Culture and education have been hit hard by the pandemic, with theatres and concerts dark, museums closing their doors for longer than during World War II and universities closed before re-opening with majority online learning and localised Covid-19 outbreaks to cope with. However, it follows that those hardest hit also have the most to give to and gain from a recovery. The East Bank development underway on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the most ambitious cultural and education new London district for a generation – is a visible realisation of that recovery potential.
The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), of which I am chief executive, is proud to have brought together creativity, innovation and knowledge-sharing from partners including University College London, London College of Fashion, Sadler’s Wells theatre, the BBC and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Construction of East Bank continues and anyone visiting the Park can see the enormous progress made on buildings which will start to open up from 2022 onwards. Investment from the Mayor and national government shows how important this is to London and the UK as a whole.
Take a trip to the park and you will see this is a project of real scale and ambition in terms of the physical homes for those great organisations. But, it is not just about the buildings that will comprise this forthcoming world-class destination – one that takes the Olympic legacy to a new level. It is also about a long-term commitment to east London and to partners who have a mission to tackle inequalities and create opportunities which otherwise would not exist.
Since the project was launched in 2018, East Bank has laid foundations in the community, working with more than 180 local organisations and generating an additional £31 million in research and development grants in the area. Foundation for Future London, the charity created to connect East Bank to the surrounding communities, has secured £10 million from Westfield Stratford City – essential funding for its investment in jobs, training, entrepreneurship, learning, mentoring and business opportunities. All of this work will be built on to deliver East Bank’s vision of opportunity, creativity and innovation.
Today’s investment in culture, education and innovation is an investment in the future. But how do you measure that return on investment? Right now, you can do it through the opportunities and personal stories already created by the partners: free summer school events for local children; programmes up and running and leading to quality opportunities and jobs; community projects taken directly to schools, groups and individuals in east London.
And if outcomes are to be judged in terms of hard figures, East Bank’s updated business case analysis shows that, in terms of economic recovery, East Bank has a major role to play for East London. The benefit to cost ratio (BCR) shows that for each £1 million spend by the public sector there is a projected socio-economic return of £1.7 million between now and 2045. This brings a total return of £1.5 billion to a combination of the UK economy and local residents.
The project supports and secures thousands of jobs in the short and long run in an area hardest hit by the pandemic, including 3,000 construction jobs and, once the site is up and running, more than 1,750 operational roles. The activity at East Bank and beyond is associated with a gross value added contribution of £45 million each year across the economy of the six host (or growth) boroughs. There is also a potential health benefit of £10 million over a 30 year period, as evidence shows access to cultural facilities tends to improve mental and physical health outcomes for individuals and benefits the health system more broadly.
What we can see emerging is a world beating cultural and education offer in the heart of an Olympic Park that is delivering the best ever Olympic legacy – economic benefits, opportunities and initiatives that will change the lives of many thousands of people. We can be proud that something so ambitious sits at the heart of helping London and the UK recover from a pandemic that has hit the cultural and education sectors harder than most.
Lyn Garner is chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation, the body responsible for the evolution of the London 2012 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and its environs.
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