Created in more than a hundred places

Why the UNBOXED programme engaged communities right across the UK

Publication date

The purpose of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK is to celebrate creativity – not just in one place and not just in cities, but in towns and villages and areas of outstanding national beauty.

UNBOXED is funded by all four nations of the UK and delivered in partnership with Belfast City Council, Event Scotland and Creative Wales. From the start, it was agreed by all partners that the concept was not a single exhibition but about harnessing the creativity right across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, including those areas under-served by major cultural investment.

A lone fiddler standing in front of a green mountain

UNBOXED has created a programme of work that was made in 107 places.  It has been experienced in the Outer Hebrides, at the top of Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon, in Southampton, Omagh and Dumfries, as well as through virtual tours, apps, broadcasts and online.

Earlier this year the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), published its Participation Survey, replacing its annual Taking Part Survey, which ran for 15 years before the Covid-19 pandemic enforced a break. The Taking Part Survey consistently found that as levels of deprivation increase, engagement in the arts decreases. The Participation Survey, which covered the six-month period from October 2021 to March 2022, found that gap had widened as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UNBOXED programme, which ran from March to November 2022, had at its heart the intent to increase participation and saw the choice of the places in which it worked as an important dimension of that.

A full evaluation will follow in 2023, but it is already known that four in five people who saw About Us felt a sense of pride in their community, whilst three out of four agreed it made them see their local area in a new and positive way.

“With UNBOXED, we set out to create a modern and accessible programme, providing free cultural experiences the lengths and breadth of the UK,” said Phil Batty, executive director or UNBOXED. “In doing so, we wanted to celebrate our shared values, strengths and identities to build pride throughout communities. With projects delivering across so many urban, rural and coastal communities; I have seen first-hand the joy and positivity this programme has engendered.”

The result was a rich programme created by thousands, enjoyed by millions in more than a hundred places, as well as through broadcast and online.  The orange chips of Bilston were celebrated. The people of Weston-super-Mare climbed on an offshore rig and literally saw their town in a new way. The folk of North Uist made art about the time a grizzly bear swam from Benbecula and lived amongst them.

Four people in costume standing in front of Blackpool tower


Some of the places where the teams worked


Story Trails worked in 15 towns and cities including Swansea, Wolverhampton, Omagh and Dundee.  Fifty emerging creatives from these towns used BBC and BFI archives to uncover the local history in the area, and then present those stories in the places where they happened using an augmented reality walking tour. They also scanned people in their towns, telling the stories of that place, to create films shown in an immersive cinema.

About Us

About Us was a sound and light show that took place in Paisley, Derry-Londonderry, Caernarfon, Luton and Hull.  At each of those places, local choirs performed to a score created by the composer Nitin Sawhney.  Children from the surrounding schools took part in workshops with the Poetry Society and Stemettes and created work that was included in the About Us shows. Its final show was at the Tower of London, with choirs from all four nations. 

Green Space Dark Skies

Using specially designed low-impact lighting, Green Space Dark Skies created art in 20 National Parks and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – up mountains, on coasts and on broads. It attracted thousands of volunteers, known as Lumenators, who took part in the art through holding the lights in choreographed movements. These were people who do not normally go to these beautiful places, enabling them to claim these spaces to which they can return.


PoliNations transformed a space – Birmingham’s Victoria Square. It created a city-centre garden of magical proportions with giant architectural trees and thousands of plants. It wove the horticultural celebration with a celebration of Birmingham’s diverse population, causing people to look at both in a new way. The garden was planted by hundreds of children and adults from 60 diverse community groups across Birmingham who had grown marigolds in their gardens especially for the project.

The large PoliNations urban garden in central Birmingham


The rig from the North Sea had one location - Weston-super-Mare. In the months before it arrived, extensive work was done with local schools, businesses and community organisations to curate a programme of activity of their choosing. A Think Tank with 812 members was established as a platform for ideas which could be developed around the Monster. One of those ideas was to establish a Tree Planting Forum that decided where in Weston the trees on the Monster would be planted once the installation was taken down.

A programme of four nations

UNBOXED was funded and supported by the four governments of the UK and co-commissioned with Belfast City Council, EventScotland and Creative Wales. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Of the ten projects that made up UNBOXED, six were UK-wide and four, outlined below, were designed to reflect the interests and culture of their nation.


Tour de Moon held festivals of music, cinema, theatre, games and a Moon hotline in Leicester, Newcastle and Southampton and a convoy that visited ten other cities and towns.

It is a programme celebrating nightlife, youth cultures and the moon. The work has been created by hundreds of creatives, aged between 18 and 25, enlisted via an open call.

Northern Ireland

Our Place in Space is co-commissioned by Belfast City Council.  It’s inspired by the need to stop dividing people into “us” and “them” through the perspective that outer space provides.

Our Place in Space is an 8.5km scale model of the solar system designed by the artist Oliver Jeffers with scientist Professor Stephen Smartt and a creative team led by Nerve Centre. It was launched in Derry/Londonderry, travelled to Belfast, North Down, Cambridge and Liverpool and will have a permanent home in Ulster Transport Museum.


Dandelion is Scotland’s contribution to UNBOXED. Commissioned by Event Scotland, it demonstrates the power of collective action through a major grow-your-own food initiative.

The Dandelion programme culminated in more than 500 harvest events across Scotland.

Through partnerships with local organisations, it has created 13 Unexpected Gardens with events in places ranging from Caithness to Stranraer. Children responded to oral histories of their towns and villages by creating food that told those stories, in a programme called the Town is the Menu.


GALWAD is co-commissioned by Creative Wales and inspired by the Well Being of Future Generations Act (2015), putting the rights of future generations at the heart of decision-making.

It’s a new kind of drama – tri-lingual storytelling that unfolded on social media channels in real-time over seven days. Based on the idea of what happens if those in the future make contact with us in the present, it follows Efa’s journey from Swansea, to Merthyr, and culminates in a live broadcast in Blaenau Ffestiniog.

a canal barge with a large horse head sculpture on the roof, with a woman standing on the prow


The stories we are uncovering of the people in Blackpool are truly incredible. I don’t think I realised how much history there is hidden away in people’s memories. It’s been magical.

— Kezi Gardom, emerging creative, StoryTrails

Speaking to people in my local community made it rich with this sort of shared passion. We’re all from the same places, we grew up in these council estates and struggled with accessing the same mental health services. Participation in Tour de Moon gave us a collective sense of drive to make things change.

— Alexis Maxwell, film maker, Tour de Moon
a large audience watches light projects on a castle wall

SEE MONSTER Think Tanks brought community groups that had been previously working in silos together to work on many arts and climate change projects. We now have ongoing community groups that are making a real impact on the look and feel of Weston-super-Mare as well as on climate change.

— Becky Walsh, community manager, Dose of Society, Weston-super-Mare

The creatives told me how being able to make art, at scale, at home was something they’d never thought they’d be able to do. Some have been able to return to Wales from London, because suddenly new creative opportunities have opened up.

— Shirish Kulkarni, advisor, GALWAD

I grew up in Omagh, and my work on StoryTrails has given me an incredible opportunity to understand more about the town through the powerful stories of local characters. The people and places of Omagh and the surrounding villages have so much to say.

— Cat Brogan, emerging creative, StoryTrails
Bagpipers standing on a hill at dusk

I wanted to share my experience of being a Lumenator at the first Green Space Dark Skies during Ramadhan and how it changed the way I see my role as a Steward of the Earth. I'm so grateful to have been part of such a wonderful experience being exposed to all the elements, the lush greenery, the open fields, the visual performances, the choir, the sound of the water gushing downstream. My experience of the Green Space Dark Skies inspired me, so I went about organising Leicester’s first Green Deen Ethical Multifaith Iftar with support from the Green Guardians Leicester, The City Retreat and The Rabbani Project.

— Lumenator, Green Space Dark Skies

A magnificent event. Well done everyone, I have been twice already and took a few friends each night. Utterly mesmerising! Loved it! Hopefully there’s more events locally like this one. Thank you.

— Margaret McMillan, audience member, About Us, Paisley

SEE MONSTER has brought Weston-super-Mare to the forefront of people's minds, with interest in the town reaching across the region and the globe. We’ve seen an upturn in visitors coming to the town centre, with local organisations feeding back that they’ve seen a significant increase in footfall during what historically is a quieter time of year.

— Councillor Mark Canniford, SEE MONSTER