A historically vacant area in a Greater Manchester shopping centre that was transformed into a hub of culture over the weekend saw an increased footfall of more than 2,000 people.
The upper floor of The Galleries shopping centre in Wigan town centre was completely reimagined as part of Wigan Council’s launch of #TheFireWithin – a new manifesto outlining the borough’s focus on arts and culture over the next five years.
On Saturday 11th May, 11am-4pm, six vacant units in The Galleries were opened to the public once more and were completely transformed from shells to bright, vibrant and open rooms with interactive displays, performances and exhibitions.
Footfall figures show an increase of more than 2,000 people in comparison to the previous Saturday.
Wigan Council hosted the event in partnership with cultural organisations and internationally renowned artists Al Holmes and Al Taylor, who also live in the borough.
The social event is in line with the local authority’s plans to revitalise the shopping centre, connect new audiences to culture, showcase talent and create exciting, diverse units for the town centre.
Chief executive of the council, Alison McKenzie-Folan said: “On behalf of the council I’d like to thank everybody who came to #TheFireWithin Festival at the weekend.
“We worked really closely with Al and Al plus a range of different cultural organisations to host a fresh, creative and ground-breaking event to inspire people to engage with arts and culture in our town.
“It’s been a great success and we now look forward to the next five years where we will explore the five themes outlined in our borough-wide manifesto, which was created in partnership with local people.
“Culture is a driver in reducing social isolation and in improving health and wellbeing. Increasing cultural activity, seeking investment and putting resource into cultural activity is a key priority for us.
“This work will help to position Wigan Borough as a culturally thriving district in the North West and will provide fantastic economic benefits as we know that culture plays a big part in regenerating areas.
“We do have a significant cultural offer in Wigan Borough but now The Fire Within has officially launched, we have something much more inclusive that will inspire residents and visitors alike to choose our town over cities like Manchester and Liverpool.
“And it’s already happening. Artists and groups are heading to our borough because we’re ready to be bold and ambitious.”
The event saw a headline performance from local band, LYNCHS, and further performances from WigLe Dance, singer Zack Carpenter, poet Louise Fazackerley, Wigan’s 50-piece orchestra, soundscape artist Overload and many more.
There were also a range of works open for viewing from the council’s archived items to local artist creations.
Some of the works included a taxidermy display, a simulated total eclipse and a world exclusive exhibition of Theodore Major’s paintings that were created in the final year of his life surrounded by coal slagheaps.
Residents and shoppers were excited to see a buzz in the shopping centre, describing the event as ‘fantastic’ and explaining how they are ‘happy to see the shops so full and empty spaces being used for something so different.’
A number of high-profile movers and shakers in the cultural world have also expressed their support for the event and the council’s plan for the future.
Sacha Lord, night time economy advisor for Greater Manchester came to the event. Afterwards he tweeted: “The Fire Within is fantastic. Go and support it. You can spend hours there and it’s free! Extra bonus the car park was free on a Saturday (others take note). Huge congrats.”
Stuart Maconie, Wiganer, broadcast presenter and journalist also attended. He tweeted: “This by Al and Al is the most inspirational and exciting thing to do with my home town in decades, go and find out more at The Galleries, Wigan.”
Darren Henley OBE, chief executive of Arts Council England took to The Fire Within’s brand new emoji stage at the beginning of the event and spoke to attendees.
He said “I love the sense of ambition the sense of possibility and opportunity. Looking at some of the plans for the town centre, I thought, this is going to be brilliant, and then coming in here [The Galleries] and hearing all of the stories and all of the things you’re planning is absolutely brilliant.”
He concluded by saying: “The Arts Council will support this borough. We want to invest in Wigan.”
Al and Al, who managed the event and all of the performances said: “This has been an intense, immense and amazing process. We’ve worked really closely with the council to host this event and although we have led on installations across the world, this has to be one of the best installation teams we have worked with.
“The process of making this show happen has been a dream and we have worked with people who have gone above and beyond their usual day job to make this happen. Everybody is an artist, including the taskforce who have been involved in this work and the council employees who have built the staging and transformed the space.”
The cultural manifesto was created following extensive consultation with residents through The Deal 2030 survey where local people had their say on what they want to see in the borough’s future.
The survey outcomes were clear in that residents wanted to take part in more social and cultural activities locally and they wanted to celebrate the borough’s heritage.
The exhibition space will remain open for the public to visit for free over the next 8 weeks in line with this feedback.
For more information about The Fire Within manifesto, visit www.thefirewithin.org.uk