BATH: A CULTURAL CITY

Bill Cotton, Head of Economic Development & Tourism, B&NES on 2 November 2001

The speaker posed two questions: `what do we mean by `culture'?' and `what is the future for culture in Bath?', to which he proposed to suggest answers.

Local distinctiveness was he felt the key to the culture of a place. Bath was distinctive chiefly in its architecture, its World Heritage status, its setting in the countryside and its hot springs, but there were so many other cultural aspects of Bath that were surprising for its size:

it has so many museums and galleries;

it has an ancient spiritual aura from the pagan times before and during the Roman occupation to the present, the Abbey;

it has three theatres, Festivals of International Music, Literature, Guitar Music, Film, and many others, including the latest The Jane Austen Festival, Walcot Nation Day, and many street entertainers;

it has world-class hotels, guesthouses and restaurants and started the Farmers' Market movement;

it has a world famous Rugby Club; one of the top ten Universities in the UK, shortly to have the Centre of Sporting Excellence and already with Team Bath, the Olympic athletes; several top-class schools

it has two radio stations and a daily newspaper;

it has a wide range of creative industries publishing, web design, artists, glass-blowing, furniture

it has an enormous number of clubs, associations and societies for people interested in a wide range of subjects

it has over 600 small businesses providing high-class special products, fine art, antiques, clothes, curios, food, books, and services

it also has its problems: drugs, rough sleepers, vandalism, which are also part of its culture.

How can these features be taken into the future so as to maintain the prosperity of the city?

Today, Bath gets over two million visitors who spend over £200 million pounds a year in the city. It is essential that we provide reasons why they should come back again and again. We need to continually renew and replace the attractions that bring them here. We are starting by renewing the Spa to suit modern tastes. How can we develop the other locally distinctive aspects? In particular, to attract the younger people.

This series of meetings is called `A Vision for Bath' and everybody seems to want to have visions at the moment we have proposals for an Economic Vision, a Transport Vision, a Planning Vision. It is time for action.

Donald Lovell
This presentation was followed by four short comments by organisations.

Bath Independent Guest Houses Association

Graham Walker

The future of Bath depends on tourism, even though the residents take a poor view of it. To get tourists to return time and again, the quality of the accommodation and service they receive must be exceptional. For them to stay in a Georgian building with a 5-diamond level of furnishing and service is the best way of achieving repeated visits. Publicising the facilities available requires an efficient Tourist Information Centre. Unfortunately, the Bath TIC cannot attract the financial support it requires from businesses in the city to operate independently. It is therefore co-operating with Bristol to carry out many `back-room' functions together; this will not affect the public face of the Bath TIC.

 

Federation Of Small Businesses

 

Hattie Young, Regional Representative

There are 650 or more Members of the FSB in Bath. We must provide visitors with more than tearooms and gift shops. Boarded-up shops and empty offices is a depressing sight for visitors. . Glass-fronted chain stores can be visited in any town, Bath should be different; Bath's architecture lends itself to small businesses located in Georgian buildings, including small financial advisers and business service companies. The recent Bath Business of the Year shortlist included a 25-year old electrical business, a 3-year old computer reassignment team, a retailer who described her shop as an Aladdin's cave of beautiful fabrics, and a printing firm who have reinvented themselves to meet a changing market. These are Bath's real gems

Our vision for the future is what we already have, developed to nurture individual expertise, independent entrepreneurial spirit and commercial talent, and providing excellent products and services.

 

Bath Festivals Trust Ltd

 

Tim Joss, Chief Executive and Artistic Director.

"The future exists first in Imagination, then in Will, then in Reality"

There is a dearth of Imagination in Bath. Bath is sitting still whilst many other towns are reinventing themselves Gateshead and Harrogate, for example. Gateshead is building a Music Centre, designed by Norman Foster; it has converted the Baltic Mills to an Arts Centre, its has a fabulous new bridge over the river Tyne. Bath has been re-invented four times since Bladud discovered the hot springs:

by the Romans as a shrine and bathing establishment;

by the Saxons as a monastery, with a treatment centre, and cloth manufacturing town;

by the Georgians as a health and holiday resort,

and by the Victorians as both an industrial and a retirement area.

In three of these it is worth noting that the development of a spa using the hot spring waters was involved in the restoration of prosperity. Now it must do so again.

To do so we need to:

talk about ideas and use our imagination

look at how others have reinvented themselves; go and visit

be value led, not cost led

be holistic

take a talent audit. We have many outstanding people and companies in Bath but do not celebrate them.

stop looking to the Council to do everything. Neil Kinnock said: "The Government should be under foot not over head" and this applies to local government.

let us find our own resources and develop partnerships to get things done, partnerships of public, private and voluntary bodies. We need a Common Purpose Organisation.

Federation Of Bath Residents' Associations

Anne Bothwell, Chairman

Culture is derived from cultura care and conservation. Bath needs care and conservation and not to be turned into a Theme Park as is happening. If the buildings of Bath have to be cleaned once more the damage done will be irreparable. We are trading on our heritage but not preserving it. By all means build a concert hall on Western Riverside but do not despoil the Georgian architecture of the city by purpose or neglect. The major cause of damage is the traffic; means must be found to reduce the through traffic between the A46 and the A36 and the number of tourist buses.

 

General Discussion

 

Many people took the contribution of Tim Joss as a background to their remarks. Lack of courage was alleged for example, in the 70s by building only a 33m long swimming pool in the Sports Centre instead of the 50m size that would have allowed for more competitive swimming events. It was suggested that the attitude was often: `What's in it for us?' instead of `Will this attract more business and prosperity to the city?' The example of the Cardiff Concert Hall was quoted. It cost four times the original amount proposed but is one of the 10 best in the world and was driven through by one person. That is what Bath lacks because of the hung Council; an elected Mayor might provide the leadership necessary.

One new idea was proposed: that a Winter

Garden, mostly of glass, should be built on the Avon St. car park site. It would be heated by spa water, have many plants but also cafés, restaurants and meditation rooms and an environmentally-friendly collection of facilities.

How do we attract the younger people, the under 40s, to take an interest in the future of Bath? and can we get money from the region or from Europe for projects?

The Bath Local Plan to be issued for consultation on 18 January is an important legal document affecting the future of Bath for 20 years. Everyone should study it and comment to the Council.

Finally, each of the contributors was asked to name a person who could lead a cultural revival of Bath. Only one, Tim Joss, accepted the challenge and suggested Johnathan Dimbleby, as a local resident, an influential figure and one with appreciation of the cultural potential of Bath.

Donald Lovell

The whole meeting was recorded. A pair of CDs or two tape cassettes can be borrowed by applying to the BRLSI Office