Using pre-pandemic web-scraped data of 184,791 creative industries organisations in England, this project examined the make-up of clusters of creative industries in rural areas and their contribution to, and relationship with, the rural economy.  

It identified the main drivers of clustering of rural creative industries in England, and compared these drivers to those of clustering in urban settings. 

It was funded through NICRE’s Research and Innovation Fund. 


Key findings

Our cluster mapping demonstrates that rural microclusters are widely spread across the country, with about one-third of the rural firms and organisations in our sample operating in one of the small clusters. 

Our results for rural clusters are also largely in line with previous findings, which have mainly focused on urban settings, and the importance of place-based assets (such as cultural institutions and social capital), location and diverse economies. 

We find that the drivers of clustering in rural areas are not inherently different from urban areas, apart from a weak link between rural microclustering and informal social networks. 

Conclusions and recommendations

Our primary finding suggests that the determinants of microclustering are generally consistent between rural and urban settings. In both cases, we find that microclustering is associated with heritage and culture-led facilities and a diverse set of local industries that share several similarities (related diversity). This finding is important because it suggests that factors associated with microclustering are not particularly different in rural settings. From this perspective our findings support the possibility for culture-led regeneration and placemaking. Our findings suggest that the Government’s current Levelling Up agenda would benefit from recognising the distinctive features of location outside of cities, and considering a more nuanced place-based approach.

In particular, our research suggests that rural creative clusters have a meaningful contribution to make to the Levelling Up agenda. Efforts to support creative industries should therefore not overlook or otherwise exclude rural clusters in favour of cities; indeed, targeting supports to help microclusters and clusters wherever they are will help to unlock the potential of the creative industries across the UK.

Where rural-specific interventions are designed, efforts that support the development of informal networks of interactions between rural people and organisations and stimulate local demand look to be one promising tool.