London Borough of Culture (LBOC) is a step-change programme, providing an opportunity for individual boroughs to explore how culture and its impacts can be realised and recognised for the benefit of their residents and embedded across borough-wide policy and strategy.

Evaluation is a crucial part of the LBOC pilot programme, affording an opportunity to explore, experiment and catalyse change. The borough programmes involve local communities at all stages of development and delivery, aiming to increase both arts engagement for a diversity of residents and cultural capacity throughout the borough. The Audience Agency's role is to deliver the programme evaluation and support the participating boroughs with evaluation and reflective learning.

LB Waltham Forest led off in LBOC’s inaugural year in 2019 as the title winner and Brent follows on for 2020. Six Cultural Impact Awards were also granted for 2019/20 to the London Boroughs of Merton, Kingston, Camden, Barking & Dagenham, Lewisham and Lambeth, as part of the LBOC initiative. Each borough designed its programme according to its own priorities, focusing on everything from increasing skills, to addressing specific social concerns through cultural projects and arts practice, including issues affecting young people, social care or filling gaps in cultural provision (such as music or film).

The Mayor of London has now also announced other Boroughs of Culture through to 2023 with title winners LB Lewisham and LB Croydon and further cultural impact awards for Hammersmith and Fulham.

The Task

It is rare that any agency or organisation embarks on something of the scale of a title winner of LBOC (Cultural Olympiads, Cities and Capitals of Culture being the exceptions). From an evaluation point of view, it encompasses a challenging ensemble of events of vastly different sizes – some commissioned, some delivered in partnership, some community-led and others spontaneously appearing ad hoc. Each may involve consultation with residents, participation, co-creation, co-production, volunteers, ambassadors or community panels, all putting cultural democracy at the heart of programme development. As a result, outcomes might apply in some places, but not others and need to be assessed in multiple layers – audiences, participants, residents, communities, individuals and stakeholders. It has therefore been essential for the boroughs to focus on key evaluation questions which relate to their own objectives. The Audience Agency's job is to then translate these into more universal outcomes and learnings, relevant across London's boroughs.

The Project

The Audience Agency's role is as much observer as a guide and expert advisor, with our full task being two-fold:

  • To assess the outcomes of London Borough of Culture as a whole for London, the Greater London Authority and its local authorities.
  • To support and advise the individual boroughs in the delivery of their own evaluation. We are supporting Boroughs to plan and implement their evaluation with a range of tools, including reflective learning led by Amanda Smethurst.

Next Steps

As we look to the next wave of title winners, we are constantly refining the approach. We remain, though, fundamentally focused on assessing the step-change within the boroughs and their approach to embedding culture across the council and assessing where and how it succeeds in:

  • Influencing strategy and policy.
  • Creating new models of delivery and partnership.
  • Delivering a programme that welcomes audiences, participants, volunteers, co-creators and activists – across the spectrum of engagement.
  • Increasing cultural engagement from a diversity of residents.
  • Increasing the skills and capacity of the cultural sector.
  • Realising social impacts, particularly in the areas of social integration and well-being.
  • Improving perceptions of the borough as a cultural destination, including economic impact.

Being, as it is, a twist on a number of existing programmes – Great Place Scheme, Cities of Culture, Creative People and Places, to name a few – London Borough of Culture is part of the great exploration of the role of culture in society. This initiative, though, presents unique challenges for boroughs that exist as part of a large city, with its own iconic and dominating cultural attractions. As such, LBOC will continue to focus on localised and hyper-local practice and understanding. It is very much a project of its time, as local authority funding is squeezed, while a vast spectrum of social problems is on the rise. Its potential impacts are also brought into sharper focus in light of the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic

In this climate, the search for effective and creative solutions is imperative and London Borough of Culture represents a key component of social policy for the Mayor of London. It is a testament to the fact that, while culture is understood to have intrinsic and instrumental value, it is absolutely necessary to continue making high-profile contributions to this debate.

We can now appreciate the impacts for Waltham Forest’s London Borough of Culture 2019, with their latest report outlining the story of impact so far.

The report demonstrates that there are stories to be told in all corners of the Borough of the impacts of Waltham Forest’s London Borough of Culture in 2019. From the volunteer programme Legends of the Forest to staff involvement, One Hoe Street as a creative hub to a swathe of projects by those who were awarded Fellowship Funding. Some of the significant impacts were with younger people through the Eastside Story project and the cultural leadership programme Future Creatives. There were also significant impacts for the ways LB Waltham Forest as a council works, which as it reflects on the learning is it will use to further develop cultural production and participation in Waltham Forest.

Look out for Brent’s programme coming up later in the year.

Edited on 23 April 2020.