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Building creative districts and place alongside the film industry

Above: panel discussion on skills and support for the creative sector at the BFI with (from left) Gavin Poole of Here East, Fred Pilbrow of Pilbrow & Partners, Jennifer Daothong of Lewisham Council, Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum, Paul de Carvalho of 3 Mills Studios, and Adam Calvin of VERB (for HOP Bedfordshire - on screen)

Future Cities Forum's third panel discussion at the BFI gave a focus to the need for building more creative districts in the UK while attending to skills training for the film industry and supporting artists.

Lewisham Council's Acting Chief Executive, Jennifer Daothong, spoke of the emerging artists' scene away from west London:

'I guess there is now a history of artists moving eastwards. I have been here about 18 months and it is incredibly important to help provide space for creatives to boost the London economy. Where new groups of artists arrive, new creative ideas flourish and we need the big partners to invest and commit to that. Mid-century the Windrush families arrived in Lewisham and it is those communities who should benefit. We need to provide platforms for others to succeed and the Mayor of London has done much in that area. Artists are incredibly good at getting the word out and it has helped that Lewisham and Deptford have become London's first Creative Enterprise Zone. But we have to cultivate it. Expanding participation across the arts can be difficult - it can seem like a closed shop to some. Despotic regimes always close down artistic expression and there has been a history of radicalism in Lewisham. We must provide opportunities for cultural expression that are representative of those living in the borough and with language that resonates with them.'

Above: Here East campus on the Olympic Park, Stratford (courtesy of UCL / the Bartlett)

Could the developments at Here East be accused of adopting outside investment and companies that do not resonate with local communities? Here East CEO, Gavin Poole, responded:

'No, I don't think so. It has taken a lot of work over the last eleven years and courage from the owners and investors to listen to us at Here East when we have declined (potential occupier) offers because it doesn't fit in with the vision of the community or the educational future that we want for the site. If we deviate from our vision, we are off message and we need to continually commit to that. That is where we drive the value from my shareholders and providing what we think is appropriate. We are about regeneration for social change - social change using buildings. Our biggest cohort of students are the newer diverse. Yes, we have the Bartlett (School of Architecture) here but we are also providing courses in music and dance, esports and animation, apprenticeships not just degrees and for young people who may be the first in their families to go to university. Teeside University is opening up this year with courses in AI, the Metaverse and the virtual world.

'We wanted to include the existing communities in the place from the start bringing F&B and retail in and opening up well before the site started to emerge and supporting the community by creating democratic streets. Everything we do is only with the permission of the community and the boroughs. We have a lot of community engagement. We have insight days when five hundred kids come in to see what opportunities there are.'

Above: CGI of remodelled and restored EMD Granada Cinema in Walthamstow (Pilbrow & Partners for Soho Theatre Group)

Fred Pilbrow, Founding Partner of architects Pilbrow & Partners joined the panel to talk about working on cultural districts with local authorities and developing film studios at Here East:

'Walthamstow Council has responded to my and Soho Theatre's case to save the old theatre in the town which is now going to be a national centre for comedy but other experiences such as with Tileyard in Islington have been more difficult. When we talked to the council about bringing in four hundred music businesses they really just wanted light industrial concerns. They were not keen on culture and sometimes you wonder whether the planning system is fit for purpose.

'At Here East in east London you can see a unique creative pulse and dynamism and where a major sound stage offer that we are working on might be good. We have a great team including Stufish working on it and we are looking at how to re-construct existing buildings in a cost effective manner. We are researching the existing facilities and developing a prototype of a new sound stage with the need for privacy, but also a sense of place where crews can relax and enjoy working.'

Above: Aerial shot of 3 Mills Studios in east London (from 3 Mills Studios - picture credit - John Fielding)

Do producers and film crews prefer working in heritage sites because of the attractive environment provided by old buildings or newer builds - a question put to Paul de Carvalho, the General Manager of 3 Mills Studios in east London?

'We are a former gin distillery dating back to 1775 and the feedback that we get is that people like working on the creative island out here, walking down the cobbles and knowing that this place has a long history. Crews mostly come from east London to work here and it has been positively hired to about 95% of capacity over the last 12 years, since I have been managing it. Most of the crews live in the area and stock motion films are carried out there.

'It is a 250-year old site so difficult to make sustainable and there is a lot to improve. Unfortunately, power operating is done through generators. All our clients want to know what we are doing about sustainability, so we are keen to work on that.

'It is all about creating a sense of place at the end of the day. Twickenham has the slogan 'home for film makers' and people love being there. Ealing is an exciting creative hub. Ultimately we have to build creative places that attract people and where people want to make content.'

Above: CGI of proposed Home of Production (HOP) film studios campus in Bedfordshire (Scott Brownrigg)

VERB's Development Solutions Director, Adam Calvin, contributed to the panel discussion about creating a real sense of place where film crews can relax on film production sites:

'There is a lot of movement in the real estate space around film at the moment and it is a hot sector to be working in. We have been working at HOP in Bedfordshire and there are certain factors that we are trying to push the boundaries with to create better spaces. If you look at Pinewood it is extremely successful but it is inefficient, the power goes down and that means that hours in the day are lost, and it is felt by individual crew members. They have to eat their lunch sometimes in the car because the cafes are closed. Crews are more mercenary these days and will leave the production mid shoot if they are given a better offer elsewhere. So we need to provide a high quality home for them and look after their needs.

'We are building temporary accommodation and new homes in the area which also relate to existing studios down the road. We have a responsibility to the crews to make these studios feel like proper places, where they can feel like they have a life, providing food trucks, plazas to sit in and a creche. We also want to leave half the site fallow for ecology, although it loses revenue for us. We are designing the site with gaps between the buildings, to allow for the plazas and ultimately a place the crews want to be, so projects can be delivered.'

Jennifer Daothong answered a question about how possible it was to pull the magic out of film studios for creative experiences in towns:

'We have world class facilities in Lewisham and open performance taking place in Deptford through Trinity Laban which includes dance for older people. We forget about the soft power of culture for all the community and how it knits it together. I recently heard a comment that we didn't have a proper university in the borough, unless it taught engineering, but I think that misses the point about the power of culture and science to come together to fill in the gaps. There is perhaps more work to do in creating public realm and wayfinding that knits our cultural hotspots together, but when Convoys Wharf for example comes together, people will be able to walk from the borough's waterfront to (look at and connect to) Canary Wharf which is very exciting.

Below: Trinity Laban School of Dance - Deptford, Borough of Lewisham (courtesy Trinity Laban)


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