Leader’s Voice – Why culture is an important driver of London’s social and economic recovery

Leader’s Voice – Why culture is an important driver of London’s social and economic recovery

London is a global city steeped in history but full of new ideas. It is home to independent thinkers from all over the world who drive the types of innovations in culture and creativity that give the capital its unique appeal. And makes it a place where people want to live, work and visit.

The numbers are compelling. In 2019, before the pandemic struck, London’s creative industries generated £58bn for the national economy; supported one in every six jobs in the capital; and helped to attract four out of five tourists to the city. In Lewisham we saw employment in the sector grow by 71% in the five years up to 2018 – twice the rate of the rest of the capital.

The pandemic has undoubtedly been extremely tough on the sector but as we start to rebuild our economy, the creative industries will play a crucial role in helping to get London back on its feet.

The Mayor of London has launched successive initiatives to boost the sector since the start of the pandemic. Ensuring residents, especially our young ones, are able to access opportunities in the sector regardless of background is key to its role in driving economic and social recovery.

I was really pleased in 2018 when New Cross and Deptford, in the north of our borough, was announced as one of six Creative Enterprise Zones – a Mayor of London initiative to boost local creative and digital sectors.

Through the programme, £500,000 of funding has been funnelled into our CEZ to support employment, training and mentoring opportunities that provide career development pathways for 125 young residents from diverse backgrounds. As well as increasing access to affordable workspace for local artists and creative entrepreneurs.

In Lewisham, as in many other London boroughs, we are working hard to remove barriers for people in underrepresented and disadvantaged groups. That is why we have focussed on providing placements to women, disabled people and residents from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, to improve diversity in the creative industries.

Reducing inequalities in the sector, means developing stronger ties with other local authorities, the arts sector and educational institutions, to build viable programmes that give our young people the best possible grounding for developing rewarding and well paid creative careers.

In 2019 we partnered with Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth Councils to launch STRIDE, a talent development programme to unleash the potential of young people from under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds. Giving them access to mentoring, training and careers opportunities in the creative and tech industries.

Through our London Borough of Culture programme, we have joined forces with The Albany and Goldsmiths, University of London to launch new initiative Creative Futures – again it is about increasing diversity in the local creative sector.

But culture also has a wider-reaching role in society. Engaging in creativity is known to have mental health benefits and to help with community cohesion. We are using our year as London Borough of Culture to increase participation in the arts, bringing communities together, after so much separation during the pandemic, in a joint celebration of all that is great about Lewisham. We are working with local residents, schools, groups and businesses to ensuring they maximise the opportunities the We Are Lewisham programme offers.

The programme will spotlight the creative and cultural assets and potential within the borough, attracting more visitors, increasing footfall on our high streets and boosting trade for local businesses.

In fact our creative sector is also already playing a pivotal role in place-making throughout the borough. We launched our Creative Happenings Grant programme at the end of last year in recognition of the change in shopping habits during the pandemic. Local artists and creatives were invited to apply for up to £10,000 in funding to deliver creative projects that would encourage residents back on our high streets and supporting local businesses.

We invested £100,000 in the initiative which was extremely popular and involved everything from Christmas sing-alongs to arts workshops to festivals, setting a precedent for future public realm initiatives.

Culture and creativity impacts all aspects of life in London, driving the economy – national as well as local – and connecting communities. It offers innovation and jobs creation which is essential to the city’s role as a creative capital.

Damien Egan is the Mayor of Lewisham  – 28.2.2022