News Story

On 29 January, Surprising Surrey, a new ten-year strategy was launched. It has been developed by the county’s cultural sector to champion and strengthen creativity, so that by 2034 Surrey is recognised as one of the country’s most vibrant cultural counties.

Created by Surrey Cultural Partnership – a collective of people working in culture and heritage in Surrey along with representatives from business, education, health, criminal justice and local government, who together share an ambition to champion Surrey as a leading cultural county – Surprising Surrey is the result of research and extensive consultation with the county’s cultural organisations, practitioners and stakeholders over a two-year period. This identified an urgent need to promote and expand culture in Surrey, reducing barriers and increasing investment so that many more residents and visitors are able to benefit.

Surprising Surrey: Our Cultural Strategy & Vision 2024 – 2034 is the first cultural strategy for the county to be developed by Surrey’s cultural sector. It sets out a framework and action plan with four priorities:

  • Culture for Everyone, to increase access to culture for all, with a specific focus on reaching residents who encounter physical, social and economic barriers
  • Resilient Communities, recognising the role of creative encounters in strengthening communities and in supporting health and wellbeing programmes
  • County-wide Ecology and Infrastructure, encouraging collaborative working and ensuring that creative workspaces are integral to sustainable planning and regeneration schemes
  • Creativity as Enterprise, to nurture the creative economy in Surrey by attracting new business and investment

At a special launch event at The Horton Arts Centre, Epsom, Surrey Cultural Partnership announced a series of initiatives to deliver the strategy, including:

  • The development of a new Culture Fund in partnership with the Community Foundation for Surrey (CFS). Research co-commissioned by Surrey Cultural Partnership and CFS identified that Surrey is significantly underfunded by national grantmakers and, given the financial crises facing a number of the county’s borough and district councils, local authority funding is under threat. The new fund will support improved quality of life and wellbeing for the most disadvantaged communities in Surrey by reducing barriers to transformative creative experiences.
  • The introduction of a Cultural Skills Bank and Volunteer Bank. 95% of UK arts organisations have less than nine employees[i]. The majority do not have all the required skills ‘in-house’ and they are reliant on time and expertise given by volunteers. These Banks will facilitate collaboration and will strengthen the sector.
  • A new programme of youth-led activity to give young people a voice and to nurture creative leaders for the future. Consultation with young people and education providers revealed county-wide dissatisfaction with the lack of information and support available to enter creative careers. Amongst the initiatives will be encouraging increased youth representation at board level and establishing clear development pathways in the cultural sector.
A group of people dressed in white holding illuminated decorations

Wonderdusk, 2023 Photo credit John Miller, Surrey Hills Arts

Commenting, Perdita Hunt and Gavin Stride, Co-Chairs, Surrey Cultural Partnership, said:

Surprising Surrey is about championing what is already happening here, recognising that the county has much to celebrate. But as we know and despite its reputation for affluence and privilege, Surrey has areas of deprivation and marginalisation that need addressing. This strategy is a response to those needs. It is a rallying cry to all those who believe in the power and the impact of the arts in changing lives in our county.”

Marilyn Scott, author of Surprising Surrey, said:

“During the extensive consultations over the last year some very clear messages came through – the need for better collaboration, networking and sharing of expertise; the importance of placemaking and the enormous contribution culture can make, the value of cultural activity to health and wellbeing in our communities, and of course the need for better support and funding. I hope all of these messages are reflected in the strategy and clear actions that Surrey Cultural Partnership will encourage.”

Dr Rebecca Bowden, Chief Executive, Community Foundation for Surrey, said:

“Our research into the current funding landscape for Surrey makes sobering reading. It is clear that for too long our county has been overlooked by a number of national funders. What is also clear though is the huge variety and vibrancy of the arts and culture sector in Surrey and we believe that there is therefore huge potential to come together to develop a new fund – by and for the sector.”

Sir Vernon Ellis, Chair of New Philanthropy for Arts and Culture (NPAC), said:

“This excellent report underlines the importance of investment in the cultural sector. This will require support from the local community (business, trusts and individuals) as well as from the public purse.”

“Our work at NPAC has shown that there is a real opportunity to raise new philanthropy for the arts on the back of the impact that the arts can make on health, wellbeing, education, and the community. This is best realised by heightening a commitment to place (which this report will do) and providing a framework to attract and funnel financial support (which the new fund will provide).”

Saj Hussain, Chair, Surrey County Council, said:

“We welcome the launch of the cultural strategy and the work of Surrey Cultural Partnership, which is helping towards our vision of Surrey as a vibrant home of creativity. We look forward to continuing to work together.”

About Surrey Cultural Partnership

Surrey Cultural Partnership is working to ensure that everyone in Surrey has the opportunity to participate in, engage with and contribute to extraordinary cultural activity, whoever they are and wherever they live.

Introduced in 2022 as a result of work undertaken by the Surrey Lieutenancy’s Arts & Culture Focus Group, Surrey Cultural Partnership was established to facilitate collaboration, to develop a cultural strategy and to identify opportunities for new investment.

Surrey Cultural Partnership is grateful to Farnham Maltings, The Borrows Charitable Trust, Surrey County Council and Andrew Wates OBE, DL for supporting an initial two-year development period.

To download the strategy at

Images: Captain’s Duties by Chris Pavia at Watts Gallery Photo Callum Graham Robertson and Wonderdusk, 2023 Photo credit John Miller, Surrey Hills Arts