12th August 2020

The creative sector is looking for a “unifying voice”.

Studio providers share with us the effects of COVID 19 on their business and what the industry needs in order to recover.

After working to administer the Mayor of London’s Creative Workspace Resilience Fund, the Creative Land Trust reached out to applicants to gain a better understanding of the effects of Covid 19 of the Creative Industries, specifically looking at the impact on London’s studio providers and artists. Our findings have allowed us to gage an understanding of the future of industry and the support needed in its recovery.

One of the major concerns for the sector was maintaining creative tenants throughout lockdown and it’s subsequent economic fallout. When asked the percentage of artists/creatives/users cancelling memberships due to COVID 19, over 90% of respondents stated they had lost between 10% and 100% of tenants.

This has had a direct impact on income. 88% of creative workspace providers stated that income has decreased, whilst 19% have reported that costs have increased. This is often due to new COVID-19 safe requirements.

On top of this, our survey found that 53% of respondents expect to have to lay off staff this year. Of this 53%, half of respondents have stated that they will lose up to 20% of staff and 19% stated they will lose 50% of staff. This reinforces the Creative Industries Federation findings that ‘London is projected to lose 16% of its creative jobs’.

The decline in income many have had means some providers are trying to re-establish and renegotiate what affordable creative workspace means now. Whilst some try to reduce costs to maintain tenants, many will be forced to increase prices to make up for empty space, with 31% of respondents stating that they anticipate prices will increase. As one respondent stated, “If lower occupancy persists we cannot offer the same level of support”.

Many providers are now reliant on landlord support in order to maintain affordability, with approaches by landlords differing widely across the capital, it seems that artists will face the brunt of these costs. As one respondent explained, “we cannot guarantee our landlord will decrease our rent. If that doesn't happen we'll need increase prices a bit to recoup loss of current income.”

In some cases, the opposite is taking effect, with 25% stating that prices for tenants may decrease. Some commented that this is due to the support received from the Creative Workspace Resilience Funding, “we will be giving rent reductions for the next 6 months with the funding we got from the Creative Workspace Resilience Fund and also will help others beyond that who are in dire need - wherever possible”.

When asked about the anticipated financial impact of a second wave or second lockdown, 22% of participants stated that they could ‘probably’ survive. Some participants explained that this is due in part to the Resilience Fund support received thus far, “thanks to resilience funding and a concerted effort by staff and board members we are confident that we have learned enough to survive a second, similar lock down.”

However, just over half the participants of the survey stated that they could only “possibly” survive a second wave. It was made clear through the comments that this survival may be made possible through “tough decisions”, such as staff cuts, being less lenient with tenants and being forced to increase prices, thus jeopardising affordability and sustainability of studio spaces in the long term. A further 23% said that a second lockdown would result in closure without further support.

As part of the survey, respondents were asked, “What tools, resources, support, and infrastructure does the sector need in order to remain resilient and strive for excellence in the post-pandemic world?”.

The vast majority of respondents and the overall feeling was that more funding was needed to rebuild confidence and maintain affordability and diversity in the sector. Some specified a need for funding specific to infrastructure costs, support to reconfigure spaces to ensure COVID safe requirements can be met, direct support for operational costs, and funding to assist with IT and moving online.

Some mentioned a need for support with pivoting skills to the new needs of organisations, for example training, support and resources to help with landlords, as well as business support to “aid faster planning permission for changes to space, licenses for food offerings etc”. Two respondents mentioned the “Creative Industries Strategic Planning and Development Action Plan” for local and national levels.

Others stated that there was a strong need for operations guidance and clarity, either through local or national government, or equally through open source peer-on-peer support and “better networking between providers to share experience and approaches.” The need for a “unifying voice” for the sector was made apparent.