British Council Creative Economy

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Creative Hubs

In an ever-changing global landscape, we recognise that hubs are integral to the sustainability and growth of the creative economy. Our Programme Manager and Global Lead of our hubs work, Lynsey Smith, explains.

Second Home, London

What do we mean by 'creative hubs'?

This has become a nebulus term over the years, but our interpretation of a hub is a physical or virtual place that brings enterprising people together who work in the creative and cultural industries. There is estimated to be 1.2m people working from creative hubs globally (deskmag), generally made up of micro SMEs and freelancers, which represent 85% of global employment and 3.3 million people in the UK(2015).

Creative hubs are made up of many shapes and sizes, from buildings that house creative practitioners and businesses to temporary labs and incubation spaces which ignite innovations, as well as online networks that bring people together through an annual programme of events. While some spaces specialise in a specific sector (e.g. design hub), others welcome a wide range of disciplines together; and can be as small as a handful of people or as large as a 3,000 strong tribe. 

Every creative hub is as unique as a fingerprint, as its model is determined by its geographic placement, cultural context, community requirements and unique funding model. Creative hubs have ultimately become 'nests for freelancers and micro SMEs to gather' (Prof. Andy Pratt: City, University of London).

Hubs are people focused and are facilitated by trusted individuals who are well connected in the sector(s) - referred to as 'hub managers' or 'hub leaders' - that broker, maintain and curate relationships among their community.

The Tara Building, Dublin

How we work with hubs

The Creative Economy team have worked with over 800 creative hubs globally, since 2014. We see hubs as playing an integral role in the growth of the creative economy, gathering and representing creative communities. Hubs have featured greatly in our programming - as partners, collaborators, producers and researchers. If one hub manager represents a community of 200 creatives, then think of the audience you have access to when you have a conversation with just 5 hub managers.  We see hub managers as gateways and connectors, between public and private, grass roots and policy. We also see them as leaders.

We have worked with partners like: the European Commission on our £1m European Creative Hubs Network programme; Indigo Trust to support civic tech projects through creative hubs in Uganda and Ghana; Hivos and Nesta to develop a global Creative Hubs Learning Programme (coming soon); Open° for our Creative Hub-Making forum in Vietnam; and the Great Britain Campaign and Atolye for our Building Creative Communities event in Turkey. We have also worked with hubs like: The FuseBox, The Whisky Bond and The Trampery to curate creative hub exchanges between the UK and Southern Africa

Read some of our interviews with UK hubs: The Trampery (London), Creative Dundee (Dundee), Roco (Sheffield), The Whisky Bond (Glasgow), CodeBase (Edinburgh), Makerversity (London), Chapter Arts Centre (Cardiff), Lighthouse (Brighton), Watershed (Bristol), Blick Studios (Belfast) and Eighty81 (Derry-Londonderry).

Village Underground, Lisbon

Creative Hubs are so much more than just a home for creatives

Creative Hubs have been around for the last century, but it's within the last ten years that they have truly become a fast growing ecosystem across the globe. Beginning with disused space from a post-industrial society, hubs have grown in all shapes and sizes, housed in structures that were previously factories, ammunition manufacturers, whisky bonds, shipping containers and office buildings.  And while the physical world of hubs has expanded, so has the digital world, with many virtual hubs on the rise. 

Many hubs provide a wide range of services including: business start-up and development support in the shape of workshops and mentoring; prototyping and fabrication space; networking and events; research and development. They also have an impact on their external environment, regenerating urban and rural areas, while acting as lighthouses for invisible communities.

Being part of a hub makes freelancers and micro SMEs feel part of a larger picture, without it necessarily meaning that they have to be part of an organisation.  Freelancers and micro SMEs, who would normally work from home, are able to connect, collaborate and share with other like-minded people.  Being part of a community increases freelancers' confidence, experimentation, collaboration and growth. Together they can pitch for work, access resources and tools, inspire one another and attract investment as a collective of disciplines.

Atolye, Istanbul

Hubs can be more than a home for creatives, they can also be a voice for the sector or political landscape. Creative Dundee, a creative hub in Dundee, helped to gather thousands of people's opinions about what it would mean to become the UK City of Culture in 2017 via their WeDundee campaign, which fed directly into the bid; while in 2011, Cogite, a creative hub in Tunisia, was set up after the revolution to bring social entrepreneurs together in one place, in order to help design the country's transformation. 

In Sub-Saharan Africa, general office spaces are very costly, whereby tenants required to provide anything up to a years' rent as deposit. The ermergence of creative hubs across the continent are starting to bypass this, whereby the person running the hub takes on the relationship with the land lord, while the creatives are able to sign up to risk-free, affordable desk spaces in the hub - that do not require significant depsosits. Creative hubs are playing a major role in the growth of the creative economy here, ensuring that creative minds are not stagnated by horrific costs.

SA-UK Hub Exchange programme with hubs from Botswana, South Africa & Zimbabwe

Hubs in context: policy and mapping

The Creative Economy team has also worked with policy makers and researchers to help map and understand this sector, while also creating free resources for emerging or established creative hubs. We have mapped and surveyed creative hubs in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Europe and are in the process of mapping creative hubs across a variety of countries in Southern Africa.

We have developed a free toolkit, by hubs for emerging hubs, in the shape of the Creative HubKit, which has now been translated into numerous languages and utilised globally. And we commissioned research into the definition, value and impact of creative hubs 'Creative Hubs: Understanding the New Economy'.

As mentioned above, we are in the process of developing a Creative Hubs Learning Programme with Hivos and Nesta, which we hope to be live as we move into 2018.

Hubs operate in different ways to institutions of the past. Their uniqueness, their newness and their nimble nature, which act as their strengths, also act as their biggest challenges, as many people find them hard to define and grasp. However, they play a crucial role in the future of the creative economy - boosting economic value, incubating product and service innovations, experimenting and challenging new ways of working and thinking, as well as being an advocate and a voice for the sector.