Lindsey Hall on the creative economy and inclusive growth

Jun 21, 2018

Plymouth has long been a city of makers, with a proud history of manufacturing everything from bedsprings to chewing gum and war ships. In recent years, we’ve seen a resurgence of the creative energies that built these industries. From cyber security to award winning TV, West End hits to nationally recognized heritage developments, Plymouth is playing an active part in the growth of the creative industries, one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK economy.

At the same time, we are leading the way in our commitment to inclusive growth. The Plymouth Growth Board which brings together the public, private and third sector is determined that as our economy grows, the benefits need to be felt by everyone, especially those with the lowest incomes.

The same challenge exists for the creative economy – as it grows, how do we increase diversity, reaching those that have much to contribute but may not see themselves as a natural fit. And there is plenty of good news.

In Devonport and Stonehouse, areas that have struggled hugely in recent decades, creativity is the DNA of much of the development currently underway. Big building projects include the Plymouth School for Creative Arts working in innovative ways to nurture the creative capabilities of future generations; Ocean Studios, creative maker space in the Royal William Yard; and just starting, the re-purposing of the Market Hall in Devonport as an immersive technology centre with a state-of-the-art, immersive virtual reality dome. All of these are or will become the focus for energies that not only build the creative economy but actively connect to local communities, building new pathways into 21st century industries – some that exist and some to come.

But bricks and mortar only go so far. Critical to all success are people – energetic, creative people who and, particularly in Plymouth, ethically driven people, who want to apply their individual entrepreneurialism to creating great creative businesses that also make a social impact.

The list is long and diverse; Street Factory champion street dance and create opportunities for young people with multiple challenges; Effervescent make thought provoking exhibitions and work with marginalized groups, such as young people in care; Column Community Events develop activity to animate unused public spaces; and Nudge Community Builders bring creative energy to spaces in Union Street.

Why now and what drives Plymouth’s creative ecology?

There are lots of reasons why a more inclusive creative ecology has emerged. At its heart it is a collaborative ecology bound together by commitment to the place we live and work.

It is about numerous partnerships – Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth Culture and RIO coming together to enable emerging makers to develop an artisan souvenir range for visitors under the banner of ‘Made in Plymouth’; Plymouth School of Creative Arts offering unused space to creative companies gave Street Factory a springboard and connections supporting their ambition to build the first Street Dance Theatre; RIO, Plymouth University, City College, DHSB and several digital companies driving the Market Hall; Millfields Trust and Plymouth College of Art working together on a textile manufacturing initiative.

Underpinning it all is generous leadership through a variety of networks, the majority of which are not sector specific but understand that creativity and the creative economy has to be embedded right across the city. It is as relevant to discussions at the STEM forum as it is to the Growth Board, Plymouth Culture, the Plymouth Social Enterprise Network or the Chamber of Commerce.

As the fourth industrial revolution grows, our collective creativity is ever more important and we have plenty of great examples of Plymouth leading the way. The challenge is never to forget the connections between the furthest edges of experimentation and our local communities. It is brilliant that the first autonomous sailing boat is the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) and as important that 6 groups of young people will be building their own smaller versions and competing in the first Plymouth Robotic Sailing Championship. Amazing that Plymouth based companies such as The Moment, IOTEC, Bluescreen IT and Sponge are global players in digital creative industries, just as important that young people from Efford participate in Dataplay.

Make no mistake, we still have a long way to go, but let’s continue to grow an ecology that continually connects success to all communities, creating benefit across the board. Then we will truly have an inclusive, creative economy