Creativeworks London (CWL): Enhancing the Sustainability and Innovation Capacity of Creative-Economy Businesses

The origins of QMUL Network Centre were referrenced in a case study report submitted by Professor Morag Shiach for the School of English and Drama in the recent Research Excellence Framework assessment 2021 (REF21). Prof. Shiach explains that Network was built from Creativeworks London (CWL), an AHRC-funded Knowledge Exchange Hub for the Creative Economy that was led by Queen Mary University of London and directed first by Professor Evelyn Welch and then by Professor Shiach.

REF is an exercise that assesses the impact of research in British higher education institutions every seven years. It defines impact as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”. REF21 ranks QMUL joint 7th in the UK for the quality of its research. Across the University, 92% of Queen Mary’s research was assessed as internationally excellent or world-leading.

From August 2013, CWL worked with 43 HEI and creative-economy partners to impact the sustainability and innovation capacity of creative economy businesses. In the REF cse study Prof. Shiach explains –

The vast majority of creative-economy businesses are microenterprises, and thus have limited internal resources to invest in testing new ways of working, creating new products, building new markets and audiences, or shaping cultural policies that would increase their sustainability. The creative economy also lacks diversity compared to other economic sectors. For example, participation by women in the workforce is only 37%, compared to 47% across the economy as a whole. CWL’s research and knowledge exchange activities responded to these pressing issues: 

  • enhanced financial sustainability of micro and small businesses in London’s creative economy 
  • enabled significant innovations within creative businesses, through co-created research 
  • contributed to policy development related to Creative Hubs, including internationally 
  • promoted the role of women in leadership positions within London’s creative economy. 

Underpinning Research

CWL’s research was led by the two PIs, Welch and Shiach, and built on theories and methods developed within the field of English Studies, particularly in relation to the analysis of creative practice; cultural history and theory; gender and sexuality; and the modalities of creative work. 

Some research underpinning CWL’s impact took place within the GBP4,900,000 AHRC-funded and Queen Mary-led programme ‘Beyond Text’, whose partners included theatre, dance, and film companies; museums and galleries; small creative businesses; and schools (Welch PI, 2007-12). Findings from ‘Beyond Text’ included an enhanced understanding of the relationships between cultural practice and identity; new approaches to capturing ephemeral performances; and evidence for the barriers between Arts and Humanities researchers and emerging digital industries. These findings shaped the three research strands established within CWL: (i) Place/Work/Knowledge; (ii) Capturing London’s Audiences; and (iii) London’s Digital Economy.  Each of these strands was led by a CWL co-investigator and also supported by a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in Queen Mary’s English Department. Shiach’s substantial body of research on cultural history and labour, and more recent work on immaterial labour and precarity, contributed to the identification of the insecurity of creative businesses and creative work as key research areas, and the amelioration of these as key aims for CWL. 

Two further projects exemplify the interdisciplinary research approaches that led to the achievement of CWL’s aims. Researchers involved in both projects were all from Queen Mary. 

Peopling the Ragged School’ co-created research with the Ragged School Museum (RSM), East London to develop a permanent gallery display with a linked set of educational resources for schools, representing the importance of the Ragged School movement in the history of Victorian philanthropy. This project focussed on the surviving admissions books for Dr Barnardo’s Copperfield Road Free School, on which the RSM is based. The research team included Peter Mitchell (English) and Alastair Owens (Geography/CWL CI). Tessa Whitehouse (English) contributed research on childhood and cultures of dissent.  

Beatwoven® is a creative business established by a weaver who interprets sound and music into pixelated patterns and designs that can be woven into fabrics. Two research collaborations between Beatwoven® and Queen Mary (Andrew Robertson/Digital Music and Noam Shemtov/IP Law) investigated both legal and technical issues that were important for the future growth of Beatwoven®. The collaborations allowed development of the coding necessary to create an app for customers to upload their own music and create their own patterns. The research undertaken on IP rights in relation to an emerging technology clarified the legal position of the composers and of the weaver herself.  

Specific tools and frameworks for collaboration were developed by CWL. Research Labs and Ideas Pools involved CWL researchers, creative businesses and creative entrepreneurs and facilitated identification of pressing issues for the creative economy. These pressing issues included the role of creative hubs within the creative economy; the use of digital content to build audiences; the potential of the hackathon as an innovation tool; the nature and impact of London’s digital ecologies of collaboration; the changing audience experience of London’s museums; and the key function of ‘knowledge intermediaries’ in university/creative economy collaborations. CWL engaged with 445 businesses and supported 26,240 hours of collaborative research. Such co-creation of research was enabled through five tools developed by and implemented within the project:  

  • Creative Vouchers supported a creative business to work with a researcher for 3-6 months; 
  • Researchers-in-Residence enabled an early-career researcher to be embedded within a business and undertake a programme of research identified by that business as high priority;  
  • Creative-Entrepreneurs-in-Residence: creative entrepreneur accessed research expertise and specialist facilities within partner research organisations; 
  • BOOST: ‘follow-on’ funding enabled development and/or commercialization of findings;  
  • Fusion Collaborative Awards provided innovation vouchers for creative and digital businesses to access appropriate research expertise. 

The research underpinning CWL’s impact also took place within the context of two closely related projects. Firstly, the AHRC/GCRF follow-on project for impact and engagement, Creativeworks London/São Paulo, in partnership with the University of São Paulo, researched the characteristics of Creative Hubs within São Paulo, identifying the economically and culturally inhibiting effects of the stark distinctions between ‘cultural’ Hubs and ‘innovation’ Hubs. It also undertook co-created research with creative businesses and supported the development of new business models to enhance sustainability. Secondly, the ERDF-funded project, London Creative and Digital Fusion, (2012-14) allowed CWL to lead London Fusion’s innovation voucher programme and its Researcher-in-Residence programme. Comparative research was undertaken on CWL’s Creative Vouchers and Fusion’s Collaborative Awards to advance understanding of knowledge exchange methodologies

The Culture Capital Exchange, CWL’s delivery partner, ensured that CWL’s research prioritised the needs of creative economy businesses in London. Key findings from these knowledge-exchangeactivities were understanding the role of networks in enabling and sustaining innovation in the creative economy; the centrality of translation between different collaborative languages in enabling productive dialogues between researchers and SMEs; and the role of knowledge intermediaries in sustaining successful co-created research projects.  

Details of the Impact

Enhanced financial sustainability of micro and small businesses and cultural organisations within London’s creative economy 

CWL enhanced the economic performance of the micro and small businesses with which it collaborated. Measurable impacts included the creation of spinout companies and new jobs and increases in gross value added (GVA). These economic impacts were audited by the AHRC and the GLA as part of the formal end-of-project evaluation processes for CWL and London Fusion. 

Number of spinouts following collaboration with CWL  14 
Number of jobs created following collaboration with CWL and Fusion 22 
Gross Value Added for businesses supported by a Fusion Collaborative Award EUR2,700,000 

CWL’s co-created research with the Ragged School Museum (RSM) supported the development of a permanent gallery display. The Museum Director confirmed that the collaboration ‘enabled the Museum to make a shift in focus to investigating our own history, which was vital in making an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund’. The Director further confirmed that ‘the project outputs have greatly improved what we offer our visitors,’ and this will be ‘a key element of the RSM’s future funding strategy, which will transform facilities and expand the RSM’s programme. With all of the building in productive use the Museum will become financially self-sufficient.’ RSM Trustees’ Report to the Charity Commission indicates that the Museum’s income doubled between 2014/15 (when the CWL-funded research took place) and 2018/19. 

Produced Innovations within creative businesses through co-created research  

CWL’s research collaborations with creative businesses contributed to the development of new products, new service formats, new business models, and technological innovations. In 2016, collaborating businesses reported the following as directly related to their work with CWL:  

New or distinctive products or designs 32 
New Service formats or other delivery mechanisms 57 
New business processes within a partner creative-economy business 18 
New apps or other software 

As a result of the collaborative research enabled both by a CWL creative voucher and by collaboration within the BOOST programme, Beatwoven® was able to develop a new and robust business model. The company diversified its outputs to include artworks as well as fashion textiles, and received commissions from clients including the Southbank Centre, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and Harrods. The Founder also reported in 2017 that the company had ‘partnered with Firetech, Warner Music UK’s innovation lab, and the Bowie Estate, to create a piece of woven art translated from Bowie’s song “Let’s Dance.”’  BOOST was cited as an important financial model by an EU Expert Committee. 

Enhanced evidence-based policy related to the role of Creative Hubs, nationally and internationally 

CWL’s research on Creative Hubs identified their role in enabling sustainable creative work and supporting creative businesses in London. A CWL Research Lab on ‘Coming to Terms with Creative Hubs,’ co-convened with Knowledge London and the Higher Education Entrepreneurship Group in 2016, led to the development of an enhanced case for public and private investment in Creative Hubs. Consultancy projects undertaken by Shiach and Virani increased the impacts of this research. For example, Virani was funded by the Greater London Authority (GLA) to produce policy recommendations related to ‘Community Engagement, Micro Communities, Small Businesses and Effective Local Policy,’ which would inform the regeneration of Chrisp Street Market in East London. In 2018, building on CWL’s research, Queen Mary launched Network: The Queen Mary Centre for the Creative and Cultural Economy (directed by Shiach & Virani), which has undertaken policy-focussed consultancy, including Development of a Self-Assessment Evaluation Framework for Creative Hubs in Thailand (with the British Council) and Mapping the Creative Economy in West Bengal (with the British Council, Government of West Bengal, and the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur). Shiach and Virani also undertook research on Creative Clusters, Social Inclusion, and Sustainability: The Case of Hackney Wick and Fish Island (HWFI), which formed part of the successful bid to the Mayor of London for designation of HWFI as a ‘Creative Enterprise Zone’ (CEZ). The role of a CEZ is ‘to protect the creative sector in the capital, increase affordable spaces for artists and entrepreneurs, and boost job and training opportunities for local people’  

‘Creative Hubs and Urban Development Goals, UK/Brazil’ (colloquially known as Creativeworks London/São Paulo) produced a Policy Report for the State Government of São Paulo, outlining the potential contributions of Creative Hubs in the city of São Paulo to economic development and the negative consequences of the stark dichotomy between ‘cultural’ and ‘innovation’ Hubs existing within the city. The research team was then invited to present its findings to senior government representatives. In light of this, the government subsequently invested in three new Creative Hub spaces in 2018.  

Promoted the roles of women in leadership positions within London’s creative economy. 

The CWL Women in the Digital Culture and Economy Network promoted both participation by female digital entrepreneurs in CWL and a good gender balance in applications to its funded schemes. CWL worked in partnership with the V&A’s Digital Programmes team, the Knowledge Transfer Network, Innovate UK, and the Digital Catapult. As a result, 63% of the research collaborations funded by Creative Vouchers involved female-led creative businesses, and 60% of these projects had female research partners. More than 50% of the entrepreneurs funded by the Creative-Entrepreneur-in-Residence schemes were female. This prepared a significant number of female-led creative businesses to apply successfully for further investment and funding and to increase their profiles for innovation.  Female creative entrepreneurs funded by CWL include the European Woman Innovator of the Year, 2017; a Finalist in the Inventor of the Year Award Competition run by the InclusiveTechAlliance, 2019; and the Co-Founder of New Media Networks who wrote in 2016 that ‘Following the CWL-funded project I was appointed as a Non-Executive Director for Communication and Information on the UK National Commission for UNESCO. This led me to working on policies for UNESCO [and] also to presenting at the UNESCO General Conference… Thank you CWL for providing the opportunity to help to make any of this happen’. The Co-CEO of Unruly Media says that ‘These ground-breaking collaborations have been tremendously useful for innovation-led businesses within the creative economy, and it was great to see CWL working with so many female-led SMEs and female creative entrepreneurs.’  

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