London Creative Network ran from spring 2016 till spring 2023. Throughout this period, BOP acted as evaluation partner, providing annual update reports and a final programme report in March 2023. Here BOP summarises the main findings of the final report for us.
Over the last seven years, London Creative Network (LCN), a professional development programme for creative practitioners from across London, was delivered by SPACE, Four Corners, Cockpit, and Photofusion. The programme’s total budget was £4,427,658, with 50% provided by ERDF and 50% match-funded by the four delivery organisations.
LCN’s goals were to increase the growth capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the creative sector in London. It focused on micro businesses in the visual arts, design, craft and photography. LCN provided them with the necessary skills, tools, confidence, outlook and networks to sustain business growth in this competitive sector in the longer term. Particular focus was given to supporting practitioners to innovate through exploring new technologies and processes, as well as to develop new business skills and creative direction.
LCN engaged 1,145 creative businesses in total, of which 1,096 undertook at least three hours of support and 958 undertook at least 12 hours of support. LCN also supported 286 creative business specifically to innovate and introduce new products and supported 32 new enterprises. Overall, the programme provided a total of 2,396 hours of one-to-one and 24,289 hours of workshops – or put consecutively, over three years of live support to the creative sector in London. It brought in over 150 industry experts to deliver targeted support.
LCN successfully engaged a diverse set of participants, including 71.4% female-led businesses; 10.6% businesses led by someone with a disability and 21.4% of businesses led by someone from a BAME background.
The final evaluation report identified the following key outcomes:
LCN led to improved business management skills and confidence and strengthened industry networks: significant impact was achieved in raising participants’ skills in business planning and management, with 91% of respondents reporting a positive impact on their ability to plan for the future of their business and 86% seeing a positive impact on their ability to promote their work. Respondents felt more confident in their ability to better manage the financial side of their business, and highlighted the value of meeting, exchanging information and creating
connections with other creatives.
LCN supported participants in developing new processes and techniques, stimulating innovation and growing new creative direction: participants identified both a positive impact on their ability to use a new creative process or technology (74%) as well as on their ability to develop new products or services (85%). 1 in 5 reported launching a new product or services (from which 18% already realised new sales) and a further 35% reported developing a new offer. Participants moreover gave an average score of 7.4 out 10 when asked to rate whether they had been able to develop a new creative direction for their work as a result of participating in LCN.
There are indications that participation in LCN is leading to improved business performance: financial data showed an increase in average gross turnover among participants of 18% following LCN. Whilst this did not yet translate into increased profit or income diversification, there are some indications that the demonstrated improvements in skills, planning and products will in time translate into financial impact. As the programme took place during the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent cost-of-living crisis, there are a variety of external factors outside of the scope of LCN that also impacted on the participants’ financial performance.
LCN provided tailored support and filled a gap: respondents were very positive about their experience attending the programme, with 79% feeling that their objectives of the programme were met. 86% would recommend the programme to a peer. Only 4% felt that they could have accessed a similar programme elsewhere. Respondents were highly positive about the programme addressing their needs and allowing them to engage.
LCN facilitated effective partnership working: the four delivery partners recognised the value of working collaboratively, sharing best practice and learning from one another over a long period of time.
Our research indicated a relatively moderate uplift in net Gross Value Added (GVA), which is a measure of the programme’s contribution to wider economic growth. However, this should be seen in the context of the participants of the programme, which are overwhelmingly sole traders who operate in precarious conditions and constitute the majority of the businesses in the creative sector in general. They have very low turnover and income, and business development goals are wide-ranging, since participants’ motivations are not solely driven by profit but also by creative and cultural goals. Instead of being targeted at businesses and sectors where there is the biggest expected financial growth, the programme specifically set out to target its support where it was needed the most, focusing on building capability and resilience at ground level in the Creative and Cultural sector.
Overall, these findings show that when funding for culture is prioritised and delivered through specialised and strategic partnerships, a range of benefits can be created, from the purely economic to the social and cultural.
LCN is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund Programme 2014 to 2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the managing authority for the European Regional Development Fund Programme, which is one of the funds established by the European Commission to help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support local businesses and create jobs. For more information visit here.