Advocacy: As Chief Executive of Stockton Borough Council (SBC), Neil has ensured his passion and belief in the transformative powers of arts and culture have been embedded in the ethos of the entire Council. The borough of 194,000 people is one of the most deprived areas in England, with huge health and economic inequalities. During the last 10 years, Neil has championed arts and culture at every level, within the local authority, sub-region and wider. He has personally led a major town centre transformation programme with culture at its heart, and empowered the area’s key arts organisations to take international leadership roles, enhancing their reputation and putting Stockton on the map.
- Arts, Culture and Leisure Director appointed to top tier of council management in restructure
- Recognising the need for town centres to be re-imagined as social spaces, Neil has ensured that the ability to stage events – from world class outdoor street arts to community-led arts activity – has been literally built into the infrastructure.
- Arts-led town centre regeneration strategy including:
- Commissioning new public art
- Incorporation of event spaces and large scale public events programme
- Neil has also driven considerable investment in arts and culture, including:
- £3m+ council investment to support refurbishing/relaunching the Globe, a Grade II listed art deco theatre, as a major music venue
- Capital improvements investment in ARC, Stockton’s arts centre, to ensure its long-term sustainability
- Increased resources and budget mainstreaming of Stockton’s International Riverside Festival (SIRF)
- Financial support to refurbish The Georgian as a small-scale music venue
- Supported and enabled Stockton Calling to achieve financial independence (shortlisted as Best Small Festival and Best Metropolitan Festival in UK Festival Awards 2016)
- Innovative three-way private-public partnership of Jomast (developer), Heritage Lottery Fund and SBC to relaunch The Globe
- Ongoing strategic partnership with Arts Council England to ensure Stockton retains and enhances nationally-significant arts leadership and specialisms via ARC (multi-form arts centre) and SIRF (street arts)
- Influenced Tees Valley Combined Authority to include culture as one of five work streams in their Strategic Economic Plan
Community: Stockton residents experience amazing arts and culture on their doorstep. The town and wider borough thrives culturally where others are struggling to replace failing retail and traditional public offers. The 2018 Grimsey review featured Stockton as a best practice case study, and highlighted the arts-led SBC strategy: “the strong collaboration between the Council and the arts community is highly valued” (p 45 – http://www.vanishinghighstreet.com/).
Stockton has been recognised in APSE (Association of Public Service Excellence) awards and via conference presentations for culture-led regeneration. Neil personally attends all size and scale of arts and music events, and encourages other officers to do so – ensuring visibility and accessibility to the sector and public
What the judges had to say:
“Neil has managed to put culture at the heart of place in a real and tangible way, and this should be applauded.”
“To see a local authority base the regeneration of their town around culture – and to maintain this for over a decade – is worth of celebration. Stockton faces major challenges, but has ensured that it has not become defined by them, putting Stockton squarely on the cultural map of the UK.”