Letchworth Garden City Cultural Quarter



Aims and Objectives

The main objective of the project is to deliver a cultural quarter fronting Broadway Gardens as part of a programme to revitalise Letchworth Garden City and to provide an enhanced cultural offer, which will be of regional as well as local interest.



The project commenced in 2011, when it became apparent during an extensive Town Centre consultation and masterplanning exercise that Letchworth Town Centre should not take a traditional approach of seeking a major anchor tenant to address issues of vitality in the Town Centre. Instead, it was determined through consultation and discussion that the focus for the Town Centre should be on cultural activity. This culminated in a Town Centre Implementation Plan in April 2012 and the project is expected to be completed in 2018.


Services offered

There are various aspects of the cultural quarter which will be included in the completed scheme:


  • Studio School
  • College accommodation for cultural activity
  • Auditorium for around 300 people
  • 3 exhibitions spaces (professional, community and museum)
  • Smaller teaching spaces, rehearsal rooms and studios
  • Enhanced restaurant offer
  • New Administrative Centre for North Herts College
  • A visual arts scheme (town art) has been introduced
  • Future ideas include using empty retail spaces as temporary galleries if there is demand for such spaces


It is proposed that all of these services will be clustered in the centre of the town, forming the proposed cultural quarter.


In terms of implementation, the following has taken place so far:


  • 2011: Heritage Foundation announced that the existing small hall facility, known as Plinston Hall, would close early in 2012.  This was due to a facility and offer which did not reflect the level of investment of charitable funds and facilitate the creation of new facilities. .
  • March 2012: last performance in Plinston Hall.
  • December 2012: St Francis College, a private school, hosts its first Pantomime for many years, previously at Plinston Hall.
  • December 2012: Letchworth Heritage Foundation appoints a Creative Producer to produce a Cultural Strategy for the town.
  • 2012: North Herts College announce Government funding for a new Studio School for Creative Enterprise.  This will be known as the Da Vinci Hall.
  • March 2013: Heritage Foundation announce a new Prezzo restaurant adjacent to the cultural quarter.
  • March 2013: Consultation commences on new Arts Centre which will form part of the new cultural quarter.
  • March 2013: North Herts College move into new administrative centre, using disused Town Hall building.
  • April 2013: agreement that the Heritage Foundation will acquire a former Grammar School within the Cultural Quarter to deliver new studio school.
  • April 2013: Heritage Foundation agree with the Da Vinci School short term use of the former Plinston Hall to enable the Studio School to open in September 2013


Area Challenges:

  • In the last 10 years there has been limited growth in Letchworth and the population has stagnated, according to Census information.
  • The local authority is looking at alternative options for housing growth, which, subject to consultation, could lead to a maximum of 1500 homes in the period up to 2031.  Across North Hertfordshire the target is 10,750 in this period.
  • In research undertaken by consultants, it was found that the local offer for cultural activity is below the potential level of usage, which has been borne out by the popularity of the alternative content now provided by the cinema.


Governance / business / operational model

The governance model across Letchworth Garden City is unique. The residual assets of the original development company (First Garden City Ltd) have been incorporated into the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, which is a self-funding charity that reinvests for the long-term benefit of the local community. Endowment income, generated mainly from its property portfolio, enables the Heritage Foundation to provide additionality to services and facilities provided by the local District and County Councils. Provision includes many of the facilities that are part of the cultural quarter, such as the cinema and community hub, as well as a treatment centre, open space, a museum, a family farm, a greenway around the town, a mini-bus service, and a tourist information centre.


The Heritage Foundation model continues to apply in respect to new development on Foundation-owned land, leading to value generated by new development being reinvested back into the town and its community.


In the cultural quarter specifically:

  • The Heritage Foundation is leading the delivery of the quarter, in partnership with North Herts College, who are presently being the main partner, and responsible for the studio school, University of Hertfordshire, Letchworth Arts Centre and North Hertfordshire District Council.
  • The Heritage Foundation fund and manage the cinema and are securing the buildings and/or land for the various activities.
  • The development of proposals for the new arts centre is a collaborative approach, with the District Council, University of Hertfordshire, North Herts College and Letchworth Arts Centre all assisting the Heritage Foundation in formulating these proposals.
  • It is hoped that the Arts Council and outside funding bodies will also become partners in respect to the delivery of the new Arts Centre and also will assist in the design of these proposals.
  • Community consultation has been key in shaping the new Town Centre Strategy.
  • This collaborative approach has assisted in securing support from the Council.  In addition, the Foundation has undertaken its own research to support the assertion that there is the potential to grow the arts and cultural offer, whilst the new Creative Producer has commenced assisting with programming to ensure that when the new Arts Centre is built, there is already a strong programme of regional interest.


Financing and funding arrangement

         To date, funding has been by the Heritage Foundation and North Herts College, for the components of the scheme already agreed or delivered.

         The Department for Education will be making a major contribution to the new Studio School, which has also been assisted by the Heritage Foundation, through the provision of buildings.



Success factors and outcomes

         The master planning process has been inclusive and robust, which has helped the Foundation move swiftly towards the design and delivery phase.

         The investment in the cinema has proved extremely successful and the programming for alternative content has exceeded expectations.

         Securing the new restaurant, which will open later this year, will also help the attractiveness of this quarter, particularly as the project move towards the creation of a new auditorium and exhibition space.

         The partnership approach, particularly with North Herts College has been successful and the projections for the likely increase in spend in the town centre resulting from the new school and administrative centre will have a positive impact on the town centre.  This positive impact will increase as the project moves towards the implementation of the other components of this scheme.

         Work to date has resulted in the re-use of existing attractive, but vacant buildings.


Risk factors

         The project could be at risk of funding not being available from external sources, which may reduce the impact of this part of the scheme, although the Heritage Foundation can determine the extent of its funding involvement, when the proposals are further developed.


Measurement and Monitoring

  • Maintained an annual footfall survey of the town centre in order that the Heritage Foundation can understand the impact of the proposals on the vitality of the town centre.
  • Continually monitor visitors and percentage usage of the screen in the cinema, and the Arts Centre also maintains a record of activity.




Contact Details for Further Information


David Ames, Head of Strategic Planning and Heritage, Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, Foundation House, Icknield Way, Letchworth Garden City, Herts, SG6 1GD. Email - [email protected] Tel 01462 476074