CEO Caroline Norbury OBE is the voice of the creative sector at UK REiif 2023

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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the UK’s Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (REiif). Held over three days in Leeds, REiif aims to connect people, places and businesses to accelerate and unlock sustainable, inclusive and transformational investment.

I talked about the fundamental work Creative UK does to champion the value of Culture and the Creative Industries. It was reassuring to see such a large audience reaffirm their commitment to sustainability and ways in which we can pool our efforts collectively, across industries, to drive investment and change.  

The creative industries are one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors. Recently adopted by the UK Government as a priority economic driver. For the last ten years, the creative industries have grown consistently faster than the economy as a whole, at 41%. This compares to 16% for the rest of the UK. Creative businesses generate more for UK PLC than many other industries. Put simply, creativity is one of the few things Britain does incredibly well. 

You might ask, what does culture have to do with the planet and sustainability? Whilst the product of our culture might reach a global audience, it is always created and inculcated by the place it is produced. 

When you’re in Birmingham you can’t fail to see the impact culture has had on the city. From the global hit that is Peaky Blinders that has socialised the Brummie accent far and wide, to the recent Commonwealth Games. Both are a testament to a city that is immensely proud of its cultural heritage.   

And let’s not forget, last weekend’s cultural phenomenon – the Eurovision Song Contest. Which has put the city of Liverpool on the global stage.

One narrative often spun is that the climate crisis comes from big gas-guzzling corporations and that responsibility does not lie with you or I and our contribution. Whilst, yes there are a handful of conglomerates that are responsible for more than one-third of global carbon emissions, what is wildly untrue is the idea that you or I have very little control or responsibility for how we respond to climate catastrophe. 

I know we’re all painfully aware that arts and culture often get pushed to the bottom of the agenda in these conversations. Yet the creative industries and culture should be at the centre of any regeneration and sustainability plan.

So, can artists and creators really save the world? I firmly believe we can. Together.  

People who are trained to be creative thinkers generate mechanisms and movements which motivate people to get going. They build new products and services and bring money into urban areas, through visitor numbers, sales and exports of products and secondary spending on food and beverages, hotels etc. And importantly, they make our towns and cities look and feel better places to live in. 

Take Julie’s Bicycle, a pioneering non-profit mobilising arts and culture to take action on the climate and ecology crisis. They have developed a range of Creative Climate Tools enabling organisations to record, measure and understand the impact of their activity on the local and global environment. Their toolkit, ALBERT, is used across the global TV industry, which certifies the degree to which TV productions have successfully reduced their carbon impact. 

The real-estate industry also has a substantial role to play ensuring we adopt a planet-first approach. It can do that through a more active partnership with the arts and the creative industries. Employing ‘adaptive design’ to recycle existing structures. Incorporate solar and geothermal power-generating technology and utilise new technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) to minimise the carbon impact of construction.  

Cities that invest in great cultural infrastructure and in cultural participation, do better than cities that don’t. And cities that invest in clever architectural innovation and design that can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the buildings we inhabit, do even better. 

Creative UK recently invested in a small, purpose-driven design studio, Urban Scale Interventions (USI), who work with public administrations to look at climate and resilience strategies for cities, delivering community interventions. 

The Foyle Reeds project began as an investigation into ways of improving the mental health of the residents along the banks of the river Foyle, in collaboration with Public Health Agency NI and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.  Visitors were invited to write down their hopes and aspirations for the future of the river. But what began as an arts-led health project is transforming the city. It’s grown to include a series of portable “pods” along the riverfront for local businesses, who in exchange for reduced rates are given mental health training, enabling them to act as an on-site community response unit. 

Our investment into USI was focused on supporting socially conscious, game-changing businesses. It enabled them to develop their capacity and capabilities and they have grown from two employees to 23. 

Unleashing our cultural capital and enabling cultural regeneration requires a strategic and integrated approach. One that is intentional and takes a community-centred view. Ensuring local government and private developers work collaboratively and employ the best innovative and clever design techniques and use artists to develop shared visions and actions with partners and the public – get buy-in from the community and harness the collective creative power. 

Ultimately, we all need to be taking an active role, be adaptable and willing to collaborate and engage creativity in meaningful ways that translate into practical and impactful changes. The climate change crisis cuts across all sectors and needs us all to take a more joined-up approach. Tomorrow isn’t promised and it is up to each of us to rise to this responsibility. If you want to ensure that your engagement is genuine and authentic, then invest in culture. Empower future generations to take pride in how we all work together, to create the right infrastructure, and creating places people want to be and are proud to live, work and play in. 

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