geoff Reid

  • Active But Odd
  • Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 6641
  • Gender: Male
  • Bald as a chimps arse
 
'Exploring Swindon's Culture - An Open Conversation' - About this forum


Nationally speaking, Swindon is often mentioned because it is the butt of a joke.

The town itself is largely perceived as being a bland and relic of 1960's concrete architecture, and thanks to programmes like Ricky Gervaises' 'The Office' the towns image is further reduced to a sadly comedic status in the eyes of many, a sea of warehouses and computer firms staffed exclusively by plodding, dull people.

Plans are well underway to regenerate the town centre and, after a recent fact-finding visit to the already-regenerated City of Sheffield, Rod Bluh said he wanted Swindon to become, 'The Sheffield of the south'.

That seems to take care of the fabric of the town centre for the next 20 years, but what of culture? Does Swindon have a 'cultural' identity and, if it does, how well is it faring?  Who nourishes it, looks after it, renews it year on year and cherishes it?

The Swindon Cultural Partnership has something to say on the subject, and the website of Swindon Borough Council displays a fairly large wad ofcultural information, but I suspect both organisations have merely scratched the surface of mainstream  'marketable' culture in Swindon.  This isn't necessarily a criticism of either organisation, just an honest recognition on my part that it is in the interests of the Council and it's strategic partners to promote Swindon and make it appealing to as broad an audience as possible including inward business, (sometimes overseas), investment. 

The above worries me slightly because I foresee a time when 'political correctness' will be invoked by 'key stakeholders' and 'strategic partners' who are more intent on following and protecting a borough-wide business/cultural plan, than sustaining what is already here, and nurturing the almost organic cultural growth to come.  It is my view that 'officially led' cultural management will lead to some cultural aspects being 'approved', moderated and modified to suit whatever business and political agenda is currently in fashion, rather than what would reflect a natural social evolution. 

I am therefore concerned that Councils, and the cultural quangos they are increasingly setting up, will exercise increasing amounts of 'hands-on' management of all things perceived to be 'cultural', and that this will eventually amount to cultural censorship. This, I suggest, would be a very negative thing for the cultural health of Swindon or any other community because 'delivering' deliberately engineered cultural 'solutions' could, for example, reduce the cultural value of Old Town Swindon to that of Down Town Disney.

If SBC and the Swindon Cultural Partnership do regard themselves as cultural guardians or moderators, and they alone judge what is culturally profitable, (and therefore acceptable), will access to funds, facilities and support then be denied to activities and interests that don't fit the 'official cultural profile' ?   I don't know enough about this to judge whether my fears are unfounded, so I invite comments and discussion from all sides.

As more public realm improvements are made within the Borough, business support and town centre management are increasingly seen as essential to boosting the town centre and attracting inward investment. It seems everyone involved in this becomes a 'strategic partner' this, or 'key stakeholder' that and almost everything to do with anything is expressed in mind boggling management speak. 


To be frank, I know I possess a healthy amount of scepticism, (as shown here), for 'cultural initiatives' which are politically driven and I do recognise that I am less sceptical where a 'hands off' support is offered fairly by councils and their strategic partners.  I am not sure whether the Swindon Cultural Partnership falls into the former or latter bracket, so I again welcome comments.

This leads me to the purpose of the 'Exploring Swindon's Culture - An Open Conversation' forum.  It is exactly what it says on the tin.  I have looked around the borough, (in a virtual sense), and I can't find anywhere else as suitable, or as easy to access, as Talkswindon for a decent and open conversation on culture to occur.  For example, you can submit comments to the cultural partnership, but there is no on-line facility facility for an open, public dialogue to occur. The public comments which do appear are, without exception, all very positive...which suggests to me that censorship is already being applied. The residents of Swindon are honest and tend not to pander to anyone, especially anyone 'official', so an apparently 100% record of positive comment is suspicious in itself. 

I suggest that an independently enabled and open public conversation is inherently more honest, and therefore genuinely informative and valuable to the public, than the partial and official attempts made so far.  The Talkswindon Forum is the only independent venue available locally where this can happen.

I am sure there are many cultural gems in and around Swindon which are almost unknown. Similarly, I expect there are individuals and groups in the borough who don't appear on any official list or publication, don't appear in the limelight, but who are still integral parts of the overall cultural weave.  We would love to hear from as many of them as possible.....

...and perhaps then we can get a good idea of the width and depth of Swindon's cultural tapestry, what condition it is in and how it has been treated. 

I fear that if too many 'mainstream' cultural threads are tugged on to satisfy specific corporate goals, or 'cultural solutions' are engineered to fill marketing niches, the rest of the weave may be weakened, marginalised and begin to unravel....

I would therefore like to encourage an open conversation between as many interested people as possible.  This is potentially a first in Swindon's cultural history, because it not only enables group and individual discussions to occur simultaneously, but enables the cultural community to become truly aware of its own size and interconnectedness.



Please discuss, and share with others who may be interested  :)


In the meantime, I invite the creators, sponsors, patrons, users and lovers of all things cultural to promote* themselves, discuss themselves and discuss each other in this forum.

Contributors will need to register for a Talkswindon membership, this is completely free and takes just a few seconds to complete. (please register using an email account you can access easily because you will be sent an activation email immediately upon registering - check your span folder if the email is not received in 60 seconds)



*Talkswindon is regularly indexed by all the major search engines and has an excellent calendar function for advertising events etc. 

Our preference is for cultural localism and purely commercial concerns are therefore politely asked not to advertise.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2009, 03:41:19 pm by Geoff Reid »

Offline Alex

  • Charter Member
  • Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 591
  • Gender: Female
    • Alex Coppock-Bunce Hypnotherapy & Counselling
I think this is an excellent idea, and being involved in or acquainted with a number of different cultural organisations,  whether artistic or health  orientated I'm delighted to share it with my friends and colleagues to help them to voice what they really think is important and to create a really inclusive and supportive network.

Thank you Geoff :)

Offline Dougal

  • Administrator
  • Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 506
    • Talkswindon.org
www.talkswindon.org is a venue, not a person or political entity. As such, it hopes to encourage input and discussion on any topic, from all walks of Swindon life.   

Offline Jules

  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 11
What a great discussion thread - and very much in tune with what I've been thinking about for a while. Great minds and all that!

I'm originally from Lancashire but have lived in Swindon, via a southern university, for just over 16 years. And in the last 2 years I have really grown to love this place - mainly because I began to discover some cultural hidden gems, and understand what makes this place tick.

Modern Swindon has a relatively recent history, beginning in about 1840 with the arrival of the railway industry, and as such its cultural heritage is largely "working class" or populist, heavily influenced by religious affiliations. For this town musical entertainment revolved around brass bands, and choir and music hall concerts at the Mechanics Institute. This would also be the venue for theatrical performances, and educational amenities such as a lending library, reading room and regular lectures by scholars from Oxford and Bristol Universities. Culture, education and "self-improvement" seemed to be extremely important to Victorian Swindon - and much of the town's cultural and sporting activity was provided by the people themselves.

It strikes me that today the same "have-a-go-and-get-involved" spirit exists in Swindon, so "culture" in the town continues to be largely driven by people passionate about their hobbies and interests, who run clubs, societies and informal gatherings. The only difference seems to be that we no longer have a central hub for cultural activity in the town - instead we have things popping up in disparate venues. Sure there's the Arts Centre, the Art Gallery, the new library, the Richard Jeffries Museum, the Wyvern theatre, Steam and various "leisure" centres around the place - but none of these seem to encapsulate the cultural potential of the town.

Over the past 2 years I have very happily discovered such cultural treats in Swindon as Lower Shaw Farm , the Swindon Festival of Literature, the Artswords Book Group, the Writer's Cafe, Blue Gate poets and the Philosophical Society. I feel sorry that it's taken me such a long time to find these places - I've been too busy previously with pinning down a job, running a business and having kids - but now that I've found them I'm not looking back. Swindon is full, as it has always been, of fabulous people from a wide diversity of backgrounds, with lots to say, and a real enthusiasm for whatever it is they enjoy.

I agree that any committee or civic partnership initiative will run the risk of generating homogenised "solutions", and I also agree that the people of Swindon will not stand for it - they don't need to, they are already very happily running their own "culture" without the interference of a council led body. What is needed is proactivity, someone from the cultural partnership out in the community taking part, meeting people, finding out what they need to really make their cultural pursuits fly - and let other people know what they're up to.

I have to say that having taken a look at the Cultural Partnership website I'm quite encouraged by it - except it doesn't mention what year all their wonderful projects are taking place in - so I don't know whether or not I've already missed them! They do however declare that the area around the new central library is going to be developed as the cultural hub of the town. While I think this is great, it makes me a bit sad for that other place that stands rotting on Emlyn Square, that USED to be the cultural hub of the town and has now been abandonded to fall into ruins. What IS going to happen to the Mechanics Institute? How can it be regenerated so that it provides a cultural link with Swindon's history - and plays its part once again in defining the town's cultural identity?  :-\

Offline Jarvis

  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 293
  • Gender: Male
 
Hi Jules, welcome to Talkswindon  :)


What a great discussion thread - and very much in tune with what I've been thinking about for a while. Great minds and all that!

I'm originally from Lancashire but have lived in Swindon, via a southern university, for just over 16 years. And in the last 2 years I have really grown to love this place - mainly because I began to discover some cultural hidden gems, and understand what makes this place tick.

I'm not a born 'n' bred Swindondian either, but it didn't stop me learning to love the place, (or its people), either....but most of Swindon doesn't seem to want to love itself. Which is sad  :(


Quote
It strikes me that today the same "have-a-go-and-get-involved" spirit exists in Swindon, so "culture" in the town continues to be largely driven by people passionate about their hobbies and interests, who run clubs, societies and informal gatherings. The only difference seems to be that we no longer have a central hub for cultural activity in the town - instead we have things popping up in disparate venues. Sure there's the Arts Centre, the Art Gallery, the new library, the Richard Jeffries Museum, the Wyvern theatre, Steam and various "leisure" centres around the place - but none of these seem to encapsulate the cultural potential of the town.

You're right I think, but I'd add that Swindon won't realise it's cultural potential until it has first gained a better sense of itself. If enough interested people read and contribute to threads like this, that might happen a bit sooner rather than a lot later.  :)

Offline Alex

  • Charter Member
  • Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 591
  • Gender: Female
    • Alex Coppock-Bunce Hypnotherapy & Counselling
Welcome to Talkswindon Jules. Great to hear from another positive soul.

I'm not born and bred either- but strangely enough a few of my cousins and aunts and my Grandfather lived here at  sometime, due to GWR, and probably used the Mechanics regularly.   I'd certainly love to see it restored to its former glory. I feel a real affinity with the old Victorian town- looking at old photos you can see it had such a pride in itself- and a sense of community- which, as you say, still exists in pockets. It gave people an affordable alternative to  life  when they couldn't live in the local countryside or in more affluent cities- as it still does. The Victorian houses, if allowed to remain, seem to be some of the most robust ever built.

I hope we can create a network here where we can discover each others' existence, share ideas and recongise the power we do have to be a positive change for the whole of the town.

I work with the Well Woman Clinic and Man@WWC as a volunteer, at the Health Hydro- a sister building to the Mechanics (as long as we can stay afloat financially - it isn't supported financially by SBC at all- and we have regularly been threated with exhorbitant rent increases- which would go into their coffers)-to anyone in the town, or  surrounding villages, creating a supportive place for people and  encouraging a sense of community with the fundraising it carries out. Talking of which, there is a skittles evening coming up , so I'll get  details of it posted here.

 



Offline Alex

  • Charter Member
  • Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 591
  • Gender: Female
    • Alex Coppock-Bunce Hypnotherapy & Counselling
Having looked at the  link to the Swindon Cultural Partnership in Geoff's first post here- I see it features the clock at the crossroads on Canal Walk- the same clock that hasn't worked for six months.

It, like the illuminated  baubles outside the multistorey car park (only 2 of which are still illuminated)  have been allowed to break and no funding is being put into maintaining them.

As one sees these broken attempts at doing something artistic and "cultural" in our town centre- it further depletes  the atmosphere and you realise there is no sense of any care or pride in keeping anything going- so our heritage is just more broken stuff on display. 

But now there is  Artsite ( at the Post Modern- the Old Post Office in Theatre Square) - it has been subject to continual flooding and the Council have been repeatedly asked to fix this.  It has been assessed ( about 3 weeks ago) but no work on it has been forthcoming.  The space being flooded is the workshop  area - for the launch day on 21st March!

The New Swindon Company have given confirmation of providing  money to  replace the front door, remove the cladding on the side of the building and replace the broken windows- but again, this really needs to be done before the launch.  At least the lovely signs have now gone up and people can see that it is the Artsite building. It's a shame we find that the cladding can't be removed due to the damage it will do to the walls- it is so ugly and intimidating.

Despite  the cold winter and having no central heating or water the artists have carried on and battled through it, producing work and have made it a thriving place. I bought some exquisite things at the recent craft fair there and am looking forward to exhibiting at the launch.

Another Arts project SBC recently cut the funding for was the OctoBus project- going to children in far flung places to help them be creative- and it also had started "Young at Art"  an outreach to sheltered accommodation for the elderly- so that they could be creative too. This has been disbanded. This doesn't feel like support for the arts at all- improving peoples' quality of life  and physical, mental and emotional health is important and can save money in the long run- it seems  the bean counters are unaware of this.




Offline Muggins

  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 2860
At a recent Stronger Communities Forum Helen Miah, Swindon Borough Council
Head of Culture visited our table, I take it she visited the other ten tables too,  and showed us a very glossy brochure they would soon be launching to celebrate Cultural activites in Swindon, they wanted our help in identifying all the groups and activites, to show how rich a place Swindon was in Culture. There are Local Area Agreement targets about Culture. I asked her how she could expect help in the light of the expected cuts to Swindon Dance and trying to sell off Lower Shaw Farm last year (and knowing there was something in the wind about selling Richard Jefferies Cottage).

I do get annoyed by being asked to help them identify things to celebrate when most of the things go on despite them instead of because of them. There was mention of the 1000 voluntary groups in Swindon, well, I know there used to be but I doubt there are that number now! All sorts of support has been withdrawn over the past ten years. Everything seems a constant battle to keep going.   
Lifes not always fair. Sometimes you can get a splinter even sliding down a rainbow. - Cherralea Morgen

Offline Geoff Reid

  • Active But Odd
  • Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 6641
  • Gender: Male
  • Bald as a chimps arse

There's a new buzzword blowing through the corridors of Swindons civic buildings; 'Sustainability'.

'Vibrant' and 'vision' are dead, 'sustainible' is the word of the year...and far from being a positive or ecocentric term, it will quickly become synonymous with the word 'NO'.I expect 'sustainable' will shortly be joined by several other buzzwords which end in 'ible'.

What was it Monty said about SBC's brochures?, something along the lines of:

"All gloss and no substance..."

Am looking forward to Artisite opening, and seeing what capital the SCP try to make out of it.

Offline Simon

  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 1731
    • Swindon Climate Action Network
There's a new buzzword blowing through the corridors of Swindons civic buildings; 'Sustainability'.

'Vibrant' and 'vision' are dead, 'sustainible' is the word of the year...and far from being a positive or ecocentric term, it will quickly become synonymous with the word 'NO'.I expect 'sustainable' will shortly be joined by several other buzzwords which end in 'ible'.

Funny you should say that - I was at the full council meeting last week to listen to the 2009-10 budget being debated (well, I say debate but it was more like a partisan mud-slinging match) and several times cabinet members described things as "unsustainable". Including running a park and ride service (although if it breaks even in financial terms then it's OK apparently), and small community libraries. However making two sustainability officers redundant is perfectly sustainable apparently...?

It seems the word has been subtly redefined recently, so it now has less to do with the future of our planet as a habitable space vessel, and more to do with figures on balance sheets.
We are all in this together, but some of us are more in it than others (with apologies to George Orwell)

Offline concerned_of_Old_Town

  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 357
Yes I agree with Alex's comments I get frustrated about Swindon councils ability to maintain some of it's 'flagship' (use the term loosely) attractions in the town centre after the euphoria of them been built, the clock is not working, the grass verges by the big screen are overgrown.  Has anyone noticed that our new library seems to be showing various white splodges!!

Sorry Alex but given the council can't even maintain these  "flagship" attractions don't think the Artiste studio has much hope of getting fixed!!


Offline komadori

  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 1300
    • komadori's green corner
Big projects get headlines, routine maintenance doesn't. So at the behest of the politicians we get lots of plans for a vibrant, sustainable identikit-looks-like-every-other-town-centre-in-the-country regeneration of central Swindon, but sod all for maintaining what we've already got.
If something's worth doing it's worth doing in green. komadori's green c

Offline kecl

  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 376
  • Gender: Male
    • Broad Street Area Community Council

That was it Monty said about SBC's brochures?, something along the lines of:

"All gloss and no substance..."


I think he was actually referring to himself! ;)


Funny you should say that - I was at the full council meeting last week to listen to the 2009-10 budget being debated (well, I say debate but it was more like a partisan mud-slinging match)

Having sat there as well, listening to an eternity of bollox, I have to fully agree with you there.
It makes me puke to think the elected Councillors of Swindon claim they have the best interests of Swindon at heart. The tit for tat point scoring made by all sides is absolutely pathetic.

Having looked at the  link to the Swindon Cultural Partnership in Geoff's first post here- I see it features the clock at the crossroads on Canal Walk- the same clock that hasn't worked for six months.

Don't worry about the clock, it's the NSC's plan to shove it out of the way, somewhere near the railway station apparently.


And back to the subject, people make culture through their own lifelong passions. Councils, their employees and councillors come and go far too quickly to ever be in a position to 'create' or be responsible for culture.
http://community.webshots.com/user/bucket66   http://www.broadstreetcc.btik.com/ He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with

Offline Mart

  • Charter Member
  • Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 3169
  • Never fight an inanimate object.
There are Local Area Agreement targets about Culture.

Then God help us all.
Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.

Offline Muggins

  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 2860
It's funny how they don't understand the word 'sustainable'.  (On one plan I wrote for our community, I added four definitions just to make sure they got some idea!) but they fully understand the word 'un-sustainable' and use it regularly to not give us or more likely cut, what we want.

The latest is: we have 'consulted' you (whether they have or have not - their interpretation of that word is well wobbly), but you must understand we will not take any notice of it.  Today I was told this by a coal-face worker (as opposed to a more senoir officer) on the siting of an event - like winning on that one should bother them. Who knows their community better the activist of forty years or the SBC worker who has only been there five minutes? They have too much to learn about empowerment and engaging communties and individuals for it to ever work in Swindon. 
Lifes not always fair. Sometimes you can get a splinter even sliding down a rainbow. - Cherralea Morgen

Offline Alex

  • Charter Member
  • Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 591
  • Gender: Female
    • Alex Coppock-Bunce Hypnotherapy & Counselling
Some good news!

SBC have replaced the broken windows and worked in the flood inside the Post Modern ready for the launch next Saturday! It's looking good- all repainted  inside- by us. We're getting there!

Thank you SBC! :)




Offline ZPW

  • Film maker
  • Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1302
  • Bob Wright better do a stellar job
Good news indeed.

Well done to you all for the painting frenzy

Offline Jules

  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 11
It's been a while since I logged on to the forum - but having recently received a ridiculous communique from SBC on the topic of The Big Arts Plan I feel compelled to write.

Has anyone else seen this latest missive? You may be forgiven for mistaking it for a Domino's Pizza menu, but mine arrived packaged with a guide to the summer season at the Arts Centre, so do check again.

The Big Arts Plan is obligingly explained to us lowly townspeople as being the latest "initiative" to meet the specially selected national target for increased engagement in the arts, which apparently has a fancy bureaucratic name like E 111 - or was that something to do with EEC medical insurance years ago? Whatever its name, I'm not sure I need to know about it.

Neither do I need to know the council is striving for "the magic tick in the box" that confirms our town as one which is "culturally and artistically engaged." I do not need to know that the hallowed chambers of SBC are populated by people sweating over IPSOS Mori polls which are tracking the attendance and participation of Swindonians in artistic pursuits. Of course I DO know that this kind of "performance measurement" is happening, I'm not a complete romantic numpty, but usually I can ignore it and just carry on regardless. However, when councillor Phil Young writes to tell me about it in a most condescending and belittling manner it fairly turns my stomach.

More worrying perhaps is the blatant miscalculation emblazoned across page 3 of the leaflet. Increasing something by 3% would not result in a figure 3 percentage points higher than the original. That is, increasing arts engagement 3% from the current 38.3% would NOT result in a rise in engagement to 41.3%. This is a common mistake in calculating percentages that quite frankly would fail a year 6 SATS test. Is this how the increases in the community charge payments are calculated year on year? Are we being told that the rate is rising at about 2-3% a year, when actually, due to arithmetical incompetence it is rising closer to 10% year on year?!!!  :bash: For all viewers of The Apprentice out there this is an error of sandalwood proportions.

Don't get me wrong - I am a keen patron of the arts in Swindon. I love the arts, and I love the enthusiasm of Swindon people in their chosen cultural and artistic pursuits. I also think that the elected council of a town COULD play an awesome role in supporting and encouraging cultural and artistic engagement - and in part it does, just take a look at the fabulous work done by ArtsWords and Matt Holland's efforts for the Literature Festival. (I was one of those people who queued up outside the information centre for tickets to hear David Attenborough.)

Sadly however I think that this latest announcement from the council is further proof that Swindon's artistic endeavours will continue in spite of rather than because of the council's performance targets. In order to promote a sense of cohesion and cultural and artistic identity in the town it would be far better for the council to engage with what's already happening and actually educate themselves on the creativity and resourcefulness that exists in spades in this place if only they would take their heads out of government targets and MORI polls for one isolated minute to take a look. Then they might see how they really could help boost participation by a real 10 percentage points instead of by just relying on extremely dodgy maths to make it so.   >:(

Offline Geoff Reid

  • Active But Odd
  • Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 6641
  • Gender: Male
  • Bald as a chimps arse
I think that this latest announcement from the council is further proof that Swindon's artistic endeavours will continue in spite of rather than because of the council's performance targets. In order to promote a sense of cohesion and cultural and artistic identity in the town it would be far better for the council to engage with what's already happening and actually educate themselves on the creativity and resourcefulness that exists in spades in this place if only they would take their heads out of government targets and MORI polls for one isolated minute to take a look.

Hear, Hear  :clap:

Offline Tobes

  • Charter Member
  • Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 2169
  • Prehistoric bones in fields of russets and rust
Total agreement from me!

... Mind you, is it fair to pin this personally on Phil? He is after all one of the more engaged councillors - and even slightly misguided engagement is 100% better than none at all.
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - Voltaire 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita

 

Sorry, the copyright must be in the template.
Please notify this forum's administrator that this site is missing the copyright message for SMF so they can rectify the situation. Display of copyright is a legal requirement. For more information on this please visit the Simple Machines website.