A carnival parade makes its way up a road. People wear colourful clothing, and carry flags. At the head of the procession a man walks inside a boat made of fabric stretched around a frame.
Boishakhi Mela parade 2019, by Emergency Exit Arts who have been selected to deliver the High Streets Heritage Action Zones Cultural Programme's Outdoor Arts Commission, to take place in 2023. © Emergency Exit Arts
Boishakhi Mela parade 2019, by Emergency Exit Arts who have been selected to deliver the High Streets Heritage Action Zones Cultural Programme's Outdoor Arts Commission, to take place in 2023. © Emergency Exit Arts

High Streets Heritage Action Zones’ Cultural Programme Launches with 'High Street Tales'

Today Historic England launches a podcast series and accompanying ebook called 'High Street Tales'. These are the first outcomes of a four-year-long national  Cultural Programme led by Historic England, in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England.

The £7.4 million Cultural Programme is part of the £95 million High Streets Heritage Action Zones initiative, which is currently working across 68 English high streets. The initiative is funded with £40 million from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Heritage High Street Fund, £52 million from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Future High Streets Fund, and a further £3 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The Cultural Programme features new digital and physical artworks inspired by our nation’s high streets. It aims to make our high streets more attractive, engaging and vibrant places for people to live, work and spend time. Commissioned artists will work with local communities on high streets across England to co-produce artworks that respond to, document and reflect the changing high street. The new artworks will also be considered for submission into the Historic England Archive, the nation’s archive for records of England’s historic buildings, archaeology and social history.

Cultural Programme 2020-2024

The cultural programme comprises:

High Street Tales: Storytellers have captured the everyday magic of high streets, working with local people to record ‘local legends’ and create a set of short stories about today’s high street, in ebook and podcast format. Released from today.

Future of the High Street: 10 short films by contemporary filmmakers exploring our high streets. Released March 2021 onwards.

Twin Towns: A group of contemporary artists each create artworks which connect high streets that may be distant geographically, but close in experiences and spirit. From summer 2021.

Sound Walks: Organised with the National Trust, this commission will see artists working with local High Streets Heritage Action Zones communities to create six immersive Sound Walks during Heritage Open Days, 10-19 September 2021.

Picturing England’s High Streets: A three-year photography commission to creatively document the changing face of the nation’s high street, coming to a conclusion in 2024.

Coming soon in 2021

Alongside the national cultural programme, the 68 High Streets Heritage Action Zones will each receive substantial grants from Historic England for their 'cultural consortia' of local arts organisations to curate and create locally-developed cultural offerings for their high streets over the coming three years.

Our historic high streets sit at the heart of our communities and form an important part of our local identity. I am pleased that the Cultural Programme, starting with this exciting 'High Street Tales' project, will play a part in bringing our high streets to life, encouraging people to reconnect with the heritage we have on our doorsteps as we look to build back better from the pandemic.

Nigel Huddleston, Heritage Minister

I’m delighted we are backing this exciting initiative with a £52 million investment from our Future High Streets Fund. High Streets play an important part in the history of our towns and cities and the High Street Tales project will help connect communities to their local heritage, preserving it for many generations to come. This government is supporting high streets across the country to meet the evolving needs of their communities, navigate the impact of the pandemic and to ultimately build back better.

Luke Hall, Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government

Historic England is taking a unique approach in combining cultural programming, community engagement and physical regeneration to transform high streets across England. The cultural programme’s aim is for artists to work with local people to help them rediscover and express the pride they have in the places they’re from. We’re very proud to announce this exciting series of commissions working with some of the best cultural organisations, artists and creatives in the country.

Ellen Harrison, Head of Creative Programmes and Campaigns Historic England

Launched today: 'High Street Tales' ebook and podcast

Since last autumn, eight contemporary writers have worked with their local communities to explore the everyday magic of high streets, creating seven new short stories, or 'High Street Tales'. Today the 'High Street Tales' are published as an ebook which features an introduction by writer Andy Miller (author of 'The Year of Reading Books Dangerously'), and is available via the Historic England website. The stories draw on local legend and memory to capture the everyday magic of the high street.

The eight writers have also narrated each of their stories for a podcast series which will be released over the coming weeks, with the first episode launched today (10 February 2021) on Historic England’s website and all major podcast platforms. In 'Time and the Shoe Man', Celia Bryce explores North Shields high street in an evocative and otherworldly tale which follows a mysterious character on his journey down roads and through streets of the past to return a lost shoe to its home. Other stories include 'In Between Days' by Merrie Joy Williams, who has based her tale on Woolwich High Street, 'Flying' by Maria Whatton (Wednesbury), 'Borrowed Ground' by Robin Pridy (Hastings), 'All the Secret Postcards' by Rod Duncan (Leicester),  'The Women of Number 11' by Rebecca Tantony (Weston-super-Mare) and 'Under the watchful eyes of seagulls' by Ellie McKinlay-Khojinian and Ligia Macedo (Great Yarmouth).

More about High Street Tales

Coming soon: 'Future of the High Street' films

Also released today is a preview trailer of 'Future of the High Street'; a series of 10 new films organised by a range of major regional UK arts organisations and created by contemporary filmmakers in collaboration with young creatives, which will be published on Historic England’s website and YouTube channel throughout March.

Each film explores what the future of the high street could be, posing hopeful provocations at a time when these communal spaces have been hit hardest. The organisations include: Focal Point Gallery (Southend-on-Sea), Beacon Films (Newcastle), Turf Projects (Croydon), Site Gallery (Sheffield), Heart of Glass (St Helen’s), Living Memory Archive (Stirchley High Street), New Art Exchange (Nottingham), Lighthouse (Brighton), The Photographers’ Gallery (London), Newlyn Art Gallery (Penzance).

More about the films and filmmakers

Our historic high streets are an important part of who we are, creating a sense of place and belonging and bringing communities together. In recent years, changing shopping habits have had an impact and the current COVID-19 crisis is a significant new challenge. We are delighted to be a partner in this exciting Cultural Programme as it is vital that we continue to celebrate and invest in our heritage, and keep our high streets as invaluable community hubs. This £3 million of National Lottery funding will support creative activities including art, storytelling, film, photographs and walks, capturing the spirit of our ever-changing high streets and helping to shape their future.

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive The National Lottery Heritage Fund

As we emerge from the pandemic, we believe that culture can play a crucial role in reanimating the high street and bringing life back to our historic town centres. This dynamic Cultural Programme well help realise that ambition, giving a range of creatives – from photographers and filmmakers to visual artists and writers – opportunities to celebrate the stories and communities linked to high streets across the country. As well as create engaging physical and digital artworks, making them more attractive places to live and visit.

Laura Dyer, Deputy CEO, Places & Engagement Arts Council England

Open call for photographic artists

Alongside this, Historic England is delighted to reveal that Photoworks has been commissioned to run Picturing England’s High Streets – a commission which will see six artists undertaking residencies at high street locations across England. Photoworks will work in partnership with arts organisations and local communities in Prescot and Chester (with Open Eye Gallery), Coventry and Stoke-on-Trent (with GRAIN Projects), in Leicester (with QUAD/ FORMAT) and in London (with Photofusion). The selected photographers will work with the local communities to photograph our high streets until 2024, creating a contemporary portrait of England's high streets.

Find out how to apply

We are very pleased to have been appointed lead partner for Picturing England’s High Streets - an ambitious programme which provides exciting opportunities for photographers and local communities across High Streets in England. We will work with a range of arts organisations to facilitate this four year project and look forward to engaging with communities across the country.

Shoair Mavlian, Director Photoworks

Twin Towns

Over summer 2021, Historic England will unofficially 'twin' towns, through a programme of creative commissions that see artists working with local communities 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. The artists and locations are:

  • Ellie Shipman and Katy Hawkins will work in Keynsham and Bedford to explore the history of the two market towns through creative signage installations;
  • Freya Gabie will work with local people to celebrate the ceramic industries in Poole and Stoke-on-Trent;
  • Louise Fazackerley will create a dance-poetry film about Blackpool and Wigan’s shared history of dance;
  • Mooch will ask people in the coastal towns of Ramsgate and Ryde to create miniature models of buildings due to be regenerated;
  • Quiet Down There will delve into the stories of people visiting launderettes on South Norwood and Leicester high streets;
  • Unfolding Theatre will co-create “high street duets” with people living in North Shields and Lancaster based on the shared history of shipping and what it means today.

New Sound Walks for Heritage Open Days 2021

Historic England is working with the National Trust to launch a series of new Sound Walks on six High Streets Heritage Action Zones across England during Heritage Open Days, from 10-19 September 2021. The Sound Walks, which will be available online, will be self-guided and create unique, immersive soundscapes that will inspire people to experience their surroundings in a new way. Sound Walks is a commission by Historic England, National Trust and Heritage Open Days.

Sound Walks is an exciting build on our previous work with artists. We’re thrilled to be working with Historic England with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery to bring the diverse, fascinating stories of our local high streets to life through work with local people and skilled artists.

Annie Reilly, Experience Development Manager National Trust

Outdoor arts commission announced

Following an open call, arts organisation Emergency Exit Arts has been selected to create a large-scale outdoor celebration of the high street, to be delivered in summer 2023. Emergency Exit Arts will use their expertise in creating memorable participatory events which often include elements of visual performance, pyrotechnics and music. They will engage local communities to run the commission across five English high streets and will also train local young people in arts production. Further details to follow.

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