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Burnley Elevate Artist Injection

Location: Burnley, Lancashire, UK

Artist-team: comprising artist Kevin Carter of Co Lab Projects and architects Dan Jones and Andrew Siddall of civic Architects


Burnley Borough Council (BBC) set up Burnley Elevate Artist Injection in order to involve artists in a major Housing Market Renewal (HMR) scheme that is addressing housing market failure.

Key people involved in this one-year project included: the artist-team, comprising artist Kevin Carter of Co Lab Projects and architects Dan Jones and Andrew Siddall of civic Architects; Louise Kirkup of BBC’s planning department; Helen Knowles, BBC’s arts officer; arts consultant Hope London Morris; and members of the community.

The artist-team developed proposals for four public art projects in consultation with members of the wider community.


Burnley (pop. 88,500) is a large post-industrial town in the east of Lancashire in northwest England. In the nineteenth century, cotton mills and engineering works were the mainstays of the economy. Over the past decades, the decline in manufacturing and the concentration of wealth in other parts of the country have hit Burnley hard, and the town has some of the most deprived wards in the UK.

The Sustainable Communities Plan (2003) is a fifteen-year government programme in which £500m is available for HMR. Its focus is on nine areas in mainly northern England in which property prices have fallen. Houses are frequently neglected and often left empty – particularly those owned by ‘buy-to-let’ landlords. A ‘pathfinder’ project has been set up in each of these areas to tackle this problem.

Burnley falls within one of these nine areas – and is possibly the most badly affected, having over 3,000 empty houses. On its website [www.burnley.gov.uk], Burnley Borough Council (BBC) describes ‘a spiral of decline’ associated with property market failure, ‘including problems of community cohesion, poor health and low educational attainment’.

Burnley is served by a pathfinder called Elevate East Lancashire: initiatives include ‘more green spaces, housing acquisitions and demolitions, development opportunities, face-lifting and street scene improvements’. [BBC application to PROJECT]

The Creative Homes award (PROJECT)

In summer 2005, the Arts Development and Planning departments at BBC devised Burnley Elevate Artist Injection, and successfully applied for a £15,000 PROJECT grant, under the Creative Homes Award Scheme. This grant supported an artist to work with BBC’s Policy and Environment team during an initial twelve-month design phase.

Louise Kirkup, part of BBC’s Policy and Environment Team, explains: ‘modern planning procedures require extensive community engagement, and planners often have to think more creatively about how to consult with local residents. Working with artists can enhance these processes and help to make consultation more enjoyable and meaningful for people.’

Numerous previous consultations with the public hadn’t really engaged with young people. As ‘the inheritors of tomorrow’s new neighbourhoods’, young people’s involvement was a key aim of Elevate East Lancashire. It was proposed that ‘an arts project has the potential to provide a distinctive, inspirational angle to attract young people into the consultation process’ [artist’s brief].

The total budget for all aspects of the Burnley Elevate Artist Injection project was £34,300. It is anticipated that about £15m will eventually be spent on construction – and Local Plan policy requires developers of ‘large scale or prominent development at gateways or along through routes’ to spend at least one percent of their capital budgets on public art.

Burnley Elevate Artist Injection’s project partners included: the Policy and Environment team in Planning and Environment Services and the Strategic Arts Development Officer at Burnley Borough Council; the Elevate and Communications Team; Lancashire County Council’s Youth and Community Service District Team; and private developers.

Artist's objectives

To become an integral part of the design team.

To provide private developers with creative urban design ideas influenced by local people.

To create links between the community, and in particular young people, and the developers.

To support a group of young people to understand and develop their own urban design ideas.

To help this group of young people create a portfolio of work to be exhibited and presented to developers.

To influence the development of urban designs by private developers and encourage more community participation and more arts projects, through a final exhibition.

To encourage feelings of public ownership of the HMR process.

[artist’s brief]

This is clearly an extremely demanding brief for a one-year project with a total budget of £34,300.

The commission

Putting a team together

In August 2005, the steering group invited applications from art consultants to support the process of commissioning artists and undertake fundraising and evaluation. Following interviews, they appointed Scotland-based Hope London Morris. She had previous experience of working in Burnley on Light Weave, a public art project by Liam Curtin for St. Peter’s Health and Leisure Centre (a project report is available from BBC).

Calls for artists were placed in AN magazine, on local and national websites, and in local newspapers. Artists were asked to send their CV and information about previous projects.

In November 2005, the steering group, Hope London Morris and a local young person short-listed three artists or artist-teams. They were each allocated £200 to cover travel and preparation time and invited to a site visit and interview, during which they were asked to suggest how they would work in Burnley. As a result of this process, a London-based team comprising artist Kevin Carter of Co Lab Projects and architects Dan Jones and Andrew Siddall of civic Architects was appointed. This project was their first collaboration.

Kevin Carter explains that they were interested in Burnley Elevate Artist Injection because of the involvement of an artist-team at such an early stage of a regeneration project: ‘most of the time artists are involved when projects have been set up and they are brought in to do a bit of embroidery. The Burnley project was unusual. It was very open-ended.’

The first phase of the project

During the first half of 2006, the artist-team familiarised themselves with the three areas that had been earmarked for the project – Daneshouse, Duke Bar and Stoneyholme; South West Burnley; Burnley Wood.

In February 2006, the artist-team was commissioned by the planning department to undertake Picture This, an additional but related project. ‘Picture This was commissioned to promote the Area Action Planning process that the planning team was due to consult residents on in the summer months. We responded to the previously standard BBC practice of leafleting residents about forthcoming events. We conceived a way of engaging those directly affected by the plans by involving them in the promotion of the council’s consultation processes’ (Kevin Carter and civic Architects).

Working in the three selected areas, the artist-team conducted half-day sessions in schools (arranged through Creative Partnerships) and with Spacelift, a group for young people. They asked the children and young people what was good about their neighbourhoods and what they would like to change. The participants then made drawings directly onto acetate in response to these discussions. These drawings were projected onto buildings in each of the neighbourhoods, during three one-night events that attracted a lot of attention. The images were also used on promotional material for Area Action Plan consultation events.

What was learnt from 'Picture This'

Kevin Carter: ‘Through Picture This we learnt that people quite like their neighbourhoods. The houses are quite good; they just need to be sorted out. People didn’t want them to be knocked down in a developer’s dream. And they wanted more green spaces. The children also predictably wanted skateparks, but Burnley already has these. Our two-hour sessions tried to get beyond that.’

Louise Kirkup: ‘Picture This had a really positive response and it caught the attention of the press and local agencies. It was different from our usual newsletters or leaflet drops.’

The artist-team didn’t do any further work within the schools, ‘partly because of the logistics of arranging visits through Creative Partnerships and also in response to an already full agenda of school-based activity running through the summer months that had already been set up by CP. There was also an expressed wish by others for us not to “over-consult the young people” during their extended summer holiday’ (Kevin Carter and civic Architects).

In the main, however, the artist-team gravitated towards community groups of mixed ages. In particular, they had sustained contact with three community leaders: Chris Keane, who works in a community centre in South West Burnley; Brian Fenn, who runs an advice centre based in Burnley Wood; and Hamied Quereshi, Chair of the Council of Mosques in Daneshouse.

These key figures helped the artist-team make inroads into the community and helped them understand some of the anger and frustrations that people feel. ‘Each community member had a lot to tell us. There are strong political agendas and many people are at odds with the whole HMR project’ (Kevin Carter).

Through those community members, they met with various groups and individuals. ‘We spent six months talking to people who don’t talk to each other. We were a common link.’ (Kevin Carter)

The second phase of the project

In March 2006, the artist-team drew up ideas for projects and presented them during two discussion days, each attended by about twenty community representatives.These led the artist-team to ‘recognise that [their] early conceptual thinking was not explicit enough in terms of relevance to community feeling and response to the early physical and cultural changes that had taken place in the first two years since the HMR Pathfinder was announced’ (Kevin Carter and civic Architects).

The artist-team then worked on a completely new set of ideas. Further discussion days were held in November 2006 and the new project proposals were refined still further. Some people were very positive, but there was also resentment and negativity, and one participant suggested ‘building a town hall and then blowing it up’.

‘We think their resentment and negativity was largely based on people’s assumptions that any change in the landscape/ public realm would be vandalised, unused and disinherited, as is often the case when no community participation is allowed in the designing and delivering of projects. Those residents that took an objective view offered practical and constructive criticism which was of course based on that “negative” assumption, but they were actually forward-looking instead of denying any possibility from the word go.’ (Kevin Carter and civic Architects)

The proposals

Four proposals have stayed the course, each of them for the open areas that are left in the wake of extensive demolition. These are for: a landform using demolition spoil to create a public space; Green Streets, a project that will turn roads into front gardens; Strawberry Fields, a pick-your-own planting project, and a direct action project in which ‘knee-jerk’ statements will be printed on plaques attached to buildings and also printed on boarded-up houses.

In the end, therefore, the ideas did not come from the community: rather, they were fashioned by the artist-team on behalf of the community and in consultation with them. Kevin Carter argues that this is precisely the role of the artist. Louise Kirkup explains: ‘The artists’ ideas changed, they’ve become more in line with issues that people are interested in, for example the use of cleared sites. It shows they’ve listened to people.’

‘It was agreed that the idea of a formal exhibition would not work in this community. It might satisfy the project’s client but would attract very few residents.’ (Kevin Carter and civic Architects)

More detailed proposals, including feasibility and costings, are now being drawn up, in preparation for funding applications. It is hoped that the proposals will go into production in summer 2007.

1. Landform. Landform is an echo of Burnley’s surrounding landscape; the view from the top provides users with a new perspective on their immediate neighbourhood. The sculpted ground provides a place for organised public events and informal recreation. The grass-covered mound is created from the spoil of demolished buildings that once stood on the site

2.Green Streets. By laying turf directly onto the road like a carpet, streets can be temporarily reclaimed as recreation spaces. In this way the road becomes a place which belongs to and whose use is dictated by local residents, providing a venue for a range of communal activities.

3. Strawberry Fields. This proposal concentrates on establishing horticultural uses close to housing in Burnley’s HMR intervention areas. Cultivating plants, especially flowers, fruit and vegetables can capitalise on the surfeit of open space left by demolition in each HMR area, and may even demonstrate enough public support for horticulture projects to be included in the Lead Developers’ regeneration proposals.

4. Peer Plaques. The HMR process has produced an enormous amount of comment from residents across Burnley. The process of consultation run by Burnley Council has attempted to capture some of this feedback, but the consultation process itself has been criticised and local people still feel their voices are not being heard. This proposal therefore enables residents to directly express their thoughts on the HMR regeneration programme, outside the Council’s consultation framework.

(Text: credited to civic Architects with artist Kevin Carter).

How the brief proved difficult to fulfil

Working with young people

Louise Kirkup: ‘It’s much easier to engage young people when there’s a quick turn around – they can feel ownership of that kind of project. But even then, they often don’t turn up, and you’re working with timescales and deadlines. With HMR, there’s a ten to fifteen year timescale and people get disillusioned and bored. In these areas of Burnley, the people you’re working with might not be around or even alive by the time a project comes to fruition.’

Working with the community in general

Helen Knowles: ‘Community groups have come up with ideas that don’t necessarily involve artists – or they come up with ideas in terms of results. They’ll say “we want a sculpture that looks like this”.’

Providing training

Kevin Carter, Dan Jones and Andrew Siddall : ‘We had thought that we would provide some design training as part of our original brief. However the level of training required proved to be beyond the scope of the project.’ [project evaluation document, January 2007]

However, BBC has since commissioned civic Architects to provide this training, to ‘help equip people with better skills for dealing with plans and architects’ drawings’. (Louise Kirkup)

Working with developers

Kevin Carter and civic Architects: ‘Contact with the lead developers has been minimal and rather disappointing. In the early stage of the project much was made of the one percent commitment that the lead developers had signed up to when being appointed. After the one meeting we had with the developers this commitment felt very limited and ill defined. The type of projects that seemed to appeal to the developers were those that could be quantified at an early stage, the sole ambition of which was providing an aesthetic embellishment to an existing plan of housing development.’ [evaluation document]

Helen Knowles: ‘Developers need to make their books balance and the argument for public art is more difficult to make with them. The physical and psychological relationship that public art has with a place is not easy to convey at that level. Developers have their own designers and they are reluctant to work with the community. They also want to see final designs before committing, so they are reluctant to do things that might involve change.’

Working in relation to planning procedures

Helen Knowles: ‘Two compulsory purchases have failed to go through and this directly affects the HMR process. We have no control over that.’

How the objectives were rethought

Kevin Carter and civic Architects: ‘We have had to set the objectives of the project and indeed revised them, as we immersed ourselves in the process of working in the community…. This project has always been the start of something in Burnley’. However, they also add: ‘Commissioner’s main aims – working with the community and Planning Department to develop innovative concepts/designs – were achieved by the chosen design team, whose process heightened awareness of public art and regeneration by developers and the public… we are beginning to attract funding…. We are confident that the aim of realising at least one project in each of the three target neighbourhoods can be achieved.’ [evaluation document]

‘A key issue for me was the ability of the client team to allow the artist team to shape the project to respond to local drivers for change. This is one of the central directives for the HMR process itself, which sets an agenda of locally driven policy and change through an organically developed brief. Our client team was therefore putting their money where their mouth was.’ (Kevin Carter)

Financial information

The budget for Burnley Elevate Artist Injection was £34,300: £15,000 came from PROJECT, and the remaining £19,300 came from Elevate and other planning funds and in-kind support. The artist-team’s fee was £19,000, including expenses; the art consultant’s fee was £6,000; commissioning process and public consultation expenses came to £2,000; materials, public exhibitions and promotion cost £7,300. An additional £2,400 came from art and planning funds to cover the production costs of postcards. Picture This cost a further £5,600 and was funded by the planning department.

Key issues

The brief was over-ambitious and was presented as open and flexible. It is possible that as a result of this, key aspects, such as working with young people, were not sufficiently emphasised.

Burnley Elevate Artist Injection clashed with other initiatives such as Creative Partnerships and this caused difficulties.

The distance from where the artist-team lives and Burnley was sometimes perceived to be a disadvantage: disaffected young people often don’t show up at designated times and it can be necessary to be very flexible.

Contact details

Kevin Carter, Co Lab Projects; Tel: 020 7729 7644; Email: [email protected]

Dan Jones and Andrew Siddall, civic Architects; Tel: 0771 886 1387; Email: [email protected]

Hope London Morris; Tel: 07702 421720 / 01988 403237; Email: [email protected]

Louise Kirkup, Principal Planner (Housing Market Renewal), Policy and Environment team in Planning and Environment Services, Burnley Borough Council; Tel: 01282 477212; Email: [email protected]

Helen Knowles, Strategic Arts Development Officer, Burnley Borough Council

Email: [email protected]


© Copyright Angela Kingston, 2007

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