Three keynote speakers talked about the role of arts and culture as an economic driver and an important “place shaper” for the Wokingham borough. Charlotte Geeves, chief executive of the Henley Festival; Dominique Unsworth, Berkshire Film Commission and Thames Valley Berkshire LEP arts and culture lead; and Robin Cops, chair of The Arts Society Wokingham, all spoke at the event.
The borough held its second annual business engagement event, Fit for Business, at Sindlesham Court on 7 June. The event this year saw the borough’s business community come together with local arts and culture organisations such as More Arts, The Arts Society Wokingham, Berkshire Film Office, Wokingham Libraries and East Berkshire Operatic Society to discuss the role of arts and culture in the economic growth of the borough.
In response to the priorities put forward by businesses last year, the council’s deputy chief executive, Graham Ebers, outlined council-run initiatives and schemes which specifically help borough businesses, such as improving access to business support and business engagement including an events programme and e-bulletins. He explained how businesses have already been consulted on the borough’s emerging strategic plan, that the council invested over £120 million last year alone on capital infrastructure which should help attract inward investment across the borough, the promotion of apprenticeships, and the need for a stronger arts and culture offering – all of which have a fundamental role in economic growth.
Attendees also took part in lively table discussions looking at how to grow the borough’s cultural offer. This included looking at how to engage young people, improve promotion of what’s already happening, and how to optimise technology to reach new audiences. As a result of this, it is hoped a new cultural and arts strategy will be discussed at next year’s event.
“Art and culture is the pursuit of happiness,” said Cllr John Halsall, leader of the council. “As a local council and community leader, we should be looking for ways in which we can improve our residents’ happiness and wellbeing by maintaining the fantastic offerings we have now, as well as welcoming new opportunities. We have 17 towns and parishes, all with a different flavour, and we want to make what goes on there more accessible and apparent, especially through strong links with our businesses.”
Cllr Stuart Munro, executive member for business and economic development, said: “Regular sessions with our businesses help us to work more effectively for them. Events like Fit for Business inform our decisions by providing suggestions for shaping new policies, by those who are directly affected by them. The council aims to assist businesses to help them grow, creating more jobs for our residents. This work also makes the area attractive to potential new businesses starting up or moving into the borough.”