Congratulations Waltham Forest: London’s First Borough of Culture

July 2, 2018

What a rollercoaster – if you’re wondering why I’ve been walking around with a broad smile on my face for the past few months, it’s not just the sunshine. Ahead of Spring, we managed to achieve one of the things we’re most proud of – we helped win Waltham Forest the accolade of first London Borough of Culture.





The London Borough of Culture, inspired by the UK City of Culture and European Capital of Culture, is a major new initiative launched in June 2017 by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. The award offering £1.35 million of funding to each of two winning boroughs (2019 and 2020) to stage a programme of ambitious cultural events and initiatives, and to develop a plan to make culture an integral part of the boroughs’ future.


When announced, there was obviously much anticipation. 22 boroughs put their name forwards, the first of which was … Waltham Forest.




We were lucky to have worked with Waltham Forest before, providing training for them in the summer of 2017. So we already knew exactly why Waltham Forest felt like frontrunners for such an award.


Many people ask me where Waltham Forest even is, and so how can it win the Borough of Culture? Let me be the first to say that the stage was already set before we arrived on the scene. Waltham Forest Council have truly invested (and are continuing to invest) into the regeneration of the area as well as building on the natural heritage and diverse culture it already has.


As for where it is, take a very pleasant one hour cycle out of the city, through Victoria Park and up the canals of North East Zone 2 to find yourself in a Borough filled with cultural diversity and impressive heritage.


Waltham Forest is home to William Morris, Vestry House, Walthamstow Wetlands, God’s Own Junkyard, Alfred Hitchcock, Blackhorse Lane; countless museums, pop up artisanal markets, artist installations and festivals; as well as being the original linchpin of England’s silent film industry from the 1920s. And that’s just off the top of my head.


So it’s no surprise Waltham Forest won when you see what’s on the tin.


Which was our challenge.






We were approached in November 2017 to supercharge Waltham Forest’s digital campaign to win first London Borough of Culture. That’s a month before the bid was to be submitted, and just a few months before the announcement. There was so much happening on the ground already; so many people getting involved; so much willingness for this to happen; and so much they wanted to communicate online. But the social provision was lacklustre. This great work wasn’t coming across online.


So our challenge was to showcase what was already happening, as well as set and hit some key milestones, giving Waltham Forest some structure for what they were doing online; and do enough to get them winning the whole thing.


To do this, after a full audit of just what was happening on and offline, we set three key targets:

  1. Drive as many local residents, artists and businesses to pledge support on the bid website.

  2. Propel Waltham Forest to the top of the online ITV poll, an important vanity metric, seen as the “in the know” criteria for who might win.

  3. Get as many residents, businesses and partner organisations to share content with the Greater London Authority’s chosen hashtag #mylocalculture (as well as the #wfculture19 hashtag)

We managed the three @wfculture19 Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, raising awareness of their presence. We implemented community management strategies to grow their size and get them really punching above their weight. We created custom graphics and gifs. We placed adverts to hit key milestones (skyrocketing Waltham Forest to 1st place in that ITV poll in the space of one weekend). And probably most importantly, we created some permanence to their social media offering, using Facebook Albums, Twitter Moments and the natural “photo album” of the Instagram profile to demonstrate to the Greater London Authority just how many people were getting involved in social.


Finally, we audited, added to and engaged a list of ultimately over 400 influencers close to Waltham Forest, ensuring as much online participation and amplification as possible.






The result was phenomenal. The outpouring of support on the #mylocalculture and #wfculture19 hashtags that came from refining targets and making clear exactly what @wfculture19 was astonishing. We guided the GLA straight to the online assets that showed just how much was happening in Waltham Forest. We launched Waltham Forest to top of the ITV Poll in the space of one weekend. In the end, Waltham Forest had 15,800 pledges on their pop up website.


And, of course, Waltham Forest won. In his announcement speech, Sadiq Khan specifically took time to mention the overwhelming amount of online pledges and support, signalling the importance of the digital campaign.


I’ll say it one more time – this would not have been possible without the fantastic work Waltham Forest had already done in the years leading up to and the months of the campaign. But it does emphasise the importance of digital in doing such a campaign.


And I’ll say this one many more times – Congratulations Waltham Forest! You deserve it. 




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