Dawn Lyle spoke of the importance of creative, cultural and vibrant places. If we have places that are diverse and vibrant people will want to live and work here. Starting with inward investment is the wrong approach, instead we need to work from the ground up. There’s been a lot of investment in the creative and digital sectors, but more needs to be done.
She asked the people attending what we would like to see in ten years time if all our hopes and dreams were realised. Various things suggested included full employment, digital connectivity, and diversity of opportunities. Dawn Lyle asked what was was important to people both in terms of the event and the Creative Quarter.
One attendee said he didn’t like the idea that the high street was dead. He pointed out that e-commerce businesses are now buying physical premises because they gave a better experience. He said, if the retail sector worked alongside e-commerce, more people would shop in the city centre.
Another person praised Swansea’s nice community vibe and way people come together to get things done.
“Property Alchemist” Stacey Adamiec said it was important to share synergy. She’s seen places change and evolve and believes it is important for Swansea to become a destination place.
Another participant said it was important to invest in older people, because younger people aren’t everyone.
Several people expressed concerns about gentrification. One participant said there needed to be buildings where people in the creative sector could collaborate. He comes from Hackney, which has been completely regenerated, but now he’s priced out of the market. Regeneration improves standards of living, but something else will suffer because of that. He said it was important to discuss these issues in relation to Swansea High Street, and the artists who will be inhabiting the building should form the core group in that process. He wants to look at how artists and retail sites can synchronise what they’re doing. It’s possible to get people together to prosper, but there are others that are important and go deeper.
Another participant else said his dream was that the people who started reviving an area wouldn’t behind behind, as they have in places like Hackney, Shoreditch and Bristol. He said he lived in Bristol in the nineties and that he house he lived in “couldn’t give away” was now worth £300,000.
Fears were expressed that exactly the same thing would happen in Swansea if artists don’t take control. The advantage is that there are a lot more opportunities to take control in a small place like Swansea than there are in London.
Dawn Lyle said neo-liberalism places value on individuals in terms of what they earn in jobs, but people can generate so much value that isn’t always commercial value.
She asked what our strengths were, as a city and as groups and individuals in the city.
Lucy Heavens from Swansea Wellbeing Centre said she got a sense that in Swansea artistry was being looked after and art belonged to everyone. She liked the idea of having a tool to explore wellbeing and what it is to belong, because it would lovely to have a real sense to identity and defining art so that Swansea is synonymous with art and talent. She said Coastal Housing had already transformed buildings and made statement pieces. She said we didn’t need to rely on big business, we can rely on ourselves and community projects can fill in the gaps. She pointed out the contribution to art that already exists. People need to create art and get a sense of belonging. This wouldn’t have to involve expensive buildings, it could be about individuals. She suggested a space on the side of Swansea Wellbeing Centre, assuming Pobl Group agreed, could be used for public art.
Another participant talked about how he remembered all the street parties from the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977. He feels there isn’t the same sense of community today, so street parties would be a good way of reviving community spirit.
Another participant said there were a lot of people involved in their communities. He we need to find a way to reach out and support the people around us. Street parties would be free, although the police need to sanction road closures.
Several people liked the idea of a YouTube channel to promote the creative community in Swansea, which could be viewed anywhere in the world.
One participant said artists sometimes find themselves having to fill spaces originally intended for retail, but if they’d been involved in the town planning process from the outset they could have purpose built places. At the moment artists are treated as an afterthought. They don’t know what will be built and whether it’ll be something they can afford. He said Swansea’s current creative quarter won’t be here in five years time, so artists will have to find somewhere else to live. This means they need a sustainable solution, where they’re be involved in development. He said Swansea had everything, so it should be a city inclusive of everything.
He said people at the top were saying how important creative communities were in bringing in revenue, but won’t creating an environment for them to do it.
Mike Klein acknowledged gentrification was a problem, but felt some degree of gentrification and wealth creation was needed. He said Swansea had a really unique vibe and that being “the graveyard of ambition” was actually a massive advantage. He said the issue was how we recruit talent, access money, and get people with talent and ideas to come here.
He wants Swansea to have the ambition to be a city with global ambition. He wants to build networks here and make a film here. He said there is huge growth in the creative sector. The demand for content is exploding. The creative industries attract international capital and “the arts” make a place cool. He wants to walk down High Street in ten years time and see the kind of businesses he sees in Soho.
He said, while Swansea was choc full of creative talent, there was a distinct lack of ambition from the council and investors, who weren’t providing what creative people needed because they didn’t understand them.
Paul Harwood, founder of TechHub Swansea, said he wanted to ban the words “them” and “they”. He feels there is a lot of externality, with a lot of emphasis on the idea that “they” are doing things. “They” can mean the council or government. He thinks we shouldn’t worry about “them”, but should organise about what we’re doing. We have the internet and access to a global market. Paul knows content creators living on farms who are making unbelievable amounts of money.
He said money should be a goal, but it destroys value and prices artists out. Swansea faces genuine problems. He said there are going to 1.3 billion climate change refugees, so we will need to build more infrastructure and think about the people who are not benefitting at the moment. He believes the Creative Quarter should be about building a variety of sectors. If people don’t see something as valuable, people get priced out.
Another participant said a lot of people didn’t identify with what artists do. He said artists work on a different timescale to other people, but, like them, are still committed to a particular purpose. He feels there is common ground where artists can exist with people making money in the retail sector. He met with a developer and was amazed how much he had in common with him. He felt he should be able to sit in with him as part of the whole development process. Nurturing arts and culture requires financial commitment, which means for example landlords shouldn’t put rents up too much.
One participant said property is an important thing. We need to decide where the Creative Quarter is and put a price on buildings. He felt some older buildings should be left in position should be left in position to provide lost cost spaces as part of a long-term vision. Compulsory purchase could be used to bring old buildings back into use.
Another participant said Swansea reminded him of a mid league football team that wanted to get better players. He works with young people on a film and photography course. They have an “aspire” curriculum. Students produce spoken word videos that are shot right outside BaseKamp Coffee, the building we were in. A £5,000 lottery grant, which was more than they needed, has enabled them to buy expensive cameras, so it’s easy to do what they’re doing. They’ve produced professional looking videos for various companies, a football academy, and a conference for women.
One participant said young people see Swansea as the “graveyard of ambition”. Since he’s moved back here from London he finds himself that he’s not fulfilled because of the lack of opportunities and culture. He feels this is a huge issue in South Wales, although doesn’t know whether it’s due to lack of infrastructure, property, or something else.
Dawn Lyle said she wanted Swansea to be an innovative city that people wanted to live and stay in. She wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but a lot of young people want to leave.
Storyteller Carl Gough talked about how he often hears people “regurgitate Dylan Thomas and Twin Town”. As a storyteller he’s gained an appreciation for Swansea, but people buy into the idea that it’s a “pretty shitty city “ and “the graveyard of ambition”. He feels this is dangerous because it’s created a lack of inspiration and a self-limiting ceiling. Any storyteller will tell you that we are the stories we tell to ourselves about ourselves. He has created Swansea Story as way for Swansea to develop a new identity that isn’t defined by the depressive words of Dylan Thomas and Twin Town.
Another participant said he didn’t even know where the centre of Swansea is. He feels it would be great to have an obvious centre. Dawn Lyle said this was a weakness, caused by bad city planning over many years. She said we needed to define the Creative Quarter, even if something comes along to displace it geographically.
Zoe Antrobus said she didn’t feel that was a distinct Creative Quarter at the moment, but it is possible to define the actual Creative Quarter as being in and around High Street, which includes Volcano Theatre, the Elysium Gallery and various music hubs. However, not everyone knows it’s here. She said we need to think about what we do to show people this is the Creative Quarter when they step out of the station, for example by having street art and street performers. It also needs restaurants with a diverse range of food.
Paul Harwood said there needed to a strategy. People will find it far easier to raise finance if there is a defined creative quarter, because that will add legitimacy.
Stacey Adamiec said we needed to get landlords into the room. She said they were behind the times in terms of leases and co-working spaces. She said landlords weren’t afraid to say they won’t take a chance with creative industries, although they’ll jump on an opportunity when things are going well. She said it will be important to get landlords to understand that the creative sector is a hybrid of small communities. A landlord could provide a building that everyone in the room would be able to use for creative purposes.
One participant asked about raising awareness of the spaces available for creative young people. She said she found it difficult to find out what was going on in Swansea.
Stacey Adamiec said until now not a lot had been going on. She said 4theRegion have noticed people are doing things and are helping to bring them together to have a discussion about what needs to be done.
Mike Klein said he is actively having conversations about why Swansea is where what he’s doing what he’s doing. He talked about the convergence between creativity and the response to climate change. He said Swansea was somewhere where people actually cared, but didn’t have a shared story or centre of gravity. He feels if we think Twin Town is all we are we’re missing a trick. He pointed to the fact we have the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and a lot of social businesses working to tackle climate change. He sees Swansea as an emerging “birth city” where we can create a really vibrant quality of life that will attract people to come here. He said he found Welsh people’s lack of self-confidence in our country extraordinary. He said this whole region should be seen as the best place to live in the UK.
He is thinking about opening a funk bar in Swansea, so that he can say his screenplay about a funk bar in Swansea is a true story. He said if we don’t figure out how to pull our finger out no one else will. He said we need to bottle what we have and think how to describe it.
Richard Harris said he was keen to tell the story of the city he was born and bred in. For example, not everyone knows the man who invented the hydrogen fuel cell was from Swansea. He praised what had been achieved in High Street, considering what it was like six or seven years ago, although he acknowledged a lot of work still needs to be done. He said the City Deal doesn’t mean much to most people and most people still see High Street in a very negative light. People don’t know what’s going on and we tend to hide our light under a bushel. He agreed there wasn’t a centre of Swansea, and this is a problem. But he said people need to understand the opportunities artists bring. There needs to longevity in order to benefit society.
He said the Welsh Government wanted to regenerate High Street because they wanted young people from other parts of Swansea to have pride in their city. He said Swansea had the best beaches in the world.
The Financial Times has said capitalism is broken. Paul Harwood said this is because capitalism doesn’t value social capital. He said something needs to be valued otherwise it’ll be lost. He gave the examples of what has been achieved in the last ten years by Austin, Texas and Bilbao, for example in the growth of tech firms.
Andy Elliott from Coastal Housing said he was surprised by how much of High Street has picked up. There has been some market penetration for the creative sector and independent businesses. He said Coastal Housing were opening up a lot sites that were not subject to the pressures of the open market.
Another participant suggested having a word or hashtag that could be used to promote Swansea.
Dawn Lyle suggested having a 4theRegion Film Festival.
The attendees were split into three groups to discuss property, art, community and wellbeing, and communication and storytelling.
In the property group, Paul Harwood explained how TechHub’s first premises was one floor of a building in Wind Street rented from Coastal Housing. It was desk space with no commitment, supported by a £20,000 Welsh Government grant. From this they went on to get government sponsorship and a deal with the DVLA. Because they had far more money they were able to take on the whole building. TechHub weren’t thinking about making loads of money, they did it so that start ups didn’t have a lease over their head and could fail quickly. The detrimental effect was that they priced themselves out of the market. TechHub have done more deals with Coastal Housing. Paul Harwood said they wouldn’t have been able to do anything if wasn’t for Coastal Housing, who have people who can work on bids, and can provide capital for leverage.
He said there was a lot of capital investment in infrastructure but not the equivalent investment in social capital. Buildings don’t solve the problem. Human capital will lead to more infrastructure. He said for every £1 spent on building infrastructure there should be 50p spent on human capital.
Daniel Staveley from the Elysium Gallery said they have rented a number of properties from Coastal Housing, which have allowed them to expand, but only within a confined space. Their pub Champers will be knocked down next year and they will lose £80,000. They will lose another building in five years time. He said Coastal Housing needed to invest to keep them in High Street. He said the plans for shops and flats would turn High Street back into a corridor. Elysium Galley have found £50,000 to spend on their building to keep it going, but would like a long-term sustained business instead of something short-term.
Paul Harwood said the Elysium Gallery would be replaced with another business, but the gallery generates social capital that can’t be valued financially.
Daniel Staveley pointed out artists were sustaining the shops along High Street “because we live off Polish beer and noodles”.
Paul Harwood suggested having a property steering group of local stakeholders which would meet monthly or quarterly. Coastal would report to the steering group and the steering group would report to Coastal.
Richard Harris said there needs to be communication between artists and landlords. He said plans had been put in place to develop various quarters in Swansea, but nothing really happened. He said Coastal Housing weren’t the only landlords in Swansea and money was getting tight for the Elysium Gallery. They need a ten year lease for a building, but Coastal will give them a five year lease which could ultimately be followed by another five year lease on a different building. He said Champers could be put back into use, but would need work done to it.
He said the local business community had no impact on the closure of the Ford factory in Bridgend, and that if artists wanted a creative quarter they would need to have an influence on landlords. They would need a forum to bring together different landlords.
Paul Harwood said we didn’t need to go to the government for everything, pointing out the regeneration of Bilbao mostly wasn’t achieved with government funding. He said the property steering group would look at strategy.
Another suggestion was for housing associations to be involved in providing spaces for the creative industries.
Stacey Adamiec suggested creating a High Street web page, rather than waiting for the council to promote it. The council are already making podcasts to show what independent businesses are doing. She would like an additional indoor market to show how retailers work together and to show demand. She said there needed to be a couple of doers who were interested in taking over spaces to get more interest for the creative industries.
The art, community and wellbeing group identified a need to get the youngest children to engage with technology more creatively. One of the people in this group is touch with Swansea Community Workshop, who are looking how to get more people engaged with the arts. They already have stained glass and pottery workshops, so she feels bringing in an IT workshop might be a way of bridging different interests. She said children would be encouraged to take part if there was an outcome they can see, such as a video on YouTube on an e-book on the Swansea story that they created.
Another idea was promote remote working, so that people who work for global businesses can stay here.
The communication and storytelling group said their focus was on communicating outwards about Swansea, upgrading and listening to the story Swansea tells about itself.
Carl Gough suggested having a regular storytelling event where people share individual stories. This could possibly serve almost as an award ceremony celebrating the people who contribute to Swansea. This event could be broadcast, although we’ll need to work out how best to do this. For example, it could be broadcast on Swansea Bay TV or on the radio.
The group also discussed having a publication similar to Swansea Life, but with more of a focus on wellbeing. This could be combined with the arts with a cultural, beautiful, accessible editorial. The down side would be the cost of the publication infrastructure, so it was suggested the publication could be a community interest company and get funding.
Paul Harwood said the High Street already had a newspaper, produced by a very low cost by a service that lets people publish newspapers. The newspaper is funded by Coastal Housing. He said High Street was the centre of Swansea once. It was once the busiest part of the city. It has a fantastic story.
Another participant suggested a community calendar. The calendar would mean we knew exactly what was going on, and would be combined with an editorial. She said the calendar needs to vibrant, exciting, televised and up to date or it will fail. It will need money behind it, possibly from the council.
Dawn Lyle said the Creative Quarter is a physical space, but it’s also an idea and includes people who are not geographically on High Street. She said the next meeting about the Creative Quarter would take place before the April 2020 City Centre Conference.