How we can bring our 'Health and Happiness' motto to life

Torbay Weekly

Torbay's civic motto is  'Salus et Felicitas' - health and happiness.

Here Jacob Brandon and Martin Thomas, chairman and Executive Director of Torbay Culture respectively, have jointly written an article about making the motto  a reality.

Torbay is our home and we want it to thrive. This place is special for so many reasons. We know it has challenges, but it also has so much potential.

Where else would you find - at last count - 12 scheduled ancient monuments, 24 conservation areas, six registered gardens, 865 listed buildings, a dozen SSSIs, a National Nature Reserve, a Marine Conservation Zone, and three Arts Council Accredited museums, including one nationally Designated collection? All within a single local government area recognised by UNESCO.

These designations are significant. They are definitions ascribed to our natural and built assets so that we might recognise, protect and celebrate them. But in listing them here, their main purpose is as placeholders to the spaces themselves. Whether you are passionate about literature, film, visual arts, physical activity, music, heritage, digital technology, in short, culture, these spaces that we are fortunate to have in diverse abundance, are where that culture is held.

Torbay Culture has been driven by a simple idea – that of culture, creativity, and heritage improving the quality of life for people in Torbay.

Culture brings people together. Even remotely – we’ve seen that especially during the last 15 months or so.

The other priority for us in our roles has been that of building trust and confidence. For a place to be happier and healthier – which is after all Torbay’s civic motto – we need greater cooperation, and we have to encourage each other to trust in one another.

There has been a lot of talk about partnership work, but encouraging meaningful collaboration is something that takes time and patience.

Like a garden, it needs regular nurturing and the right conditions to thrive. The seeds and bulbs once brought to a vacant plot, do not plant themselves and must first grow to contribute to the beauty of the landscape. The flowers do not bloom overnight, and the great trees that offer shade and protection will be years in the making.

Strengthening our cultural life is one way of tending the garden. It’s about conversations, being creative, finding common ground, so that safe spaces can be developed from which to challenge and grow.

If we want Torbay to be a better place for the future, we have to invest in culture. Heritage and the arts have a vital role to play in inspiring people, providing healthy pastimes – both for physical and mental wellbeing – and as part of the economic life of the bay. It makes the resort a better place to visit; it improves the quality of life for locals.

Good design improves our public spaces, buildings, and homes. Creative people and ideas can find solutions to issues like climate change and greener living; and better cared for heritage doesn’t prevent responsible development. Rather, it ensures a place remains distinctive, building towards the future whilst celebrating its history.

This recognition for the past, and acknowledgement that things must necessarily change, can be reconciled with investment in culture and creativity, and is essential to give hope to the next generation. Someone born this year, will undoubtedly perform jobs and create businesses in industries which have barely been conceived. Think back to where we were at the start of this century. Digital technology, streaming services, the gaming sector.... all have developed beyond imagination.

Preparing our young people for these realities which today we can only imagine, is borne out of instilling in them a malleable resilience that at its core is creative.

This past year has been marked by true hardship, a monumental moment, the ripples of which will still be being felt for several years. But there is a positive legacy of 2020/21 to be unearthed, one that recognises that overwhelmingly it has been the better side of humanity that we have witnessed as communities have come together.

The things that bind us are greater than those which divide us. Culture has been a window into that. People have connected to art through screens, laptops, and phones. Whilst it has not the same as being with people, it’s brought optimism and joy, encouragement and hope, to people in isolation.

We’ve seen volunteers – including in the culture and heritage sectors - make a real difference to people’s lives during the last 10 months. And strangely, whilst we’ve all been told we need to keep our distance we’ve also seen new connections made. Sometimes digitally, sometimes in real life.

Our contribution to this has been to roll up our sleeves and get on with it, as well as we can, adapting to the bumps in the road. Our approach prior to the pandemic had prepared us. Openness, transparency and partnership working creating strong foundations on which to rely when we were all called up to do our bit. Torbay Culture’s programmes have provided evaluation processes and detailed analysis which will help partners - including Torbay Council, NHS, and Public Health - develop alternative ways to improve independent living, social prescribing, and better wellbeing.

We have also enabled residents to shape the places in which they live, so they can inform the town improvements which will now be part of the proposals for the delivery of the Future High Streets Fund and Towns Fund.
Part of our work has been to test ideas, and also to take some risks, trying new things.

Torbay’s distinctive and diverse natural environment recognised by bodies including UNESCO and Natural England – alongside the local cultural heritage of Brixham, Paignton and Torquay – provide an exceptional canvas on which residents and visitors can enjoy creative programming.

Innovative projects commissioned by Torbay Culture - like The Cave Hunters and the Truth Machine by Sean Harris at Brixham’s All Saints Church (2019) celebrated the natural history of the bay, as part of the Eyeview cultural programme of the Great Place Scheme.

The Electric Sound Palace by Chris Timpson, Aurelia Soundworks and partners, brought the historic Paignton Picture House alive again; and the incredible Wavelength light and sound celebrations at Torre Abbey and Royal Terrace Gardens brought tens of thousands of people together, using our UNESCO designation as an inspiration.

With partners we continued this with our work during the last year, including devising Create To Recover, which simultaneously offered support to local creative practitioners and communities, and produced inspiring work that brought hope in hard times.

We used digital media alongside in-person activity to deliver programmes co-designed with young people, like Creative Transitions with Public Health, the Imagine this partnership, and local artists. And we’ve commissioned work by contemporary local talent that will reflect the stories of some of our local heritage icons – including Agatha Christie (1890-1976) and Amelia Griffiths (1768-1858) – in new ways, for new audiences.

For 2022 and beyond we have exciting plans which we're looking forward to developing and sharing.

As we look to the future, we can see a reality where the arts and creative ideas can really encourage a step change in the way we animate the place we call home.

Informing better design, thinking about alternative ideas and influences; celebrating local heritage, and nurturing local creative talent. We can cite many examples of how Torbay Culture has been making a difference and can be found on our website under the our impact and knowledge share sections.

But the greatest difference is how people feel. Encouraging our home to be more welcoming and tolerant, to think creatively and take risks, and to aspire to a quality we deserve that is ready to be revealed if we just care to look. Then we really are living Torbay’s motto of ‘health and happiness’.