LOVE Local High Street Family Events Programme in Littlehampton aimed to revitalise the town’s struggling High Street through a quality, mixed programme of family-friendly arts events, centred on work by and for local young people.
Over 5 ‘Surprising Saturdays’, work in a range of forms including live theatre, music, craft workshops, large scale spray art, pavement art, dance, musical theatre and photography took over the High Street. The programme was linked by a 6-week central exhibition of work, displayed in a disused shop. The exhibition – titled Step into Colour – – showcased local A-Level students perception of what the High Street *could* look and feel like. More than 40 professionally produced images reimagined a space full of colour and life and invited the community to see their areas from a young person’s point of view.
Other work by young people included performances by Sussex Steel Youth Band and a flash mob dance by Chichester Youth Theatre. Local children and young people also created new work in spray and chalk art, fabric crafts and watercolours in a range of sessions. The programme forged links between local arts, community and youth organisations and regional arts organisations who came to present their work in Littlehampton for the first time.
In their 2020 post pandemic report, “Current & Project Employment & Skills Landscape”, West Sussex County Council identified creativity as a critical skill set to target cycles of low skilled employment and unemployment experienced by many young people in the District. Identified as a cultural ‘cold spot’ by Arts Council England, the District has no regularly funded arts organisations. In addition, the High Street in Littlehampton was vulnerable pre-2020 and COVID-19 has merely accelerated the change. A number of multinational stores will not reopen, with more losses possible in 2022 with the return to standard business rates. Footfall rates haven’t returned to the levels they enjoyed prior to national guidance being in place.
In response to this local economic landscape, Artswork ran the LOVE Local Arts project through the Arun Inspires programme of cultural investment in children and young people. Littlehampton Town Council and Arun District Council supported the programme with funds from the Joint High Street events budget, which was created to bring activities to the town in order to support the local economy.
The programme was free for everyone to engage with, and brought more than 2000 people to the High Street over 5 consecutive Saturdays at the end of a year of intermittent lock downs. All events were fully accessible, and participants ranged in age from 0 – 80 with many attending in buggies or on mobility scooters.