West Midlands Culture Response Unit (WMCRU) Collective learning and collective futures

As lockdown restrictions once again begin to shift in England, we wanted to take some time to reflect on what we have achieved so far as a collective, and think about what we’ve learnt about working together. We wanted to use this reflection to establish what we need to do to maintain the connections and collaborations that have marked out the different ways of working over the past year. Part of this reflection included an external review of the West Midlands Culture Response Unit (WMCRU), carried out by Earthen Lamp, with feedback from across the West Midlands cultural sector.

Although the past year has seen massive shifts in the ways that we work, it has also brought together new support networks, partnerships and collaborations, and has drawn on the wealth of expertise, experience and voices from across the region to think about our collective future as a sector. We wanted to share the learning from this report about the WMCRU and use it to think about how Culture Central moves forward as an organisation that truly represents and advocates for culture, people and places in the West Midlands.

What you’ve said about the value of WMCRU:

  • You said that the greatest strength of the WMCRU was the way it connected and facilitated dialogue across the cultural sector in the region. And that this resulted in more collaboration in response to the practical challenges of Covid-19 including initiatives such as More Than a Moment and It Gets Lighter From Here.

    It was very helpful to have a forum for everyone working in the sector regionally as the picture became more (or less) clear about the pandemic. It was useful to hear about the challenges everyone was going through, their ideas and connections… paradoxically this wouldnt have happened before the pandemic, we wouldnt have had lots of people together in a room talking about their work, projects and practice”

  • That WMCRU has helped to bring together all parts of the sector – from organisations of different scale, artform, expertise, geographical area and experience and that this has been of benefit to all, sharing knowledge, different perspectives and voices to think about the development of the sector and region with fewer barriers to access.

    Anyone can join in, and (for the first time) the size of the organisation does not matter so much”

  • You also said that the unique position of the WMCRU meant that it has a powerful voice in representing the sector, allowing it to advocate and lobby for culture, people and places within the region. This voice was cohesive and presented the sector as truly collaborative and within the group was seen as open, generous and focussed on positive action, which created spaces for reflection and practical planning.

What do we need to do for the future benefit of the sector:

Whilst the review highlighted our collective strengths, you also raised questions about WMCRU and how it could improve, that we must ask ourselves at Culture Central and as a sector:

  • Research – ensuring that we develop a culture of research and evaluation within the region to use for decision making, strategy development, advocacy and lobbying.
  • Collaboration – to build on the new and unusual partnerships and networks we’ve made so far and ensuring the connection and exchange between different types of organisations and individuals within the region.
  • Long term view – ensuring a long term collective vision for the sector, people and place for the West Midlands, particularly ensuring long term investment in the face of potential shifts to the sector, changing employment within the region and the impact of significant events such as Brexit and Covid recovery.

Whilst there is a lot to celebrate, there is also a lot to think about…we want to develop membership across the region – to strengthen our collective voice, collaborations and advocacy. We want to build on the impact, data and research tied to significant events within the region such as Birmingham 2022 and Coventry City of Culture. And finally, we want to ensure equity and opportunity for all and to ensure the vibrancy of our ecology, making sure that this collaboration is maintained and extended so that our collective vision for culture is made real.

For a full copy of the review, please email info@culturecentral.co.uk.

Anthony Ruck
Assistant Director – Strategy & Policy
Culture Central


Header image with thanks to Birmingham Design Festival.