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United Kingdom/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.8 Social cohesion and cultural policies

Social exclusion, whether on the grounds of race, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc., has been identified as a key issue that creates division. Events over the past decade, for example the violent disturbances in Birmingham (2005), Bradford, Burnley and Oldham (2001), suggest a continuing mistrust and fear of people with different cultural, racial and religious backgrounds. There are a number of local and national policies that seek to promote social cohesion through social inclusion and, since the mid 1980s, culture in general and the arts in particular, have proved to be effective vehicles in this regard.

Within the UK Government's Home Office, the Community Cohesion Unit ( has set out a common vision for all communities in which:

  • the diversity of people's different backgrounds and circumstances are appreciated and positively valued;
  • those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities; and
  • strong and positive relationships are developed between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods.

The government undertook a consultation in 2004 called Strength in Diversity to develop a Community Cohesion and Race Equality strategy (launched in January 2005) entitled Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society, forming the basis of a renewed programme of action across government and, more widely, to build community cohesion and reduce race inequalities. In support of the programme, the government passed the Equality Act 2006 in pursuit of its commitment to human rights, equality and anti-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief and age, alongside gender, race and disability. This resulted in the creation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a non-departmental public body. The EHRC combines the responsibilities and powers of the three previous equality commissions: the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), which had responsibility for promoting racial, disability and sex equality in Britain. More information can be found at:

The Social Exclusion Task Force Unit of the UK Government published a Social Exclusion Action Plan in 2006; the ambition was to encourage innovative approaches to tackling social exclusion across government. The Unit set up a series of Policy Action Teams to recommend how policies in different areas of government responsibility could address deprivation and disadvantage caused by social exclusion. One of these, Policy Action Team 10, was asked to consider how to maximise the impact on poor neighbourhoods of government spending and policies on culture and leisure, and also to identify best practice in using arts, sport and leisure to engage people living in deprived areas. Another government initiative was the Commission on Integration and Cohesion (, a fixed term advisory body set up to evaluate and develop practical approaches to building communities' own capacity to prevent and manage tensions. Following an extensive consultation process, the Commission published a final report, Our Shared Future, in June 2007. Its findings and recommendations informed the Sustainable Communities agenda, an ambitious initiative from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) with the aim to improve quality of life and social cohesion.

A joint Agreement on Culture and Sustainable Communities was reached between the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), Arts Council England, English Heritage, CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) and Sport England.The joint agreement placed culture at the heart of the Sustainable Communities agenda working in partnership with all stakeholders and DCLG to achieve this. These bodies initiated Living Places, a national programme about culture and sport-led community regeneration. In April 2009, a Culture and Sport Planning Toolkit (CSPT) was developed by the Living Places Partnership, working closely with the Town and Country Planning Association. The toolkit is available at and sets out a simple five stage process to build culture and sport


To support social cohesion and to widen participation in culture and creativity, the Scottish Government works closely with local government organisations to promote inclusive and high quality culture provision across Scotland. One particular initiative was the Cultural Pathfinder Programme: 13 projects supported by Scottish Government and run by local authorities, over 2006-08, to explore effective and practical ways to get people involved in cultural activity. The projects reached out to groups who had previously faced barriers to participation. The Pathfinder Programme also explored links between cultural provision and community planning processes. The Programme aimed to produce learning that could be shared across the local authority, Community Planning Partnership (CPP) and culture sectors to inform future planning and delivery. The evaluation report of the Programme was published on 2 July 2009 and can be accessed through this link:

The Scottish Executive produced a Literature Review of the Evidence Base for Culture, the Arts and Sport Policy, published in August 2004, which examines the social and economic impact of culture, arts and sport initiatives and provides a coherent social research evidence base to inform cultural policy development. One of the recommendations was to create a central resource where the Scottish Government, NDPBs and the general community could have access to national statistics and data. One outcome is the Evidence in Culture and Sport and related Tourism Network (ECSnet), which builds evidence and works as a forum to share information on research, evaluation and other issues.

Another initiative undertaken by Scottish Government in collaboration with local government bodies and culture organisations is the development of a quality improvement framework for local authorities to use in evaluating the quality and inclusiveness of their culture and sport provision. A draft of the framework was being tested by local authorities in the later part of 2009, and a final version is being published in 2010.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the Community Relations Council (CRC) was formed in January 1990 to promote better community relations between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and, equally, to promote recognition of cultural diversity. Its strategic aim is to assist the people of Northern Ireland to recognise and counter the effects of communal division. The CRC presented a Strategic Plan for 2007-10, in the light of the government's "A Shared Future" strategy. After a consultation period, it was adopted as an interim strategy pending the outcome of the devolved Executive's Programme for Government. Among the Strategic Plan's objectives were to:

  • challenge and support all sections of society to work together with each other to promote sustained trust and interdependence;
  • communicate a vision of a shared society;
  • extend the work of the Community Relations Council to reflect the developing cultural diversity of the community; and
  • ensure that the legacy of violence and conflict is actively addressed, underpinning movement towards a peaceful future for all.

More information can be found at:

In August 2006 the Arts Council of Northern Ireland implemented Re-Imaging Communities, a programme that helps communities to replace aggressive, sectarian images with art. This programme aims to provide grant-aid for the development of local community based projects with particular emphasis on the replacement of existing paramilitary murals, symbolism and other offensive items with more positive imagery, in order to make communities more welcoming to all. The priority areas are housing estates, peace lines, interface areas and offensive public spaces. The objective is to engage local people and communities through, for example, residents associations, to find ways of developing imagery that the whole community can relate to.

The selection of Derry / Londonderry as the UK's first City of Culture in 2013 (see chapter 4.3) is expected to strengthen the social and cultural interaction of the local Protestant and Catholic communities.

Chapter published: 15-04-2011

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