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Barnstaple to become cultural hub

Wednesday, 8 November 2023 06:56

By Alison Stephenson, local democracy reporter

Carnival is to return (file image courtesy: Steph Maciuk)

Town gets £3.6 million to fund arts

Barnstaple carnival is to be revived under plans to make the town a cultural centre for Northern Devon.

The carnival was cancelled this year after its committee struggled to recruit volunteers to run it following the covid pandemic. Costs were also a factor.

But Flourishing Barnstaple, a £3.6 million culture project which has attracted government funding, is looking to support the event.

There are three main elements to the project – a creative industries hub at 36 Boutport Street, a performing arts and learning hub at Bridge Chambers and wayfinding and public art, but there is also money for three years of activity including festivals and marketing.

Most funding has come through the government’s Cultural Development Fund, administered by Arts Council England, with £500,000 match funding from the Future High Streets programme and £150,000 from the Bridge Trust.

It is a collaboration between North Devon Council, Barnstaple Town Council, Petroc, the Bridge Trust and Beaford and has created three jobs.

Barnstaple museum manager Alison Mills, who is the driving force, told North Devon Council this week that the carnival was in the plan: “The carnival only missed one year but there is an enormous opportunity to bring it back and make it a regular occasion in the future,” she said.

Some project money had been spent on a climate change exhibition at the regenerated Barnstaple Pannier Market where local schoolchildren  worked with climate photographer Gideon Mendel on exploring how rising tides may affect places they know during their lifetime.

Images from Mr Mendel’s ‘Drowning World’ series and a new ‘When I’m 40’ collection, featuring pictures of the children with placards questioning what their favourite locations will look like when they grow up, are being exhibited as part of an international climate festival in Barnstaple, which runs until Friday 17 November.

It comes on the back of a recent food festival, hosted by the council last month, which was hailed a success.

Barnstaple Pannier Market was transformed with £6.5 million of Future High Streets Fund cash and match funding of £4.4 million from North Devon Council.

Council leader Ian Roome (Lib Dem, Barnstaple with Pilton) said he had attended the exhibition on the opening night and it was “really, really good” and Independent Group leader Cllr Malcolm Prowse (Bratton Fleming) praised Alison Mills without whom, he said, none of this would have happened.

“It’s exciting to have this going on. It’s really wonderful and everybody who went to Food Fest is singing its praises.," said Cllr Prowse. "The toilets in the pannier market are also fantastic. I think everyone who lives in Barnstaple is feeling optimistic about the future. None of it would have happened without Alison.

Leader of the Conservative Group Cllr Paul Crabb (Ilfracombe East) said he looked forward to a similar culture plan for Ilfracombe where the carnival continued to take place every year and Cllr David Worden (Lib Dem, South Molton) said: “Don’t forget South Molton.”

Councillors were told that a culture plan for Ilfracombe would hopefully be in place before Christmas.

The appointment of an external design team for Bridge Chambers is expected in December and a planning application in spring 2024. Construction tenders for 36 Boutport Street are being awaited and consultants Urban Foresight have been employed to deliver a strategy on public art, trails and wayfinding.

Flourishing Barnstaple has recruited cultural producer Lee Baxendale; community engagement officer Michelle Nicholson-Sanz and cultural engagement officer, Jessica Reed.

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