England's Rural creative industries: geography and business structure

Creative industries are growing massively with more and more people pursuing the arts, however despite the increasing prominence of creative industries, there is some disparity in both size and success between individual companies due to their location.

Whilst there are large clusters of creative industries dotted around the globe, often in urban areas, there is much space between these hubs, that has yet to be explored. There is a gap in our understanding of the distribution and activities of England’s rural creative industries and how they operate. On average it has been found that rural creative industries businesses are smaller, less productive and less likely to up-scale in comparison to companies in urban areas.

Recent research has pointed to the economic creation of creative ‘microclusters’: smaller groups of businesses within the creative industry located outside of large urban hubs. Could these microcluster companies have untapped growth potential? Following the previous Creative Radar report, Dr Jorge Velez‐Ospina is leading a new National Innovation Centre For Rural Enterprise (NICRE) project, investigating ‘England's Rural creative industries: geography and business structure’, with researchers Dr Josh Siepel, Dr Frances Rowe (Newcastle University), Dr Inge Hill (Royal Agricultural University) and Eliza Easton (Head of Policy Unit for PEC at Nesta). During this project, they will be exploring the development of creative ‘microclusters’, building on previous work in understanding creative and cultural industries. The project aims to achieve this by addressing three questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of rural creative microclusters?
  2. What determines rural microclustering, and to what extent do the drivers differ from urban settings?
  3. How do rural creative clusters and creative industries differ from urban creative industries?

Research approach

The team will use data from the Creative Radar project, including scraped web data, a firm survey of creative businesses carried out in early 2020 (in which approximately 20% were rural businesses), and an AHRC‐ funded follow‐up survey.

Using this data, to answer the first question, the microclusters will be mapped out at the sub-sector level to identify differences in structure. Secondly, using econometric methods, the researchers will identify which forces are important in the assemblage of the geographical formation of these microclusters, such as socio-economic factors and access to venues, to try to identify any place-based effects. This will also be compared to clustering in urban areas. For the third question, econometric analysis will be used to analyse survey data and identify differences between urban and rural creative industries, looking at firm-level factors such as business models.

Impact and outreach This research looks to expand on the information already obtained through the previous Creative Radar programme by the Policy and Evidence Centre, led by Nesta, to gain further insights into

creative industries and clustering. This project will produce valuable insights into rural creative industries more broadly as well as the formation of microclusters. By understanding what causes them to form, how they differ from larger clusters and what challenges they face, solutions may be considered to help these smaller creative businesses to develop and increase the overall success of the companies.

The research aims to provide meaningful insights which can be presented to policy makers and used to support rural creative business around the world. In doing this, this project aims to contribute to the wider goal of increased development and accessibility within the creative industry, with more opportunities and successes to those in different geographical locations.

Project partners

  • Newcastle University
  • Royal Agricultural University
  • Nesta Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC)