Get into conversation with any artist, maker or designer about trying to build a career in London and it isn’t long before the subject turns to the challenge of finding affordable space. Nonetheless, the city’s creative industries were continuing to thrive prior to the pandemic, contributing more to the UK economy than automotive, aerospace, life sciences and the oil and gas industries combined, while cementing London’s reputation as one of the world’s most exciting places to live, work and visit.
In the post-COVID landscape though, nothing should be taken for granted. A recent report by Oxford Economics has projected a combined £77bn turnover loss for the creative sector over the course of 2020. It’s a worrying analysis and many practitioners, studios and start-ups, as well as established businesses, are confronting an uncertain future. For an industry built around freethinking and imaginative solutions, however, there remains plenty of reason for hope.
Design District is taking a bold stance in the face of this adversity — determined to become a catalyst for recovery. From the outset, the project had been committed to providing London’s creatives with affordable work space, but in light of all that’s been endured this past year it’s clear more will need to be done. That’s why — when Design District opens in Spring 2021 — rents across-the-board will be just £5 per sqft rent for the first 12 months.
‘It was the right thing to do,’ says Helen Arvanitakis, director of Design District. ‘The creative industry is the lifeblood of our city — it’s what makes London the vibrant international hub that it is and we wanted to give back to the creatives how we could, to ensure we can keep London creative for future generations.’
In a time before elbow bumps and Zoom everything, Design District was already working with the Mayor’s Office to ensure its status as an affordable provider. To achieve this, rents were to average £25 per sqft. Now, with all rents set at £5 per sqft, tenants will be saving around 80% or more. Design District believes this will further help reinvigorate the creative economy, with savings being reinvested in businesses and people. ‘This initiative will not only help support livelihoods,’ says Caroline Norbury MBE, CEO of Creative Industries Federation and Creative England, ‘but will play an important role in the rebuilding of London’s creative economy.’
The aim is to return the focus to making, innovating, restoration and growth — not worrying about the rent. It will enable creatives to work in light-filled studios with access to lively outdoor spaces, kitted-out workshops and community events programmes; all designed to nurture their growth and in turn the creative economy’s comeback. As Justine Simons OBE, deputy mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries, says: ‘it is more important than ever that we support our thriving creative sector with initiatives like Design District.’
Design District’s rent cut has also met with approval among those it’s intended to benefit. Artist and designer Camille Walala responded to the news with a resolute ‘Wow!’ She goes on to explain: ‘If I could have had a studio space for a year at this price when I first came to London it would have been such a great opportunity to help my career along!’
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