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Over the last few weeks, we have been asking some of the team behind the waiting room what they want from the project. This is so we can create a clearer shared vision and to enable us to better support one another on our personal journeys.

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Image from Creative Review coverage

After 18 months of nurturing retail start ups, the Hidden Kiosks will draw to a close. With the pending Bus Station move, the Creative Coop decided it was time to take a fresh look at the much coveted Waiting Room building…

Despite efforts by many, the St Botolph’s Quarter isn’t quite a destination as yet. And my feeling is, when Colchester’s travellers depart along with the Bus Station, things are only set to get tougher. What ever happens next needs to pack a punch.

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Image courtesy of Faye Savage

Those of you who know me, understand I am passionate about encouraging cross discipline collaboration between 'the arts' and the 'creative industries' - or mixing tidy desk based people with messy warehouse types.

Therefore I am pleased to share that from 1st June, The Creative Coop will be setting up an Outpost at the infamous Buffalo Tank - an independent arts Community based on the Hythe Quay - Colchester’s newly labelled ‘Degeneration Zone’ ;)

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Colchester is at a critical point in a stuttering regeneration. When the Borough embarked on its vision to create an identity for Colchester centered around Culture and the Arts, we lived in a very different economic climate…

Times are tough, but I personally celebrate the opportunity the recession has thrown up, for less established organisations like mine, working at grass roots.

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Unity Hall - Conference Hall Photograph: The Co-operative Group

So for a long time I have felt that a ‘Community Share Issue' could be the ideal way of raising Capital in a tough climate, to start the process of refurbishing the Old Police Station, recently acquired by Colchester Borough Council. 

Their hope is to seek top level funding and investment to transform the building into a ‘business centre’ that sits right at the heart of Colchester’s Cultural regeneration and puts the town on the cultural map.

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I need to get something off my chest…

After Party Paramedics on Channel 4 last night, in the words of Ben Howard, “Colchester was ‘trending’ (on twitter) for all the wrong reasons.”

In the aftermath this morning, I received yet another email in my inbox saying that Colchester needs a brand. I guess, to counter the negative binge drinking culture that programmes like these portray.

As someone who works in branding and communications,  you would have thought that the idea of branding my home town would be something to make me wet my pants. But instead, it makes me feel rather sick…

Colchester doesn’t need a brand, it needs authenticity. The idea that we can concoct some kind of fast track, image with a top down approach, and just sell it to the outside world really irritates me.

This 1980’s corporate approach to a social problem is the reason we’re losing the ongoing battle to shake of negative perceptions. What we’re lacking in is community.

A town is a home not a commodity. Colchester is a place where people come to live, work and play; a place with a rich history, stunning heritage, diverse culture and yes indeed, real life social issues, some of which were depicted on TV last night.

So if Colchester doesn’t need a brand what does it need?

I touched on it in my last blog post, when people feel connected, great things happen. Colchester doesn’t need a brand it needs an identity. Not something that we manufacture in an office around a table, but instead something organic born out friendships, bonds, collaborations, cahoots and partnerships - a very real, living, breathing and diverse community.

Without wanted to sound sickly and repetitive - it really is quite simple. In the light of negative one-sided publicity, we (the average joe at grassroots) just need invest in what we’ve started. 

If you dont like what you saw last night, get amongst it and support the other side; the festival, SlackSpace, Queen Street or even the SOS bus - let’s play together more often, have fun, shake this town up and see what falls out the bottom…

I am sure the outcome will be far more authentic and attractive than any brand we could create.

Image by: tsevis

As Colchester relentlessly pursues its long-standing vision to turn itself into a significant creative destination, it naturally eyes up the big players that will really have an impact on the local creative economy.

It is assumed that to make big things happen in the town we need big players. For example; big businesses, it is claimed, are essential for the success of the planned Creative Business Centre in the recently acquired old police station. 

As a small business owner and an ambassador for the little man myself, on this occasion, I think it might be true.

However, something is bothering me at the moment… If I ran a big creative business why would I come to Colchester? To be brutally honest, although things are moving, I don’t think I would.

A recent report by consultants Tom Flemming revealed that Colchester’s creative economy is largely made up of one man bands, independent freelancers, professional artists and other such creative practitioners.

So, cash strapped, part way through a regeneration, and with a burgeoning freelance economy, where do we go from here? 

I say take it slow, take the long-term view and invest in what we’ve got. Below are my ideas and a brief summary of why:

1. Networks: Invest in improving our creative networks both on and offline. When people feel connected, great things happen. 

2. Opportunity: Colchester has the remarkably tough challenge of regenerating in an unprecedented economic climate. Rather than accepting mediocracy, turn those challenges into creative opportunities for creatives who live in the town. Take a risk, show faith and be brave, London agencies and consultancies aren’t always best.

3. An independent voice: Formally set up and establish a new independent community led organisation that represents local people. From the views of creative practitioners and business with a vested interest, to the real needs of local people - users and beneficiaries of a regenerated town centre.

4. Space: firstsite’s investment in 15 Queen Street has been rewarded with a burgeoning community. If we can’t attract big business yet, how can we attract the ‘one man band’? How can we extend and grow what we’ve started, and welcome in the new? The artisans, musicians and craftspeople from outside the town and those in existing communities like Cuckoo Farm, Buffalo Tank. Let’s get them into the St Botolphs Quarter, and now!

5. Financial Incentives: A 1969 Dublin style tax exemption would be lovely! But in all seriousness, why are we not at least offering rate relief for any new independent, artisans, musicians, craftspeople and creative businesses looking to set-up shop, studio, restaurant or cafe in the St Botolph’s area of town?

I believe the above will go a long way towards creating the fertile ground for small local businesses to grow; develop the necessary creative scene that can attract big business; and kick-start the completion of this regeneration mountain we have to climb.

Of course, as always, bottom up!