Arts Council England’s £1 million cultural programme underway in Bexley

'Three Rivers', a £1 million arts and cultural programme for Bexley funded by Arts Council England, has launched with a new website along with a range of cultural activities for local residents. The grassroots programme, led by a collaborative partnership between Peabody, TACO! (an arts organisation based in Thamesmead) and Orbit, is about empowering residents to make key decisions about what sort of culture is produced in their area and how the arts can play a positive role in their community.

“Balloons” art installation on Southmere Lake by artists Nathalie Coste and Selina Fukuda as part of the Thamesmead Markets in summer 2020 which were led by a group of local residents.

The programme is called ‘Three Rivers’ because it represents Bexley’s three rivers: Thames, Shuttle and Cray, and the journey local people will go on in developing their artistic and cultural skills.

Running to October 2024, the four-year programme will focus on delivering activities and events in Thamesmead East, Belvedere, Erith, Northumberland Heath and Slade Green and Northend – where community-led programmes will have the greatest impact, as well benefiting the London Borough of Bexley as a whole. The aim of the programme is to make Bexley the ‘go-to’ destination for excellent arts and culture by connecting its cultural activities.

Local resident, Ian Tyson said: “For the past two years I have been proud and privileged to be a member of the Thamesmead Festival Production Group and RTM (Radio Thamesmead), making all the key decisions on how they are run.  These groups have given me and other members of the local community the opportunity to help shape much needed culture that reflects the wishes of the local population. I have benefited a great deal through my involvement in many ways and would encourage others to get involved in activities like this that Three Rivers will develop.”

Adriana Marques, Head of Thamesmead Cultural Strategy at Peabody, said: “Three Rivers is founded on the principle that local people are the best at making decisions for their local area, and that everyone has the creativity in them to make their own culture.  That’s the exciting thing about this programme – we’re listening to local voices – for them to tell us what type of cultural activities they want to see and help shape culture in their community.”

Rosie Ward, Associate Placemaking and Partnerships Manager at Orbit, added: “Exploring growth opportunities through partnerships is really important to Orbit and supporting this programme is a further way we can increase a positive impact on our local communities. The arts are a great way to bring people together and I really hope that as many people as possible will get involved.”

The programme has been inspired by some exciting and innovative community-led programmes such as RTM.FM, a community run radio station based in Thamesmead which is hosted and developed by TACO! They have trained over 40 local people to make their own radio broadcasts over the past two years. The Exchange in Erith has embedded community ownership and decision making at its core and runs resident-led groups which specialise in different craft and cultural activities. Three Rivers will work with local residents and local partners to create even more community-led initiatives.

Three Rivers has a range of activities planned for 2021 with many more to come. These include a Children and Families project at Lesnes Abbey delivered by local arts organisation TACO!, a local graffiti artist working with young people in Slade Green, Belvedere and Erith supported by Orbit which will start conversations about what residents want to see in their public spaces, and local primary school children who will be engaging with older residents from sheltered accommodation. Or if residents have their own idea but not sure how to take it further, The Exchange is running The Development Lab where anyone can be supported to turn their idea into reality.

A steering group will be created to sit alongside the Three Rivers Board to ensure that the programme remains focused on delivering culture which local people want to see and do. Both. Groups will be recruiting local residents to join in early 2021.