Dedicated Creative Quarter at Claremont?
A few weeks ago I raised the possibility via the Yahoo group Hastings Creatives, of establishing an Open Studios weekend in Claremont, inspired by a similar event in Folkestone. Subsequently, I have explored the potential to establish Claremont as a Creative Quarter in a more formal way. Why? Is this even possible? Richard de Pesando reports.
I’m a self-employed designer, one of several working from a studio in The Printworks in Claremont, part of a wider community of local design professionals – illustrators, digital artists and practitioners in film and media – clustered around the Claremont Triangle. There have been studios and creatives here for years.
Recently we have also seen a renaissance in diverse, high-quality independent retail and social spaces that complement the Robertson Street drag and act as a bridge between the more focused Old Town and the creative community of St Leonards. It’s impossible not to have noticed the increased footfall from the pier – and Claremont is a special place in its own right, with spectacular history and architecture, and a unique layout that sees it as the natural apex of thoroughfares with a 360-degree vista, despite being on the seafront.
All of this has been self-generating and self-sustaining. Even new developments, such as Rock House, the ever-morphing Observer Building and the Pier (and eventually the new library) have worked together to reinforce the unique feel of Claremont. So, in one way, a ‘Creative Quarter’ already exists – and in some form has existed for some time within the administrative structure of HBC (Policy CQ1 – Cultural Quarters), but not as a visible entity in its own right.
Across the UK, many formal Creative Quarters or Districts exist, bolstered by the huge impact the creative economy has on industry, tech and digital and supported by further and higher education. Generally, there has been huge investment – either as a commercial or heavily funded model – creating successful but engineered districts. ‘Someone’ has identified an opportunity and found the resources to bring it to life.
Creative Districts serve to nurture talent, give breathing and growing space to young independents when they need it most and act as a beacon, supporting retail and tourism. Of course, this makes for an excellent business model. And here’s the ‘Hastings’ angle: we are a town of self-starters, independent-minded, ambitious insiders and outsiders; we already have a Creative Quarter in all but name – so why not celebrate that and bring it to life?
I don’t need to tell anyone in the creative industries that small businesses, sole traders and independents are having a very difficult time now – not least because of economic uncertainty caused by Brexit – and as we are usually at the end of a long economic food chain, we’re very vulnerable. Investment or funding from any source is almost impossible for SMEs or comes with unreasonable restrictions, and generally isn’t what we are looking for.
Establishing a Creative Quarter would support us all, not just symbolically, but potentially giving us better representation as a body, a stronger community profile, projecting a better understanding of how much talent is on offer here, potentially enabling us to influence planning and other environmental issues – and hopefully influence the types of new businesses and developments that may want to move into the area, keeping the unique mix and independent nature of Claremont.
Additionally, other entities – such as HBC – may find that it supports bids for larger infrastructure projects, and may open the door to grants and other support across disciplines. It’s possible that if we were better represented, we could have decent quality commercial broadband, rather than having to invest huge sums of our own money.
Plus we need to attract digital SMEs to Hastings as a resource for us all – and find ways to encourage graduates to stay here after they earn their qualifications, rather than migrate away to metropolitan centres. We have to stop young, talented people from leaving Hastings because they don’t feel they have any opportunities, and don’t believe that they can flourish here.
As a creative community, we already bring a great deal of prestige and money into Hastings, employ locally and support the wider micro-economy. We also need to compete directly with towns like Brighton, Folkestone and increasingly Eastbourne and Bexhill. It is very difficult to persuade clients to invest in design practitioners in Hastings when the town has almost no industry profile and a bad habit of talking itself down. We’ve not the poor relation of the South Coast, let’s ditch that once and for all.
Speaking on behalf of the people I have already consulted, we all want to work here, not commute to London or Brighton, and our desire is to bring in new investment and opportunities for the whole creative community.
Over the last few weeks I’ve canvassed local businesses, practitioners, business groups, etc, and have had early some exploratory contact with HBC – and I’ve been looking carefully at other creative business districts in the UK, how they are established, governed and perform.
I’m in the process of putting together a pitch proposal and talking to people within Claremont to try and establish the best way forward. One of the things I need to do now is to evaluate the minimum cost implications, how this could be funded, how we can contribute and work together, work out what we need and what we can achieve. It could be something as simple as just signage or a pocket map – or a much more substantial stand-alone CIC. I’m open to suggestions and feedback.
This proposal is currently based on the geographical reference rather than any specific trade. Although there are mostly design/digital/illustration and architecture practitioners here now, it must be a totally open door to anyone in the creative industries.
Additionally – it’s not designed as a networking / communication / mentoring / management type model: we’re generally all sole traders already trying to run our own businesses and we’re trying to grow a community naturally and not engineer one. And Hastings Creatives already provides a model for networking.
The whole creative community of Hastings and St Leonards is spread across a wide area and there is a huge opportunity to use this symbolic ‘meeting point’ to encourage social connections, skill share, networking events, open studios, street markets and all sorts of events and initiatives that benefit everyone.
I’m looking at how this can be done digitally or potentially with something that becomes part of the creative calendar, or potentially through creative networking groups like Glug who are already very active in Brighton, although we need to improve how we project ourselves to make this happen.
If you would like to contribute, have any comments to add or would like to talk to me further, please feel free to contact me and share your thoughts via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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