Richard Leeming reflects on a wide range of fascinating and impactful speakers' real world examples of how they’re delivering transformative schemes in their local areas.

June 29, 2022
Photo of the author - Richard Leeming

Richard Leeming

One of the few things that people can agree on in British politics at the moment is that regional disparities, socio-economic inequality, productivity and the UK’s overall economic performance need addressing. Whether it’s called ‘Levelling-Up’, ‘tackling inequality’ or ‘inclusive growth’, policy-makers at all levels in the UK are working out how to boost regional economies.

The government is making money available too:

The creative and cultural sectors are one of the UK’s strengths, reflecting the diversity and individuality of our nations and regions. They are playing a very strong role in creating a shared sense of community, pride of place, quality of life and economic opportunity – all of which are themes for these funds.

We in The Audience Agency, with our partners in the Creative Industries Council, also know that the creative industries have a vital role to play in boosting local economic growth and/or economic redistribution, as well as creating good (and green) jobs for the future.

But, place-based policy can’t be top down or driven by the needs of a particular fund. Successful interventions stem from a shared vision and strategy for your local creative (and cultural) economy that can attract support from many sources locally and nationally. Naturally, we believe that this has to be supported by as much evidence as you can gather.

Our recent event, ‘Creative Levelling Up’, featured a wide range of fascinating and impactful speakers giving real world examples of how they’re delivering transformative schemes in their local areas.

You can watch the entire webinar, but here’s a summary of the highlights...

Skills and talent

The cultural economy creates value from ideas, generated and realised by skilled and talented people.

The creative and digital economy is leading the recovery from COVID, both in economic growth and international exports. Yet, in the education sector - from schools through to higher education - creative subjects are being scaled back due to a focus on STEM, as opposed to STEAM. At the same time, education providers at all levels can struggle to engage with a sector made up of SMEs and freelancers. We heard from cross-industry colleagues about their work in addressing this imbalance.

Creative Estuary

Emma Wilcox and Alice Heggie, Project Director and Skills Development Manager of Creative Estuary, discussed building skills across three main areas of activity:

  • Commissioning cultural programme and content,
  • Supporting placemaking and spaces for production,
  • And new models for skills, training, employment in employment and early career support.

Watch Creative Estuary's contribution

Business Growth Hub

We also heard from Sarah Novotny, Head of Digital, Creative and Tech sector business support at the Business Growth Hub, part of the Growth Company, about:

  • Why she focusses on the digital and tech sector,
  • Why the creative sector points the way for other sectors,
  • And the evidence that shows that businesses that are more diverse are more resilient than their competitors.

Watch Business Growth Hub's contribution


While Innovation is part of industrial policy, we know that much of the Creative Sector struggles with innovation. Small businesses are often focused on survival and lack the ability to look above the horizon. Delivering innovation requires collaboration and partnership to create capability that businesses can use. Outside the southeast innovation requires supply chains.

Collaboration Clusters

  • Professor Andrew Chitty, Challenge Director for the Creative Industries Clusters Programme, described how Innovation clusters help with Skills, Access to Finance and Growth support, while driving innovation in local businesses requires alignment with local economic priorities and skills needs and uses partnerships to deliver place-based innovation.
  • Professor Stephen Russell, the Director of the Leeds Future Fashion Factory, Professor Justin Lewis, the Director of Clwstwr and Professor Paul Moore, Director Future Screens Northern Ireland, told us how innovation partnerships are working in their areas.

Watch the Innovation section

Creative Placemaking

Arup City Economics and Planning

The fascinating section on creative placemaking was kicked off by Zach Wilcox, Economist in Arup City Economics and Planning team, who used case studies from Arup’s work as a lens through which to discuss the lessons learned from their support for Towns Fund bids, such as:

  • Using existing assets as a focus and build regeneration efforts,
  • Marrying support for creative industries with existing skills agenda,
  • Using existing creative industries to support consultations,
  • Regenerations bids,
  • Community engagement & business cases
  • And ensuring your area understands how to understand the vision and value.

Croydon Creative Enterprise Zone

He was followed by Marcus Harris-Noble, the Croydon Creative Enterprise Zone Manager who described:

  • How they had kept Croydon’s creative sector alive during the pandemic,
  • The social charter that they have created as part of the CEZ to address diversity and representation,
  • And why diverse voices need to represented at board/decision making level.

Hounslow Creative Enterprise Zone

Bill Boler, the Partnerships Director at West London Business for the Hounslow Creative Enterprise Zone described:

  • The importance of working across council boundaries,
  • How that enabled him to better support local creative industries,
  • And how it has helped residents into work and attract inward investment.

Culture & Community Spaces at Risk

Arman Nouri, the Programme Lead, Culture & Community Spaces at Risk team at the Greater London Authority, described how they provide support to cultural and community organisations at risk for all sorts of reasons.

Watch Zach, Marcus, Bill and Arman

Support from the arts, culture and heritage arms-length bodies

The webinar also heard from arms-length bodies about the work they are doing to align their support for arts and culture and prioritise it where it is most needed or has the most impact. Speakers included:

  • Paul Bristow, Director, Strategic Partnerships at Arts Council England,
  • Isabel Hunt: Executive Director Business Innovation and Insight at the National Lottery Heritage Fund
  • Owain Lloyd-James, Head of Levelling Up and Places Strategy at Historic England

See what arms-length bodies said

How best to position creative and cultural within wider funds

Finally, the webinar heard how councils can structure successful bids for funding:

  • Eleanor Rees from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Creative Economy discussed the Create Growth Fund,
  • Chris Taylor from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities talked about the UK Shared Prosperity Fund,
  • David Legg, Innovate UK Regional Manager talked about funding and wrap around support,
  • And Katie Harrison, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, described the Levelling Up Fund.

Watch wider funders' contributions