'Culture is the lynchpin of Letchworth’s future' - Empty shops being used as project spaces for arts

A shop front in Howard Park Corner advertising the new Letchworth Culture Project.

A shop front in Howard Park Corner advertising the new Letchworth Culture Project. - Credit: Letchworth Heritage Foundation

Empty shops in Letchworth are being transformed into spaces for arts, culture and heritage under a new initiative.

The Letchworth Culture Project aims to showcase all forms of culture throughout the garden city.

It is designed to act as a catalyst for emerging talent to take the next step in their career and create a thriving cultural centre for local residents and visitors to enjoy.

New initiative The Letchworth Culture Project aims to showcase all forms of culture throughout the garden city.

New initiative The Letchworth Culture Project aims to showcase all forms of culture throughout the garden city. - Credit: Letchworth Heritage Foundation

Led by Letchworth Heritage Foundation, the project will see empty retail spaces handed over to the local community to run art projects or learning activities.

The first examples are exhibitions by artists based in the town’s two art-studio providers – Digswell Arts and Eastcheap Studios – and a display from the Museum at One Garden City.

Marian Hall, one of the artists exhibiting in the Digswell Arts show, said: "Digswell artists were disappointed when their show to celebrate garden cities had to be cancelled last year.

In Our Garden, an exhibition by Digswell Arts, can be seen at 33-35 Station Road, Letchworth.

In Our Garden, an exhibition by Digswell Arts, can be seen at 33-35 Station Road, Letchworth, as part of The Letchworth Culture Project. - Credit: Letchworth Heritage Foundation

"When the Broadway Gallery offered us a space to display an edited version of the exhibition, we were all pleased to have the chance to show the work that we had made especially.

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"In Our Garden will surely cheer up Letchworth town centre and remind us all that spring is on the way as well as celebrating the garden city movement.”

Stuart Sapsford, executive director of communities, culture and heritage at Letchworth Heritage Foundation, said: "We believe culture is the lynchpin of Letchworth’s future.

"Our existing cultural services at Broadway Gallery & Studio, Broadway Cinema & Theatre, Museum at One Garden City and the Garden City Collection are the shining lights of our cultural scene.

"Now, with The Letchworth Culture Project, we are providing space for community-led projects of all shapes and sizes.

"We are starting with retail spaces but in time we hope to broaden that to more spaces around the town.”

Chantelle Stephenson is one of the artists exhibiting work in the window of Eastcheap Studios, Letchworth.

Chantelle Stephenson is one of the artists exhibiting work in the window of Eastcheap Studios, Letchworth. - Credit: Letchworth Heritage Foundation

Anyone in the community can apply, and a panel – made up of the teams at Broadway Gallery, Letchworth Museums and the Heritage Foundation’s cultural learning manager – will offer spaces to the projects they feel will benefit from the opportunity most and provide advice and guidance to the project organisers.

Kris Day, curator at Broadway Gallery, said: “While these projects will be community led and run, the support we provide will go beyond just handing over the keys to the empty shop.”

Local businesses have already lent their support to the project.

Shop space at 33-35 Station Road is one of the sites of The Letchworth Culture Project.

Shop space converted for The Letchworth Culture Project. - Credit: Letchworth Heritage Foundation

Retail marketing company FERO offered their services free of charge – designing and producing impactful promotional windows in the Arcade and on Howard Park Corner.

Managing director Richard Saysell said: “We believe in the power of arts and culture to help drive the wellbeing of the community and enliven the High Street with increased footfall.

"We were delighted to get involved and use our retail knowledge to design these attention grabbing displays; making sure as many people as possible in Letchworth know about this project and can apply.”

The first projects have been designed to be ‘lockdown proof’ with exhibitions being safely viewed through shop windows from the outside.

But for future projects, and as restrictions ease, the goal is for people to use these spaces in more varied and innovative ways, such as hosting events, performances, workshops, classes, and any kind of cultural activity you can think of.

Marian Hall added: "It’s so refreshing to see empty spaces used in this way – not only does it provide invaluable opportunities for local artists but it also allows people to enjoy art safely, at a time when galleries are closed.

"As things begin to ‘open up’, exhibitions in these spaces can help to rejuvenate the life and community of the town, helping to make Letchworth town centre a thriving place to live and work."

The Letchworth Culture Project is open to applications from anyone who lives, works or is based in Letchworth.

If you have an idea for a creative project, heritage related event or other cultural or learning activity, then visit letchworthcultureproject.org for more information and to apply.

The Letchworth Culture Project - What’s On

  • At 33-35 Station Road (the old Tourist Information Centre) – In Our Garden, an exhibition by Digswell Arts until April 11.
  • At 17 Eastcheap – Eastcheap Studios present new work from Anna Fairchild and Chantelle Stephenson until May 2, then Kryssie Tyrtania until May 17.
  • At 4 The Arcade – a collection of old photographs of Letchworth from the Garden City Collection.

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