Canterbury’s £345,000 cultural funding boost

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Canterbury City Council has been awarded £345,000 from the national Great Places Scheme for its exciting plans for the Poor Priests’ Hospital building in Stour Street, Canterbury.

The successful bid is part of an east Kent-wide project, called Pioneering Places, led by the Folkestone-based Creative Foundation and supported by the Kent Cultural Transformation Board. This includes initiatives in Folkestone, Ramsgate and Dover. In total, almost £1.5 million of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Arts Council England and Historic England has been approved.

The Great Places funding would allow the council to re-purpose and refresh the Poor Priests’ Hospital, which currently houses the Canterbury Heritage Museum. It would see the creation of a new, unique and dynamic cultural offer for the district, rooted in its heritage and sense of place, but incorporating new activities that would greatly improve community access to cultural heritage and the creative arts.

It would result in a sustainable, community-focused future for the Grade I-listed Poor Priests’ Hospital, with plans for regular public access to one of the city’s finest medieval buildings and its collections. The venue would be managed by The Marlowe Theatre, working with the Canterbury Museums and Galleries Service and other partners.

Most of the items currently displayed in the Poor Priests’ Hospital would remain there and would be used to develop exhibitions that relate to the city’s stories and its important literary heritage, which is internationally significant yet largely untold and under-celebrated in the city.

They would also be used to inspire a range of professional and community writers and performers working in the building, drawing out stories and animating heritage in engaging and dynamic ways. Partner organisations and local communities would be involved in the development of projects, which would incorporate contemporary techniques such as digital media projection.

In addition, Marlowe Lab activities run by The Marlowe Theatre would also move to the Poor Priests’ Hospital, including existing participation projects, such as the Marlowe Youth Theatre, the Marlowe Dance Company and the Marlowe Playwrights, a programme of performances of plays, music, comedy and children’s shows, and the co-production of the Canterbury Children’s Literature Festival.

The council has recently been consulting on the plans for the Poor Priests’ Hospital, with a decision due to be taken at a meeting of its Community Committee on Wednesday 29 March.

The committee’s Chairman, Cllr Neil Baker, said: “We’re delighted to have been successful with this bid and to be working with partners in our neighbouring districts on such an exciting set of projects across east Kent. It’s great news that the area is seeing such a large injection of funding.

“We knew when we bid in January this year that the consultation would be running at the same time, but it would have been neglectful of us not to try and get this funding for the Poor Priests’ Hospital proposals. If we go ahead with the plans, we will be able to deliver them in full and much more quickly than if the bid had not come through.”

Creative Foundation CEO, Alastair Upton, said: “From the Marlowe Theatre, through Turner Contemporary to the Folkestone Triennial, east Kent has a rich recent history of culturally-led placemaking that has helped define the region. This has included building galleries, museums, theatres and creative quarters. Pioneering Places will show how cultural placemaking can have an even larger role to play.”

Area Director, South East, Arts Council England, Hedley Swain, said: “Arts, culture and heritage have a really important part in making places what they are; in bringing communities together; in promoting a sense of pride in where people live; in attracting tourists; and in contributing to the local economy. There is already an exciting momentum around arts, culture and heritage in east Kent, but this new funding from the Great Places Scheme will be important in driving this forward.

“Pioneering Places will ensure that arts, culture and heritage are firmly embedded in the future social and economic priorities of the region, cementing it as a place people want to live, work and visit.”

Head of HLF South East, Stuart McLeod, said: “East Kent gives us some fantastic examples of culture-led regeneration already – with the Folkestone Triennial arts exhibition, Turner Contemporary and Dreamland in Margate, and redevelopment of the Marlowe Theatre and the Beaney in Canterbury leading the way.

“This new National Lottery investment will build on this legacy to shape a strong future for people and economies with culture at their heart.”

The Kent Cultural Transformation Board’s Sarah Dance said: “This funding is a wonderful endorsement of the work of the cultural sector across east Kent. Investment in our cultural organisations delivers great results, transforming the lives of individuals and creating vibrant communities. This investment will create outstanding opportunities to work in partnership with local communities to generate positive change, and provide innovative examples of culture delivering great places in Kent.”

East Kent is one of 16 places across England to receive a grant from the Great Places Scheme, a £20 million initiative inspired by the Government’s Culture White Paper. They include Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, Reading, and Waltham Forest in London.