Since Stephen took up the role of Director of Place in early 2016, arts and culture have drastically moved up Bolton Council’s agenda.
He has placed culture at the centre of the authority’s regeneration. He constantly champions the borough’s libraries and museums service, travelling internationally to promote the world class Egyptology collection. He has made the Octagon Theatre’s £10m redevelopment a personal priority, despite its relatively small size within his overall portfolio. He has established a relationship based on trust and collaboration. He has introduced potential investors, supported press nights and advocated passionately for the scheme within and outside his organisation. Our project would not be as well on track as it is without his strong leadership and support.
Stephen is constantly open to new ideas and opportunities. He has personally brokered relationships between different partners to bring arts ideas to life. The Octagon’s forthcoming production of Summer Holiday is just one example, where he has worked with us, his team, and Transport for Greater Manchester to make the production possible involving a bus station, buses, the town square and the town hall. He is similarly supporting a new parks production of Gulliver’s Travels which will involve hundreds of community participants, again through building relationships in addition to providing authority investment.
Under his leadership and direction, the Council is now revising its events programme to include more arts and artist led activities. The difference has already been felt in the Food and Drink festival, which now has a much bigger arts offer for families. New ideas are being piloted this winter towards establishing a Light Festival in 2018 that will engage Bolton’s diverse communities, school and adult groups, in an annual artist led celebration.
He has made arts and culture a major narrative in why Bolton is a brilliant place to live, work and do business in. Promotional material for investors has culture as the centrefold. I have witnessed Stephen address a room full of local businesses and talk avidly about why the arts matter. At this years’ annual MIPIM exhibition in Nice (an international property and investment fayre), Stephen made culture the story in Bolton’s presentation. The presentation itself was drafted with input from the arts sector, but crucially, Stephen asked three business leaders to deliver it with him. Foreign investors were told why the arts were the reason to move here.
The gear change and the level of collaboration has been markedly different since Stephen took responsibility for this area. Investment is increasing, not decreasing. The whole arts sector in Bolton has felt the difference, and I believe he is an outstanding advocate for the arts.
Stephen has gone above and beyond to support culture in Bolton as part of his role and demonstrates a huge commitment to putting culture at the heart of the place. It is excellent to see such commitment at a senior level."