Hartlepool: placing culture and sport at the heart of the LAA

The Improvement and Development Agency has been championing culture and sport as essential aspects of public services. In the latest in its Learning By Stories series, the IDeA explores how Hartlepool has put the national indicators for sport and culture at the heart of its drive for service improvement.

Sir William Gray, shipbuilder and first mayor of West Hartlepool, fronts the Hartlepool Art Gallery.

Hartlepool is one of only two local authorities to include all four culture and sport indicators – national indicators 8, 9, 10 and 11 – as improvement targets within their local area agreement (LAA). While other authorities have included the four as local indicators, Hartlepool’s aspiration and ambition on behalf of its sport and cultural services drew particular attention. Presenting the background to Hartlepool’s LAA to the Museum’s Association conference, John Mennear, Hartlepool’s assistant director for community services, was asked how they had managed to secure all four indicators within the total of 35 indicators. His response was that getting the indicators accepted within the LAA had been easy; the difficult part had been the previous eight years of building the relationships, building trust among partners and creating an organisational structure that could deliver the outcomes that were required.

Away from the time constraints of the conference platform, John Mennear and his community services colleagues were able to offer a more detailed and considered response to the question. Why had Hartlepool been able to embrace sport and culture to the full extent possible within the national indicator structure when so many other local authorities had been unwilling or unable to do the same?

Strong Leadership brings a commitment to culture

“Our starting point was that we have developed a strong, integrated cultural ethos in the authority,” John said. “That culminates with a very good response to our regional commentaries. The feedback was that Hartlepool is one of the few authorities that actually has the cultural services basket of activities in the same department, which made it very easy for people to communicate. It also meant that within the structure there was a good opportunity for cross-fertilisation, linkages of services, etcetera. For the last seven years or so we have also had the Hartlepool Partnership and from the very early days we established a cultural and leisure theme into that partnership. This means that we have a history of increasingly co-ordinated services with a focus on culture and leisure which is in effect external to the authority.”

After best value performance indicators had evolved into a national indicator set, each local strategic partnership was requested to identify their core 35 indicators. With a cultural partnership already established, Hartlepool’s community services department found itself in a strong position to make the case for inclusion. Having distinct indicators covering the cultural sector also proved helpful.

“To have this refocusing on four good cultural themes was a good catalyst,” John said. “It was expected that they would be there as part of a balanced indicator set. Of course we had to argue the case regarding why we would want all four in, as opposed to one or two. This was because there was 45 or 50 suggested core indicators and we had to get them down to 35 but we were able to argue that it makes sense to have them all because they all cover different areas; different areas of culture but part of a composite cultural basket. I think that was persuasive.”

Building partnerships, relationships and recognition

If Hartlepool’s willingness to embrace the four cultural indicators was a function of long-term commitment to the sport, culture and leisure services it also reflected the value of relationships and recognition among partner organisations and the public of these services. The local strategic partnership (LSP), composed of public and private sector interests as well as a growing voluntary sector, was one of the most important sources of support for culture, leisure and community learning. Its work brought together organisations of all types, all with a common goal of improving the experiences and opportunities available to local people. Projects such as the  Gun Battery heritage site, the establishment of an accessible recording studio and arts groups’ work with social care have all emerged from these partnerships.

The relationship with the public has also been important. The council’s success in meeting the targets set by the national indicators will be judged on the outcome of the national telephone survey. With new initiatives and service developments in place, there is now the issue of whether the people receiving the call will be able to recall that their activities relate to the questions being asked.

“If the questions are quite straightforward – have you been to a library in the last twelve months, for example – people can definitely remember doing that,” John said. “But if they are asked about whether they have visited a heritage site or a museum there may well be a question of what qualifies as ‘heritage’ or even as a museum. The arts are such a broad spectrum. We would class Dockfest, a maritime festival, as an arts activity and we would classify the panto as an arts activity. However, it’s the perception at the point of the survey that produces the result. In a sense it’s back to the debate about cultural strategies and what is culture. That’s more of a PhD than a simple survey question.”

Stephen Cashman, Hartlepool’s strategic arts manager, concurred. “The notion of definition is crucial,” he said. “Over the last ten years or so, given the changes in government policy and changes in the strategic direction of the Arts Council, there has been a shift away from the ‘high art’ notion that art is something that is done to you. There is now an understanding that art is something you should do for yourself, something you should participate in. It has given a far wider remit to the arts, just as reading and libraries has a far wider remit now. We have redefined what it actually means to be involved in the arts.”

Hartlepool’s cultural services sit within the adult and community services division, a proximity that has enabled the development of excellent working relationships with many of the council’s services. While this cross-departmental working might blur the line between a cultural service and a community service, it is an approach that has put cultural services at the heart of what Hartlepool is trying to achieve as a local council.

“The community services department has really benefited from the cross-working opportunities,” said John Mennear. “Adult care is an example. Six hundred people in town are now using the home library service. Where social care teams are engaging vulnerable people in the community, they are promoting what individuals can do with their time. With the changing nature of care, a lot of our cultural activities are now being directly marketed by the social care teams. Of course, the home library service will also have the opportunity to dispense information on the council’s other services, particularly to people who might be restricted to their homes.”

He is also able to point to cultural services’ work with economic regeneration and planning departments. The provision of culture and cultural activities has been at the forefront of much of the redevelopment of Hartlepool, work that includes the Hartlepool marina. Formerly the semi-derelict Hartlepool Docks, the marina has created a new maritime experience for visitors and presented a new face to the town. The arrival of the 2010 Tall Ships races will serve as testament to this success.

“The Tall Ships is an example of integrated activity but is also serves to demonstrate that so much of success in cultural services is about how you engage,” John said. “One of the main reasons we got the opportunity of Tall Ships in 2010 was that in 2005 Hartlepool was an assembly port for ships prior to their arrival in Newcastle/Gateshead for the race. The community and the council responded to give them a welcome, which was remembered by the ships’ captains. They said that Hartlepool was a great place and that they would like to go back there.”

Demonstrating we can make a difference

Having demonstrated a commitment to culture and to the relationships required to build effective partnerships, Hartlepool still had to deliver. The national Active People survey, now extended to include questions relating to each of the four national indicators for culture, showed that sports participation had risen by 3% when compared to the previous survey. Visitors to the Hartlepool’s museums, galleries and heritage sites total some 184,000 a year, a positive number for a town with a population of 90,000 and a marked rise against the total number of visitors – around 30,000 – fifteen years ago. Where once there were very few major events, Hartlepool can now point to a range of arts activities and a major regional event, the Maritime Festival, as the focal point of its event calendar.

Asked whether the national indicators have been something to be embraced or endured as part of service delivery, Stephen Cashman had no hesitation in his reply. “I love them to bits,” he said, “and I love our numbers. I’ve always found throughout my career that it has been so useful to have that handle on which way trends are actually going. I think it will be a great motivator for services – for people working in them and for those accessing them – to know that a contribution is being made and that things are happening, hopefully good things; and if good things aren’t happening then it suggests changes need to be made.”

Borough librarian, Graham Jarritt, agreed that the indicators had been positive for the development of Hartlepool’s library services. “It’s been a catalyst,” he said. “We are looking to improve uptake within the service and this indicator has put quite a stark pass/fail figure in front of us. We’ve got a baseline figure of 48.1% of people in the telephone survey who said they had used the library in the previous year. This means we’ve got approximately two years to knock that up to 51.1%.”

A review of the borough’s libraries identified the particular strengths in the areas of children and early years, family learning and the older population. A five-year plan is now being implemented to build upon these strengths and staffing structures are being reworked to reflect this approach. The home library service has been expanded and the proportion of people being helped to live in their own homes who access the library service now matches that of the wider community’s library usage, a statistic in which Hartlepool takes pride. Work with the parks and countryside service has helped grow the library service’s engagement with young people and families, and the inclusion in a large new sheltered accommodation development of a library, run by the council in association with the residents, has expanded the service’s engagement with social care. Libraries’ work with people with mental health issues and older people through initiatives such as reading groups has also grown.

“We’re trying to target increased value where people want it,” Graham said. “We’ve invested in self-issue technology, for example, not specifically to save money but to take staff away from stamping books and into the areas of the service we want to expand. The council is investing in changing the whole ambience of the library with a view to making more of the library as a cultural centre If we can afford to extend opening hours and put more events on, that will bring more people in. In addition, we are trying to make people more conscious that when they use us remotely online that also counts as usage of the library service.”

Stephen noted Graham’s use of the word ‘catalyst’ and the results of a move away from old-style transactional data – the stamping of books, for example – towards new-style service data.

“An unlooked for consequence of applying national data sets to the arts in that there is a new imperative for the arts sector within Hartlepool to have more cohesion,” Stephen said. “It used to be a case of the local authority supporting aspects of voluntary and third-sector work but now there is a far stronger idea that we’re all working to the same end, that we’re part of the same ecology. That needs to be enhanced so that when people are phoned and asked ‘have you had an arts experience’ they can recognise that they have been involved in the arts in the sense of national indicator 11. We now have a single theatre leaflet that includes everything going on in the town and we are increasingly having campaigns explaining that you’ve just had an engagement with the arts. The hope is that when they are asked that question, not only will they have had an arts experience but they will recognise that they’ve had it. As a result of this arts organisations are gelling better as a group within the town.”

Both Stephen and David Worthington, Hartlepool’s museums and heritage manager, have a background in audience development and social inclusion. Stephen thinks this has helped the borough’s cultural services respond to the new challenges. “Whether what we bring is new or not, we have introduced initiatives that are in the spirit of the national indicators,” he said. “It is about involving more people from more different backgrounds.

David is also clear that the museums service has a responsibility to communicate with its visitors to explain why and how the facilities are able to deliver the programmes and resources they do.

“We want people to know that if it wasn’t for funding from the Renaissance regional museums programme and the money put into the museums service by the council we wouldn’t have what we have,” he explained. “Without this support we wouldn’t have all these projects that bring in hundreds of thousands of pounds of investment into the area. We’re the smallest authority in the Tees Valley but we’re leading in terms of museums. However, we do have to look at other projects to make sure we’re high up in things like the cultural Olympiad and that we have a strong place in the Tall Ships programme when they come to Hartlepool. All these things make people realise that what is happening is a result of the work that we are doing, that it’s their council and that they have supported us to push to be the lead in the Tees Valley. Hartlepool is now held up as an example nationally of how the Renaissance programme should be operated.”

In one of only three Culture Shock programmes across the country, Hartlepool is second only to Tyne and Wear in the funding received for its digital stories initiative. Hartlepool has also been successful in securing one of only two creative apprenticeships in the North East. Such achievements, David explained, are not accidents.

Building confidence that we can deliver

“We have acquired a reputation for being able to deliver,” he said. “If people didn’t think we could do the business they wouldn’t engage. We didn’t ask for creative apprentices; they approached us. We said we’ll deliver and that’s what we are doing.”

John Mennear agreed: “When you have that hard-won reputation for delivery – and we have a reputation as an authority for delivering – things can become a little easier. People come to you and offer you things. Renaissance is an example of that and similar things happen with our sporting colleagues. Who do some of the regional national governing bodies turn to if they have spare cash? They turn to the authorities that have a reputation for delivering and that means we are able to benefit even further.”

While a reputation is helpful, John stressed the need to recognise and seize opportunities when they arise. For John the national indicator set for culture falls into this category.

“The point about Renaissance is that we saw it as an opportunity and we wanted to grasp it,” he said. “You have to be alert to these opportunities and you need to see the parallel with the national indicators. We have an opportunity here to raise the profile of Hartlepool’s cultural activity within the local indicator set. We didn’t set out with a view to being one of only two authorities in the country having four national indicators but when the dust settled there were only two authorities standing. People are asking how we did it but when I explained the level of interest to our elected Mayor he just gave me a quizzical look, saying, ‘I don’t understand why people are questioning why we have four cultural indicators; it’s the way we do things.’

“It’s all about inclusive services and recognising that there is a value across all areas. If you were to look at the 35 national indicators that Hartlepool have in the LSP you will see there is a very good spread across all sectors of the town. It hasn’t focused on big spend departments or focus of the day; it’s a broad balance across the whole of the town’s activities. Cultural services tend by their nature to be inclusive, inclined to engage with other sectors, and people can see the value in that. When you look at the national indicators you have to question those authorities that haven’t included them. Four out of 35 indicators to cover sport, art, museums, libraries; it does seem reasonable.”


The IDeA's Learning By Stories case study series can be found at the IDeA website at www.idea.gov.uk

This article is published by The Leisure Review by courtesy of the IDeA and Hartlepool Borough Council.

The Leisure Review, July 2009

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“Cultural services tend by their nature to be inclusive, inclined to engage with other sectors, and people can see the value in that. When you look at the national indicators you have to question those authorities that haven’t included them. Four out of 35 indicators to cover sport, art, museums, libraries; it does seem reasonable.”

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