Dr Steven Jones, Director of Development, Pembrokeshire County Council
“From an early stage we supplied a letter of support for the Confluence bid and agreed to support the provision of accommodation, in the former Ocky White’s building. We also agreed to provide match-funding, which I think was significant in getting the project approved by the Arts Council’s IPP process. And we also supply support, through the council’s Arts Development Officer.
It’s fair to say that I was very keen to do all of that and more, insofar as the council historically had provided a low level of support, in the round, to arts and cultural development activity. I come from a background where I’ve seen the arts, creative and cultural activities do extraordinary things, both to people and places. So having the opportunity to support this IPP programme was a ‘Trojan Horse’ that provided an opportunity to raise the profile of the arts, with perhaps an optimistic view that in time it would allow us to rebalance our support across sport & leisure and arts & culture. So I was very happy to do that and we also had a champion in Mike Cavanagh, who was banging the same drum, louder than I was, to be fair.
It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad we were able to get that commitment from the decision makers to support the project, and not without risk, as I’ve seen arts projects creating negative publicity in some places, and councils come in for some serious criticism. And I’ve also experienced the reverse, where an installation or a youth theatre project can have an extraordinarily powerful effect and some wonderful PR for a council. So, it’s a double-edged sword really.
I’d like to say, but I can’t evidence it, that the most significant change internally, is support for the regeneration of the market building as a 21st century library, gallery and information centre, as a consequence of the project. I’d also like to say that our City of Culture bid for St David’s has been influenced (consequence is too strong a word) by dropping that pebble into the pond. Confluence is a high profile regeneration project and it hasn’t only engaged local groups and artists, but also brought in national and international artists to challenge perspectives and views of Haverfordwest. I’d like to think the ripple from that pebble has helped give us some of the traction, momentum and support for the library and gallery project, because it wasn’t an easy process. I can’t be sure if this would have happened without Confluence, but it certainly helped to create a groundswell of opinion that arts and cultural activity should have a higher profile across the county. So I think it’s been helpful in terms of the library and gallery, helpful in terms of the City of Culture, helpful in terms of the flagship heritage project up at the castle and helpful in securing further investment into Scolton.
In a similar vein, projects like the yarn bombing, which is arguably more impactful than anything, and could have happened without Confluence, do they have that impact because it’s seen as part of a wider programme of, disruptive almost, arts activities that some people will protest about, but most people will say ‘Fantastic! What a wonderful idea’’? So, it’s all part of that milieu, but it’s difficult to talk about causation or correlation, as always in regeneration, where it’s very difficult to link a to b to c to d.
I should also make the point that, in terms of developing the Masterplan for Haverfordwest, we were clear that Confluence was a means to an end in that process; though I’m not sure we got it quite right. The idea, in terms of the Big Map and the engagement and consultation work around the Masterplan, was that we would use Confluence to front-end that, so we didn’t end up with the same people saying the same things. We felt strongly that Confluence could engage and speak to people that the consultants and ourselves couldn’t, people who could and would input some creative ideas into what can become a very physical building, planning-based Masterplan process.
But I’m hesitant, as I don’t think we achieved what we wanted, or perhaps what I wanted, and I think it was perhaps a missed opportunity. But we do have another five opportunities with the other Masterplans, where the process of engaging with creative organisations and cultural groups within each of those town centres could be a beneficiary of the Confluence project, and also help to significantly shape the future of those towns. So it could again have that ‘pebble effect’ that might ripple out into other parts of the county. It’s a top-down and bottom-up approach, using the arts to help shape the top-down Masterplan process, but also creating the right conditions for arts activity to bubble up. And I think it’s the most beneficial medium to use, because traditional planning models force you into a top-down mind-set and traditional community engagement models force you into a bottom-up approach, and it can be difficult to get the balance right between those two.
So I think Confluence has had some impact, and I may have been over optimistic about how much impact, but these things are very rarely instant. In five years’ time and ten years’ time will we be able to see how this ‘artisan town’ became an ‘artisan town’? When we look back and do the audit trails I can see Confluence being an important piece in the jigsaw, and I guess history will judge just how impactful it’s been.
The impact on me has been fairly marginal, as it’s a very small area of my overall responsibilities and focus and I was already a convert and champion of the arts and culture in regeneration. With some reservation, I think it may have had a small effect on the corporate management team, with regard to the library project. It hasn’t had a negative impact, except for a few ‘complaints’, which isn’t that unusual in the council anyway. I suspect when the capital commission is installed, it will also generate some heat and light.
In terms of what could have gone better, there’s clearly an issue regarding the position of the project team in the wider regeneration landscape and structures in the town. I’d always assumed that Confluence would effectively become the ‘fifth C’’ along with the Town Team’s ‘four Cs’- County, Town Council, College and Chamber, and I don’t know why that hasn’t been the case. I think it would have helped the project if it could have positioned itself early on, because it needs the Town Council to be championing it and it needs the Chamber to see the fantastic opportunity for Haverfordwest to become an artisan town.
The town isn’t alone in being in an identity crisis, with many market towns up and down the country being no longer what they were, with out of town and internet shopping having ripped the heart out of many of them and struggling to rediscover their ‘mojo’. And it needs all of those key partners to be singing the same tune really. But going forward, in terms of learning lessons, somehow those links haven’t quite formalised in the way I’d hoped they would. And I hope there’s still scope for that because I think we’ve missed an opportunity to hardwire Confluence into the regeneration structures, but there’s still time.”