The Dispensary of Prosperity

The creative industries need to draw a line. A line around the jobs and businesses that the Government keeps saying are so important to the UK’s future. A line around the conditions for success that make the UK so strong in growing creative industries. A line that stops the short-sighted actions of a few people seeking a fast profit from undermining the basis for that success.

For the last six months a creative hub in Bath called The Dispensary has been my working home. It’s home to a dozen or so creative businesses from a three-man illustration/animation studio to a series of freelance designers, photographers and writers. It was set up by a thriving design agency, Radio, the owners of which are the brains behind The Dispensary. I love working there so much I blogged about it last month as the role model for other creative hubs.

Next week that all comes to an end. Suddenly. The building is being sold out from under the feet of the current tenants. At ten days’ notice. The owners spent months negotiating with the current tenants to buy the building and keep the creative hub. The owners were all set to accept the offer. Then a property developer suggested that he’d pay more. And suddenly the creative community was told it had ten days to vacate. The current tenants weren’t even given a chance to match the offer.

I don’t know the finer details of the sale of the building. And this is not a rant against property developers. The point is that a highly effective creative hub, providing a platform for the business success of up to a dozen businesses, is now being broken up. For all the fine words from Government and local council about supporting the creative industries in the UK, another small spark of growth is being extinguished. I don’t know whether the developer will be turning the building into luxury apartments (which is what I suspect) but what Bath, like so many cities in the UK, needs now is jobs, entrepreneurial activity, the basis for economic growth. Small businesses provide that growth and the creative sector is widely heralded as a UK success story.

This is my story. There are hundreds of identical stories across the UK at the moment. Of small, entrepreneurial businesses being thrown off track by short-term thinking. We’re not looking for public funding or subsidy. We’re not looking for special treatment. We’re looking for an understanding that if the UK is to grow out of recession we need to think about achieving a balance between jobs and property development. We need councils to fight for the kind of balanced city centres that people want to live and work in. We need the wider community to realise that creative industries generate exactly the kind of environment that makes commercial property development successful in many cases. After all, many cities are currently considering exactly how to catalyse the kind of creative hub that The Dispensary had already built, by itself, in Bath.

It’s probably too late to effect a different outcome for The Dispensary. But for Bath and dozens of other UK cities, I hope we can build up a debate about balancing the need for more housing with the need for small company growth. And the creative industries in particular need to stand up and be counted. We need to start drawing a line.

Stepping into Space

Our “pale blue dot”. Picture: NASA/JPL

We’re about to cross the Final Frontier and enter Outer Space. This week, give or take a month or two, a man-made object will leave our Solar System for the first time. Voyager 1 is already 11.2 billion miles from Earth and still going, long after it was predicted to run out of life.

Voyager 1 set out from Cape Canaveral in Florida in 1977, powered by computers with 80 kilobytes of memory. It flew past Jupiter in March 1979 and Saturn in November 1980, sending phenomonal pictures of the planet’s famous rings. In 1990, 4 billion miles from earth, it used some of its remaining power to turn its cameras back towards Earth and take this unique picture showing just how tiny our world is in the vastness of the solar system.

Scientists expected to lose contact with Voyager 1 and its sister ship Voyager 2 after this picture, but despite weakening signal power, information continues to be sent from both Voyagers daily, further improving our knowledge of the solar system. Roughly now (no one knows exactly when this historic event will happen, but within months for sure) Voyager 1 will leave the outer edge of the heliosphere. From there it could move on through Space for a very long time. If it doesn’t collide with anything (and there’s not much out there to hit), in about 40,000 years it should be within 9.3 trillion miles of a star known as AC+79 3888. Voyager 2 is just 9.2 billion miles from Earth, but is also on a trajectory out into Deep Space.

In his book Pale Blue Dot, Dr Carl Sagan wrote a brilliant piece which serves as an extended caption to Voyager 1’s last photo. I’ve reproduced it here – moving words to accompany an incredible picture:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”