West London has a world-beating creative sector. It’s heritage as home of the BBC and the centre of the UK film industry has been built on by designers, gaming companies and much more to produce a cluster which is the envy of the world.
However, the sub-region is determined not to rest on those laurels, and particularly now with the virus crisis affecting every aspect of economy and society, now is the time to plan for growth, according to panellists at a session at Real Estate Live UK.
Yoo Capital are certainly doing that, with their reimagining of Olympia (pictured) as a new creative quarter. They are doubling the commercial space on the site to 2m sq ft, and are continuing to make their £1.2bn investment with 85 firms currently working on delivering the mega project. Lloyd Lee of Yoo said that they are “very much on schedule”. In fact, they are ahead. Andrew Thorpe, also from Yoo, pointed out that they have taken the opportunity to speed up work, bringing tasks that would have interfered with the operation of the exhibition centre – currently closed – up front, accelerating deisgn work, and accelerating programme.
They are in discussions with potential occupiers. “We are now speaking to big names in creative industries about bringing hundreds of thousands of square feet in alongside the theatre, the exhibition hall, and the rest of the facilities”, said Lee. While Thorpe added: “We’re looking at what tenants will want post-covid. Things like increased air filtration, greater accessibility through bigger and more lifts, and probably less desking in more space.”
Louise Conolly-Smith, Head of Creative, London & Partners, thinks the Olympia concept is sound. She said “London is very strong in the creative industries, and West London is very strong within that. Look at, for example, Net-a-Porter in White City.”
Councillor Shama Tatler, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Property and Planning, Brent Council, talked about their policy of looking to support artists and creatives through their borough of culture programme, aiming to support the creative industries and ensure a strong legacy. “We’re looking at repurposing high streets. Small creative start ups can reanimate them and challenge their decline. We’re bringing art and communities together in South Kilburn as part of the regeneration of that area. And our Seen & Heard programme is connecting young people to regeneration.”
Bill Boler, Partnerships Director, West London Business, talked about the Creative Enterprise Zone in Hounslow – a Mayoral programme like Borough of Culture. This is focussed on the film sector – which was growing rapidly until the lockdown, and is now experiencing massive pent-up demand. “Hounslow has Paramount Pictures, China Global TV, the Gillette Building where many recent film successes have been filmed (such as 24, and the Freddie Mercury biopic).
“Covid has produced a lot of pressure, particularly on working space, and film production has a major pent-up demand. We need to tap in to this, and can, as West London is the screen capital – with studios all around it – at Shepperton, Elstree, West London, and Ealing, plus firms like Sky, ITV, and of course the BBC.”
Oliver Royds, Joint Founder & CEO, Troubadour Theatres, talked about their aim to provide theatre in areas undergoing regeneration – they are in Wembley and White City right now. However, he drew attention to the plight of the sector. “Historically theatre has been resilient to economic shock. However, theatre is one of the hardest hit industries of all right now. It has lost £330m as a sector, and is looking at a closure of 6-9 months.” The sector would require some support to survive , but can pay this back over the long term by creating better, healthier, happier places.
And perhaps the creative sector could be encouraged to contribute more to life outside the doors of their offices. Cllr Tatler said that companies could join in with and animate markets and high streets, while Boler said that companies could ramp up their engagement – with their supply chain and with businesses in the sub-region generally. Can creative industries companies have an impact on, and help improve their surroundings, of course. And perhaps they should be encouraged to do so.
Another sector which is strong in West London is the tech sector. Could a greater connection between tech and creative businesses pay dividends? Rods felt that there was a “real opportunity to use tech to get round the barriers of social distancing. “It’s an interesting space where two worlds could connect, but historically haven’t. Creating a tech/culture hub could be a real opportunity”, he said.