Artist hands close up - Cropped for hero - Creative Land TrustPhoto by Georgina Mary Garnett

Making space for art

The combination of Covid and Brexit has challenged every sector of the South East’s economy, but the creative industries have faced particular difficulties. At the best of times it can be a precarious existence for artists and makers in the most expensive region of the UK, and the evidence is plain to see as property prices continue their inexorable rise, outpacing earnings and shortening leases.

Without intervention we face seeing the talent on which Britain’s global leadership in “soft power” is founded start to drift away to more affordable locations in neighbouring countries. Given that nobody locates here because of the weather, we’d be crazy not to focus efforts on perhaps the single most important industry for our long term prosperity.

It’s not just about economics, though. The endless lockdowns of 2020-21 have reminded us all of how much we rely on culture and creatives to make life exciting, enriching, empowering. And not just the people on the screen or in the pictures, but the many thousands of talented artists and makers working to bring artistic visions to life.

Creative Land Trust was founded as a charity to find solutions to this dilemma, and just like Creative Estuary we champion the cause of creativity and seek to provide opportunities for artists and makers to continue and grow their practices. Our patch is London, and our launch funders (Mayor of London, Arts Council England and Bloomberg Philanthropies) have tasked us with securing a thousand affordable studios across the capital over the next five years. This is low cost workspace, available in perpetuity – quite a challenge in our overheated property market.

We can’t do it without partners, and Creative Estuary is really important to us. We’re both committed to the success of the Thames Estuary Production Corridor, a bold initiative to establish London and the South East as the world’s leader for the creative industries, bringing new jobs and skills but also all the benefits of having art and culture right in the heart of our communities.

That means we’ll be overlapping constructively on the banks of the Thames in East London, working together to generate opportunities to secure buildings for artists and makers, and to convince developers, councils and landowners of the benefits of integrating the creative industries in their plans for growth along the river.

One of our first collaborations is a research project to help the arts world demonstrate convincingly to property investors the benefits that culture brings to make places liveable, prosperous and fun. We all know that culture is as important to making places as trees and greenery, but we need to prove that point to persuade the people who hold the purse strings to invest in space for art.

With our partners Get Living we’ve commissioned experts from the property world to look at the way creatives, at home in London, Essex and Kent but also in global cities in Europe and North America, support placemaking or, in many cases, “placekeeping” – where the character and vibe of a neighbourhood makes it a great place to live, work and play. We’ll be publicising the results in the summer.

The good news is that we’re already proving that it’s possible to secure long term, affordable creative workspace in the capital. Creative Land Trust has announced its first acquisition, buying two floors of a new building in the creative hotspot of Hackney Wick – enough room for as many as 180 new studios, protecting the heritage of art and making in the East End of London. The studios will become available to artists later this year.

So we have something to build on. Now we look forward to working closely with partners, in particular our friends at Creative Estuary, to achieve much more of our mission to make space for art.
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Artist studio - Creative Land TrustPhoto by Georgina Mary Garnett
Artist hands close up - Creative Land TrustPhoto by Georgina Mary Garnett
About the Author

Gordon Seabright

Gordon joined Creative Land Trust following almost six years leading the Eden Project, and had previously led the RHS and the national cycling charity. He is passionate about transformations and the impact of the arts on places and communities. Outside work he is trustee of a development charity operating in East Africa and an environmental charity in the UK, and NED of a Local Enterprise Partnership and a community orchard in Cornwall.