The importance of a place cannot be understated. It gives us a sense of belonging and a shared identity.

Cultural placemaking is about recognising the impact that culture and places have on people and building on this to help people feel a renewed love, passion and pride for their ‘place’. This not only connects and inspires people, benefiting both individuals and communities, but also improves economic wellbeing and promotes growth.

First Street and HOME in Manchester is a great example of cultural placemaking as it brings together theatre, cinema, art, leisure; retail and public realm and encourages engagement. Indeed, since it was built in 2015, HOME has created employment, a space for artistic development and has welcomed over 4 million people.

The culture of a place is always evolving. It combines the ‘established’ and the ‘up and coming’ by celebrating a vibrant cultural history and developing new places and experiences for communities to learn from and enjoy. Successful cultural placemaking understands how these elements work in harmony and encourages both small and large scale investments.

So why should we care? 

Cultural placemaking isn’t always easy, places face both economic and ownership challenges and rely on the public’s support to succeed. A key example of this is the music industry, although many of the points below also apply across the cultural sector.

Culture cannot grow and evolve without engagement. The lack of engagement was keenly highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic where a near £2bn government package was just a starting point to protect the UK’s culture and heritage sectors. 

During the pandemic, The Music Venue Trust  (MVT) launched the ‘Save Our Venues’ campaign where donations, online fundraising performances and events raised over £4.1m to try and save grassroots music venues from permanent closure. Unfortunately grassroots music venues are not out of the woods yet, with the MVT chief executive Mark Davyd stating that the “grassroots music venues sector is more than £90m in debt” and “the best response would be for music fans to return to venues when they feel ready,” showing the importance of our support.

The current housing shortage is making landlords look to change the use of some of these grassroots music venues from pubs and clubs to residential houses and retail units. In the last 20 years over a third of our UK venues, have closed. 

Whilst the Government pledged £90m to support the venues, some of this money is reported to have ended up with the landlords and not the venue itself. This has caused a significant dent in the finances of these venues and left them vulnerable. 

If these venues close, this could permanently impact the place’s culture and have a knock on impact on the future of those people living there. Whilst the majority of these venues are leasehold, even if they have security of tenure and therefore the right to a new lease on similar terms, a landlord can decide to redevelop a property which is a legitimate legal reason not to renew the lease to the music venues. 

Landlords need to make their investments work too. Even if a landlord decides to sell the property, many venues cannot afford to buy the freehold of their venue and so the cycle continues. The MVT’s latest campaign “Own Our Venues” aims to help venues manage the challenge of venue ownership by giving fans and investors the unique opportunity to support these venues and keep them for the next generation of musicians which is vital for cultural development.

These places bring society together and create a place where individuals from all backgrounds can be inspired and connected. 

An example of how these challenges affect the community can be seen in The Leadmill, which is a venue threatened with eviction by its landlord. Since this was announced there has been a huge outpouring of support from the wider community, well-known artists and comedians social media pages and even a banner at Glastonbury this year. 

The social media comments make it clear that the venue, like so many others in the UK, is not only somewhere to listen to live music or comedy, but part of people’s upbringing, lives and inspires careers in the arts. It is claimed to be the “cultural heart” of Sheffield. Whilst the landlords of The Leadmill have claimed that it will continue as a music venue under new management, the future of the venue remains unclear.

Navigating these challenges and encouraging and prioritising cultural placemaking is important both to the individual business owners and to the community as it helps build a strong cultural environment which maintains and encourages social, economic and cultural growth.

How can we help? 

Irwin Mitchell’s specialist team support venues and cultural organisations.

Our Creative Industries experts can help venues to negotiate commercial contracts; including partnership and sponsorship and funding agreements.

Our Real Estate experts can advise on leases, venue ownership, regulatory issues, planning and environmental matters.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article please contact Laura Harper, Partner, Laura.J.Harper@irwinmitchell.com, or Elise Sherwell, Associate Solicitor Elise.Sherwell@irwinmitchell.com

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