THE Bolton News reported earlier this month how much of a key player the Octagon Theatre is in Bolton economy ­— bringing in millions.

Today here Arts Council England chief executive Darren Henley explains how culture and creativity are key to shaping Bolton’s future success:

"Last month I had the pleasure of spending the evening at the newly reopened Octagon Theatre Bolton.

I was hugely impressed with the transformation of the theatre which looks fantastic after its £12m rebuild - supported by the Arts Council through investment from our National Lottery funded capital scheme and led by Bolton Council as a key part of its own Vision 2030 town centre regeneration plan.

And it’s wise investment in a venue which is embedded both in the heart of the town and in Bolton’s cultural and creative life.

As we emerge from the pandemic, which has had a particularly devastating effect in Bolton, I believe cultural organisations like the Octagon have an important role to play in our economic recovery and in the wider long-term regeneration of our towns and cities.

This support for arts and culture is more vital than ever.

While the last 18 months has been extremely difficult for all of us, it’s been particularly challenging for the creative sector, a fact recognised by the Government through its £1.96 bn Culture Recovery Fund – the biggest single investment in culture in our country’s history.

Organisations in Bolton have shared £1.7m from the fund. In the Octagon’s case, recovery funding not only sustained the theatre and its programmes – its youth theatre, ArtBeat for the over 50s and creative programmes for people with additional needs, but it also supported the wider arts ecology through its artist bursaries, nurturing exciting and distinctive new work by Bolton’s freelance creatives.

The team at the Octagon believes everyone should have the opportunity to be creative.

And that’s a belief shared by the Arts Council.

It’s at the heart of Let’s Create, our strategy for the next decade which sets out our commitment that everyone has access to high quality cultural experiences wherever they live.

Participating in and experiencing arts and culture can change lives by improving our health and wellbeing as well as having important economic benefits, helping to develop a strong cultural ecology with well-paid, highly skilled jobs.

In Bolton, the Octagon alone has an annual economic impact of £10.8m and in normal times employs 80 staff and 120 freelancers.

Art, culture and creativity also instil pride in a place.

In a recent report on culture’s role in the regeneration of the high street, 68% of people in the North – a higher figure than anywhere else in the country – said culture made them proud of where they live.

Separately, a survey of Octagon audiences found a resounding 98 per cent said it was good for Bolton’s image.

Over the past five years the Arts Council has invested more than £28.5m in arts and cultural activities, individuals and organisations here in Bolton, helping to support fantastic work by creatives like Just Some Theatre, Poets & Players and artist Shonagh Short who invites communities to share in the creation of her work.

We’re also proud to support the Music Education Hub, led by Carolyn Baxendale at Bolton Music Service but which also engages with young people across the whole of Greater Manchester and Blackburn.

As we move forward, collaboration and partnerships – between local authorities, artists, organisations, educational establishments and communities – will be key to creating meaningful, long-term outcomes.

You can already see this happening in Bolton, in the town’s Cultural Education Partnership which involves the council, museums and libraries, the Octagon and Bolton schools as well as in the collaboration between the theatre and housing association Bolton at Home, and through the work of the CreateBolton charity.

Bolton Council also offers support and guidance for the town’s creative and digital industries, while the University of Bolton is playing a key role in building a strong creative community both now and for the future.

It’s also fantastic that Bolton Film Festival, which has just taken place, is committed to helping local people break into what can be a difficult industry to access.

There is no doubt we have been through a hugely disruptive time in the grip of a pandemic which has turned our world upside down. And I know there are more challenges to come.

But now it’s time to renew and repair our cultural sector, and I’m confident Bolton has the passion and the commitment to meet those challenges and to succeed."