Jayne Dowle: It’s creative thinking that will power new prosperity

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I WENT out for dinner the other night and met a young woman who works as a fashion designer. Nothing that unusual, you might think. However, I am ashamed to say I was taken aback. She works in Barnsley. And until she started telling me about her job, I had no idea that there was a company here which designs fancy dress costumes for children.

This young woman spends her days on an industrial estate near the M1 dreaming up gorgeous outfits to tie in with all the latest Disney film releases. There was me thinking I knew everything there was to know about Barnsley. And there was me thinking that I had a pretty good handle on the “creative industries” in our region.

It just proves that you should never make assumptions – or take anything for granted. When we fall into doom and gloom and talk about the lack of opportunities for young people in Yorkshire, perhaps we don’t look far enough. Or near enough.

This particular young woman studied fashion design in Leeds before returning to her home town, where she found this job almost straight away. How often do we hear of good news stories like this? Especially when it comes to what we call the “creative sector”?

Here’s another good news story for you. Twice as many jobs will be created in arts and culture in Yorkshire and the Humber as in London in the next decade, partly as a result of Hull hosting the City of Culture in 2017. A new study by the Warwick Institute for Employment Research predicts that there will be as many as 3,000 extra jobs for dancers, actors, authors and artists in the region by 2022. It doesn’t mention fashion designers per se, but you get the gist. Hull’s successful bid highlights the fact that the region as a whole is upping its game.

It is also showing us how the “creative industries” should be interpreted as a very broad church. In Hull itself, there is a target of 1,500 jobs to be created in the creative and cultural industries. These range from expanding the hotel, bar and restaurant scene to investing in brand new areas such as digital gaming.

Is it too early to hope and wish that we are witnessing the rebirth of the region as a creative and cultural powerhouse? After all, we were there at the birth of the Industrial Revolution. We supplied the imagination and the creativity to launch the textile industry. We came up with technical solutions to problems and challenges in mining and engineering. We inspired artists and musicians to celebrate our achievements. And we created some of the most influential writers and novelists in the English-speaking world.

There is not space here to document what happened as the 20th century turned. Dwelling on the past doesn’t achieve anything anyway. It’s time to look to the future. As City of Culture chief executive Martin Green says: “It is easy to forget that creative industries play an increasingly important role in the economy of the UK.”

I agree. For too long now, anything which sounds remotely arty has been relegated to the back burner. In recent years, arts-based services have been the first to go when public spending cuts have cut a swathe. How many theatres have seen their funding slashed? How many orchestras have had to forgo a tour? How many artists and photographers have seen the opportunities for their work to be showcased severely curtailed? In the cut and thrust world of business, artistic activities might not sound that important. After all, aren’t these things luxuries? Things we can live without, like fancy-dress costumes?

However, without those extra dimensions to our lives, our lives would be very dull indeed. And our creative talent truly is the envy of the world. I’ll give you an example. Who can forget the extravaganza of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012? The music. The choreography. The costumes. The entire creative vision of producer Danny Boyle, born just across the Pennines in Manchester?

No-one could deny that this impressed millions around the globe. The challenge though is to turn this public relations exercise into long-growth and opportunities. Hull Council says that the impact of the city gaining the honour is already having a positive effect – with 16 new business start-ups in the past year.

We’ve got a brilliant opportunity here to capitalise on the City of Culture status across the region, not just in the city itself. Let’s not let the chance go by. We hear so much about squandered legacy. Here’s a legacy we could capitalise on and use to create jobs for all those young people in our schools and colleges finding it hard to settle on a direction in life. How many children sit at the back of class doodling? And how many ever get chance to turn their creative talent into a career they can only dream about?

Designing Disney costumes in Barnsley might sound like such a dream job. Let’s dream even bigger dreams though, and support this bid to become the creative powerhouse of the country once again.