Bethany Lincoln from Boston, is currently a student at Sheffield Hallam University and in her final year of an Events Management course.
As part of her studies, Bethany is conducting research on the social impacts of events in communities and how they can bring back community spirit and ease cohesion. Because of her personal connection, she is focusing her research on the community in Boston.
Bethany recently talked to Rachel Lauberts (Boston Big Local Plan Co-ordinator), Richard Tory (Chair of Boston Big Local) and Bill Badham (Boston Big Local Rep) to discover what impact the community events funded by Boston Big Local are having on the town.
Bethany has very kindly provided Boston Big Local with notes from her Q&A interview, and we thought we would share the highlights here on our blog to give residents and other Big Local areas an insight into how local events are impacting on our community.
Q: Events have impacts in communities – what, in your opinion, is the most important impact to achieve when organising a community event in Boston, and what have you learned from the events that have already taken place?
A: Rachel Really, it’s about community spirit and community engagement, and it’s cross-cultural. We’ve seen that from the Pancake Day event, which was organised by the Chair of Boston Lithuanian Community, Jurate Matulioniene. It was a fantastic event: absolutely brilliant. It brought together the Lithuanian community with native Bostonians, and everyone joined in and enjoyed it, and that’s when you appreciate the impact that events can have.
A: Richard And there have also been other big community events, like the Beach event that was held last summer over two days. Twenty-five tonnes of sand were brought in to create a beach, along with five donkeys and a Punch and Judy show. There were all kinds of activities going on. The event was funded by Boston Big Local and organised by our delivery partner, Boston Borough Council. They estimated that around 4,000 people attended over the two days. At the event people were saying to us: “This is great, are we having one next year?” and “I wish it could go on for longer than the two days” and “could we have a bigger beach?” It certainly seemed to go down well.
Q: So with that event, was it more about the community, rather than bringing new people into the area?
A: Bill Yes, Boston Big Local is a place-based programme that benefits a defined geographical area of residents, although we recognise that other people will benefit such as shop owners and so on. Primarily though, Big Local is for residents and we can celebrate the fact that the Beach event was held because local residents wanted it. This is Big Lottery money, but it’s the residents of Boston who decide how to spend it. Not everyone who came along to the summer event would have realised that, but it is fundamental. It’s not like the council deciding that there’s going to be this huge event: it’s of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The Boston Big Local plan was drawn up in consultation with residents and the things that came up were about developing civic pride, image, heritage, community activities, and facilities. Those kind of outcomes are sometimes hard to track, but I think we’d all agree that it’s about feeling a greater community spirit and pride, as well as appreciating diversity and culture and encouraging a greater participation in community life. Those are the things that the residents and the partnership want out of the events.
Q: In what way do you think events can increase or impact on community spirit and pride? Is it about residents making new connections, or is it just about getting out of the house and into the town?
A: Bill That’s an interesting question. What does that impact look like? How does it feel? I suppose there are the obvious things: people go out to an event by themselves and it puts a smile on their face, or they go to the Boston Marathon and think “Wow! This is amazing.” That gives individuals a buzz. Then there are the events which, by their very nature, are more public and community focused. People go along to them with their friends or family and so they say “We had a great time” or “We had a fantastic day.” And then there is a third level of impact with events such as the Pancake Day celebrations when people say: “Oh, wow! I didn’t know this.”
A: Rachel Exactly! It’s different, and done in a way that was good fun, and it’s a learning experience as well.
A: Bill Yes, so it’s those three levels of impact isn’t it? It’s the individual and personal, the group such as your immediate family, and then the wider connections in the community.
Q: I suppose you would also feel proud as well wouldn’t you? When you see an event on in your community?
A: Rachel Yes, definitely. It’s like the Christmas event… it wasn’t funded by Boston Big Local, but there were huge puppets telling the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrim Fathers. It was wonderful and, because it was about our own history, there was that personal connection with it.
Q: Boston has received some negative press recently. Do you think that kind of coverage damages community spirit and pride, and how can events such as the ones you’re putting on counteract any negative feelings amongst community members?
A: Richard I must admit, a lot of the people that I’ve spoken to have been angry about the negative stories and the way they’ve been reported. One of the things that has been quoted in the press is about Boston being ‘the least integrated town in the UK’ – but that’s based on information from the 2011 census. That’s five years ago! Things have changed. People have reacted by defending Boston because it’s not like that now.
A: Bill It’s often the national press that makes these sweeping negative statements. The local press are much more willing to celebrate good news – but you need to give it to them. And what Big Boston Local has become very, very good at is giving news updates to the local media, and they’ve published them! Getting positive press coverage for events adds value to community spirit. People read about events and think: “Yeah, we were there” or they say to friends “Were you there?”. So the press is crucial in helping to magnify the impact of events even for people who weren’t there.
A: Richard The thing is, Boston Big Local isn’t just about putting on public events and fun days. Our role is about supporting organisations who are delivering activities that tackle other issues.
A: Rachel Yes, we support things like Fit For The Future, which is all about financial stability for people who have money problems. And Arts for Dementia, which is a fantastic group – it’s obviously not something that the public see, like the events, but the work they do is absolutely incredible and it makes those people and their carers happy. So, as well as the events, there are a lot of activities going on behind the scenes that are doing a lot of good in Boston.
Q: Research suggests that when a town has been subjected to negative press, people will feel less pride in their community – but you’re actually saying the opposite to this. It sounds as though your experience has been that if the media is negative, residents will actually turn against the press and defend their town.
A: Bill That’s right. The other thing to remember when thinking about events from a Boston Big Local perspective is the nature of the events. There’s a big emphasis within the Boston Big Local Plan about supporting other people’s initiatives. There’s an ‘events pot’ that people can apply to for help with events that are their idea and about their history. The Lithuanian Pancake Day, for instance, was about celebrating the Lithuanian culture in Boston and I think that’s a fantastically enabling thing. It’s not about Boston Big Local saying “we want this”, it’s about Boston Big Local supporting other people’s ideas. The way in which Boston Big Local supports things gives added pride and value.
Q: Looking at your programme of events, one of the main objectives seems to be to bring the people in the community together. In Boston, do you think it’s important to aim to bring people together from different cultural backgrounds, or do you think that just occurs naturally at the events?
A: Rachel It doesn’t always occur naturally because people tend to ‘stick with their own’. But thinking again about the Pancake Day event, it was just totally different and amazing, and it made our own Shrovetide traditions looked pretty boring in comparison! I think those kind of events help people to get a broader outlook on life in general, and explore and revel in different cultures.
A: Bill The events that Boston Big Local gets involved in tend to be organic – not imposed. Events are of a scale that is responsive to the community. It will be interesting to see whether the Boston Marathon, which is of course much bigger, will still feel a part of Boston and Boston residents.
Q: Do you think the people who went to the Pancake Day event, even if they were just witnessing it, seemed happier when they realised it was actually a Lithuanian event and they had a chance to get involved and learn more about the culture? Do you think that affected residents’ community spirit and pride, or was it more of a personal thing?
A: Rachel I would say it’s more of a personal thing, well at least it was for me because I went on my own – but families were getting involved and it was a market day, so people were walking through the market and thinking “what’s that noise?” and then coming over to have a look.
A: Bill It’s like the Beach event… you walk by and you see it and it puts a smile on your face. So I think there’s a way in which some of these events aren’t just for those who turn up. Just knowing that an event has happened gives the community a sense that there’s a lot going on and it makes people feel good about the area.
Q: Events in the community have proven to be successful in bringing about things like social cohesion, but do you think that is a long term benefit, or is it just a temporary impact while the event is taking place? And if it’s not long term, how can you ensure that it does stay long term in the future?
A: Richard Part of Boston Big Local’s role is to find suitable events to support. We’re a ten year project and it’s all very well if an event happens one year, but people want continuity. They expect it to happen next year as well. If it does, then people start to look forward to it happening. That’s one of the reasons we want to carry on with the Beach event. We had such a good response to the first one, we want to make sure that we can keep that going.
A: Rachel And that will then build pride within the community.
A: Bill The community spirit is greater than the individual event. Popular events that are held regularly can have a lasting effect in people’s memories – not just in the sense of “I remember the good old days” but in the endurance of it.
A: Richard One of the things we’ve supported is Boston signing up to the new Hanse League, which has an annual Hanse day. There are about 180 member towns across Europe and the official Hanse event is hosted each year in a different town – but that doesn’t stop all the other members having a celebration in their own town as well. That’s something we’re hoping will happen in Boston. If we can build a series of events – three or four throughout the year, it gives people things to look forward to. That way the effect starts to become cumulative, rather than hanging everything on one main event.
Q: Finally, how do you as Big Boston Local see the ideal Boston community and how do the events that you put on help to achieve this?
A: Bill There are four main themes in the Boston Big Local plan and the budget for events is around 34% of total spend. It’s a good proportion, but we recognise that events on their own won’t crack it. There are also families and individuals in need, who require particular support. Community spirit and promoting community spirit is a collective enterprise. Yes, events really, really help, but Boston Big Local knows is has to have a much more coherent approach in order to achieve its objectives.
A: Richard The events provide Boston Big Local with a public face, but we’ve also got other activities around themes such as improving the environment. When people walk through streets that are cleaner they generally feel better. We’ve supported the Boston in Bloom project and we’ve funded a machine that hoovers up cigarette butts on the street. Attacking that problem from the other end, we’ve also financed litter pouches that people can carry instead of throwing their cigarette butts away in the street.
Q: So Boston Big Local is a much more collective exercise rather than just events on their own?
A: Rachel Definitely. Our four themes are: improving health and wellbeing; creating a more attractive environment; building community spirit; and encouraging enterprise. We’ve allocated budgets to each of these themes and then divided them into priorities and then split those priorities down as well. So when you look at our Plan, you can see from the projects we’re running that we’re doing a lot of different things. It’s not just about events.