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Creative Fuse: Towards a Sustainable Future

The Creative Fuse team recently put in a bid for the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Creative Industries Clusters Programme. This programme presented the potential to extend our unique collaboration between creative businesses and the region’s five universities until 2023 with a new project, channelling over £9m of investment into the North East. During the application process, we received some amazing support from the creative, cultural and digital businesses in the Creative Fuse community, with many offering insights, feedback, letters of support, time, venues and even match funding. The support we received from you means a lot; assuring the team that the Creative Fuse collaboration is successful, valued, and addresses challenges for the region.

With your help, we submitted the second stage application in April and have been waiting for news. We knew that this would be a very competitive programme, which would generate some excellent collaborative proposals from teams across the UK.

Sadly, on 25th May, we heard that the project had not been shortlisted for interview, and that our bid would not be going forward. As the situation stands, the Creative Fuse North East partnership will come to a close on 31st October 2018.

We want to change this.

Last week was pivotal for Creative Fuse. The team came together, with a distinct determination to move past our disappointment and take action towards longer-term sustainability. We refuse to become another ‘drive-by collaboration’; a footnote in an academic career, or a half-remembered support programme with a defunct Twitter feed.

Our plan is to develop pathways for sustainable collaboration – and we need your help. These are our first steps:

Work Strand 1: Deliver Creative Fuse North East

Our Task:

The funding application we submitted was a new and separate project to the current work of Creative Fuse. The planned delivery of the existing Creative Fuse North East project will not be affected by this news. We are now in the busiest phase of the project, and – much like a team of expert three-legged-race competitors – the different strands of the project will be running at full pelt towards the finish line in (almost) perfect synchronisation:

  • The Business Innovation Support workshops are well underway, with some more sessions to be announced in the next few weeks.
  • Our Student Placements are about to hit their main delivery window as students free up their time for the summer and get ready to jump into projects with your businesses.
  • The Innovation Pilot projects are past the halfway marker, with lots of success stories to capture, next steps to support, and lessons to record.
  • CAKE continues to connect, inspire, and nourish networkers across different sectors.
  • The Creative Fuse Conference is all set to be an event to remember as we showcase our successes, discuss the difficult questions, and bring a varied and vibrant community together to catalyse new collaborative relationships.

The show will go on, and what a show it’s going to be.

Help Us:

Get your tickets, stand in the crowd, and make some noise. We need you to continue believing in us; turning up for events, asking for support, and sharing your success stories. This will help us to demonstrate that Creative Fuse generates real value for the region. If you haven’t yet attended a workshop – register. If you have (and enjoyed it) – write a blog or tweet @CreativeFuseNE. Ask us to arrange a funded placement for you; share your Innovation Pilot news and progress; sign up for the Creative Fuse Conference; get colleagues to join our mailing list; and do not dismiss us as a project about to be mothballed – with your help, we won’t be.

Work Strand 2: Find Alternative Funding

Our Task:

The Creative Industries Cluster Programme is not the only relevant funding stream out there. We are actively scoping future funding sources, and are initiating discussions with our partners and potential funders to this end. Whilst we can’t guarantee success with any funding application, we’ll guarantee to put forward a compelling case that the universities and creative industries can get behind.

Additionally, we will be connecting the Innovation Pilot teams with appropriate channels to continue developing their work beyond their Creative Fuse funding, e.g. preparing the way for Innovate UK applications.

We are expecting some feedback from the Creative Clusters Bid shortly, which could help to clarify some potential future directions. Whatever happens, we’re determined to keep our eyes peeled for new opportunities so that we can carry on creating, innovating, and researching with you.

Help Us:

Stand by and give us your support. We may need letters, ideas, feedback, and yes – perhaps match funding or in-kind resources to bring to the table. We’ll keep you posted with specific opportunities, but in the meantime, you can pledge your support here.

Work Strand 3: Challenge the Cycle

Our Task:

This work strand is the key to sustainable collaboration between universities and businesses. Like many action research projects, the Creative Fuse collaboration is supported by short term funding agreements. We are very grateful for the AHRC, Arts Council England and ERDF funding which has enabled our project team to connect, collaborate and grow – but we’d like to plan for a longer term future.

A reliance on external funding across the Higher Education sector can create a series of research projects that are very much ‘of the moment.’ Alliances form, are funded, and then disband all too soon. Trends shift and new collaborations form; sometimes with similar teams, often with a completely different line up. As individuals move away to pursue their careers and delivery teams fall off the payroll, institutional memory is lost. When new projects come to the fore, valuable time is spent creating systems that already existed, re-discovering and repairing relationships with industry, and making assurances to stakeholders that this time the collaboration will last.

We want to challenge this cycle. Creative Fuse is the first time that all five universities in the North East have worked together on this scale, and we do not want this collaboration to end. Alongside our colleagues in industry, we form an amazing team with skills, interests and expertise that complement each other wonderfully. This is why we’ll be lobbying senior management at each institution and making the case for a connected approach to engagement with the region’s Creative, Digital and IT businesses.

With Creative Fuse we set out to create a ‘one door’ approach for businesses to work with universities – without needing a personal contact, friend-of-a-friend, or funding to get involved. The processes we’ve piloted have been far from perfect, but it is better to stand at one door hanging ajar than five separate ones. We need the chance to use the lessons gleaned from the Creative Fuse experience to find a way to hold this door open.

Help Us:

Send us your views and experiences of connecting with universities via Creative Fuse and we’ll pass this along to colleagues and stakeholders. Help shape the future of university-business collaboration: tell us what you’d like to see and help us address the stop-start cycle of unsustainable collaboration

In summary – we didn’t get the funding we’d hoped for which makes the future a little less certain. But, if we’ve learned anything from these past two years working with the North East’s Creative, Digital and IT sector, it’s the art of tenacity. Instead of calmly packing away, we’re setting out our stall and looking to continue our work into the future.