A programme of community-led cultural activities will be coming to Bedford town centre this summer, thanks to an £80,000 grant from Historic England.
The aim is to transform visitors experiences of Bedford High Street and draw attention to the hidden treasures of the town’s heritage.
The grant is part of the Bedford High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) Cultural Programme, which is being delivered by the HAZ Cultural Consortium and supported by Bedford BID and SEMLEP.
Bedford’s Cultural Programme of events and activities will reflect on the past and present lives of people and places in the town and how their stories interweave with experiences of the High Street and its buildings, businesses and public spaces.
The aim is to enhance the town centre as a more attractive, engaging and vibrant place for people to live, work and spend time.
As reported this monring in our sister publication, the Bedford Clanger, the programme begins on Bank Holiday weekend with the unveiling of The Vault.
The pavement in a neglected corner of Bedord High Street will be transformed by the artist Julian Beever into an incredible optical illusion, allowing visitors to look below the surface.
Councillor Henry Vann, Portfolio Holder for Town Centres and Planning, said: “It is fantastic that Bedford is set to receive yet more funding for the HSHAZ Cultural Programme to support our town centre.
“This scheme will help us all celebrate the rich heritage of our public spaces, highlight the local stories of our historic market town and foster a sense of civic pride among the local community.
“This sits alongside the wider High Street Heritage Action Zone which will bring real physical improvements to Bedford’s High Street and historic buildings and is just one of the many ways that we continue to secure inward investment in our shared town centre.
Historic England is unofficially ‘twinning’ towns and artists will be working with local people in both locations to uncover what they have in common.
Bedford has been ‘twinned’ with Keynsham in Somerset and artists Ellie Shipman and Katy Hawkins will be running their Public Announcements project in both towns.
“It has been a pleasure to get to know more about Bedford from the people who know it best,” said Katy Hawkins.
“From the otters on the Embankment, its old Anglo Saxon street pattern, the Suffragist activity hosted in the town, to the early arrival of fine coffee culture brought over by Italian communities.
“We can’t wait to speak to more people and hear about what makes Bedford Bedford for them.”
They are creating High Street Observation Cards prompting local exploration and discussion of the High Streets alongside co-designed maps of each area.
Maps and banners will be created through community workshops, culminating in exhibits and parades this summer and a shareable learning pack for others to benefit from.
Christina Rowe, Director of Operations for Bedford BID, said: “This will not only provide the right environment to foster businesses to invest in the heritage-rich location but add to the appeal of our local captive audiences generated by new office workers during the week, help facilitate a ripple effect of lasting improvements elsewhere amongst town centre businesses and create more compelling physical reasons to visit the town through an imaginative and successful programme of events.”
Tony Calladine, Regional Director for Historic England in the East of England, said: “The high street cultural programme is a step-change in the way we think about bringing High Streets back from the brink.
“As we start to see these important historic spaces become regenerated through building work, it is the community-led cultural work that helps people to enjoy their high street again and also have a say in what the future of their high street might be.”