The power of an independent grassroots ecconomy…
Let’s champion our grassroots, independent business, community and cultural sector. When they
thrive, we thrive.
During a large part of the Covid-19 crisis, I had a continuous, resounding, repeating anxiety when it came to thinking about our cultural sector (when I say culture, I mean nightlife, pubs, clubs, restaurants, festivals and the arts).
Which was this – “What if only the strong survive?”
I’ve spent a long time leading, investigating, thinking about and being a part of regeneration
projects, creative development and innovation. I’ve seen the big masterplans for city regeneration,
the £30 million “knock the old structures down” designs and the development corporation’s “build
the business park and they will come” ideas. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. We do and will always need the big top down approaches, but what nearly always works, anywhere, across the globe from Bilbao to Brixton, Belfast to Berlin is culture and cultural regeneration.
A Grassroots economy
I have come to believe that the most important players in any economy but particularly within our cultural economy are the small, the independent and often grassroots businesses. They are the innovators and the entrepreneurs. You know the ones, the arts venue built with love and a bit of MDF, the street food business that trawled the streets for years before getting its first shop, the micro-pub that is now the semi-permanent home of both your best friend and your favourite Gin/locally brewed beer. It’s the theatre in a disused building that brought you the play that then headlined at Edinburgh. It’s the old pub that your heroes played in when they were nobodies and the place most of us still gig in, whilst trying to ‘make it’. Basically – the soul of towns and villages and cities. The ‘who we are’ of Great Britain, not the ‘what we are’ or ‘what we produce’ The character, the personality and the heartbeat of the places we love and call home.
Let’s look at the numbers: hospitality employs 3.2 million people, produces £130 billion towards GDP every year. The cultural and creative sector produces £10.8billion a year to the UK economy and generates a further £23billion a year and 363,700 jobs. When the Hospitality Union started calling
for support early on in the Covid crisis, estimating 2 million jobs could be lost UK wide, I was one of the first in the North East to join their call, and I coordinated a North East response via Food and
Drink North East. We got some of what we asked for but not all. When the Venues Trust and Music
Trust launched their campaign for a cultural rescue plan, I quickly backed their call and added my
voice to their campaign. I was pleased the government responded; but, just like so many
interventions in the government’s response to the crisis, they have been slow and geared towards
the big companies.
When I heard last week about the closure of The Welly and Polar Bear in Hull, and Gorilla and the
Deaf Institute in Manchester, my heart sank and my anxieties heightened. When I heard the silent mutterings about a known and loved eatery desperately worried they won’t earn back their Covid Crisis loan and unsure of how to keep their landlord at bay, I felt deeply uneasy.
You see, to me, the big institutions and the multi-nationals stand on the shoulders of our small independent businesses. They come because someone came before – big corporations are rarely the pioneers, they often
aren’t the risk takers and rarely are they the creators and innovators. But for a place to thrive you need all of these things. So whatever is done, at a local, regional and national level, we must champion and celebrate, build and develop our small, local or independent sector. This is one of our passions and aims at the Tees so other the coming weeks and months, we will be looking at various ways we can do just this. We are still facing challenging times, but together we can rebuild.