Chelmsford, a City of Culture Towards 2040

What will arts and culture look like in Chelmsford in 2040? This was the question posed to stakeholders in the local creative economy over two workshops at the Civic Centre on 10th April 2018. Representing everything from independent music venues, to arts education, to local charities, guests lent their wealth of knowledge and experience to frank and valuable discussion about the city.

To open the session, Julia, our workshop facilitator, invited each of us to introduce ourselves and share what we believed to be a unique selling point of Chelmsford. Of course, suggestions highlighted lots to celebrate: people, passion and civic pride, excellent education, and industrial heritage, to name just a few.

Then, smaller groups discussed three questions:

  • What’s good about arts and culture in Chelmsford now?
  • What’s not so good about arts and culture in Chelmsford?
  • What’s changing in Chelmsford?

There was no shortage of thought-provoking and passionate responses, and over both sessions common themes emerged. The talent, energy and diversity of the creative community, open spaces, lively independent music scene, and strong sports scene were recognised as positive elements of Chelmsford’s cultural offering. On the other hand, Chelmsford was criticised for lacking a ‘cultural compass’ and cultural venues, for an underuse of public space and limited public awareness of the cultural scene, as well as harbouring a ‘silo’ mentality that hinders creative collaboration.

The growth of the city has naturally brought about plenty of change: groups acknowledge that Chelmsford is becoming more culturally diverse and that there’s lots of new development taking place, but there’s also been an increase in visible homelessness and loss of an individual identity.

“I felt that the general tone of positivity and drive for change in the room was really encouraging and from my perspective the approach you are taking to the formation of the strategy and the cultural partnership is really judicious. I’m excited to see what happens and I am on the sideline to help wherever you feel we can…. “

Sarah Waterman, ROH Bridge

As a final challenge, Julia asked everyone to cast their minds in to the future – or to January 1st, 2041, to be precise. Our future selves wrote postcards from Chelmsford back to friends and family, describing the vibrant cultural hub that the city had become – which made for great entertainment when read aloud to the rest of the room!

“Chelmsford is a city reborn by culture. Culture isn’t an afterthought anymore, it is something you breathe every time you step out of your house… I feel so proud to live in a city so full of ideas, creativity and energy”.

Extract from a participant’s postcard

So, what’s next? All ideas put forward will be used to create a Vision Statement, which will give a sense of long term direction between all parties – the Council, Cultural Development Trust, local business and the community, that can generate more excitement, cohesion and energy, and motivate everyone to work together.