Oliver Goodhall: London’s Creative Enterprise Zones have proved their worth

Oliver Goodhall: London’s Creative Enterprise Zones have proved their worth

Painting over art in children’s immigration centres. Capping “low value” degrees such as in arts and humanities. Twelve culture secretaries in 13 years. A huge reduction in national funding for arts and culture. The value our national leaders place on the creative economy is plain to see.

However, Sadiq Khan has been taking a different tack. The Mayor launched his Creative Enterprise Zones programme in 2017, and leaders and decision-makers across the country have been watching the capital’s progress ever since. Creative Enterprise Zones (CEZs) are a mayoral initiative which designate areas of London in which artists and creative businesses can find permanent affordable space to work and are supported to start-up and grow, and where local people are helped to learn creative sector skills and access pathways to paid work. 

The Creative Enterprise Zones Impact Report, produced by a multidisciplinary team led by We Made That – of which I am a co-founding partner – on behalf of the Greater London Authority, delves into London’s first six CEZs – in Brixton, Croydon, Deptford and New Cross, Hackney Wick and Fish Island, Hounslow and Tottenham – to understand the effect they have had economically and socially.

Rishi Sunak, as a former Chancellor, will no doubt be “totally, 100 per cent on it” in terms of the economic impacts that have been delivered through the zones. They been demonstrably good for jobs, businesses and local economies. They saw a 14.2 per cent net increase in creative sector jobs and a seven per cent increase in creative businesses between 2018-2021, progress far greater than in London overall. A total of 30,441 square metres of new creative workspace was delivered, 589 creative businesses were supported and 27 traineeships and internships were undertaken.

There’s a powerful story of resilience in these creative clusters, especially as the pandemic gave the whole of London a substantial economic shock. During its onset, when London lost 13 per cent of its creative jobs and 3.9 per cent of its creative businesses, the CEZs only saw a 10 per cent loss of jobs and actually experienced a 22 per cent rise in creative businesses.

The study has also revealed no less important social benefits arising from the first three years of the programme’s implementation. We’ve seen how activity has connected local creatives and residents with opportunities arising from regeneration and change. Attaining CEZ status has helped to vindicate developers making financial contributions to encourage creative sector uses.

Leaders of the Hackney Wick and Fish Island CEZ played vital advocacy and promotional roles in protecting and securing space through new development models. In the context of rising land prices, this was key to securing the first Creative Land Trust in London as part of the Hackney Wick Central Masterplan, which will provide affordable creative workspace in perpetuity.

There have also been compelling accounts of new models for diversity and inclusion centred in creative sector growth, which  needs to become more representative of UK society by addressing the under-representation of ethnically diverse communities, people from low-income backgrounds, those with disabilities and women.

This has involved confronting the fact that only 11 per cent of creative jobs in the country are held by people who aren’t white British while 60 per cent of Lambeth residents aren’t. By way of response, Brixton’s CEZ’s ELEVATE Careers initiative focused on connecting over 2,000 young people, of whom 70 per cent identified as coming from a minority ethnic background, to the creative industries. 

Tarek Virani, Associate Professor in the Creative Industries at University of West England Bristol and critical friend to the CEZ evaluation process, sees the potential of clustering in cities across the globe. In the report, he explains how such zones have boosted agility. Whatever the shocks or challenges are, the creative and cultural industries are uniquely positioned to be the first to feel the effects but also the first to begin to adapt – though, of course, this needs investment and support at government level.

The findings within the impact report set out a powerful platform for further support and intervention. Let’s show the Prime Minister and whoever the culture secretary is at the time you read this that London remains a powerhouse for creative invention. As the programme expands, with Brent, Islington and Westminster set to become the capital’s three newest Creative Enterprise Zones, their leaders will now be still better able to maximise their impact for the communities they serve.

Oliver Goodhall is a co-founding partner of We Made That, which you can follow here. Read the Creative Impact Zone Impact Report via here. Photograph from report cover. If you value On London and its writers, become a supporter or else a paid subscriber to publisher and editor Dave Hill’s Substack.

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