Carol Beattie: Using culture to regenerate communities

Stirling’s bid to be named UK City of Culture 2025 will provide investment and support to improve the lives of its people, writes the chief executive of Stirling Council.

Located in the heart of Scotland, Stirling is steeped in the nation’s history. Iconic landmarks such as Stirling Castle and the National Wallace Monument dominate our beautiful landscape and are a vivid reminder of Stirling’s central role in Scotland’s economy, power and politics over the centuries.

Carol Beattie, chief executive of Stirling Council

But what makes Stirling special are its people. An incredible passion for culture, creativity and innovation runs through our communities. Our ambition is to use this energy and creative spirit to unlock the full cultural potential of Stirling, stimulate the regeneration of our communities and improve the lives of people living here and indeed across Scotland. Achieving UK City of Culture status will provide the investment and support for Stirling to achieve this mission.

The offer is not just for the city of Stirling, but the whole region. The benefits of a successful bid will reverberate across the country. It will be the catalyst for substantial investment, unlocking fantastic opportunities for businesses and organizations across Scotland, providing a significant economic boost as the country recovers from the pandemic. Internationally, this will raise the profile of Stirling and the wider region and create more tourism and event opportunities across Scotland.

Meaningful engagement

The power of collaboration in Stirling is key to increasing participation in cultural activities and fostering a truly inclusive arts and creative sector. We have worked closely with a wide variety of national agencies and built on already positive partnerships with companies such as Historic Environment Scotland, Visit Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Cities Alliance.

Stirling is ready to bounce back from the pandemic and use culture to break down barriers, increase participation and drive Scotland’s economic growth in the process

The importance of meaningful engagement with local stakeholders is also vital to our strategic cultural aspirations. This means speaking directly with local institutions, businesses, organizations and community groups and ensuring their voices are heard and their feedback is valued. One need only look at the success of Sistema Scotland’s ‘Big Noise’ program which started in Stirling and has spread across Scotland to see the regenerative power of culture on communities.

Stirling has already demonstrated its commitment to using culture to stimulate regeneration through a number of significant investments. As part of the agreement with the Stirling and Clackmannanshire Urban Region, £10million will be invested in a new International Tartan Center and Creative Centre, while a further £15million will be invested in cultural projects in through the region. Stirling city center will also benefit from a £3 million conservation area regeneration program which will retain and enhance the city’s unique built heritage. New investment in Stirling’s vibrant digital district will continue to showcase Stirling as a thriving destination for tech start-ups.

We are a small but dynamic city, constantly innovating and evolving; a place where creative careers begin and grow in our tech start-ups and digital hubs. With nearly 4,000 businesses, 14,000 university students and a projected population increase of 4.8% between 2018 and 2028, Stirling is poised to bounce back from the pandemic and use culture to break down barriers, increase participation and boost Scotland’s economic growth in the process. Winning the title of City of Culture in the UK has proven to provide significant investment, creating more jobs, skills and volunteering opportunities in the region. Young people will also have more reason to study and stay here, retaining the rich pool of talent developed by the University of Stirling and Forth Valley College.

Foreign investment and international attention

Culture is for everyone, but we know that not everyone starts out on an equal footing. Stirling is home to some of Scotland’s wealthiest neighborhoods, but also some of its most deprived communities. Stirling’s bid will use culture and the arts to bring transformative and lasting change to all of its communities, through regeneration, innovation and investment. Our vision has been embraced by Stirling-based and national organisations, community groups and businesses, with over 300 already pledging their support, as well as Scotland’s leading arts, tourism, heritage and business organisations. This gives us a new impetus to achieve our goals.

All of Stirling’s communities are guardians of its culture. Together, we will deliver a year of inclusive, diverse and accessible culture. It will increase opportunities for those who need it most and bring many economic benefits to the people of Stirling and Scotland.

We will leverage collaborations with wider networks such as the Scottish Cities Alliance and regional/national initiatives, including the Stirling and Clackmannanshire Urban Region Agreement and Year of Scottish Stories 2022, to broaden reach of our cultural appeal. Ultimately, we are determined to ensure that every citizen of the UK can see a bit of themselves reflected in Stirling.

Stirling took inspiration from Dundee and Paisley, whose status as cultural destinations soared following their cultural city offerings. That’s why, with or without the UK City of Culture 2025 title, we’re committing to investing over £28 million of capital in culture to drive inclusion, economic growth and regeneration. Nonetheless, winning the bid would bring more domestic investment and international attention to Stirling, giving us a visible and meaningful platform to celebrate our rich heritage and achievements, as well as opportunities to scale up our business.

The centerpiece of our official bid saw lines from a collective poem by the people of Stirling celebrating their hometown projected onto the National Wallace Monument as part of a spectacular light show. It was a milestone in our bid journey and a celebration of Stirling’s passion and creativity. It was also a visible statement of our desire and belief that we can do so much more. By fully unleashing Stirling’s distinctive, inclusive and universal cultural potential, authentically drawn from our people, we are set to open an exciting new chapter in the history of Stirling and Scotland.

Carol Beattie, Chief Executive, Stirling Council

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