Wembley Park creative hub hopes to “stop London talent drain”

New art and design studios are set to open in North West London, and aim to be an “affordable” alternative to working in the heart of the capital city.

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Wembley Park, home to one of London’s largest music venues and football stadiums, will open a new creative hub next month offering artists and designers “affordable” studios.

The creative quarter is due to open in November at Elvin Square Gardens, and will see 26 artist and designer studios set on the ground floor of new-build flats, which are looking to provide up to 7,000 new homes in the area. The fit-out has been completed by Leslie Jones Architects.

These studios could be given to up to 35 creative individuals, as some of the spaces will be studio shares.

The project is being completed by arts organisation Second Floor Studios and Arts (SFSA), Brent Council and property developer Quintain. The council has provided a grant towards the project, part of a New Homes funding programme for local authorities in London.

The new hub follows the announcement of a similar project in Greenwich, South-West London, which is due to open in 2020 and is a much bigger scheme that will see spaces created for 1,800 creatives.

Alternative to “unaffordable” Central London

It comes as the area in North West London, which is in Zone Four and roughly a 15-minute journey by Tube into the centre of the city, is set to open a Boxpark with 29 food and drink outlets in 2018. Existing Boxparks are in Shoreditch and Croydon.

The area is also home to Wembley Arena, London’s second largest music venue, and Wembley Stadium, where football matches are regularly held.

The new creative quarter looks to provide studio spaces for visual artists outside of “unaffordable” Central London, and also offer the local community more creative opportunities, says Nichole Herbert Wood, co-founder at SFSA.

“I can’t afford to live in London, I commute in,” she says. “One thing we’re trying to do is stop the talent drain that’s happening. We’re seeing a lot of creative people moving to Margate and Folkestone – we’ve got to work at not losing the cultural context of our capital. It’s part of London’s identity.”

Priced at £160-600 per month

The new Wembley Park studio spaces will be priced between £160-600 per month depending on their size, with the price set at £16 per square foot (£1.60 per square metre) per year. Rent will be locked in for 15 years after someone claims a space.

SFSA aims to eventually bring the rent down to £14-15 per square foot. According to Wood, the average studio space in London currently costs £15. A report conducted by the London Mayor’s Office in 2014 shows that the average was £13.70 three years ago.

The same report found that 3,500 artists and designers were likely to lose their studios and workspaces by 2019 due to rising rent prices in previously-affordable areas.

Then-deputy mayor of London education and culture, Munira Mirza, who headed up the report, argued in 2014 that creatives could be seen as “victims of their own success”, as their presence contributes to gentrification of affordable areas, pushing the prices up, resulting in them being forced out.

Could creative spaces cause prices to rise?

On whether gentrification could be a risk to Wembley Park, Wood says that the regeneration project aims to “engage with the local community” through free schemes as well as provide spaces for existing artists and designers.

This will include support for 16-18-year-olds through workshops to educate and inspire them about creativity, and an initiative that will see every artist and designer in the new studios obliged to give an hour back to the community every month in some way.

“For example, when the Great Pottery Throw Down is on TV, we’ll ask a ceramicist to do a free, open workshop,” Wood says. “We want to form connections with residents, as well as helping form friendships and a community among the different visual artists themselves.”

Over 2,000 of the homes within the new-build complex in which the studios are based are also aimed at being “affordable”, according to SFSA.

“Anyone in visual arts can apply”

While anyone who works in visual arts is free to apply for the studio spaces, priority will also be given to existing Brent Council residents. The amount of money made by a creative’s work will not factor into the decision to give them a space, according to Wood.

“Anyone in visual arts can apply, from jewellery-making and fashion to ceramics and illustrators,” says Wood. “We’re not making judgements on the calibre of work, so whether they are working commercially or just doing it for their own wellbeing, they will still get interest from us.”

The Wembley Park studio spaces are due to open in November 2017. Applications are now open. Those interested can email nichole@secondfloor.co.uk or complete the online form on SFSA’s website.

Bryony Benge-Abbott, textiles designer, one of the artists at SFSA’s Greenwich studios
Beka Smith, portrait artist, one of the artists at SFSA’s Greenwich studios

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