Huw Lewis, Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage
I am pleased to report on my recent visit to Stockholm. The overarching objectives for my visit were to gain at first hand an insight into three key areas of my portfolio where Sweden has been particularly pioneering and successful. These are the huge role social housing and co-operatives play in the Swedish housing sector, the use of vibrant multi-use cultural facilities, and the democratic, inclusive approach taken by its major museums.
One of my key engagements was with the HSB Housing Co-operative. While around 20% of the Swedish population lives in a co-operative home, within the UK it is a largely unexplored route to affordable home ownership. In Stockholm, the HSB is a major player in the housing field, with a reputation for high quality, well maintained housing stock allied with a clear social purpose. This one housing co-operative has been the means by which hundreds of thousands of families have been given a ‘leg-up’ into a decent home which they would otherwise have been unable to access. After talking to staff, and visiting co-op homeowners in different locations across the city, I came away determined to show that this housing model could answer the needs of similar families in Wales. The links and contacts made will prove invaluable in the months ahead as we develop the embryonic Welsh Co-op housing sector.
‘Kulturhuset’ (culturehouses), or multi-use cultural venues, play a crucial role in Sweden in promoting access to culture. Containing cutting-edge libraries aimed at different audiences, arts venues and facilities, retail and catering outlets, they are viewed as an important component of regeneration projects, break down intergenerational barriers, and improve inclusion and literacy. These are objectives directly relevant in informing the development of the Libraries Inspire strategic framework for Welsh libraries. I visited two such venues, the Kulturhuset and the Dieselverkstaden. Both had played a pivotal role in major urban regeneration schemes. Careful layout, with an eye to accessibility for all, mean that they are buzzing with life from early morning to late evening six days a week. Activities and facilities were aimed at, and clearly appealed to, all ages, including teenagers, so often hard to engage. We need to build such good practice into our strategic support for the arts and libraries here in Wales.
Stockholm’s museums are some of Europe’s best-loved and best-visited, noteworthy for their populist and inclusive approach to history. With a major capital investment in the offing for St Fagans: National History Museum, this was the perfect opportunity to pick the brains of senior staff at Skansen open air museum, the precursor and inspiration for St Fagans. Absolutely critical here for me will be the imperative to include the whole of Wales in the story that St Fagans tells. As one of our own museums and galleries staff put it, all Welsh people should feel part of the story, and not just visitors to it.
Equally impressive were the Historical and Vasa Museums, charged with the job of telling the story of Sweden and a dazzling medieval warship respectively, and doing so in genuinely engaging ways. Provision for young people was very much to the fore at all the museums, with, as one museum director told us, all planning including provision ‘for children, by children and with children’.
During my visit I also visited the British Embassy, and through this engagement hope to be able to develop closer links between our countries in the future to continue the dialogue. My visit was informative and timely, and I arrive home with many ideas for us to pursue here in Wales.