Estuary 2021 festival generates over £16.8 million of economic activity for the Thames Estuary region


27 January 202

  • Estuary 2021 generated over £16.8 million of economic activity in the Thames Estuary area
  • Estuary 2021 attracted 208,764 in-person visits:
    • 43% travelled from elsewhere, of which 60% came specifically for the festival 
    • 57% of visits were from local audiences
  • 130 partners included community, arts, heritage, and education organisations, as well as business and strategic partners, including 13 local authorities
  • 90% of audiences stated that their visit to Estuary 2021 improved their perception of the Thames Estuary as a creative and cultural place

Estuary 2021 took place over 23 days from Saturday 22 May to Sunday 13 June 2021. It was the second edition of the large-scale arts festival, curated to respond to and celebrate the lives, landscapes and histories of the spectacular Thames Estuary

Taking place along 107 miles of South Essex and North Kent coastline, online, and on the river itself, at over 94 locations in the landscape, with 66 partner Covid-safe venues and 101 partners, Estuary 2021 attracted 208,764 visits in-person from people living locally and further afield. 

Contemporary artworks, discussion and events explored powerful themes resonant to the estuary through the lens of contemporary concerns, including climate justice, protest and rebellion, imperial legacy and the rich, often overlooked stories of its diverse communities, bringing new audiences to a deeper understanding of the region. 79% of Estuary 2021 visitors found the festival themes important or very important factors in their decision to attend the festival, and of those that cited one of the three themes, 66% cited climate as the theme that interested them most.  

An evaluation framework informed by the festival’s aims and ambitions was established with the external assistance of BOP Consulting, and the evaluation report has been compiled using audience feedback questionnaires, stakeholder feedback and collation of internal and external data.

“Attracting over 208 thousand visitors across 23 days, Estuary 2021 showcased the Thames Estuary as a vibrant, creative, innovative and exciting place to live, work and visit. We are thrilled that the festival has had such a positive economic impact across the region, generating over £16.8 million of economic activity. To have succeeded in welcoming the whole community is a testament to the fantastic artists, partners, team and volunteers, and of course, the endlessly inspiring estuary itself.”  

Andrea Cunningham, Metal Southend Director

“It was a privilege to work with so many talented artists and participants as part of Estuary 2021, and a delight to share their work in some of the many unique landscapes and communities that make up the Thames Estuary. Coming as it did, at a time of deep uncertainty for artists and the arts, the success of the festival was a testament to the creativity and resilience of everyone involved.”

Sue Jones, Cement Fields Artistic Director

“Across Essex and Kent from Southend to Margate, the Thames Estuary has untold creative potential which we are working with passion and determination to unlock and by using culture as the catalyst for growth, helping to build a place for creative individuals and businesses to work, collaborate and grow. 

“Estuary 2021 has been tremendous for our region, both shining a spotlight on, and showcasing the abundance of creative energy, innovation and talent we possess along the length of the Thames. The festival was a huge success, helping us to champion the region, attract visitors and help us to build one of the most exciting creative clusters in the world.”

Emma Wilcox, Director of Creative Estuary

Estuary 2021 contributed to an improved image of Thames Estuary as a creative and cultural place with 97% of audiences who visited Estuary 2021 strongly agreeing or agreeing that Estuary 2021 has been good for the location’s image. 90% of audiences stated that their visit to Estuary 2021 improved their perception of the Thames Estuary as a creative and cultural place.

45 million people were reached through a wide ranging and successful media campaign that saw multiple features, listings and interviews in both national and regional print and broadcast platforms, and reach of over 1.3 million through Estuary 2021 social media accounts.

Estuary 2021 delivered a positive economic impact of over £16.8 million of economic activity in the Thames Estuary area, encouraging visitors to travel to the area. Estuary 2021 generated 208,764 in-person visits; 43% travelled from elsewhere with 60% coming specifically for Estuary 2021. 57% of visits were from local audiences.

Estuary 2021 created jobs, employment, skills and volunteering opportunities with 68 volunteers working on the project. 2 full-time jobs and 56 part-time jobs were created. 248 students took part in skills development opportunities in partnership with 8 universities

Estuary 2021 enabled access to excellent quality art, and supported artistic talent with 97% of our audiences rating the quality of exhibition very good or good. 81% said that they would actively recommend the area and festival to a friend, family member or colleague.

Presenting works outdoors, in public estuary locations and within local businesses (e.g. pubs, cafes and hotels) meant there were multiple points of connection for new audiences. 29 local businesses partnered with the festival, many of whom hosted artworks and/or events.  

Estuary 2021 enhanced the sense of community in the Thames Estuary by creating opportunities for diverse communities to explore the estuary, participate and share experiences:

  • 33% of our audience were from groups considered to be least likely to engage in contemporary culture
  • 93% of audiences strongly agreed or agreed that Estuary 2021 was welcoming for the whole community
  • 92% felt that the event encouraged participation in community life and events
  • 92% strongly agreed or agreed that Estuary 2021 enhanced the sense of community in the Thames Estuary
  • Estuary 2021 delivered 224 workshops/sessions for learning for 2817 participants, and worked with 24 schools  

Estuary 2021 acted as a catalyst for new partnerships and opportunities in the Thames Estuary, supporting the creative community. Estuary 2021 worked in direct partnership with 101 diverse partners, including: 29 community partners, 22 arts and heritage partners, 19 local businesses, 15 higher and further education partner institutions, 14 strategic partnerships, and 13 local authorities.

A huge 86 creative projects were showcased through the Associated Programme, with sixteen 1:1 advice surgeries provided by the Estuary 2021 team, and 3 professional development seminars commissioned by Estuary 2021 to share professional expertise. 


For further information, images and interview requests, please contact: 

Simone Kelly – Samuel Taylor – 

Notes to editors: 

Economic activity and economic impact figures 

These figures have been calculated by The Audience Agency, based on audience attendance and current industry metrics: 

  • Economic activity refers to the overall amount of money that was spent by members of the public due to the project. This includes money spent by participants/attendees in order to take part in the project, and money spent by the organisation(s) delivering the project. Not all economic activity can be categorised as economic impact. See additional information here. 
  • Economic impact refers to ‘new’ money that has been ‘injected’ into the economy of the Geographic Area of Interest (from outside this area) that would not have been present had Estuary 2021 not taken place. For example, all money spent by project participants/ attendees who live within the ‘Geographic Area of Interest’ is excluded from the economic impact estimate – money spent by this group of people is viewed as money which would have been spent in the area’s economy with or without the project. Furthermore, only money spent by participants/attendees who were motivated to visit the area because of the project is included. Similarly, when it comes to working out the economic impact associated with spend by the organisation(s) delivering the project, only money sourced from funders based outside the Area of Interest that is spent on services/products provided by individuals / organisations based inside the area counts as economic impact. 

Estuary 2021 is an ambitious, highly visible and transformational programme of work, linked to an innovative skills programme delivered through a wide range of arts and agency partnerships across the region. It is made possible through Creative Estuary, an ambitious long-term project to develop the Thames Estuary into the world’s largest creative corridor; a world leader for the creative and cultural industries. Estuary 2021 is led by a partnership between estuary-based arts organisations, Metal (South Essex) and Cement Fields (North Kent). / @estuaryfestival 

Metal was founded by Jude Kelly CBE in 2002 working with former Artistic Director and CEO, Colette Bailey since its inception. Metal provides innovative, multi-disciplinary residencies and development opportunities for artists from the UK and overseas, from spaces in Southend on Sea, Liverpool and Peterborough. Interested in how artistic process, and the practice of artists can input into, and influence social, economic and political issues of the day, Metal works with artists, educators, communities, individuals, businesses and agencies across all sectors to create a wide range of activities and projects that include residencies, exhibitions, commissions, festivals, performance, talks, workshops and publications. Estuary 2021 is delivered from Metal’s Southend site and team. Metal is supported using public funds by Arts Council England, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and many other partners. / @MetalSouthend 

Cement Fields is a visual art organisation working collaboratively with artists and communities to create ambitious new art along the Thames Estuary, from Dartford to Whitstable. Cement Fields invites people to collaborate with artists to encounter, research, make, and exchange views on contemporary art, and broadens access to art by creating learning opportunities for young people to develop imagination, skills and find meaningful pathways into creative careers. Cement Fields has grown out of Whitstable Biennale, a visual art festival founded in 2002 with an international reputation for developing experimental new work, often giving artists their first commission, and attracting over 70,000 visitors to each edition. Cement Fields is supported using public funding by Arts Council England, the University of Kent, and other partners. / @CementFields 

CREATIVE ESTUARY has a vision to forge a new future founded on creative energy and innovation, along the length of the Thames Estuary. The project is supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and led by the University of Kent on behalf of a consortium of public sector and cultural organisations. They include the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), Kent and Essex County Councils, the Greater London Authority, 11 local authority areas represented by Greater North Kent and Opportunity South Essex, South East Creative Economy Network (SECEN), University of Essex, Locate in Kent and cultural organisations Metal and Cement Fields. In early 2019 the University of Kent was awarded £4.3m from the DCMS Cultural Development Fund on behalf of the partners. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport funds the Cultural Development Fund which is administered by Arts Council England. / @CreativeEstuary 

About Estuary 2021 curators 

Colette Bailey Executive Director of Women of the World Foundation and former Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Metal.  Colette established Metal as a unique arts organisation within the cultural ecology of the UK. Colette was the organisation’s first Managing Director, Artistic Director and CEO, bringing her extensive experience of working in large scale public areas, exhibitions, participatory design and education projects to all three Metal sites. Over the course of her tenure, Colette established a number of large-scale projects and festivals including: 10 editions of arts and music festival Village Green, the world’s first digital art park NetPark and Estuary festival. 

Sue Jones is Artistic Director and CEO of Cement Fields. Sue has worked closely with early-career visual artists for 30 years to enable and support the making of over 500 ambitious and experimental new artworks. She was Curator and Director of London’s Chisenhale Gallery 1990-2000, before joining Whitstable Biennale as Director. The next Whitstable Biennale will be the tenth edition, and more recently Sue has overseen the organisation’s organic evolution into our new company, Cement Fields.

Jas Dhillon is a multimedia practitioner inspired by the people, script, language, symbolic objects, and poetic experiences, of the love and identity imprinted on her as a first-generation Indian female raised in Kent. 

Elsa James is a British African-Caribbean, conceptual artist and activist living in Southend-on-Sea. Recent projects Forgotten Black Essex (2018) and Black Girl Essex (2019) explore the historical, temporal and spatial dimensions of what it means to be black in Essex. 

James Marriott, writer, artist, activist and naturalist, lives on the Hoo Peninsula, and his forthcoming book Crude Britannia, tells the story of Britain’s energy past, present and future with a focus on the Thames Estuary. 

Lu Williams who through Grrrl Zine Fair has been amplifying marginalised voices with a focus on DIY culture, workshops, intersectional feminism and working class culture since 2015. 

& Roberta Smith The Draw Hope Pavilion. Image credit: Rob Harris
Estuary 2021 map design: Baxter & Bailey
The Water Replies journalers next to murals at Chalkwell Hall Image credit: Paige Ockendon
Audiences enjoy Lore of the Wild, an audio storywalk by Bernadette Russell and Sophie Austin in Lesnes Woods. Image credit: Renata Boruch