Using Culture for creating a Greener Future for Coventry. Showcasing environmental engagement in the UK City of Culture 2021

By Dr Jennifer Ferreira, Dr David Bek, Dr Geraldine Brown, Dr Margi Lennartsson-Turner and Dr Jordon Lazell

The Green Futures programme within the Coventry City of Culture 2021 included a wide range of activities culminating in the ‘Our Wilder Family’ event in May which drew over 27,000 people to the War Memorial Park in Coventry for a spectacular drone display focusing on nature and climate change action. The staging of this event reflected the extent to which Green Futures had moved up the agenda in the City of Culture programming. Indeed, this was the first time that the environment had been an explicit part of a UK City of Culture programme, so Coventry has been an important case study for showing what can be achieved by bringing the environment into a cultural context.

To understand the importance of the environment within the UK City of Culture 2021, a team of researchers from Coventry University (Centre for Business in Society and Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience) conducted an environmental focus study.

Connecting people to nature through culture

The study showed how City of Culture 2021 acted as a vehicle for re-focusing individuals’ and organisations’ attention on nature and green-related issues across the city. There were strong positive outcomes in terms of facilitating participants’ connection to nature. Furthermore, there were indications that participants realised and appreciated the potential benefits that the connection with nature had on them, such as improved mental health. 

The UK City of Culture activities encouraged people to connect with green spaces. It created a sense of community and an important space to maintain community connections. It demonstrated how green spaces are important for biodiversity in terms of fauna and flora, and supported residents to realise the variety of Green spaces within the city. It highlighted how the green spaces of the city were good for mental health, supporting people to feel happier and more relaxed.

As an informant stated, ‘our main areas of impact have been getting people out into green spaces and to build their confidence that the green spaces are their local green spaces. So, it isn’t about taking them far away from where they live. It’s about them opening their door and being able to walk to a green space that is close to them that they can gain association with through positive experiences. That means that when they walk there on their own or they take their family there, they can remember that they had these nice times and they feel ownership’.

The Green Futures programme, which was a key strand of City of Culture activity, clearly facilitated engagement from people and groups who had previously not visited the green spaces of Coventry. This was facilitated by the emphasis of many of the events upon encouraging people to engage with nature and environmental issues in a personal and localised way.

Sharing the stories from UK City of Culture

In February, Fargo Village in Coventry hosted an event titled ‘Connecting, place, culture, research and impact – stories from Coventry’. The event brought together artists, researchers, local organisations, and members of the public to explore the learning outcomes from the UK City of Culture 2021, to consider its legacy for the city of Coventry and how the legacy of this can be researched.

One panel focused on the findings and contributions of focus studies commissioned by the Coventry City of Culture Trust to evaluate different aspects of City of Culture activities. One of these focus studies evaluated how successfully the environmental theme had been integrated into the strategy and programme of Coventry City of Culture 2021. This was especially interesting as this was the first time that a theme focusing upon the environment had been integrated into a UK City of Culture event.

Photograph: Tim Hammerton

The Green Futures events delivered learning opportunities and encouraged people to be involved, make new connections and engage directly with nature and the environment. These events ignited personal interests and raised people’s awareness of a wide range of environmental issues. Importantly, it also demonstrated how a community-focused approach with co-operation between local communities, green and or environmental organisations and key local decision makers can increase engagement in nature and wider green issues.

Cultural events are important for raising environmental awareness

The event held at Fargo Village focused on the learnings that can be gained from the staging of Coventry City of Culture 2021 as part of the UK Cities of Culture Project.  The event also considered how to ensure that the City of Culture programme has a lasting legacy and can shape change in the future of the city.  Environmental issues became an important strand for City of Culture activities through the Green Futures programme and our research has demonstrated how this was important for raising awareness at both individual and organisational levels, which will hopefully help to shape a greener and more environmentally aware future for the city. A summary of the event is available here.

Photograph: Jennifer Ferreira

The Focus Study report ‘Integrating the Environment’ is available on the Evaluating Coventry UK City of Culture website here, and there is a webinar which discusses the findings of the study here.

This study contributed to a wider evaluation of the Green Futures Programme, conducted by the independent monitoring and evaluation team from the University of Warwick and Coventry University, in partnership with Coventry City Council. This report is available here.

Through understanding the impact of organisations’ activities, behaviours and policies, the Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University seeks to promote responsibility, to change behaviours, and to achieve better outcomes for economies, societies and the individual.