27 May 2021

Rural creative industries - an untapped potential for UK economic recovery

What do we know and why do we want to know it?

It is timely that 2021 is the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. Not only are creative industries amongst the fastest growing sectors worldwide (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2018), they also help seed innovative potential throughout the economy, writes Inge Hill and Frances Rowe, co-leads of NICRE’s rural creative industries research strand. To celebrate, let’s look at what the rural creative industries do, reflect on what we do, and do not, know about them, and look ahead to NICRE finding out more.

Studies indicate that rural creative industries make significant social, cultural and economic contributions to rural societies and economies. However, this is largely overshadowed by the perception that rural creative sectors are too small to matter and are merely a sub-set of the urban. Hence, cultural policy is skewed towards cities while industrial policy does not take sufficient account of the potential of rural creative sectors.

Rightly so, reports from advocacy bodies such as the Rural Cultural Forum argue rural creative industries’ contributions are significantly overlooked. We at NICRE therefore embrace the opportunity to shed light on the impact of creative and cultural entrepreneurs and businesses in rural England.

One of NICRE’s early priorities

According to the current classification by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, creative businesses are ‘those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property’. Core UK sectors include music, performing and visual arts, publishing, advertising and marketing, crafts, architecture, design and designer fashion, film and photography, IT, museums, galleries and libraries.

Creative industries are amongst the fastest growing industry sectors and contributed £116 billion to the UK economy in 2019 (DCMS, 2021, 2019 Economic Estimates). They feature highly in national and sub-national economic development strategies (Build Back Better: our plan for growth). But what we have little knowledge of is exactly how much of that contribution is made by rural creative industries enterprises.

Bringing together such disparate sectors with their different business models, support needs, and propensity for growth is not without its challenges and this is a topic we will return to in subsequent blogs. However, these few numbers illustrate the need for finer-grained evidence and analysis than exists currently to unpick the structure and socio-economic impacts of the rural creative sectors in different rural areas. Given that economic investment policies and plans are geared to where growth potential exists, the evidence gap about the contribution of the rural creative sectors needs to be tackled.  This is why NICRE has made the creative industries one of its early priorities.

Research collaboration

We’re delighted to be collaborating with Dr Jorge Velez-Ospina and Dr Josh Siepel, academics from Sussex University’s Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) and part of the national Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre at Nesta (PEC), on understanding England's rural creative industries. With funding from NICRE’s Research and Innovation Fund, we’ll be examining the make-up of micro clusters of creative industries in rural areas and their contribution to, and relationship with, the wider rural economy.

Over the next few months, we will be showcasing our research and evidence on the rural creative industries, highlighting relevant case studies, and encouraging debate over some of the key findings and issues.  Watch this space!

Inge Hill (inge.hall@rau.ac.uk) and Frances Rowe (frances.rowe@newcastle.ac.uk) are co-leads of NICRE’s rural creative industries research strand.