The Lowry is proof that investing in the arts is a catalyst to regeneration

Conceived around the millennium, The Lowry has brought life to Salford Quays – providing a cornerstone for £1.4bn of investment and proving that regeneration through the arts does work.

As someone who grew up in Salford, I followed The Lowry’s inaugural season in 2000 with great interest. A stunning international programme, including The Paris Opera Ballet, the National Theatre and a large-scale community project, took to the stage. During my childhood, I had witnessed the Quays go from one of the UK’s most vibrant docks into an industrial wasteland. It was remarkable that Salford City Council, Arts Council England and other partners had the bravery and vision to commission such an ambitious millennium project, investing £116m of public money in a state of the art venue on what, despite limited private investment, remained a largely derelict site.

By the time I returned to my home city as Chief Executive of The Lowry in 2002, the catalysing effect of this multi-million pound investment was starting to gain momentum. The Lowry built a bridge across the water to Trafford, connecting the Quays to accommodate the new Imperial War Museum North. Over the next decade, we would be part of a substantial growth in business and employment opportunities on the Quays, as well as a 30 per cent growth in the number of residents. By 2011, the infrastructure and opportunity now in place on the Quays was recognised in the best way possible with the opening of MediaCityUK. With international brands including the BBC and ITV now making their home in Salford, the Quays took its place as one of the world’s foremost cultural and media destinations. This vibrant landscape houses hundreds of emerging creative SMEs, a growing retail offering and a state of the art campus for the University of Salford. Since opening, The Lowry has been a cornerstone to a further £1.4bn worth of public and private investment in the Quays.

What Salford City Council recognised all those years ago is that investment in the arts has the power to catalyse regeneration. But they didn’t just look at physical regeneration, buildings and infrastructure, it was about social regeneration: changing the ambitions and outlook of communities in the city.

On 27 November 2013, Beyond the Arts: Economic and Wider Impacts of The Lowry and its Programmes was published – an independent report by New Economy into the financial, artistic and social impact of The Lowry. The results surprised even us.

The Lowry receives annual funding from Arts Council England and Salford City Council and, in the current financial environment, not only is this funding all the more crucial, but we have to ensure this investment goes further than ever. Only 11 per cent of The Lowry’s budget comes from public funding, while the report shows an average of 40 per cent across regularly funded arts organisations. The Lowry is also able to have a substantial economic impact both regionally and nationally, showing £29m in GVA contributed to the economy every year whilst supporting 533 full time equivalent jobs. And possibly more importantly, each year The Lowry engages with around 35,000 people, especially young people, from the communities around us.

Like many inner-city areas, Salford has its challenges. But Beyond the Arts shows that investment in culture in the city has provided opportunities that wouldn’t be there otherwise. The Lowry is an example of an imaginative city council using public funding to leverage significant economic and social benefit for the City, the people of Salford and our region.

Julia Fawcett OBE is Chief Executive of The Lowry

The view outside The Lowry at night.
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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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