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Learning from collaboration in local arts & culture: Great Place Tees Valley

by Mark Robinson

What we did and why


Great Place Tees Valley (GPTV) was an ambitious three-year programme (2018-2020) devised by partners across the Tees Valley and brought together by Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA).  It aimed to use culture to create a genuine, shared, positive sense of place and identity across the region that could inform local social and economic policies. GPTV was one of 16 Great Place projects across England, made possible with £1.3million Lottery Funding from Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund.


ARC, Stockton’s arts centre, and Thinking Practice collaborated to:

  • Identify what has changed as a result of GPTV in terms of cultural provision and engagement across the sub-region

  • Capture and share learning from the GPTV strands of activity amongst delivery partners, to build skills and capacity

  • Use the learning and change captured to advocate for the programme with stakeholders, to influence wider strategies and sector planning

  • Provide time for partners and other stakeholders to reflect on both the achievements and remaining gaps/needs of the Tees Valley cultural sector

  • Identify case studies illustrating best practice, achievements and needs

  • Create a set of recommendations, supported by stakeholders, regarding the legacy of GPTV in terms of sustaining any impact


15 stories of change were collected by interview and drafting story for approval by the teller. The stories varied from that of a community development worker who had her view of art transformed by being involved in a project about local identity – from being distant and suspicious to being a passionate advocate – to dance teachers who saw young people find focus and resilience through creativity.


Stories were then discussed at six ‘layer one’ group reflections, the GPTV Steering group and five round tables, one per local authority in the Tees Valley, with groups of internal stakeholders pulled together by local authority leads. These included elected members and portfolio holders for culture. More than 25 people discussed the stories, which were distributed across groups.


Seven selected stories were then discussed at two ‘layer two’ group reflections of the Tees Valley Culture Officers Group and Combined Authority directors, elected member portfolio holders and funders.


The outputs from the discussions and the stories themselves were then analysed thematically against the aims of the project to inform a final report.



What the outcomes were


The work led to a report and a set of recommendations that are currently informing the Tees valley Combined Authority creative industries recovery plans in the wake of Covid. The work is also informing a new wave of projects as a follow up to GPTV, with the steering group identifying a set of ‘principles for practice’ to help them shape projects and how they are delivered. These are explicitly drawing on the learning from the MSC process lots of people have been involved in.


What was learnt about MSC that others could benefit from


I learnt several things from this project:

  • MSC is a really powerful way to get rich stories and to spread them amongst decision-makers

  • MSC is a good way of involving stakeholders, and it helps to have someone close to them who can encourage them to get involved – organising all the reflection sessions can be a lot of diary-wrangling work

  • It’s a creative and analytical challenge to write a short report from la ot of material and reflections, you really need to prioritise and synthesise, group and cluster to make a readable product. Having clear, pithy recommendations is vital.



Key takeaways


  • Collect stories from as diverse a range of participants as possible

  • Involve as many stakeholders as you can, as senior as you can (to influence and give them chance to reflect, not because they know more)

  • Allow yourself time for organising meetings and writing up the notes afterwards, as sharing those is an important part of the process

  • Synthesize and prioritise what you want to say to the readers of any report

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