Thinking inside the box

It is almost impossible to express how excited I am about the opening of The Box.

It’s the culmination of years of planning, committees, long meetings, crazy deadlines and mindboggling logistical headaches – but it’s finally here.

The significance of this investment can’t be overestimated. When I first pitched The Box to the Arts Council, I told it that Plymouth has so much history it does not know what to do with it all.

But it’s all here, in The Box, the largest arts and heritage space to open in the UK this year. 

The Box was always more than buildings and regeneration; it is about people, about making Plymouth a fantastic place to live and creating a strong sense of pride among our residents. We wanted to get their stories, their history and we hope we have captured the DNA of this extraordinary city. 

Plymouth City Council has form in making stuff happen for culture. We built the Theatre Royal – now regarded as one of the country’s top regional theatres. The ‘build it and they will come approach’ really works.

Like all great ideas, The Box was born out of necessity. We needed a new home for our incredibly important archives. Instead of addressing a single problem, the project team got bolder. 

The city’s creative sector was growing. With a cross-party belief in investing in arts and culture to support economic growth and raise aspirations, we went for it. For our investment we get the priceless returns of jobs, tourism, inward investment, recruitment, civic pride, marketing and financial leverage.

The Box opened in September, and the timing feels even more important now. It was due to open in May as part of a massive Mayflower commemoration year for the city. While some events have been postponed, this is still happening.

The Box is a key part of Resurgam, our economic recovery plan. It’s Latin for ‘I shall rise again’. The word is part of Plymouth’s history – it appeared on a wooden sign over the bombed-out St Andrew’s Church during the Blitz.

We want to do everything we can to protect jobs in our city and help our residents. We want a city centre renaissance and The Box is literally a stone’s throw away from our shopping heartland. 

Skills is a key area of intervention and throughout the build, we’ve had apprentices, work placements and special days behind the scenes to inspire our young people. 

We kept spend as local as possible, with 72 per cent of sub-contractors coming from companies with local post codes, as well as employing as many locals as possible (920 construction jobs and 60 permanent jobs). 

While the council is the lead organisation and major funder, the project would not have been possible without the University of Plymouth and the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Other major project funders include the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England.

It’s been an incredible journey. We have all been absolutely committed and excited by the potential The Box has to unlock talent in our communities and provide role models for our children. 

It is about making culture something for everyone. Plymouth is the place that gave us the Royal Academy through Joshua Reynolds – we’re just bringing culture home.

For more information about The Box, please visit www.theboxplymouth.com

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