How can we make Winchester a hub for creative business?

Liveblogged notes from the WinchBiz session on making Winchester a creative hub. Prone to error, inaccuracy, and howling crimes against grammar and syntax.

One of the things about Winchester is that it feels like it’s at a moment of decision. It needs to decide what it will be in the future, especially with the central regeneration project. We need to make some strong decisions about our identity going forwards. What should Winchesterness be?

One of the session pitchers, Derek, thinks that Winchester already has a strong arts identify, with over 40 festivals. There’s an opportunity to juxtapose the ancient with the cutting edge contemporary – that could make the city special and different. And it’s not just about the arts, but also architects, digital practice, creative design. We need to surface for that. The theatre could be a focal point for that, but we need another one from the central regeneration project.

Derek is fresh to this, but our other pitcher Sarah is a bit weary of it. She’s worked here for 30 years. She’s been in businesses, she’s had her own, and she teaches in the university. Winchester is operating in a stealth way. There’s a bigger frustration, because creatives in the city are under-represented. Meetings always discuss Winchester’s heritage. What about our modern, contemporary Winchester? Why can’t we do a. Few things to show how great we are?

The Christmas market is attractive to tourists, but a bigot annoying for residents. But can’t we have a space all year? Could we have some living walls? A fountain? Some world class public art?

Start with the city

You have to start anything in the city – it has the biggest opportunity – but you have to plan for rolling out the impact across the district. If the city itself can fly the flag, then you can bring the rural areas into it. There are some independent creatives and makers in Bishops Walford.

The growth of creative economies is about twice as fast as the rest of the economy. London has been taking advantage of that for both tourism and business. What is the M3 corridor? Is it a high-tech corridor, or is it something more? A maker space would be a start, but there are a lot of other things we could do. The council needs to understand the role of the creative industries in driving the economy.

A place that has a creative industry attracts people, both to live and to work. So, you need to build on and promote the work done across the patch we’re too captured by heritage. Fewer people have heard of WInchester than we think, and it’s always about the cathedral, not the hat fair or any of the other things we do. A space for creatives is a really important part of this – a physical space.

Five years ago, the Winchester cultures strategy was born – and that said many of the same things. What’s happened in those five years? That word weary – it transforms into rage and anger. It led to a satirical magazine called Smug. We’re sitting in this building, owned by the City Council – but it’s out of reach for so many events because it’s so expensive. Big film festivals work, because they world with the city council. It doesn’t work if they’re left to their own devices.

By embracing arts you embrace the economy

Kate is head of economy and arts – and that’s an opportunity. If you embrace what the arts can do for the economy, then all things become possible. It’s not just about money and pace, but about intent. Outdoors arts should happen all year round. How wonderful would it be to have a Covent Garden style open space in the city? You get a. Performative surfacing of the creative community.

The wins don’t need to be expensive. What about Hat Fair Square, as a performance space? How is the creative industries team run in the council? The London equivalent has sub groups for different arts, but then they all come together for big events. Maybe we need these sub-groups, and then their feedback is fed into the culture team.

The council is working on a new digital engagement approach, including an app for visitors rather than tourists. Heritage is great for some people – but there’s more than that. We are thinking about digital spaces. Festivals and spaces are great – but Winchester is a very expensive area to live. How do we keep people here? But then, London is expensive, too. People still want to go there, but some people move out, and look for somewhere for a better quality of life. Maybe there’s an older demographic for late 20s, and we need to see if we can get them back.

Building on Winchester’s buzz

Winchester doesn’t feel like a commuter town. It has a buzz about it. Living here is a blessing and curse. It’s a beautiful place to live, but everyone thinks you’re a millionaire. One attendee couldn’t find the creative part of the city when she first moved here.

With Hat Fair they work with Southampton University – and it’s great tapping into students – but they don’t stay. We need to give them the opportunities to make this a base for their career. Why can’t they stay here, do things here, and still be close to London.

Affordability is an issue – house prices are about twice those of Southampton here. We need to stimulate the private renting sector – and there’s a session on that later. Spaces where people can both work and meet mentors are important — and have made a difference.

A brand for creative Winchester

Creative Winchester needs a brand, that represents a collective of people coming together, thinking about a modern Winchester. We need something like a lime green My Winchester sign outside the cathedral – even if it creates a riot amongst the traditional people. Why not try some things, what’s the worst that could happen?

The festivals do bring in people from all over the world. But to make WInchester a destination, you need to think about the city’s support for visitors. Many cities have a cultural quarter, and that allows people to make a decisions about what part of time they want to go to. Too many people come to the Cathedral and maybe the high street, and then get back on a coach, because they don’t know there’s anything else.

We need to continue this conversation – and we need to commit to take responsibility for parts of it ourselves. Derek pledges the theatre as park of this.