WE'VE WON! Waltham Forest (along with the borough of Brent) has become the first ever boroughs of culture. The UK has produced some of the greatest artistic and cultural icons of all time. It is nice to think that out of the 22 boroughs that applied for this award, we have been appointed in particular as a Borough of Culture. Having lived in the borough for almost 20 years, it is clear to me that a pulsing vein of arts and culture runs through every part of it. No matter where you live in Waltham Forest, it's on your doorstep. In this respect, I am hoping that being a Borough of Culture brings life and vitality to every resident - not just to the privileged few.
Art and culture play a huge role in wellness. They provide vital forms of expression for many, often in ways that people would otherwise not be able to express themselves. It is scientifically proven that drawing, painting, craft-making and playing music are therapeutic. Yet, just listening to music, or poetry, or watching a performance can be healing, cathartic experiences. Dancing has obvious physical benefits along with any psychological and emotional improvements accompanying it. Culture is GOOD for us. Research leading up to the bid for Borough of Culture showed that many of the borough's children had never been to the Tate Gallery or heard of the National Theatre, which is a huge shame. In the days of Shakespeare, everyone was able to enjoy his plays, regardless of their economic background. The vibrancy of any society - mentally, emotionally, physically and even financially - relies on everyone's access to and enjoyment of culture. The £5m accompanying this award has the potential to transform lives holistically. The hope is that the money is used wisely and distributed to projects and events that do just that.
Council funding cuts have been brutal over the last several years. As a mother to a child with special needs, I have witnessed several cuts to services she once enjoyed. Stress and strains on our local health services, as seen throughout the entire country, mean that access to the services that facilitate wellness has been severely restricted. It is difficult to be excited about culture when experiencing these very real, practical challenges which are impacting every aspect of our daily lives. If this money is pumped into cultural activities which promote the wellbeing of the more vulnerable members of society, that will help everyone share the excitement of this accolade of being a Borough of Culture.
Waltham Forest has seen many changes over the years, namely that of gentrification. With that, we've seen a huge growth in artistic development in the area, which is wonderful and potentially a great thing for everyone. The danger of gentrification, however, is the alienation of those who were there before. There are many people - the elderly, disabled, people from various ethnic, cultural backgrounds, and those from lower economic backgrounds - who have loved Waltham Forest and invested in the borough long before it was 'the place to be'. They deserve to the enjoy the benefits of change as much as anyone, perhaps more. Many of them have been negatively impacted by the rising costs of living in the area and a creeping feeling of ostracisation. However, one great feature of this borough is that it is widely diverse. And in my experience the local authority places great emphasis on respecting diversity. As such, the hope is that being a Borough of Culture will cater to this diversity and that those who make decisions about the money this award brings are representative of the diversity in the borough.
So, let's look forward with anticipation to what being a Borough of Culture will bring. We live in daunting times and it is great to have something like this to look forward to. Onward and upwards, Waltham Forest!