Regeneration, regeneration, regeneration. It’s a word that’s so freely bandied about in Maidenhead that I think we’ve tethered it solely to the idea of rebuilding and lost the real meaning of the word and its sweeping sense of metamorphosis. Regeneration is not just about physical demolition and construction, but should encompass a larger societal rebirth and a renewed sense of place.
I’ve lately been reading a great deal about the decline of coastal towns and instances where the journey to successful regeneration has been a marriage of art and architect, culture, corporation and community. Folkestone, for example, has sought to challenge the perception of itself by embracing the community through partnerships and representing it truthfully. It hasn’t tried to reinvent itself, only create a better version of what is already there – warts and all. A fantastic quote I heard recently sums it up to perfection “Buildings aren’t regeneration…regeneration comes when we make a commitment to change”. Certainly, Maidenhead has made that commitment, but have we tried to dig deeper than the foundations of shiny new buildings to find what makes the towns heart beat? This is where artists come in, with the skills of sight and interpretation to act as a conduit through which the personality of a place can be channelled, wrangling all aspects of the environmental, intangible, concrete and potential until it is understood, questioned and makes a statement.
Artists will always attempt to make sense of their environment and create their own sense of place, but here it’s remained removed and separate from the bricks, mortar, blueprints and officialdom. Unless the arts are integrated into the regeneration process Maidenhead risks becoming another faceless town of shiny edifices and disenfranchised communities.