Katie Deverell
31 Jan, 2022
Progress Report… CENTRE:STAGE Ideas Lab

At the start of December the Ignite Chelmsford Cultural Partnership, Chelmsford City Council and Culture Chelmsford hosted its first creative ideas lab with funding from the European Union Welcome Back Fund. Hosted at Art Place pop-up (the old Top Shop space) attendees were invited to think about how we could use the arts and culture to reinvent Chelmsford’s city centre.

Who took part?

We invited a broad cross-sector of people including artists, architects, councillors, entrepreneurs, planners and creative producers to come together and explore how arts and culture could catalyse a reinvention of Chelmsford’s city centre. You can see more on who came here.

What was covered?

Ideas were brainstormed and developed around four core themes:

  1. Inventing new events that could bring us together
  2. Devising new ways of making our city centre feel safe
  3. Imagining creative ways, we could unite the urban and the natural
  4. How – beyond pop up shops – we might unlock new space for creative use.

It was an intense and lively two days with many ideas debated and new relationships built. You can get a glimpse of what went on from this film, made for us by Marley from Without Definition

Following the lab we opened the space to the public. We were delighted to see so many people taking the time to add their own thoughts and suggestions.

Seed Funding

All lab participants were invited to submit project proposals related to the re-inventing the high street theme. After a selection process 3 were chosen for seed funding.

  1. Adrian Cooke to set up a working group that will deliver a scoping exercise for the establishment of an annual Sound + Vision event in Chelmsford. Sound + Vision is a proven model that combines a multi-venue music festival (with potential for including other artforms) with a professional development programme and a conference for local creatives. The aim of the event is to develop the local arts infrastructure, create new showcase opportunities for those based locally, and grow the audience for cultural activity – and through this further enhance the local creative and night-time economy. Sound + Vision has already been delivered successfully in Norwich and will launch in Cambridge in April 2022. The programme for Sound + Vision Cambridge 2022 can be viewed at soundandvisionconvention.co.uk
  2. Karen Whybro To develop a march and art trail to celebrate International Women’s Day 2022 with a focus on the contribution of women in Essex. Working with partners and associates to create a Chelmsford-based event around the 2022 IWD topic of “Break the bias”, which we feel is particularly relevant to women from Essex. An interactive event which goes beyond a “march”, highlighting relevant areas of the city linked to the achievements of women (for example the Anne Knight building), working with local artists and creatives to create a trail that moves around the city, culminating in a celebration of women from the area. Elements of the trail could be art installations, presentations and talks, as well as an exhibition to represent the theme at the core of the event.
  3. Lora Aziz/Wyrd Flora To scope out a proposal enable a pocket park to be implemented in Market Square with a connected mapped walking nature trail from the square to Sanford mill. There will also be an information point within the library connecting initiatives, volunteer days with an associated curated programme of events linking to the pocket park and the trail. The pocket park will be an inviting public green space where people can relax, socialise and play whilst introducing biophilic and visionary ways of living in a contemporary city. In conjunction with the map, the project aims to connect people in an accessible, inclusive and exciting way to the surrounding natural environment.

Additional Support

On top of this funding, we are supporting 3 other emerging projects.

  1. Secured £2500 from the Chelmsford City Council Waterways working group for the 2023 Light Festival. We have also committed to provide some producing and fundraising mentorship to help co-founder Tony Morrison develop the idea further, liaising with Edith Miller and Adrian Deakes and making additional funding applications.
  2. Hotbox Music Youth Club- A proposed Youth Club for young people with tutoring from local professionals to help develop their music, performance and/or production skills. We have arranged safeguarding training for two staff members and are looking to provide some bid writer support to develop this project idea and an application to the Essex County Council Culture Fund.
  3. Amie Lister, Parlour Catering has been invited to join a creative workshop in March looking at new ideas for market square to integrate some of her ideas around community, culture and street food.


We received a lot of positive comments after the lab. People said they had valued the space to develop ideas with a group of people they don’t normally get to meet. At times there were challenges integrating lots of different perspectives but on the plus side this also helped strengthen ideas and unlock issues that had been obstacles in the past. For many people it was refreshing finding like minds and establishing more local connections.

The lab highlighted how cross-sector work remains a challenge once you move beyond the ideas stage as many organisations are still not that set up to manage or fund it. Many people are already working at capacity and everyone is busy! Another time we might think about an open call for ideas to develop in a lab with owners who have the capacity to take on emerging projects, together with a more focused process for refining initial ideas.


What we learned, the challenges and what we’ll do differently next time

We recommend reading two previous blog posts to help make sense of our learning

From the Summit to Ignite Chelmsford Labs
CENTRE:STAGE Ideas Lab — Reinventing Chelmsford’s City Centre

We will…

  1. Streamline the process post summit, for distilling down the outputs into a set of provocations to carry us forward.
  2. Set fewer sub themes under each assigned provocation to allow for more productive group working in a lab with tangible, deliverable more advanced outputs
  3. Prepare and share advanced reading or material to ensure people have time to immerse themselves (a bit more) in a subject before attending (without it feeling laborious).
  4. Pay ‘Provocation Owners’ to do more work in advance of the Lab, to prepare some scene setting and frame the challenge/opportunity — kick starting more productive thinking.
  5. Ensure there are many more Producers in the room, leading conversations and asking questions. Keeping conversations moving and helping groups working towards a tangible, deliverable more advanced output.
  6. Ensure that ideas generated have an owner(s) at the end of the session. Someone with the capacity to drive things forward post lab.
  7. Create more publicity around the public engagement elements — both presentations at the end of the day and the exhibition and public commenting (via post it notes). Could there be an online element too?
  8. Explore ways to ensure everyone attending can commit to entire process and all session(s)

What next?

As well as supporting the projects that came out of the labs, we want to build on all the energy, relationships and conversations that were sparked. If you have ideas for new events and activities in Chelmsford, you are always welcome to bring them to our online Ignite Hub group. We meet 12-1.30pm every third Thursday of the month.

We hope to host future labs on the other priority themes and are reviewing next steps with other City Council departments, the Ignite Chelmsford Cultural Partnership and Culture Chelmsford. If you are interested in any of the projects mentioned please do get in touch  hello@ignitechelmsford.org.uk

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Email: hello@ignitechelmsford.org.uk