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People, Place, Planet: Think Piece by Nicola Greenan

Posted on 4 March 2024

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Guest Author

People, Place, Planet: Think Pieces, are a series of online blogs which will take our event series theme as a starting point and will offer an external voice and provocation.

In this edition of our People, Place, Planet: Think Pieces Nicola Greenan, shares her thoughts and ideas about the theme of People, Place, Planet focusing on the importance of culture for all.

People, Place and Planet entered my world when I was probably around the age of 8. I remember vividly spending one whole glorious summer with my two best mates Philip & Andrew who were twins that lived next door to me. We had access to a Beck, fishing rods & parents that would let us stay out way later than any other parents on the estate. I thought how lucky I am just bobbing around in red wellies, in the hot sun with my best mates. I loved being in the weeds and water and discovering yet another Lipton’s or Safeway’s carrier bag, accompanied by the odd trolley. 

This Beck however ran all the way to Roundhay and one adventurous day we decided to follow the Beck, which we called the Monkey Beck (no idea why).  As we followed the stream, we all looked at how the houses looked different, there were less carriers and more flowers. It was this 8-year-olds exploration that first opened my eyes to how places with only a couple of miles between them could look and feel so different. 

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Privilege is what I have then spent an entire life trying to get my head around; how the places we grow up, the people we have access to and how we interact with our surroundings is stripped away from us the further we are away from privilege. 

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Don’t get me wrong, I now recognise my own privilege, but apart from skin colour I hustled for it and continue to do so. I ask myself why? What’s the lure of wanting privilege and what do you do with it once it’s within your power.

Well, that’s where probably the past 4 years of my life I’ve learnt the most. Working up to having such a privileged role as a public servant in a local authority has reinforced the role Culture has in everything we are about and the places we inhabit. Culture is such an odd word and is predominantly owned and utilised by the privileged but if you strip it back it really is just about people, place and planet. It’s about who we are and what’s important to us, how we express who we are. It’s about where we live and the things we have surrounded ourselves with and the people and rituals we choose to share. 

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I’ve been part of an extraordinary journey in Bradford in my role that has exposed me to the real power of Culture and how a collective energy born from a spirit of people and place is what took a place like Bradford to being UK City of Culture in 2025.

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UK City of Culture 2025 – Winner announcement in City Park

Local Authorities are seen amongst many as bureaucratic, hierarchical institutions, I guess the word Authority doesn’t help? 

Some of the above may be true for all the right reasons. However, they can also act as extraordinary facilitators in driving shifts around the way places can thrive and one of the key components in unlocking this is to embrace Culture in its broadest sense to enable a people powered approach to making the places and spaces we occupy relevant to local citizens. Cllr Hinchcliffe, the Leader of Bradford Council is an inspirational leader who has totally understood this and fought a fight like no other to ensure Culture is recognised for its integral role in driving a positive change in a place like Bradford.

As Local Authorities up and down the country, many face financial challenges and will have to deal with the cards of statutory and non-statutory delivery. This is such a tough place to be for any Local Authority and if I did have any influence and could impress on the Government, it is to make Culture a statutory priority to ensure its impact is felt beyond the privileged.

About the Author

Nicola Greenan

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Since writing this piece Nicola decided to make a seismic career change and leave Bradford Council to take on the role of CEO at Tyneside Cinema. Ready for a new challenge in one of the North East’s iconic cultural venues with an incredible heritage of bringing news & stories to the communities of Newcastle

Prior to this, Nic was appointed in February 2020 as the new lead for cultural partnerships at Bradford Council.

In 2009 Nic set up the LS14 Trust, a community based social enterprise in Seacroft, which was the social housing estate she had grown up on. The award winning LS14 Trust has gone on to employ local residents to deliver an events hire company, a digital lounge and café. In 2014 she was appointed Director of External Relations at East Street Arts a national charity to lead on developing and delivering new creative enterprise models for example; The Art Hostel the UK’s 1st Social Enterprise 34 bed Art Hostel and Convention House a new dedicated Art & Tech Hub in Leeds dedicated to creating news ways for learning through arts & technology. In 2016 she was appointed chair of engagement for Leeds 2023 bid for European Capital of Culture. In 2017 she was awarded the prestigious title of Yorkshire Women of The Year for her contribution to the creative sector.

Nic was integral in the development of the winning bid for UK City of Culture 2025.

About the WEdesign 2023/24 Series: People, Place, Planet

People, Place, Planet is our theme for The Glass-House 2023/24 WEdesign series. 

As we continue to shape our places, we are faced with the huge challenge of balancing our personal needs, the collective needs of our communities and those of our increasingly fragile planet.

This series will aim to identify and explore the opportunities and synergies that exist when we strive to balance people, place and planet in placemaking. 

How can we think differently about how we shape our places? How can we collaborate more through design and placemaking to value and respect people, place and planet equally?

To find out more about the full 2023/24 series, visit our People, Place, Planet page on The Glass-House website.

WEdesign is The Glass-House’s annual series of free interactive public events, held online and in-person in cities across the UK, where we explore collaborative design in placemaking through discussion, debate and playful co-design activities. 

To find out more about the WEdesign Programme, visit the WEdesign page on The Glass-House website.

WEdesign is supported by the Ove Arup Foundation.