“Coping with a crisis has helped us to see how well our vision and plans fit into the longer-term changes in approaches to life, work, and community that the pandemic has forced everyone to reflect on.”
A case study from Tannery Arts, a recipient of the Mayor of London’s Creative Workspace Resilience Fund. In 2020 we worked on a case study with Siobhan Davies Studios to better understand the impact of COVID on studio providers and their tenants. Two years on we asked Development Manager, Carrie Anne Ratcliff how things have changed.
Two years on from the start of the pandemic, almost to the month, we can reflect on the changes, expected and unexpected, that have come about and how we have responded to them. Inevitably some of our plans, such as the new long-term space we will be sharing with Drawing Room, have been subject to delays, though happily only slight delays. Changes in economic conditions mean that temporary leases are currently more available, though the rental market remains volatile. Artists needs have grown, our waiting list for studios is much higher and the need to broaden the range of buildings and facilities we offer is greater than ever. One big effect of lockdown is individual artists realising the value of a studio space away from home.
During the time of the pandemic our artists have had major international museum exhibitions cancelled or postponed, been shortlisted for the Turner Prize, moved out and moved back in, been in receipt of support via Arts Council and Creative Land Trust resilience funding, and in some instances, turned down our offer of support on the basis that secure salaries meant they didn’t need the money in the same way that others did. All of this has reaffirmed the nature of a dynamic and aware community across several studio sites and with very diverse ways of working and engaging with others.
We are currently moving out of a building that has been the home for eight artists and Drawing Room since 2018. This has been on a ‘meanwhile’ lease with Southwark Council for a site that they own and are now turning into social housing. We will be spread across other temporary buildings until some of our artists move into the new London Square building alongside a purpose-built gallery for Drawing Room. For our other artists, the temporary sites will become longer term and our work to secure further buildings will continue. With the former site and its council homes, we are hoping that Southwark Council will be open to our return on the ground floor, along with local community education and outreach.
If the pandemic and resilience funding support has taught us one thing, it is to be confident of the value of what we do and the needs that it meets. Studio provision is in and of itself an ambitious project that brings life and energy to any ecosystems it is part of. For this reason, we are clear that affordable workspace and affordable housing are joined at the hip and that the future life of cities and towns depends on joined up policy for both. We are working to consolidate this position with local authorities and through ongoing conversation with developers. In relation to this, the standard redevelopment model of retail on the ground floor and housing above, usually replicated in social housing schemes under the ‘best value’ model, needs rigorous questioning. Councils are constrained to see best value purely in rental income. We believe it should be recalculated based on how much positive regeneration a studio organisation can offer a community, thereby justifying considerably lower rents through less monetised benefits in the form of community outreach and input into the local economy from the pockets of thriving artists. Increasingly there are those in local authority regeneration teams who agree with our position. In effect coping with a crisis has helped us to see how well our vision and plans fit into the longer-term changes of approach to life, work, and community that the pandemic has forced everyone to reflect on.