Chris Robbins, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, is a passionate advocate and patron for local arts and culture. He works tirelessly to ensure that arts and culture are at the heart of the Council’s work, and despite facing over £100million of funding cuts, he has invested £13.8million in arts and culture since 2010.
Chris sees the value of investing in the arts – enriching residents’ lives, bringing the community together and contributing to economic growth and regeneration. The Council’s Art for All strategy, launched in January 2016, is integrated with other corporate strategies such as those on economic growth, and health and wellbeing.
Under Chris’ leadership, much has been achieved in Waltham Forest: securing Heritage Lottery Fund grants for Walthamstow Wetlands and St James Street; hosting the Antiques Roadshow; organising street performance, tea dances for older residents, and public art; and supporting and nurturing local artistic talent.
The reopening of the William Morris Gallery in 2012 heralded a new appreciation of the transformational capability of the arts in the borough. Annual visitor numbers increased from 17,000 to over 110,000 with a vibrant events programme for the whole community. Funded by the Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and charitable trusts, the Gallery was crowned Art Fund Museum of the Year 2013 and shortlisted for the European Museum of the Year Award 2014.
Following a successful Big 6 events programme to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic Games, in 2013 Chris created the Get Together initiative: a programme of free, outdoor festivals, now enjoyed by over 350,000 people. Over £4.7million has been invested in these events over the last five years – an increase of 270%. Each festival has developed a strong local following, demonstrating the power of culture to bring people together, foster cohesion and attract visitors to the borough. One quarter of Waltham Forest residents cite attending Council and community events as making them feel they belong in their local area. There is a strong focus on delivering these events in partnership: for example, The Walthamstow Garden Party is a joint venture between the Council, Barbican and Create, alongside a range of local organisations.