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!