In order to thrive and meet future social, economic and environmental opportunities and challenges, the UK’s rural regions are developing new models and ways of working for their creative clusters. These differ significantly to those found in metropolitan areas – and consequently policy, funding and support for them needs to be designed differently.

The creative, cultural and ‘createch’ digital sectors depend entirely on ideas, knowledge and talent. As well as relying on creative and technical skills, local and regional creative clusters need a new generation of leaders. As well as being creative entrepreneurs and innovators in their own right, these leaders need to advocate for, collaborate with and convene their peers.

The Leading Forwards Creatively Roundtable took place in July 2021 and was convened by Cultivator’s Creative and Cultural Leadership Development Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

It was attended by delivery partners and stakeholders from across the UK with an interest in creative- and culture-led recovery and renewal in rural regions and chaired by Mandy Berry, Interim Chair CIOS LEP Creative Industries Task Force. 

The Creative and Cultural Leadership Development Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is designed and delivered by the Creative Places team at The Audience Agency (formerly Golant Innovation) with Mandy Berry.  

Summary of discussion points

Key themes:

  • What does leadership mean in the creative and cultural sector? How can we develop the next generation of creative leaders?  
  • How does it form part of broader capacity building helping the sector to respond to significant economic, societal and environmental challenges?   
  • How do creative leadership needs – and responses to them –differ in rural areas to metropolitan ones?  


Cornwall as a leading rural creative economy and the development and delivery of a programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to develop the next generation of creative and cultural leaders.

The rural creative ecosystem  

Making the case 

Rural areas find it hard to compete on many of the traditional measures of success such as GVA and subsequently can struggle to attract the interest of political decision makers. Maybe ‘good growth’ or ‘inclusive growth’ (framed by UN Sustainable Development Goals or long-term commitments to future generations as in Wales) can help explain the different dimensions of added value or enhanced capital resulting from supporting creative and cultural ecosystems in such areas. 

Rural ecosystems and networks are complex. Therefore, the relationship between inputs and resulting changes are ‘non-linear’, with no simple ‘through line’ from inputs (such as assets and skills) and interventions (such as funding or enterprise support) to outcomes – as many evaluation approaches will attempt to model. Interventions may be more about setting conditions for organic developments than top-down shifts. This reliance on the systems self-organising themselves into a better state may not be comfortable for investment cases. Are those who make national policy willing to embrace this?  

There are significant opportunities for big picture problem-solving offered by the cross-sector fluidity found in local rural (nonurban) economies. This experimental approach can generate new evidence for the wider impact of the sector. The view from Wales and Scotland suggested that devolution – and smaller number and layers of decision-makers – provides the flexibility to experiment successfully.   

Social impact  

There is a key role for culture to play in ‘levelling up’ rural areas – where there is stronger social capital and more engagement in culture and creative activities already.  A note of caution around ‘levelling up’ rhetoric that positions places as ‘left behind’: we shouldn’t be using deficit model but thinking about unlocking the value in the assets and capacity that already exists.  

Clusters, hubs and networks  

For a long time, thinking about ‘place’ and ‘creative economy’ focused on the big creative clusters which are usually urban and metropolitan, but recent research demonstrates that companies in micro-clusters are more like to have growth ambitions and have weathered the pandemic better than larger clusters They are also more likely to have extended their reach over the past year and increased investment in R&D.  

Will the lessons learned, changed working practices and/or changed consumer behaviours resulting from COVID allow more dispersed and virtual/digital clusters to succeed?  In a rural region are universities important in substituting for big employers or for critical mass?  

Maintaining networks is harder than starting them, particularly in dispersed areas. The networks are often informal and community-based and as a result  

can miss many funding opportunities. Effective leadership is required to understand how these rural networks, hubs and clusters work – and can be nurtured and developed.  

Leadership in rural areas 

Areas for development

  • Supporting networking, knowledge share and collaboration.
  • Leadership needs to be cross-organisational and interdisciplinary.
  • Positioning creativity as important to innovation in many sectors and not just within arts/culture/heritage or wider creative industries.
  • Responding to a diversity of needs and aspirations.

Access, equality, diversity and inclusion  

There are issues of access to leadership programmes and there is a need to lower the barriers around socio-economic conditions, other inequality, transport etc. Even when access is not an issue, emerging leaders often don’t think of themselves as leaders, so it is hard to get them to apply to such programmes. Possible solutions include asking people to nominate others and running leadership programmes that aren’t titled ‘leadership’?    

There are also issues in accessing work in the sector: 

  • Unpaid and unadvertised internships are a main barrier to less privileged people getting into the arts 
  • Organisations can struggle in recruiting ethnically diverse candidates – rural areas may not be seen as welcoming
  • Organisations need to think about how to support artists they are sending or hiring into rural, non-diverse areas
  • Need to recognise other types of diversity beyond racial diversity – particularly disability
  • Boards have a responsibility to address EDI particularly around new and future leadership
  • Online or hybrid events are important as a response to rural distances, traffic, childcare, accessibility
  • Major issues around housing, particularly for interns but also for professionals  

Developing a new generation of leaders  

Maybe we should start from a much earlier point and think about developing young people as leaders as much as adults. They are creative already and they need to participate in conversations about the future of the sector. 

There are really interesting approaches in Wales and Scotland. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in Wales has given ‘permission’ to innovate and test new ideas. Importantly it means that ministers other than the Education Minister have responsibilities for developing creative skills and aptitudes. In Scotland the SNP manifesto included a commitment to a similar Future Generations Act. Cornwall has a great deal to learn from other nations.  

Creativity is not so central to the English curriculum and increasingly under threat. A possibility in Cornwall might be to take advantage of the (not fully funded) Cornish language and culture strand – but one issue is that it’s often implemented by low-paid freelancers.  

The erosion of the creative education pipeline starts in schools in England and now also in universities. There is a growing idea that arts courses are dead-end or low value, and government policy is in STEM whilst decreasing drastically investment in arts education.  

University graduates have had a traumatic time through COVID and as they may be focused more on survival than leadership. We need to ask how we can best support them.  

Developing the talent pipeline and helping people build meaningful careers in their area is essential. Graduate retention is still a major issue: Cornwall attracts great talent to its universities, but graduate support bodies assume that salaries are going to be very low, and conversations downplay the level of ambition you can have. We need to ensure that we don’t create low-level, low-value jobs by default. 

Funding and investment  

How do we ensure that there continues to be investment in developing future generations of creative and cultural leaders? 

Brexit is a major challenge for future leadership funding and the loss of European funding leaves a very significant gap. However, there are some opportunities such as those provided by the government focus on civic infrastructure, cultural heritage capital and post-Brexit skills development for all ages. 

Much economic policy development still has a traditional model of industry which doesn’t encompass the way the creative sector works and so creates challenges around access to finance, apprenticeships, and enterprise support. 

Capital funding programmes do not bring the necessary revenue to sustain cultural institutions. Local and regional creative and cultural sectors need to take advantage of central government ‘levelling up’ and ‘post-COVID reopening’ funding like the Community Renewal Fund and the future Shared Prosperity Fund. Government is interested in how Cultural Compacts and other local partnerships contribute to the ‘levelling-up’ agenda and their ability to build strategic, partnership and delivery capacity.   

Positioning a region as ‘investable’ is important and this can be done by reflecting policy and funding narratives and looking at policy areas beyond culture and creative businesses, for example, natural capital, the environment etc.  Aligning the work of the creative and cultural sector to deliver on key economic and societal priorities is a way of making work sustainable after project funding is finished.  


We gratefully acknowledge the enthusiastic participation of the following participants. This paper does not represent an official view of them or their organisations.

  • Professor Chris Bennewith, Interim Executive Dean for the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business, University of Plymouth
  • Mandy Berry, Interim Chair Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership’s Creative Industries Task Force
  • Frances Brennan, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Paul Bristow, Director, Strategic Partnerships, Arts Council England
  • Gail Caig, Advisor to Creative Industries Council
  • Kate Danielson, Director, Weston Jerwood
  • Karen Dick, Head of Place, Partnerships & Communities, Creative Scotland
  • Jacob Ellis, Lead Change Maker for Public Affairs and International Relations, Office of the Future Generations Commissioner
  • Professor Patric Eriksson, Visiting Professor of Innovation, Falmouth University
  • Joanne Evans, Creative Industries Impact and Partnership Development Manager, University of Exeter
  • Laura Giles, Managing Director, Screen Cornwall
  • Nick Grimshaw, Head of Partnerships, Creative Industries Federation
  • Lindsey Hall, Chief Executive, Real Ideas Organisation
  • Liz Hemming, Knowledge Exchange Manager, Cultivator, University of Plymouth
  • Emmie Kell, CEO, Cornwall Museums Partnership
  • Rupert Lorraine, Development and Partnership Manager, University of Plymouth
  • Josh Siepel, Lead for Clusters and Access to Finance, PEC (Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre)
  • Tamzyn Smith, Principal Lead for Culture & Creative Industries, Cornwall Council
  • Emily Sorrell, freelance designer/Doorstep, Cultivator Leadership Development Programme
  • Jane Sutherland, Director, Cultivator
  • Patrick Towell, Innovation Director, The Audience Agency
  • Joe Turnbull, Bull & Wolf Film Co, Cultivator Leadership Development Programme
  • Sophia Woodley, Head of Policy Research, The Audience Agency
  • Fiona Wotton, Chief Executive, Creative Kernow

Leading Forwards Creatively 

The Roundtable was convened by Cultivator’s Creative and Cultural Leadership Development Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and chaired by Mandy Berry, Interim Chair CIOS LEP Creative Industries Task Force. 

The Creative and Cultural Leadership Development Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is designed and delivered by the Creative Places team at The Audience Agency (formerly Golant Innovation) with Mandy Berry.  


Cultivator is a business and skills development programme specifically designed to support and grow the creative industries in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Businesses are offered one-to-one consultations with specialist business advisors and can access the programme’s broad range of business and skills development opportunities. Cultivator can provide connections to the academic and technical experts and cutting-edge resources and facilities at the University of Plymouth. 

Cultivator is led by Creative Kernow, and delivered with the University of Plymouth alongside Real Ideas and the Cornwall Development Company. The project has been supported with thanks to funding support from the European Structural and Investment Funds, Arts Council England, and Cornwall Council.