The weeks from late October until mid-December always seem to be some of the most hectic of the year, and this is especially true for researchers looking at events like myself. My PhD projects aims at understanding the social and economic impacts of the Paisley urban regeneration programmes. One of the flagships of this investment scheme is the public events programme, and that is thus one of the major cases studied. In a period of only five weeks in duration, four big events are on in Paisley:
The Spree festival,
The Halloween festival,
The Paisley Fireworks extravaganza, and
the Christmas lights switch on.
Halloween is by far the biggest event. 41,000 people (in a town with – generously speaking – some 74,000 inhabitants) participate in a two-day celebration spread out all over town. This also means researchers and consultants administer questionnaires and interviews. My questionnaire revolves around the willingness-to-pay on the demand side, and perceived impact on the supply side.
Measuring willingness to pay for a service which is free of charge indicates the worth of the service provided. Adding this up with travel costs, shopping, and sometimes other costs, shows us what people are willing to spend to experience a night out in Paisley. In this case, a large majority thought that it was important that the event programme was mainly free, but they would still have come if there had been a fee: the fun fair, the only part of the programme where more or less everything had an entrance fee, was the place where most people asked for an increase of the available programme.
Though the demand-side of the survey is arguably the most important, earlier evaluations did not ask local shopkeepers’ opinions (though there are other ways to measure that, such as dialogue with the opinions of the local Business Improvement District). Understanding whether, and which, businesses benefit from the events programme brings an important piece of information to understanding the economic impact on the area. Interestingly, most of the shopkeepers who stated that their business suffered as a result of the closed roads and crowded streets rather than gained from it, said that they still wholeheartedly supported the event programme as such, as it brought life to the town.
The Halloween festival attracts people from all over Scotland, and earlier evaluations show that around 40 % of visitors come from outside of Renfrewshire. In the coming weeks, there will be two events attracting a predominantly ‘Renfrewshirian’ crowd. Performing the same survey with these participants and shopkeepers at smaller, more local events provides an interesting insight in how hosting the sheer volume of 41,000 people affects the community. Is being a big event venue the road forward for Paisley?
Starting in late October, CCSE will host a series of lunchtime seminars on the four themes studied by the centre:
• Arts, cultural diplomacy and soft power
• Place-focused cultural regeneration
• Sport, cultural events and festivals
• Media, communication and digital cultures
These will take place every other week, initially at UWS, Paisley campus. We have invited researchers and professionals tied to the centre, to share their knowledge on these four topics.
Each seminar will consist of a number of short presentations on related subjects. The seminars are managed and organised by the CCSE PhD Student team, Lan Pham, Conor Wilson and Niclas Hell.
My PhD revolves around the discipline of Creative Economics, which sounds like a euphemism for financial crime. Its first commandment may be Richard Florida’s statement “Access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron once was”
This was hardly a radical statement when first uttered in 2002 and even less so in 2019. Reviving de-industrialised “coal and iron” towns by means of investing in creative industries and culture has been the explicit policy of many local governments in Europe and the world for the last 40 years.
The notion that creative output is a motor of economic growth is easily demonstrated numerically: the creative industries grow faster than other parts of the economy (44.8 % increased value added 2010-2016 compared to average of 22.7 %), and the output per employee grows faster, too. Investing in creative business is à la mode like never before. A high concentration of design firms and cultural institutions brings economic multiplier effects: jobs are created in retail, construction, and tourism. Public and private revenues rise. Successful transformations can help old industry towns regenerate.
However, there are some well-known side effects. First of all, property development and increasing property value brings gentrification. Gentrification may be alluring to local government: gentrified areas experience less violence, the inhabitants pay higher income taxes, and the taxable property values rise accordingly. Private businesses are often eager to invest in developing areas targeted at wealthy prospective homeowners. One local example of this would be the newly constructed Cotton Street houses in Paisley which sold out quickly despite (or due to) being in the upper price range for Paisley flats.
Regeneration by gentrification may exclude a large portion of the people living in the area in the first place – which the projects were aimed at helping. Instead, they could face further marginalisation and displacement.
My research focuses on evaluating projects aimed at creating inclusive growth in Paisley via investment in culture and creativity. The inclusive part is especially important as many flagship cultural regeneration projects regarded as highly successful, such as Glasgow in the 1980s, still experienced centre-periphery problems and the negative effects of gentrification.
The investments are necessarily considered in different ways: The £42 million investment in the complete restoration and development of the Paisley Museum will not pay off in ticket sales. But it may be a key to creating a cultural district, a way to preserve the town’s history – it’s already one of the most popular destinations in the county for locals and tourists alike.
The bid for UK City of Culture 2021 was the starting point for the research project now engaging me and two other PhD students at UWS. Despite losing the bid, the county decided to invest in local culture and creativity. Arts-led regeneration is well-studied, as is regeneration through mega-events. But arts-led regeneration through losing the bid for mega-events? An optimist would say we’re breaking new ground.
“Inclusive festivals – can there be such a thing?” one participant wrote on Twitter. The symposium was one step in the direction to finding out.
Festspace discussions- image by Niclas Hell
CCSE hosted a symposium on the HERA-funded (Humanities in the European Research Area) FESTSPACE project on UWS’s Paisley campus on the 14th of June. The full-day event offered insights of the project as well as panel discussions and interactive sessions on the inclusivity of public space within the context of festivals and events.
Representatives from urban planning, local government, and event managers joined the researchers from the partner universities in discussions about how festivals can be or become inclusive. The morning panel stressed the importance of public, police, and political support for festivals to be successful and mutual trust between actors as a crucial factor. This was also stressed by Francesca Hegyi, whose key note with insights from the Hull 2017 UK City of Culture gave an urban regeneration perspective on the issue.
Researchers from universities in Paisley, Glasgow, London, Dublin, Barcelona, and Gothenburg are engaged in FESTSPACE, sharing insights on how cities in Western Europe have used or tried to use festivals as a means of social inclusion. Led by FESTSPACE researchers, interactive sessions filled the afternoon with discussions about visibility, identity, and sociability of public space in relation to festivals and events. Problems of socially stratified participation were discussed, as well as solutions related to incentivisation of groups seldom taking part in large cultural events.
As the FESTSPACE research project continues, other partner universities will host symposia. This symposium was the first event since the launch event in Dublin earlier this spring. To read more about the project, visit the HERA website and take a look at the FESTSPACE website.
A summary Wakelet of online #Festspace discussions has also been created about the event by CCSE researcher, Alison McCandlish.
“I’d just like to say that I appreciate your tie today, Niclas!”, one of the interviewers said. The panel broke down laughing. Had they been thinking about it the whole time?
I wore a paisley patterned tie at my interview for a PhD studentship in Paisley which I’m now undertaking. I was advised about the tie by a friend. Considering the reaction, I think it was the right choice.
If the paisley pattern was the starting point of my PhD process, it holds a certain symbolic value for my thesis, too. I’m studying what outcomes can be traced from investing in the creative economy of Paisley, indirect as well as direct. I’m looking at how projects in the creative economy could be leveraged to create inclusive economic growth, instigating urban regeneration and a thriving town. To acheive this, I’m addressing questions like: What cultural values do a town like Paisley have? One of these values may be “being the Western namesake of the paisley pattern”.
I recently came across a study from the 1950s where the value of recreational fishing in a certain river was defined as “the market value of the fish caught”. Obviously, the fishing, as well as the paisley pattern, have deeper values and meanings than present market value. French luxury fashion brand Hermès currently sell a scarf called “Paisley from Paisley”, created in co-operation with textile conservators in Paisley. How should I capture Paisley’s benefit of that?
Apart from being able to draw tourists to Paisley, which may create considerable value if expanded from the knitting clubs and textile nerds coming to visit the old looms and pattern collections, the pattern holds other values too. These values may be intrinsic, a value in itself beyond the market value. Even if I never wore a paisley pattern (though obviously, I do), my knowledge of the town’s proud heritage of textile production with a name resounding on all continents may be valuable as well.
Some researchers and politicians claim that these kind of intangibles are impossible to measure reliably. Luckily for me, there is a growing body of research developing methods to capture these values. Maybe a part of the solution is simply to ask people what they think of the paisley pattern, or consider event attendance and places related to that part of local history. Perhaps I could count the number of people wearing paisley patterned ties on High Street?
I’ve worn paisley patterned clothing about once a week since I got here. Each time, someone has exclaimed “Paisley! Great!” or something similar. I think there is a value there. I just need to measure it.