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Mayor sets out support for region's arts, culture and heritage

Published: Wednesday 22 May 2024

The new Mayor of the West Midlands, Richard Parker, has set out his vision for the region's creative and cultural sectors, pledging to help maximise their potential to improve people’s quality of life and boost economic growth.

Over the next two years the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), which is chaired by the Mayor, will invest £15 million to support the ambition and capacity of the sectors – which were among the hardest hit by successive Covid-19 lockdowns.

Last night, (Tuesday, 21st May) saw the launch of the West Midlands Ownership Hub – a ground-breaking initiative to support the Mayor’s manifesto pledge to grow the number of co-operative and employee-owned businesses.

The hub will initially focus on cultural and creative sectors, offering freelancers, creatives, and businesses workshops and an ongoing support programme to move into these alternative business models that are proven to enhance productivity, prioritise the well-being of workers, and address the challenges of precarious work conditions.

The WMCA is working with Co-operatives UK and the Employee Ownership Association, supported by Power to Change.

Jonny Graney, founder of Artefact Stirchley; Natalie White, portfolio manager of Power to Change; Mareen Akhter and Stephen Hawkes, from The Developer Society; Hayley Pepler, head of culture, creative industries and digital at the West Midlands Combined Authority; James de le Vingne, chief executive of the Employee Ownership Association; Rose Marley, chief executive of Co-operatives UK; Jo Ind, project coordinator for the West Midlands Ownership Hub, which was launched at Fazeley Studios in Birmingham.

Alongside the Ownership Hub, the WMCA’s £15 million investment will also provide grants that will unlock wider match funding to improve physical facilities such as rehearsal rooms, co-working offices and exhibition spaces, and support to help them innovate.

The Mayor has meanwhile pledged to continue existing work to protect and breathe new life into heritage buildings across the region.

A new ‘Activate’ programme will also launch later this summer, providing a series of early-stage creative skills training that aims to expand the pipeline of new talent and encourage craftspeople and technicians, such as electricians, carpenters, caterers and dressmakers, into the creative sector.

The Mayor said: “I see the West Midlands as the beating heart of the national creative economy and as our region’s creatives increasingly stand tall on the global stage, they should be able to rely on the public sector to champion them.

“That’s why over the next two years we will invest more than £15 million to support the ambition and capacity of the sectors through programmes of work designed to ignite the regional creative eco-system and re-animate our local towns and places, and to provide greater opportunity for everyone to feel the benefits of engaging with culture and creativity.

“We have set up the West Midlands Ownership Hub to promote co-operative and employee ownership. These business models will pave the way for a more sustainable future for workers and help address the challenges of precarious work conditions in these sectors, recognising the vital role those people play in shaping our identity and driving our economy forward.

“I am proud to have made a manifesto pledge to double the number of co-operatives in the West Midlands and the Ownership Hub is a crucial step towards fulfilling this promise.”

Skinder Hundal, chair of the West Midlands Cultural Leadership Board, said: “Imagining and collaborating is what artists do best: when they bring their ideas, enthusiasm, expertise and unique view on the world, new projects, works and exhibitions come to life.

“I’m excited to see how The West Midlands Ownership Hub will support our region’s creatives to work together to explore innovative ways in which they can take ownership of their creativity and materially benefit from it, working in solidarity as a West Midlands sector, consciously engaging contexts both locally and globally.

“This important project builds on our commitment to support the arts and the creative industries to flourish in the region, and I’m looking forward to see our artists and creatives develop with this support going forward.”

Rose Marley, chief executive of Co-operatives UK, said: "Ownership and control are the backbone for creativity, but they're increasingly rare commodities for people in the creative and cultural sectors. Whether through AI, music sharing, or exploitation by global tech, our creative and cultural communities are facing new challenges in industry 4.0.

"Co-operatives are a way for people to guarantee ownership and control of their creativity or cultural communities. We're thrilled to be part of the West Midlands Ownership Hub and excited to see the positive impact we can have, together, by creating more worker co-ops and employee-owned business. It's how we can empower people to free up their creativity and control their own future."

James de le Vingne, chief executive of the Employee Ownership Association, said: “We’re delighted to see West Midlands Combined Authority take this innovative step to grow and sustain employee and worked owned businesses in the region – businesses that will be rooted in the region for the longer term, driving growth and greater benefits for people, planet and place.

“After such a spectacular launch, we look forward to seeing how their focus on growing opportunities for individuals and sustainable business models in the arts and creative sector delivers impacts for the region, and the learning we can take from this to influence future national, regional and local activity to grow more employee ownership.”

The Mayor also spoke at the annual conference of Equity UK, the performing arts and entertainment trade union, at the weekend when he pledged to influence better pay and conditions for creatives, many of whom exist on short term, insecure contracts.

Find out more about the West Midlands Community Ownership Hub and other much needed support the WMCA is providing to arts, culture and heritage across the region on the WMCA website.

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