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LOWRY: HEART & SOUL OF SALFORD QUAYS Norman Warwick reads in I Love Manchester

I can never speak highly enough of The Lowry and its staff. I remember once when I had been working as a poet with Rochdale based Can´t Dance Can, we had some funding left over after the project. We spoke with the funders and they suggested we do something for the children, related to the project. I can´t believe that we persuaded our pupils to accompany us to see Matthew Bourne´s Swan Lake. To be honest I feared some misbehaviour issues, but The Lowry invited us to arrive early and we and the youngsters were given the grand tour, which actually stunned the young ones into silence punctuated by gasps of admiration. Later we took our seats in the circle, and the curtains opened. One lad who had, been perhaps the most mischievous and cheeky during our work was so overcome by the magnificence of the venue and the beauty of Matthew Bourne´s version of Swan Lake that he watched the whole performance with tears of joy and wonder trickling down his face. It was a Billy Elliot moment I guess.

When working in the region in my various capacities as a wandering poet poet and trustee of Can´t Dance Can I was fortunate to work under the guidance of a wonderful Rochdale Arts Officer called Beate Mielemeier who was full of advice on how to secure funding and how to satisfy that funding source that we would be able to monitor expenditure and budget and to show an understanding of the returns we could deliver in terms of raised awareness of issues, and of children re-engaging with community. I can´t claim our reports would be as detailed as those from institutions like The Lowry but I was a partner in a group that submitted a very similar document to these notes below. With that submission we tried to convince Rochdale Council of the benefits of arts interventions in so many aspects of community, citing Salford and Brighton, too, as being perfect examples of cost-effectiveness and benefits.

The creation of The Lowry was one of the first attempts in the UK to place a cultural institution at the heart of a social and economic regeneration project. Since it opened in 2000, The Lowry has been at the heart and soul of an area which has been dramatically transformed since it opened. It has welcomed an incredible 18.5m people through its doors, with the 2023/24 season being the most successful they have had to date.

To mark the start of the 25th year since opening, The Lowry has published a social and economic impact report from leading economic and planning consultancy, Lichfields, to evaluate its relationship with the local community and impact on the economy.

The findings uncover the vital role that The Lowry plays in the community and economy of Salford; first, as the cultural institution at the centre of one of Europe’s largest and most successful regeneration projects.To today, as a blueprint for how arts, culture and creativity can engage hard to reach communities at a moment when communities and funding for the arts are under unprecedented strain.

The most visited attraction in the North West, The Lowry’s contributions to Salford, Greater Manchester and beyond extend far beyond the arts.

The Lowry was the catalyst allowing for bigger companies, such as the BBC and ITV, not to mention Ericsson and Kellogg’s to join the party too. As the most visited attraction in Greater Manchester, in 2022/23 almost 860,000 people walked through the doors of The Lowry. Every year it delivers a programme of shows and exhibitions by acclaimed local, national and international artists from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake and the National Theatre’s War Horse, to Britain’s Got Talent.

The Lowry was created to draw people and organisations around the institution. Its presence was a critical factor in the decisions of the BBC and ITV Studios to move to Salford Quays, kicking off one of the most successful regeneration projects in Europe, MediaCity.

While local authorities around the country are cutting funding for arts venues and theatres, The Lowry stands as an example of how arts institutions boost local economies and add value to communities.

The Quays regeneration has been an unmitigated success, and today contributes £1.3 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the economy, 99% more than in 2001. It is now the home of some of the UK’s most exciting creative, tech and media organisations from incubators and start-ups to established businesses such. The Lowry itself is central to the region’s tourism economy, the report finds that it generates almost £90m in visitor spending in the North West every year and supports 649 jobs.

Julia Fawcett, CEO, (left) of The Lowry said: “Before The Lowry, the Salford Quays had been empty and derelict for close to two decades. The revitalisation of the area in the 25 years that followed has been nothing short of miraculous. Today it pulses with life; a vibrant place where culture and creativity and people and business come together.  The Quays continues to grow and evolve, but The Lowry is still the anchor. Created to be the cultural hub around which a community was built, it is evidence not just of the rejuvenating power of art and culture, but the role it plays in shaping society and enriching our lives. The Lowry serves as a lesson in the economic power of arts and culture and the importance of taking the long view, signalling to those reducing arts investment that these short-term savings will cost us all in the long-term.”

Sir Rod Aldridge OBE – Chairman, The Lowry, Aldridge Foundation commented: “There are many challenges that local people of all ages are facing – particularly against a backdrop of the cost of living crisis. The Lowry is seen as a haven, a place they can feel safe in and want to visit, and there’s an incredible combination of things happening here that people can feel like they are a part of.  The impact of the learning and engagement programme is very special and has always been central to The Lowry’s DNA.

“Access to arts and culture is crucial for all young people, not just future artists, as it fosters creative expression, analytical thinking, and confidence. If we want to see the UK succeed in the modern economy, policymakers must look again at arts education and they will find institutions like The Lowry are ready and willing to play their part.

Comedian Peter Kay said: “Happy 25th birthday to The Lowry Theatre. I’ve many happy memories from both being a punter and a performer. A remarkable venue. It remains close to my heart and more importantly close to my house.”

Comedian Jason Manford (right)  commented: “The Lowry has been part of my life since it was first built.  As someone born in Salford and as a Salford University drama student at the time, it felt like our city was finally getting the respect it deserved. I’ve been lucky enough to perform in all of the spaces from the Studio up to the Lyric, from music gigs to comedy, even spending a whole Christmas there in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I’m back at least a few times a year to watch shows with my family. The Lowry is the theatrical equivalent of ‘Build it, and they will come”.  I’m excited to see what it does over the next 25 years.”

By stimulating the rebirth of Salford Quays, the Lowry brought with it the creation of a new economy.´The positive effects on local businesses, employment opportunities and vibrancy of the area just go to show, that culture matters. The Lowry supports 64 jobs nationally, and generates around £48 million GVA annually, which has been generated despite nearly all time low levels of public spending.

The Lowry is more than an arts venue and its education, employability, volunteering, and community engagement programmes target some of the hardest to reach people and families in the Salford area. At a time when the UK is facing a cost-of-living crisis, communities are reeling from the covid pandemic and austerity, The Lowry uses art and creativity to support people who are disadvantaged, underserved and excluded.

The impact report shows that in 2022/23 alone, 22,000 individuals participated in Lowry programmes, including 15,000 young people and 3,000 people with special educational needs or disabilities. Over 3,200 sessions were held across all of The Lowry’s learning and engagement programmes, totalling over 6,000 hours and delivering an estimated £22.4m in social value.

One of The Lowry’s many community initiatives is the flagship “Arts for Social Change” programme which reaches out to young people experiencing difficulties in life.  Arts for Social Change gives young people the opportunity to express themselves through art, whilst learning new skills, improving their wellbeing, reducing social isolation and anxiety, and accessing potentially life-changing opportunities. In 2022/23, a total of 580 Arts for Social Change sessions were held with 895 young people participating.

To put things in to monetary terms, there were 860,000 visitors to the Lowry since 2000. This accounts for an incredible £86.6m spent by visitors in 2022/23. The economic impact amounts to £73.7m from visitors to the region per year. And it’s good value for money too, as The Lowry only uses 6% of public funding, which compares to about 48% for similar sized institutions.

For every pound spent by the government on The Lowry, they are getting £32.91p back – which anyone can see is an incredible return on investment.

At the heart of what was once a derelict dockland, is now a thriving home for arts and culture. More people are now employed in Salford Quays than there were when it was a fully flourishing dock, which is remarkable.

This dramatic transformation exemplifies how cultural institutions can drive economic and social regeneration, providing a model the government should consider for redeveloping other areas.

This article was first published on 30 May 2024 and is subject to be updated from time to time.

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