Another big day for the RSA. As well as another of our ever more dynamic new Fellows’ evenings, tonight sees the launch of our partnership with Peterborough City Council and Arts Council East.
If public agencies are to improve service outcomes in the difficult years ahead they will need to forge a different type of relationship with citizens. This is one of the assumptions behind the partnership. The project aims to develop a debate at many levels about the future for Peterborough and its residents, showing that the way people live and how they engage with decision makers is crucial to the health and prosperity of the city. As a reflection of this belief, the project has an ‘open source’ design with citizens able to make any input they wish as it unfolds.
Having arts and culture at the heart of the partnership will, we hope, be an important source of innovation. Socially engaged arts and culture can play a major role in breaking down social barriers, mobilising and enthusing people, and firing the collective imagination of the city.
The project will also engage with the shape and form of front line public services. For example, there is a programme to develop a recovery community for problem drug users. We are also seeking to build on a pilot project in Manchester to develop what we are calling ‘an area based curriculum’ through which schools and the community work together to foster a wider culture of learning.
Peterborough is a successful city in many ways and far from the most socially and economically deprived. However levels of trust, engagement and attachment to place are lower than average and problems like crime and drug use higher. These problems often get worse when population rises take place and the Peterborough population is set to grow by about 20,000 over the next decade.
Peterborough leaders share with the RSA the view that we need to cultivate a more ambitious model of citizenship - more engaged, more self-reliant, more pro-social - and that this needs to be done, in part, through the development of a stronger sense of identity and attachment. At its heart this project seeks to answer a question I have often posed before: what kind of people do we need to be to create the better future we want?
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.