Study visit to Derby, July 2019

Emily Hopkins, Royal Holloway University of London

A visit to Derby showcased a city defined by its manufacturing industries but with a growing number of creative businesses – businesses which have the potential to be a socioeconomic bridge,  generating income in a larger variety of sectors whilst transforming the city’s cultural identity.


Over the course of the visit, the group was asked to consider: how can Derby use its reputation as the home of Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Bombardier, in developing its vision as a culture-led creative city?

The day began with Nicola Lynch from the University of Derby discussing the steady increase of the city’s economic growth rate, measured as the third fastest growing economy within the UK in 2018. However, Nicola noted that where Derby is achieving great success, notably in various engineering sub-sectors, there is an uneven spread of wealth and the city has a large wage differential.

Throughout the visit, Derby’s ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ industries were repeatedly referred to as the city’s leading contributors to the local economy. These undoubtedly play a crucial role, with a combined economic output of £9.5bn generated from its three leading employers: Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Bombardier. However, more than 80% of new local businesses are micro-firms, many of which are part of the city’s growing creative industries.


The ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ anecdote set a benchmark of local identity that was difficult to compete with. The visit highlighted a need to look beyond the restrictions that could result from a definitive economic narrative, and to recognise the socioeconomic value of Derby’s cultural outputs. Mike Brown from Derby City Council discussed the need for cultural strategies to recognise Derby’s status as a transportation manufacturing hub, but also evolve the identity of the city as its outputs diversify.

The cultural community uses its collective assets and energies to celebrate its status as a smaller city, with a visit to Derby Theatre and its Departure Lounge Festival showcasing the strong connections between the local institutions and practitioners. Sarah Brigham, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the theatre, spoke alongside local producers about their active choice to locate in Derby, rather than move to more renowned creative cities nearby, such as Manchester or Birmingham. Why? To help ‘put Derby on the map’ and promote the city’s cultural outputs.

This is Derby

The example of the #ThisIsDerby programme also embraced this civic pride, bringing together local sports, arts and cultural talent for young people in the city. Importantly, it addressed the city’s socioeconomic imbalance by locating activity hubs in nine of Derby’s most deprived wards. It also utilised a mixture of stakeholders to co-produce the activities and demonstrated the power of combining forces with unexpected partners, such as Derby County FC. #ThisIsDerby illustrated the possibilities that arise from local collaborations and the positive changes that these can bring for both the residents of Derby and the local economy, as a predicted £2.5m was brought into the city through the event.


The city is located within the D2N2 (Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire) Local Enterprise Partnership, which is the fifth largest LEP in the UK. A roundtable discussion with local stakeholders and creative industry workers noted the difficulties of being located within proximity to Nottingham, home to a successful cultural quarter with offices and an established support network for small creative enterprises. In comparison, Connect Derby provides several co-workspaces, supported by Derby City Council and the European Regional Development Fund. A visit to one of the seven hubs highlighted how creative and engineering enterprises are based in separate buildings around the city. Again, we see possibilities for collaboration: combining the workspaces of the creative and STEM enterprises could help to connect Derby’s dual identities as a manufacturing and culture-led creative city, and lead to innovative partnerships.

Derby film studioNonetheless, there seemed to be a mutual agreement that the size and scale of Derby was a crucial factor in the strength of the existing connections between its local creative industries. “We go to the same pubs and drink in the same cafes”, it was noted, and the major cultural institutions in the city centre are all within a walking distance of each other – this provides a real advantage for smaller creative cities.



Our visit to Derby showed us the collaborative potential that was being nurtured by a strong cultural community who are eager to play a role in the changing face of the city; but it also illustrated the difficulties of competing with a dominant economic narrative without a forum or platform to connect these ideas. Taking this into consideration, here are some suggestions to overcome these obstacles:

  • Formalised interactions between Derby’s creative networks – There is a need to formalise the informal networks that already take place. This would put less pressure on individual institutions to facilitate their own networks and provide a more official framework for the cultural and creative industries to work with in the city.
  • Pursue opportunities provided by the larger companies that currently define the local economy – The manufacturing industries could help to form a more interconnected supply chain throughout the city, utilising the outputs of the local creative talent and playing a larger role in the wider cultural ecosystem of Derby. How can these distinct stakeholders and their assets be used in the shaping of the city’s future identity?
  • A new narrative – Reaffirming definitive identities of place makes it more difficult for new narratives to emerge. While the ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ anecdote summarises an intrinsic part of Derby’s economic identity, there is a need to move beyond this and allow culture-led identities to share the stage.


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