Building on Success: How culture is shaping Bolton’s regeneration

Written by Jon Dyson, Bolton Council’s Director of Place.

Ask anyone what comes to mind when they think of Bolton.

Maybe it will be some of the town’s famous faces like Peter Kay, Sara Cox, Sir Ian McKellen or Sophie Willan, the BAFTA winning creator of Alma’s Not Normal.

Perhaps it will be the renowned Octagon Theatre or the historic Albert Halls, just two of our town centre’s six theatres.

Possibly they might mention the town’s stunning countryside and spectacular architecture which provides the backdrop for productions like Peaky Blinders and Happy Valley.

Whatever their answer may be, one thing is clear – Bolton is a cultural powerhouse with an arts, events, and entertainment offer that few places can match.

Building on this success, we have placed culture at centre stage when it comes to the ongoing redevelopment of the borough.

Understanding that regeneration goes far beyond bricks and mortar, as a council we have developed a series of long-term strategies to create vibrant and prosperous communities.

Plans for culture, the visitor economy, and a place-based brand all underpin our commitment to future growth and opportunities.

Each is designed to build on our existing strengths, to support the regeneration projects that are already underway or in the pipeline and to attract even greater investment going forward.

In the spotlight: Bolton’s Cultural Strategy

Image: Invest in Bolton

Bolton is no stranger to the limelight, and our Cultural Strategy aims to make the most of this to boost the local economy and increase visitor football. That means ensuring residents and visitors always have the space to experience culture and to express themselves.

This can already be seen in the recent £12m refurbishment of the Octagon Theatre, in the £3.8m improvements to Bolton Museum including a leading Egyptology exhibition, in the £3m newly renovated Bolton Central Library, in the growing status and reputation of the Bolton Film Festival, in the many creative courses on offer at the University of Bolton and in a dedicated performance space at the new Elizabeth Park.

You may never have been to Bolton town centre, but chances are you have already seen it up close. Over the last few years, Bolton has built a reputation as one of the best filming locations in the country.

The regular sight of film crews and famous actors on the streets of Bolton is showing a generation of young people that you do not have to move to London for a career in the creative industries. Our Cultural Strategy aims to create a golden thread for this young talent through education, events, engagement, grassroots opportunities, and a centralised hub for the creative community.

We aim to build confidence and resilience in the sector through renewed cultural leadership, vision, and investment. This will run alongside a commitment to inclusivity, ensuring everyone can access affordable cultural spaces and opportunities.

Our plans to establish Bolton as a cultural leader go hand-in-hand with our vision for the physical and economic transformation of the borough. By placing culture at the centre of the regeneration of our town and district centres, we will create more vibrant places where people want to live, study, work, and visit.

A host of opportunities: Boosting the visitor economy

Bolton Food and Drink Festival. Image: Invest in Bolton

Bolton’s many outstanding cultural assets are one of the main reasons people choose to visit our town.

To maximise the opportunities that will come with more creative and culturally engaging spaces, our Visitor Economy Strategy aims to position Bolton as a destination that people want to visit, enjoy, and return to.

Our annual calendar already includes many successful events which attract visitors from far and wide.

The Bolton Food and Drink Festival is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, attracting half a million people over four days last year. The festival was named the “Most Loved Live Event” at the 2023 I Love Manchester awards, overcoming Manchester International Festival and Manchester Pride, both outstanding events in their own right, that the region can be rightly proud of.

We also host the world qualifier event IRONMAN UK, the world’s largest IRONKIDS, and the new inspiring winter light festival. Events like the Rugby League World Cup, and our ambitious plans to bring the Ryder Cup to Bolton, showcase the best of our town to a global audience.

But we now have a clear vision to attract large crowds outside of the major event weekends and the traditional busy periods, with visitors able to enjoy the enhanced hospitality and retail offer that will come with the new residential developments being delivered in the town centre.

Our plans include key projects to enhance the visitor experience including a way-finding strategy to aid easy access around our centre and a significant investment in town centre lighting, so people feel safe and confident to explore everything our town centre has to offer.

We are also working to expand the number and variety of accommodation options in our town.

Many people already visit Bolton for our rich heritage, outstanding museum, leading cultural venues, and stunning countryside. Our strategy will transform the borough into a destination that visitors cannot afford to miss.

Brand Bolton: Telling our own story

Image Marketing Manchester and Rich J Jones

A major focus of our visitor strategy is addressing the way Bolton as a place is viewed from the outside.

A place-based rebranding of Bolton will seek to challenge misconceptions while celebrating the many things that make our borough unique. A brand that also reflects our aspirations for the future.

Creating a new place strategy for Bolton will act as an anchor to promote Bolton to existing and new businesses and investors. By changing thinking and doing things differently, Bolton can better utilise its assets: radiating influence, building confidence, cultivating and encouraging strong leadership, developing new relationships, bringing business and place together.

We have worked with a leading consultant to develop an innovative and unique brand identity for Bolton.

We are now collaborating with key partners to roll out the brand across borough, make sure we are collective in telling the same story of Bolton’s success.

The new brand is fully representative of Bolton’s people and communities; it’s culture, creativity, and history; its educational and investment portfolio; as well as its unique positioning geographically.

It focuses on core themes, each highlighting a different aspect of what makes Bolton so special: Culture, an entrepreneurial spirit, outstanding transport connections, and a proven record of success.

Bolton has a distinctive and proud culture built upon humour and wit, heritage, innovation that has left a lasting legacy, beautiful landscapes, stunning architecture and a sense of family and friendliness.

Whether appearing on stage, or delivering regeneration projects to improve the lives of our residents, Bolton is always ready to perform.