A CASE STUDY
BLACKBURN IS OPEN [2012-2017]
Blackburn, a post-industrial town in the North-West of England has changed radically over time. Innovation in weaving made it one of the first industrialised towns in the world, but large-scale industry has since declined and the town has suffered from high unemployment and a lack of social mobility. Since the 1950s the population has become increasingly diverse through significant immigration from the Indian subcontinent.
The town is distinct for its high rates of self-employment and numbers of people employed in manufacturing and craft. With making in its DNA, in 2013, a local regeneration programme ‘Blackburn is Open’ was set up to work with the town’s enterprising population to help revitalise Blackburn town centre through arts and culture. This formed part of the local Council’s vision to improve the night time offer of the town, utilise under-used spaces and empty shops to host arts activities and to improve the perception of the town centre.
Blackburn is Open has become widely accepted as a model of best practice for engaging local creative people to support the prosperity of their town centre.. Making the most of the late night shopping on Thursday’s, Blackburn is Open organised a series of maker markets, workshops, film and events aimed to provide an alternative offer for creative professionals and families.
Arte et Labore manifesto
Blackburn is Open to... ideas, creativity, business and you! launching the Blackburn is Open manifesto Arte et Labore (the town’s motto meaning By Skill and Hard Work)
Pop-Up art centre
In January 2014, the Blackburn is Open pop up art centre opened its doors. Supported by Blackburn Council with staff support across Marketing, Regeneration, Culture and Tourism.
By Skill & Hard Work zine
A new quarterly zine was produced to showcase stories from Blackburn's skilled makers - from chefs, artists, bike repair and taxidermists, music makers and future urbanists, the magazine was distributed to creative neighbourhoods in Preston, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool to help celebrate Blackburn's talent.
Urban Room Blackburn
World-class British architect, Sir Terry Farrell, proposed that every town and city should have an Urban Room – a space in which local people can learn about the built environment. Between October 2014 and June 2016, Claire curated and delivered three Urban Room Blackburn programmes which celebrated the art, architecture and public space with a focus on urban culture, experimentation and innovative practices to inspire new ways of thinking about the town centre.
Blackburn Open Walls
An artist-led three year event programme, Blackburn-born artist Hayley Welsh invited local, national and international artists to create new street art across Blackburn town centre.
Found in Blackburn
Blackburn is Open also worked with Heritage Lottery Fund on the creation of ‘Found in Blackburn’, a project which opened doors in March 2017 to hidden spaces, collections and stories in the town centre, unlocking the potential for future developments and engagement.
“Blackburn is Open was launched as a key part of the Council’s regeneration strategy to improve and revive the town centre. It recognised that in order to help our high street and the night time economy we had to take a step back and decide on a new whole approach. By giving help and advice to start-up businesses and entrepreneurs we’ve been able to get many new ventures off the ground and as a result seen a real reduction in empty properties. The scheme has also seen a wealth of activities and events taking place that has brought many people especially artists and creatives back into the town centre. Alongside the large scale regeneration programmes such as the construction of the Cathedral Quarter it has helped bring a new feeling of vibrancy and a sense that anything is possible.” Councillor Maureen Bateson.
- The profile and perception of Blackburn town centre has much improved and has a strong identity as a place to make and create new work, winning UK High Street of the Year award in 2016.
- There is a significant improvement in economic activity; there is an increase in employment for artists and the creative industries, footfall numbers have increased as well as visitor numbers as a result of a strong, confident message about the town as being a destination
- Artists and communities have ownership of and collectively populate their events. More people participate in a range of arts and cultural activities, cultural venues have seen an increase in audiences
- A focus for joined up, collaborative project delivery across the town centre is evident with new events and galleries
- A sustainable business and engender a “I can try that” atmosphere amongst the community has been created with new independent businesses and artist projects taking place e.g. Blackburn Open Walls
The Blackburn is Open legacy has resulted in six high profile and sustainable business models including the National Festival of Making, The Bureau Art Centre, The Making Rooms and inspired the future Cotton Exchange redevelopment, a large-scale Grade II listed gem in the centre of town. Blackburn is Open has proved creativity and artist engagement within a regeneration context can have a positive and sustainable impact.
Claire Tymon led on the strategic development of the first National Festival of Making which took place in May 2017 attracting over 30,000 visitors and extensive TV and radio media coverage.
The festival presented an opportunity to create original commissioning opportunities directly with the leading manufacturing companies in Lancashire. We developed the concept to engage nine leading manufacturers including Graham and Brown wallpaper, Silentnight beds, Panaz textiles and Patrick Grant’s heritage textile company Cookson and Clegg, and host artist residencies to create a new artwork inspired by the heritage of the organisation, engage its workforce and use their materials and processes. The project received significant funding from Arts Council and Heritage Lottery and substantial in-kind support from the manufacturers. The ‘Art in Manufacturing’ project will continue to be developed as the headline project for the festival.
Blackburn is Open facilitated the development of a new community-led artistic enterprise, The Bureau - Centre for the Arts. Established in a redundant church in the heart of the town centre, The Bureau CIC has now been running for 2 years delivering theatre, dance, visual arts and community workshops and also leads on the town's Festival of Light annual festival.
Claire Tymon, with Placeshakers, developed the vision, business plan and successful fundraising for Blackburn’s new makerspace, The Making Rooms, on behalf of Blackburn with Darwen Council. Promoted as Lancashire’s first Fab Lab, the £1M development has transformed an old redundant bank, adjacent to Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, into a creative digital fabrication centre with workspaces, studios and a cafe. The Making Rooms opened in October 2016 and is set up as a social enterprise. www.makingrooms.org
"I have had the pleasure of working with Claire Tymon on the Blackburn is Open initiative. It is Claire who is the “energy” behind Blackburn is Open. She has an infectious energy and drive, an ability to work tremendously hard, is creative, understands the creative industries, is supportive of entrepreneurs and combines sheer hard work with being very personable indeed. Claire’s dedication to the cultural regeneration agenda and to Blackburn is unquestionable. This lady comes highly recommended."
Wayne Hemingway MBE, 2014