Culture on the High Street

Published on 20 May 2021

Event in Bedford Town Centre

Bedford Borough Council has been awarded an £80,000 grant from Historic England as part of the Bedford High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) Cultural Programme, which is being supported by BedfordBID.

The grant will help to create and deliver community-led cultural activities on Bedford High Street and make the area a more attractive, engaging and vibrant place for people to live, work and spend time. Bedford’s programme will reflect on the past and present lives of people and places in the town and how their stories interweave with experiences of the High Street and its buildings, businesses and public spaces.

The Cultural Programme aims to transform visitors’ experience of the local High Street and draw attention to the hidden treasures of Bedford’s heritage.

The programme will start with a pilot scheme – The Vault, which aims to tell the story of a hidden bank vault beneath the Bank site at the junction of High Street and the Embankment. The pilot scheme will be revealed on the May Spring Bank Holiday.

Councillor Henry Vann, Portfolio Holder for Town Centres and Planning, said: “It is fantastic that Bedford is set to receive yet more funding for the HSHAZ Cultural Programme to support our town centre. This scheme will help us all celebrate the rich heritage of our public spaces, highlight the local stories of our historic market town and foster a sense of civic pride among the local community.

“This sits alongside the wider High Street Heritage Action Zone which will bring real physical improvements to Bedford’s High Street and historic buildings and is just one of the many ways that we continue to secure inward investment in our shared town centre.”

Christina Rowe, Director of Operations for Bedford BID, said: “Over the course of the BedfordBID five-year terms, the BID has demonstrated a readiness to work collaboratively to ensure the town centre fulfils its potential with a track record of partnership initiatives. Building on this success, we believe that the four-year programme of the HSHAZ will not only provide community engagement and cultural activities to help deliver a strong and vibrant town centre, but will also provide further physical improvements to restore the presentation of historic buildings.

“This will not only provide the right environment to foster businesses to invest in the heritage rich location but add to the appeal of our local captive audiences generated by new office workers during the week, help facilitate a ripple effect of lasting improvements elsewhere amongst town centre businesses and create more compelling physical reasons to visit the town through an imaginative and successful programme of events.”

Tony Calladine, Regional Director for Historic England in the East of England, said: “The high street cultural programme is a step change in the way we think about bringing High Streets back from the brink. As we start to see these important historic spaces become regenerated through building work, it is the community-led cultural work that helps people to enjoy their high street again and also have a say in what the future of their high street might be.”

Caroline Dinenage MP, Culture Minister, said: "High streets are often the heart of our communities and should be places we all want to engage with and enjoy. These grants will help transform high streets into thriving cultural hubs, encouraging us to embrace all the joys our town centres have to offer.”

Twin Towns (May – September)

Historic England is unofficially 'twinning' towns, through a programme of creative commissions that see artists working with local people to uncover what they have in common.

The artworks will explore themes of identity as well as the communities’ collective hopes and challenges, culminating in a series of installations, performances and digital work. 

For artists Ellie Shipman and Katy Hawkins’ project Public Announcements, the artists are conducting workshops in Bedford and Keynsham and working with residents to create High Street Observation Cards prompting local exploration and discussion of the High Streets alongside co-designed maps of each area. 

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