Earlier this year Halton Borough Council commissioned Art Reach to write a Cultural Strategy for Halton’s cultural future, off the back of Halton Borough Council's year as 'Borough of Culture' (which is a Liverpool City Region Combined Authority initiative) in 2021.
Hazlehurst Studios had built up a relationship with Art Reach during their time working on Halton's Borough of Culture year in 2021, specifically working with our studio artist and director Claire Pitt, whilst she was the project coordinator and curator for the Culture HQ pop art space and gallery (Culture HQ was a Halton Borough of Culture initiative). ArtReach's first steps were to have conversations with local organisations like Hazlehurst Studios and other members of Cultivate Halton ( a partnership of over twenty organisations). When ArtReach then needed to consult with the local community, Hazlehurst Studios was commissioned to help out with that part.
The activity needs to be:
- Eye catching, so that it draws people’s attention and entices them to take part
- Accessible, so it can be engaged with by people of all ages and abilities
- Able to withstand outdoors (under cover in Widnes market)
- Easy to set up and take down from community and public venues
Questions to ask?
- Do you feel there is a distinctiveness about each of the towns Widnes and Runcorn, and if
so, how would you describe them?
- Is the river and its bridges a division or a connection of the two sides of Halton?
- Where are the important cultural places for you as an individual, and for Halton as a
- What is or could be the role of culture that is right for Widnes and Runcorn? What should
culture achieve? What do the people of Halton need from culture?
What we did:
Our studio artist Rachael Prime created a digital map of Halton, highlighting both sides of river, with their ward boundaries and the River Mersey itself - we then had this printed out to A0 size, so that we had a big visual to attract attention. This map could be drawn on, notes added, bits coloured in etc
This allowed us to ask the questions needed, but with enough scope for people to contribute their own thoughts about culture in Halton.
Alongside this, Claire created a series of prompts, based on landmarks from both Widnes and Runcorn, that they could use as conversation starters, they could also be coloured in and cut out etc, to be added to the map. Local knowledge definitely helped here, as it not only prompted conversations from members of the public, it also helped the artists and consultant from ArtReach start conversations with them.
Tools: This was a simple workshop, relying on conversation and the visual prompts, but here are a few things that helped along the way:
Best crayons/pencils ever (amazon link) - Stabilo Woody Three in One Colouring pencils are a staple item for our workshop box now. They are brilliant on paper (for big and little hands), they also work on windows and cardboard boxes (other ideas for creative consultation).
Large scale printing of the map that Rachael designed - this was produced by a company that does draft printing - we use Plot Giant
The Studio Widnes (Serial Culture Zine focus group )
ArtReach took away the filled in maps and many many pages of notes, this information was then collated into a draft cultural strategy plan and presented to interested parties, before forming part of the final draft of the cultural strategy.
Halton is one of the areas identified by the Arts Council as a priority for Levelling up for Culture (more info here). With the recent news of Norton Priory becoming an NPO* and Halton Borough Council investing in their own Cultural Strategy, this means that the focus is still vey much on Culture in Halton and we look forward to seeing what develops next.
*What is an NPO? National Portfolio Organisations are leaders in their areas, with a collective responsibility to protect and develop our national arts and cultural ecology.