Sat, Jul

IR talks to… Sarah Thirtle, head of business lending programmes, Creative United

Creative United was established last year, with support from Arts Council England, to provide a range of financial products and services designed to help grow the UK’s cultural and creative industries. 

As a Community Interest Company, its focus is on delivering a combination of strong social and financial returns via publically funded programmes. Its new flagship scheme is Creative Industry Finance.

We asked Sarah Thirtle, head of business lending programmes, whether this is something printers can benefit from. 
By Lesley Simpson

Firstly, can you explain a bit about Creative United itself?

Creative United is an independent Community Interest Company that was fully formed and launched only last year, but it has actually been in existence for a while as something called ArtCo Trading, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Arts Council. So, Creative United as it is now, had been running programmes designed to support the creative economy for a while: programmes such as Take It Away, which allows people to buy musical instruments; and Own Art, which allows people to buy contemporary art – all in affordable instalments. It recently launched Creative Industry Finance as a business offering for those working in the creative industries but who might find it difficult to access funding, and to provide advice to help them grow those businesses.

Why should large-format printers be interested in Creative Industry Finance, which Creative United only introduced across the whole of England towards the end of September?

Creative Industry Finance is one of a range of products and services that Creative United offers, with a mission to help build and sustain a resilient creative economy. Creative Industry Finance is there to offer business advice, and access to finance to any business that has creativity as a main part of what it does. If printers want to grow that part of the business we’re there to help them achieve that.

Print is not one of the clearly designated ‘creative industries’ listed as within the programme’s reach, although many printers would see themselves as fitting that space. Can you elaborate?

That list of sectors is a broad list, and really designed to highlight the kinds of areas we can work with, but we fully understand that creative businesses come in all sorts of shapes and forms, and a lot of them straddle different sectors or work with/are closely related to other sectors. We fully understand that there may be a print company that has a very strong creative element in what it does; it may be designing and building innovative products and new works in original formats, so we would welcome enquiries and opportunities to talk to such businesses. The only areas we really can’t work with at the moment, is where the creative element is solely advertising, or marketing other people’s work – or anything involving antiques.

Can you provide any eligibility guidelines to large- format print solutions providers, many of whom are now very involved in project concept and design etc.?

Sure. Creative Industry Finance has three basic eligibility criteria. Firstly, we work with businesses that are based in England. Secondly, the businesses need to have been trading for at least 18 months. And thirdly, the business must have some kind of creative element at its core. That might be working with new creative talent, and developing design departments and graphic designers; it might be using new creative means to enter new markets etc. So if that’s part of what they do, or what they want to do – perhaps they’re looking to diversify – then we’d welcome enquiries from those kinds of businesses.

You conducted a two-year pilot of this scheme before rolling it out across England. I understand that supported more than 400 creative enterprises. Did any print businesses benefit from that?

Yes, there were businesses that involved print. An example of a business that did really well from that pilot programme was a company called Ditto Press, a print/design/publishing company that produces original print artworks and magazines, and uses print in very creative ways. That company was able to get support to help hone its business and growth plans and to find ways of reaching new clients. It also used its loan to move into new premises because it wanted to expand. Ditto had really great outcomes – it has developed those new clients and is doing really well. So that’s an example of a business that really straddles different sector but uses printing as part of what it does in a very creative way.

For those that are eligible, what does Creative Industry Finance actually deliver?

So, the nuts and bolts. Well, the first stage is for a company to fill out the online registration form [http://www.creativeindustryfinance.org.uk/eligibility- checker] which is very straightforward – it’s not full of jargonistic words or anything. We simply ask what the business is doing, what its plans are, what it may need finance for or where it may need help strategising; we look at what’s in the current business plan and finance plan so we can see where the business is at the moment and then once we’ve assessed that in-ouse we match that business with a business adviser. A company can get up to 12 hours business advice for free. The business adviser will work with it on how to meet its challenges and understand its ambitions, and basically help the company get investment ready so that when we introduce it to one of our seven different lending partners, it will be able to come in with a strong proposal. Our lending partners offer a range of finance options to meet different needs, whether it be for £2,500 to £100,000+. We will hopefully, through this whole process, be able to match people up so that they have the best chance to progress and move forward.

Creative United’s own strapline is ‘innovative finance for creative businesses’. Do you have much interaction specifically with the print sector?

Creative United’s relationship with the print sector is something that we very much want to explore and develop. Creative United itself comes from a place of working very closely with the Arts Council and building partnerships with other trade sector associations to fulfil its mission of developing the creative economy across the whole of the country.

Through Creative Industry Finance and the business partners we have there, we have lots of industry links already.We’re also building links with what we’re calling industry partners, which are trade sector bodies and associations that are pledging their support to Creative Industry Finance and allowing Creative United to connect and communicate with people who are at the coalface – those who are actually making and creating.

We’re very much in the process of building those relationships right now. We have some great partners involved already, like the Design Council, Independent Theatre Council, BPI, and we’re keen to talk to other organisations that represent those working across the design and print fields.

And what I am really excited about is possibly finding ways to get these trade associations talking to each other as well and seeing where they can really help each other, and where their memberships can start working together – so there are lots of possibilities.

An edited version of this interview can be seen as a video clip here.

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