London Creative Network participants visiting Blackhorse Workshop
European Structural Funds have been an important part of UK regional policy for 40 years, providing an estimated £66 billion for regional development programmes and projects since 1975. These funds have been particularly valuable for arts and cultural organisations; from small scale cooperation projects involving a grant of under €10,000, through to large scale programmes of work involving millions of Euros.
Following the Brexit vote, Arts Council England (ACE) published The arts and culture sector and exit from the European Union. This brought together a fresh survey of the sector with existing data to understand what artists and organisations thought the most important challenges would be. Key challenges identified include ease of movement of creative workers, legal and regulatory frameworks, as well as trade (with the EU and other countries). Access to funding was also a principal concern, both for those directly funded and those who benefit from support from European funded programmes.
A departure from the EU, and the likely termination of at least some, if not all, of these funds, is likely to have particular impact on ERDF funded business support programmes for the cultural and creative sector across the country. These programmes look to improve SMEs capacity to grow; provide employment, improve productivity and improve resilience. Where once there was a powerful domestic, UK-wide regional policy, this has largely been whittled away, replaced with divergent approaches to regional development.
ERDF provides a stimulus to combat these divergent approaches. Enabling a contextualised, cross-sectoral ‘placed based’ approach for the arts and cultural sector, the delivery is sensitive and responsive to the needs of the local setting – be it, Cultivator building essential partnerships across the rural South West or StartEast working with their local LEP to deliver its regional cultural strategy. This ‘place-based’ approach was also shown in our research looking at the opportunities the newly appointed Mayors of Combined Authorities have in supporting their local creative industries.
BOP is currently working with SPACE to evaluate the ERDF funded London Creative Network programme - a partnership between SPACE, Cockpit Arts, Four Corners and Photofusion. This is working with London based visual arts, craft, design and photography SMEs between 2016-2018. The programme aims to help micro businesses get to the next level of their business by developing their strategic vision and developing new business skills, production processes, products and services.
Since its start, interim survey findings of participants have illustrated the following early findings:
- Increased turnover - businesses engaged with the programme experienced an average increase in turnover of 15%
- Filling a gap - 66% of respondents indicated that no other support provision offers the same level and quality of support
- Innovation Uplift – 65% of respondents have developed a new product or service
- Partnership working – the four delivery partners recognised the value of working collaboratively, sharing best practice and learning from one another.
What this case study, ACE’s report, as well as BOP’s current evaluation work on the Creative Local Growth Fund illustrates, is that when funding for culture is prioritised, a range of benefits can be created – from the purely economic to the social and cultural. One of the most important aspects of programmes like ERDF is that they act as essential match-funders, stimulating and unlocking vital funding from a wider range of partners including LEPs, City Councils, Foundations. It’s this broad base of funding and partnership building that are necessary in creating tailored place based programmes of sufficient size and scope – and the remit that alternative post-Brexit resources will need to meet.