A Greater Manchester town’s pioneering approach to positioning the area as a hub of culture has been hailed as ‘exemplar’ and offering a ‘sense of belonging’ by local artists and members of the community.
Wigan Council launched The Fire Within – a five-year plan to make arts and culture accessible to all – in May 2019.
Since then, £3.2m has been invested into the local cultural sector from supporting artists to working with schools.
Though it also has a physical exhibition in The Galleries shopping centre, The Fire Within is a borough-wide piece of work involving The Turnpike in Leigh, The Old Courts and other cultural organisations, which collaborate together to discover new talent.
Councillor Chris Ready, cabinet member for communities and culture at Wigan Council said: “The Fire Within is cultural movement we’re pioneering in Wigan Borough in partnership with local organisations and artists.
“Overall, The Fire Within is about making arts and culture accessible to everybody, no matter their knowledge or experiences with the sector.
“The exhibition space in The Galleries has given us a base for this work but the benefits have been seen borough-wide as we continue to roll out inclusive projects of that have changed lives.”
Since launching the manifesto almost two years ago, more than 100 artists, including bands, visual artists, dancers and others have been welcomed into a new community to inspire local people.
Arts Council CEO, Darren Henley, has also publicly voiced his support for the work.
Elizabeth Costello, founder of Leigh Film Society said: “Arts and culture have many forms and we’re all looking for something different that inspires our thoughts and gives us entertainment but it has to be accessible and inclusive to everyone. Across the borough there’s a wide range of exciting, varied accessible art and culture to appreciate, enjoy and be inspired every day.”
Martyn Lucas, visual artist added: “The Fire Within is an exciting vision for how art and culture can connect with people’s lives in meaningful ways.
“I have championed The Fire Within as an exemplar of town centre regeneration projects and what can be achieved with artistic vision and financial investment.
“The quality and diversity of The Fire Within exhibitions and events is right up there with what major cities, let alone towns, aspire to.”
And, in addition to providing a platform to showcase creative work, The Fire Within has proven popular with local residents too.
Jen Lowe is a local mum who enjoyed visiting The Turnpike Gallery before lockdown. She said: “The Turnpike means so much to us as a family. It’s a place that welcomes everyone, offers inspiration and creativity, support and a sense of belonging.”
Jason is another local resident who has taken part in some of The Turnpike’s workshops. He said: “I feel like I am part of something more when I visit, which makes me feel more connected to my life outside of The Turnpike. It has a knock-on effect and I seem more positive, brighter.”
One significant project delivered in line with the manifesto is called ‘Home in Your Heart’ and involved residents in the Scholes high-rise flats.
Fourteen people previously disengaged from their communities, living with mobility issues or widowed came forward to transform their lives. At the end of the project, some of the work the residents developed was put on display at the Museum of Wigan Life – a big milestone for all of those involved.
Coun Ready added: “Culture is a key driver in social inclusion. Hearing how these residents have been positively affected by this work is really refreshing.”
For more information about The Fire Within, visit www.thefirewithin.org.uk or search The Fire Within on social media.