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  • HOPE not hate

Why arts, pubs and sports clubs matter so much

Image taken from here.

Early noises about Rishi Sunak’s budget this week suggest positive steps in several key areas. The budget will pledge £408m to museums, theatres and galleries to support the recovery of the arts sector, as well as providing a £150m fund to help communities to take over pubs and community clubs. And there will be a £300m package to aid the recovery of spectator sports.

From a Hopeful Towns perspective these are important steps, in what promises to be a challenging period for the issues on which we work.

Our research has consistently shown that poverty and economic decline can make areas vulnerable to far right narratives. And the recovery from COVID-19 is likely to be an especially challenging period. Not only will it mean further economic hardship in towns that are already deprived, but it could affect a new raft of previously better-off areas as well. Other post-pandemic factors, such as vaccine hesitancy among some communities or the spread of conspiracy theories online, will likely add to tensions.

Support for key elements of community infrastructure is therefore vital. The scatter chart below (taken from our 2020 report Understanding Community Resilience in our Towns) shows why. It depicts liberalism about migration and multiculturalism on the vertical axis and levels of arts participation on the horizontal one. We can see that a very clear correlation exists – places with higher arts participation tending to be more positive about change and difference.

Similarly, the scatter chart below shows the change in the number of pubs during the past two decades on the horizontal axis. (The vertical axis again showing liberalism about migration and multiculturalism).

Most towns have less pubs than in 2001 – the year that our data goes back to. But the findings nevertheless reveal a clear pattern. Places that have had the biggest drop in the number of pubs tend to be the most hostile about issues like immigration, race and cultural difference.

Lastly, below is a bar chart showing the importance of sport in helping areas to be more welcoming of new groups. It shows migration liberalism in areas with high, medium and low deprivation, respectively. And it then factors in whether an area has a professional football club. (Our threshold for this was whether a town’s club played in the top 5 flights for more than half of the last decade – i.e. 6 seasons).

The findings suggest that professional sports clubs are major assets in promoting cohesion and resilience. Whilst more deprived places tend to be more hostile to change and difference come what may – with narratives of scarcity stronger in poorer communities – those with football teams are more positive than those without.

A professional club is not going to fix everything, but it’s a source of community pride, helping places to be more confident, welcoming and optimistic. (See our report Loss on the Terraces for more on this topic).

Whether thanks to the impact of austerity on community arts, the closure of pubs or the precarious state of many lower league football clubs, these sectors have faced major challenges in the past few years. COVID-19 has acted as the straw that broke the camel’s back in some cases.

Major packages to support these institutions are a very welcome aspect of Rishi Sunak’s budget tomorrow – representing a recognition of the role that community assets play. For the UK to really ‘build back better’ when it comes to community resilience, it will be vital that support is provided on a long-term basis.

Hope not hate Charitable Trust will be running the third in our What Works webinar series on March 18th, focusing on ‘Decline narratives and the power of the public realm’. You can register for the event by clicking here.


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