Q&A with Cllr Rita Garner, Cabinet Member for Culture & Leisure at Worthing Borough Council

Released: Tuesday, 28 June 2022

More leisure activities in our parks and on the seafront, more places to go and more choice on where to stay are all on the to-do list for Cllr Rita Garner over the next 12 months.

Worthing's new Cabinet Member for Culture & Leisure intends to work with the arts community to help the creative scene in the town, and to set up a Centre for Culture.

Here she talks about making the arts more accessible and encouraging more people to get active - and how Worthing needs a new swimming pool to cope with demand.

Q. The new administration has been in charge in Worthing for over a month now. What are the first things you've noticed about your role? Has anything surprised you?

What has surprised me is how ready people are for change. Many community groups and businesses have been quietly working with local people to improve the lived experience of the arts in Worthing. Music, performance, spoken word, film and leisure facilities are appreciated by our residents, who would like to see improvements in accessibility. We are now listening to what they would like to see into the future. I'm delighted by the amount of love that is being shown for our town and its potential. I'm also so impressed with our officers, who have been so helpful and professional in guiding us towards our objectives.

Q. Which do you prefer - culture or leisure?

Each has its unique footprint in communities and they often overlap. Cultural activities have always been close to my heart. I love nothing better than spending time in a gallery, museum or place of worship. I also love listening to and learning from people who are from different places and have interesting life experiences. Sports is a culture in itself. Football is huge in this town.

Q. I'm coming to visit Worthing this summer. What would you recommend I do and see while I'm here?

The first thing you should do is take a stroll along the prom and stop for a coffee or a drink at one of our many cafes and bars. Enjoy the beauty of the sea and sky; walk to the end of the pier and admire our lido. If you like the water, enjoy swimming or some paddle-boarding. If you're self-catering, buy some fish straight from the sea from our fishing community and cook it at home. Nothing tastes quite like it. If it happens to be Pride weekend you will have the opportunity to enjoy a very special celebration with live music and lots to see. Worthing Theatres always have some wonderful productions on offer. Enjoy the wonderful art and costume collections at Worthing Museum. Have lunch at one of our lively pubs then catch a film at the Connaught or the Dome, which is one of the oldest working cinemas in the country. Warwick Street and surrounds are packed with some tremendous restaurants and there's always something to see and do at The Steyne or on the prom during the summer.

Q. The new administration has said it will look at how Worthing Theatres and Museum is funded and run. What does that mean?

It's time to review how we support our valuable assets in Worthing. Worthing Theatres and Museum has received a lot of public money, and like many businesses in the town has suffered during the pandemic. It's time to harness our assets to work as well as they can for the people of Worthing, and our visitor economy. For many people in Worthing a visit to the theatre is a luxury they cannot afford. The arts must be accessible to all and reflect the world we live in, and we will work with the trust to develop the best possible offer.

Q. How do you want Worthing's cultural offering to change on your watch?

The demographic in Worthing is changing and with it people's expectations and aspirations. Our heritage is dear to people's hearts and we must be careful to retain what is valuable. But our society is multicultural and this is something to be celebrated. I want to see a specific Centre for Culture in Worthing.

We are listening to our music, arts, performance and writing community, and a strategy is being developed in response to this.

We are acknowledging the changes that a new generation and more diversity has brought to Worthing and trying to understand better what people want to see and do. Many businesses and organisations are already bringing about change in our town. We will work with them to ensure that Worthing has an offer which will encourage incoming business, boost the local economy and enhance the resident and visitor experience. There will be better accessibility for all.

Q. An increasing number of artists have set up home in Worthing in recent years, with galleries and studios dotted around the town centre. How are you going to encourage this growth to continue?

Worthing is ideally placed for artists. The light is fantastic and the combination of downland and seascape, and our beautiful architectural heritage, offers plenty to inspire visual arts. Worthing Artists Open Houses will be supported to expand its summer offer. Colonnade House is home to a creative hub and individual studios. East Beach Studios, supported by the Town Centre Initiative, provides a vibrant seafront offer. BN14 in Broadwater offers space to visual artists and Art-ful offers a tremendous experience using clay and ceramics. There are galleries doing business in our town and beyond. We will listen to and work closely with all of these to discover how they can best be supported into the future. This might be by identifying new venues for artists to practise from, and by using digital interface and networking to develop opportunities to display market products.

Q. Sport plays a central role in the lives of many people in Worthing, in particular young people. But what can be done to encourage more people to get involved - and do we need more facilities?

South Downs Leisure has done a sterling job helping us through the pandemic. Its chief executive, Duncan Anderson, set up virtual online activity which is still available, and post-pandemic our sports and leisure facilities are now working virtually at full capacity. In Worthing we are lucky to have an enthusiastic footballing community and we are working with our environment portfolio team to understand how best to support them. Albion in the Community presently offers football for those less able. We will be touching ground with all these organisations to establish how they can be supported into the future. Worthing also needs another swimming venue. Splashpoint provides an excellent visitor experience but is oversubscribed. A seafront swimming venue may be desirable. It is likely that, under the existing strategy, a pool to service communities in West Worthing and Durrington may be located at Worthing Leisure Centre, which is due for refurbishment. Worthing currently hosts the 10K Challenge. We will be looking to increase interest and participation in this event. Post-pandemic, parks and open spaces should all feature outdoor gym equipment and picnic facilities. Our plans are to use our future strategy to engage those hard-to-reach people in our community and invite them to participate at a level they are comfortable with.

Q. Let's jump forward in time. You've been in post for 12 months - what have you managed to get done so far?

There will be an increased leisure offer in our parks, open spaces, and foreshore and a central information source for visitors. Worthing will boast its first Cultural Centre and Worthing Theatres and Museum will be providing a rich, diverse visitor experience. There will be more places to go in the evenings for entertainment and food, and improved accommodation options for visitors to Worthing. And we will have been working closely with community partners such as the Town Centre Initiative and the Chamber of Commerce to ensure that local businesses benefit from an increased visitor footfall to boost our local economy.

Cllr Rita Garner

Cllr Rita Garner (PR22-111)


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Page last updated: 25 November 2022

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