Creative Estuary brand architectural pattern 8Orange Pattern

Half year update

Our Director Emma Wilcox reflects on the past six months before, many of us head off for a summer break

Estuary 2021 Evaluation

At the beginning of the year Estuary released the festival’s final evaluation report, produced with the support of BOP Consulting and the Audience Agency. The report showed a total £6.5m of “new” money has been injected into the Thames Estuary region as a result of the festival. The festival helps us to champion the region, attract visitors, and contribute to building one of the most exciting creative clusters in the world. We are now working, with support of a small external advisory group, to develop the model for the next iteration of Estuary in 2025.

Creative Estuary Co-commissions

Our co-commissioning programme continues to develop opportunities for estuary-based artists and creative organisations to create ambitious new work with and for our communities. Lauren Martin, co-Founder of Things Made Public, wrote a blog post telling us why projects such as Creative Estuary Co-commission, Our Towns: Climate are essential for enabling people to make positive changes where they live.

Lauren Martin Photo Credit Things Made Public
INSA 8 Photo Credit Doug Gillen

Relocate campaign

In March, to support and promote the talent and creativity in the region, we launched our Business Directory. The online directory is the go-to place for anyone working in the industry, showcasing the breadth of creative businesses and talent in the region. It has been designed to help identify the amazing creative talent and supply chain businesses within the footprint of the Estuary, and allow companies based here to find each other and work together. Estuary based businesses have responded very positively with nearly 200 sign-ups already.

The Relocate campaign featuring our Property Portal and the Creative Estuary Business Directory, rolled out across Instagram and LinkedIn, display advertising on targeted websites, PR and email announcements.


Content development

Alongside this a range of new content has been developed for the website and social media, including the latest Champions interviews and guest blog posts including by Jason Jones-Hall, Director of Five10Twelve who leads our Peer Learning Network. He reflects on the two sessions he chaired for the Creative Coalition, on ‘Creating cultural centres outside London’ and ‘How can culture engineer the levelling-up agenda?’ which we took part in.

Jason Jones-Hall, Director of Five10Twelve
Champion: Peter Hogg
Champion: Gavin Cleary

Creative commissions

In March the Princess Essex tour began, a co-commission with Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. This project builds on our ‘Tales from the Thames’ commission with them last year and is based on the little-known, true story of Princess Dinubolu and was written and performed by Anne Odeke.

Another new work which emerged from Tales from the Thames, was the brilliant immersive theatre performance (with delicious food!) Rice & Peas a Blouse and Skirt Production performed at Metal’s  Chalkwell House, Southend. If you missed you chance to see it, then please look out for the Blueprint ‘festival of new ideas’ in September for another opportunity.

In April People Dem Collective, a community organisation based in Margate joined forces with Creative Estuary. They will be connecting with audiences, artists, curators, and creative spaces throughout 2022 to explore the Black, Brown and Diaspora experience within arts commissioning and programming. Check our website for events happening across the year and save the date for their symposium in Margate on 13th October.

Another date for your diary is 5th-8th October when our co-commission with Icon Theatre will deliver The Ballad of St John’s Car Park. This important immersive and site-specific theatre production, by renowned Icon Theatre, brings a professional creative team, a community ensemble of over 200 people and Icon’s award-winning young people’s programme Theatre31 into collaboration. Icon also host one of our Re:Generation 2031 creative work placement roles, which will support delivery of this exciting project.

In another great example of our Sparks working together The Radiophonic Institute’s Estuary Sound Ark, a major new mass engagement co-commission, is getting underway on the estuary shores of Kent and Essex – exploring the sounds of the area. To support and drive the project’s creative development, 10 local people between the ages of 18 – 25 have been selected and will undergo skills development and training in collecting sounds and creating new compositions with the support of Matthew Herbert, the Team at The Radiophonic Institute, the department for Music and Audio Technology at The University of Kent in partnership with Regeneration 2031.


© The Radiophonic Institute
The Ballad of St John's Car Park (c) Manuel Vason

Skills and Workforce development

Our Re:Generation 2031 programme continues in its ambition to develop the next generation of cultural and creative leaders. There are now 28 paid, entry-level work placements set up with 25 creative and cultural organisations The team have worked with 33 different organisations and 40+ individuals to support delivery and developed 6 new practice-based training programmes, enrolling 58 young people onto them. Through our Estuary Ventures project, 5 budding entrepreneurs from Mid Kent College have been awarded seed-funding to develop creative enterprise ideas, with mentoring support in connection with Creative Mentor Network. Six young people have been recruited to the Young Pioneers programme run by Creative Basildon. 

The Make Waves producer training programme in partnership with Ideas Test is one of the six new training programmes and it’s in full delivery mode. Their activity includes a short film revealing the hidden history of Medway, a 1-day spoken word & activism workshop, an interactive seminar exploring the relationship between stress and creativity, an improvisational workshop using music and poetry to inspire art making and ‘A Taste of Culture’ Festival celebrating local cultures through music, fashion and art, with more events to come in the next few months.

Turner Contemporary Emerging Producers
Young Pioneers

Cultural Co-location

As you know we are always keen to learn with and from others and in April the Cultural Co-location Advisory group took a study visit to The Wilds at Barking Riverside. A really innovative co-location project that includes waste processing, community café, workspace and stunning gardens. We heard from Lisa Dee, Head of Film at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham about the progress of the Eastbrook studios and plans to invite over 700 school children to come and hear about careers in the creative industries. Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham and Board member of the Thames Estuary Growth Board joined us for lunch and gave an inspiring talk about his vision for the Borough and the emphasis he places on the residents and community.

Samer Bagaeen wrote up the visit for LDN Collective whose founder, Max Farrell Chairs this Advisory Group. We are hugely grateful for our Advisory Board members who amplify and share our work and our ambitions through their networks in this way. Max even took the Creative Estuary message to MIPIM this year for which we are very grateful!



And this leads nicely to one of the key moments for us so far this year. In May Creative Estuary proudly took the message of the value and importance of creativity and culture in high quality placemaking to the inaugural UKREiiF in Leeds. We shared our vision of harnessing the power of culture to drive the creative and economic evolution of the Thames Estuary, attracting investment and driving inclusive growth and place-making.

We worked closely with the UKREiiF team to ensure that the cultural and creative industries could bring their innovative thinking, economic clout and partnership-working expertise to this high-profile conference and to over 6000 attendees.

I was delighted to Chair a session on the opening day on the subject of “How do historic and heritage places Level Up” which you can watch back here.

On the final day, I was proud to convene and host a national roundtable to explore the role of culture in levelling up. Our panel which included developers and master-planners, a social housing association, two cultural trusts, placemaking experts and consultants and Arts Council England, explored the potential of the UK’s cultural and creative industries to fulfil the ambitions of our communities. And it was fantastic to be part of the larger Thames Estuary delegation led by our envoy Kate Willard.

Image credit: Roger Moody / UKREiiF


Another highlight of the year was an invitation by the Global Cultural Districts Network and Samoa to speak at Chtiiing! in Nantes. I took the opportunity to spend a few days on a study trip with colleagues and we came away inspired, energised and full of ideas that we can use in our own region.

We were particularly struck by the re-use and re-purposing of historic and post-industrial assets and the bravery, plus (their word) ‘audacity’ of Samoa’s approach to culture-led regeneration on an epic scale.

Thea Behman wrote up the trip brilliantly here. I think we will be adopting ‘audacity’ as our new mantra. And on our last day we were give a sneak preview of the next major space that will open later this year, a “Creative Factory” of innovation, prototyping and production. It can only mean one thing – a return visit to see it in action!

Les Machine. Nantes
Co-working space in an urban farm
Lucie Renou, Samoa. The “Creative Factory”


And another invitation from the Global Cultural Districts Network saw our Chair Sarah Dance give the opening keynote in Lugano at their annual convening and took part in the panel discussion “That was then, this is now” chaired by Andy Schulz Vice President for the Arts, University of Arizona and alongside Rachel Moore President & CEO, The Music Center in Los Angeles.


I hope you will agree that our ambition, our impact and delivery is reaching far and wide.

And we don’t plan to let up! Looking ahead we have a very busy autumn, not just with our programme of co-commissions, but we will also deliver a symposium on 6th December in Worcester sharing the learning from all 5 CDF Round 1 projects. As well as that we are working on an event (date tbc in November) to bring together learning from our work around securing cultural infrastructure.

That really is only a fragment of a few key moments and milestones to give you a flavour of the range and reach of our programme of work over the past six months. As ever this would be impossible without the amazing work of our project leads on each of the Sparks and the support and guidance of all of our Advisory Groups, external Chairs and partners. I am very grateful for their ongoing support, wise counsel, energy and time.

Creative Estuary is supported using public funding by The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport which is administered by Arts Council England