Cllr Anthony Burns (left) and library staff at the Gamble Archives
Cllr Anthony Burns (left) and library staff at the Gamble Archives

St Helens Library Service has secured a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of almost £250,000 to deliver an ambitious new programme of work which will uncover the borough’s rich heritage in the arts, culture and creativity industries.

Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players through a grant totalling £249,742, the library service – an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation – will work with the World of Glass Museum and Re-Dock CIC, which supports artists and creatives, on a new programme of work titled Creative Underground to pay tribute to the borough’s long history of creative activity which is largely undocumented – up to now.

Volunteers will support St Helens Archive Service to unearth, digitise and catalogue printed, photographic, video and audio material from the borough’s past to increase awareness and accessibility of these unique items now – and for future generations.

To be launched in 2023 during St Helens’ year as the Liverpool City Region’s Borough of Culture – residents will be invited to uncover and celebrate this heritage through:

The Houghton Project: Revisiting 1988 seminal youth theatre project, Outcast Theatre, young people and residents will consider how St Helens has changed over time. The investigation will be informed by the original video documenting the project (held within St Helens Archive) and through oral histories collected from original Outcast Youth Theatre members. St Helens College theatre students in collaboration with original Outcast Theatre Director, Roger Hill, will play a central role in engaging others in examining the changing creative and social landscape of St Helens and issues young people faced then and now. Community workshops will result in a film, exhibition, and most significantly will culminate in a new large-scale performance in May 2023 – to be premiered as part of our Borough of Culture year.

Creative Roots: A large-scale exhibition at The World of Glass will celebrate artists past and present, exploring the heritage of those that went on to pursue careers in the creative industries following their art education in St Helens.

Community Grants: Voluntary sector groups will explore the heritage of the amateur arts sector and celebrate St Helens’ wider heritage through creative collaborations. Ten grants of £4,000 will be awarded, resulting in a Creative Heritage Festival across the borough to coincide with Heritage Open Days, September 2023.

Welcoming the announcement, St Helens Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Culture and Heritage, Councillor Anthony Burns, said:    

“With more than 100 amateur arts clubs across the borough, many with a long history including those linked to industry like Pilkington Musical Theatre Company; as well as a strong 1980s music and youth arts scene, particularly at the Citadel; not to mention the hundreds of students that passed through the Gamble Institute Art College, our borough has a rich history in the visual arts but this heritage is largely undocumented.    

“I’d like to thank everyone involved in the bid to make Creative Underground happen. It will allow us to preserve our heritage in the arts, raise the profile of St Helens as a cultural location, inspire future artists and young people and form an integral part of our Borough Culture celebrations next year.”     

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