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Culture at the Heart of Communities

According to Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community.” But what do we mean by cultural life, and how can we participate in it at a community level? 

At Open Road we’ve been privileged to put this human right to the test by working with the harbourside community of Fittie in Aberdeen for the past 18 months with a project called Safe Harbour Open Sea. Funding to undertake this work came through from the Scottish Government at the end of 2020 via Creative Scotland, the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across all parts of Scotland. The aim of the fund was to use arts and culture to help communities re-build post covid, and ours is one of 26 similar projects across Scotland, all delivered through an umbrella national project called Culture Collective

Our aim was to use culture in all its forms to bring people back together post covid and breathe life back into the local community hall which had to close during lockdown. Over the lifetime of Safe Harbour Open Sea we’ve established a community choir, run film nights, music events, organised creative workshops and hosted exhibitions. All of which has enabled residents to have access to, and be able to participate in, arts and culture at the heart of their community. But why should this be a human right? 

We can already evidence the health and wellbeing benefits. Bupa and the British Lung Foundation encourage singing in groups as a way to reduce stress and improve mental and physical health. Our choir members back this up by regularly saying how much better they feel at the end of sessions. Cultural events in communities bring neighbours together for a shared ‘good night out’ on their own doorsteps. All the more important as the cost-of-living crisis deepens and old and young alike suffer from social isolation. But don’t just take my word for it. Following a community survey in Fittie, culture came out top of what residents wanted from their community hall. 

However, the real human right is the right to have access to the story of your community. As Fittie changed and a roll call of older residents passed away over the past two years, there was a job to do in capturing and preserving memories of the past, alongside the stories of the present – documenting people and place in times of change. From these stories the artists we worked with created a visitor trail and book and crafted an exhibition. Stories lie at the heart of culture. Through them we express our individuality as well as a shared humanity. Being part of the wider story of the place we call home helps build community cohesion and a sense of collective identity. Both of which are essential in times of crisis and change. All of which means we are now looking forwards and writing a story for the future of Fittie to support local community action on climate change. It’s everyone’s human right to have voice in that future as well opportunities to come together, sing together and share stories together. Culture, and funding for culture, at the heart of communities does just that. 

 Lesley Anne Rose