It’s been on the cards for a while, but the takeover of Rutland Mills (those buildings opposite The Hepworth, on the same side of the river) is now very much a reality. There have been private meetings between organisations in the district but the Future Creativity meeting was open to all, to hear the plans for the future and make further connections.
Overall the development appears very positive for the area, meaning the riverside, the city and the north. I can’t help reserve some cynicism, especially considering how some supposedly community driven projects have turned out, and I do have some questions that have been left lingering. But the sheer fact that there will be a major destination for the creatives industry in the city is an amazing thing. One example given was that Creative England could potential setup their offices within the complex. The potential is huge and the benefits could be plentiful.
It was easy to be wowed by the achievements of the Tileyard setup that has been built up in Kings Cross. It was good to see the team acknowledge a world of difference between Wakefield and London. As they began to speak about the scope of the project, I realised the ‘catchment’, for want of a better word, is the entire north of England. Tileyard London hosts hundreds of businesses and the number of recording studios alone well over 50. Significant scale pop stars and producers, songwriters and the likes of Kate Moss and Liam Gallagher are based out of there, at least some of the time. Their networking events attract around 1200 people. It’s a major hub of creative activity. Many of the speakers mentioned how the social areas, such as the eating / restaurant spaces were where they would go to strikes a deal, and end up making 6.
The vision was almost of a creative village and on offer was anything from a single desk for a week, up to space for a business with a significant number of staff. An interesting point they made was that they don’t believe in ‘build it and they will come’. Instead they prefer to find the people and build what they want.
The potential is from simple office space to recording studios (with shared live rooms but private mixing suites), artist studios, videogame designers, fashion designers, film-makers – anything you can think of, with the emphasis on community and collaboration. That, alongside open spaces for events and tie-ins with the arts world painted a utopia, some form of artistic and business combining hub of excellence. Could it happen?
The other aspect of the presentation were the educational benefits. This too had some interesting offers and the suggestion was that it would tie in strongly with what Wakefield already had to offer (Wakefield College, Backstage Academy). Questions were asked about tying things up with local schools and making students aware of the opportunities that would be available to them. The key point here was that, as a place, it could be something to aspire to. They also spoke of the desire to create full-time MAs based around practical, hands on experience running completely out of the site.
The vision was strong but naturally some aspects weren’t covered in as much detail. Many of the guest speakers / panel members spoke about how it’ll be great to have this base in the North, so people don’t have to travel to London to work. It felt like the benefit was to existing and established clients, a simple saving on train fares and time. The question of “Why Wakefield?” was raised but not really answered. The answer is that we are cheap, let’s face it. If it could be in Leeds, it would be.
It was disappointing how few people from Wakefield were involved as speakers but Tileyard are, with these events, reaching out and it is early days, so I don’t want to hold that against them. But it did make me question the benefits to artists and creative people existing in Wakefield right now. There were alot of people on the panels and in the audience from Leeds University. One even refered to Rutland Mills as a ‘campus’ for them, which is very interesting considering Leeds University had a campus here (Breton Hall) but closed it down, which as panel member Rosie Doonan pointed out (and most of us know all too well) was a major turning point for Wakefield’s cultural activity and output.
Aside of the academics, there were a majority of business focussed people in the room, who were naturally thrilled about the economic benefits of developing the site. The artistic community as I know it was not really represented to any significant level.
Which made me feel that Rutland Mills could open and be full of it’s existing clients and tenants and staffed by the existing team from London. I’m a strong supoprter of The Hepworth but it has acknowledged the issues of it’s location within the city centre and how visitors tend to only visit them, and do not experience the wider city (an issue they wish to address). There is a geographical disconnect, but also one of needs, abilities, aims. Rutland Mills is the best thing that could ever happen to The Hepworth, but they may collectively become a satellite on the outskirts of the city.
I also wonder about access to this satellite for the likes of us – Wakefield based artists and creatives. Tileyard spoke about their desire to connect locally – though the scale of the project is certainly regional, and beyond – and I would hope that simply having a close proximity to these resources would help our cultural community. But there must still be gatekeepers, there will still be walls. I’m not going to be able to walk in and ask Liam Gallagher to hook me up with a booking agent. There may be countless recording studios and songwriting sessions, but I still have to pay for the services and as the business needs to make money, I don’t expect there will be lower charges for ‘local people’ compared to large established national companies.
I don’t want to come across as parochial, but my worry would be that if these things aren’t accessible to us, they may as well be in London afterall.
One final thing for me was related to education, but a less formal type. It’s hard to say this without sounding, well, horrible, but Wakefield artists (i’m thinking musicians) are pretty backwards. Or, behind the times. I include myself in this. I only recently signed up with PRS. I don’t really understand publishing. There isn’t a booking agent in the city. Our festivals and record labels are self taught.
For a long time, I’ve wanted to help improve this situation. Long Division has held free seminars on such subjects. Naturally, no-one came along. But in the form of Tileyard, I would hope, strongly, that they will be able to make some of their expertise available to a cultural community that is rich in talent, skill and passion but sometimes lacking in knowledge. The aforementioned Rosie Doonan is one of far too few to have made notable achievements, and her wish that people could achieve so much more without having to up sticks to London is an admirable one. Tileyard gave a good example of what I am looking for: the idea of specialist photoshop workshops, but aimed specifically at musicians, and their specific needs. That sounds great.
And their ethos was summed up by them saying, ‘we aren’t DIY, we’re DIO’ which stood for Do It Ourselves, meaning you aren’t alone when you are part of the community.
In conclusion; this is exciting and deserves our support. But also, it will happen with our without us. The Tileyard team are positive and genuine and we should all make our best efforts to connect with them.
The website for Tileyard London is here.