Photo credit Caitlin Lock
As part of the South East Creatives programme, DLWP has been shining a light on just some of the fantastic locally-based businesses – from fashion designers and photographers to producers, graphic designers and tech specialists – who have transformed their passion and drive into business success.
Discover how they got started, the challenges and opportunities they’ve faced and the support they’ve had along the way.
Shining a light on our creative industries
Based in Hastings, InBloom Video Production works with local authorities, schools and colleges, charities, social enterprises, arts organisations and businesses to create films that aim to inform, educate and inspire.
”Whether it’s explaining career options to primary school children, getting young people excited about the arts, encouraging people to shop local or raising awareness of the work of a charity, everything we do is about conveying real-life experiences and opportunities in a simple, clear and engaging way.’’
James Bloomfield, InBloom Video Production
James studied Photography and Graphic Design at college, but after graduating in English Literature from Royal Holloway University of London, went into copywriting. Working for corporate and travel businesses at home and abroad, including six years in South America, he was drawn into planning and delivering other communication activities and tactics including photography and video. Ten years ago, James combined his technical skills and passion for visual communications with his understanding of customer service by setting up InBloom.
Since its launch, InBloom has grown organically with the focus shifting from photography to film.
“While we still offer a photography service, about 80-90% of the business is now video production,’ says James. The business has worked on projects for organisations including East Sussex County Council, Rother District Council, St Christopher’s Hospice, Hastings Contemporary, Sussex Beacon and Graffito Books. ‘Most of our clients have a clear picture of what they want. We manage the production process end to end, working with them to shape the script and make the idea more visually compelling. It’s very much a partnership approach.”
James was keen to get some independent advice to help move the business forward and, on a friend’s recommendation, began following South East Creatives on social media. When he discovered their free workshop programme, he signed up.
The two sessions, held at the De La Warr Pavilion, gave James an insight into a range of business topics.
“The workshops covered everything, from top to bottom,’ he says. ‘The pricing and finance sessions, which included looking at how and where to pitch your pricing and how to run a limited company and deal with an accountant, were particularly useful.”
To gain more advice focussed on his business’ specific needs, James successfully applied for the South East Creatives Mentoring Programme.
“The 121 sessions with Uday Thakkar were fantastic. We spent a lot of time working through where and how to cut the fat in the business. Uday also really helped me think about our positioning, being clear about what makes InBloom different to other production companies.”
James sees the business’ key strengths as its expertise in conveying corporate information simply and clearly and, as a small, agile company, responding fast to client needs and offering value for money.
While the pandemic has hit many creative businesses hard over the past year, InBloom has continued to grow as clients found they had more time to get new projects off the ground. The business has a new retainer arrangement with one client which has helped with cashflow and planning and, thanks to the support from South East Creatives, has streamlined many of its processes making the day to day running of the business more efficient.
James is currently exploring recruiting a new member of staff, potentially via a local veterans project, and he is looking forward to taking on new projects and clients, notably in the public and third sector, an area he finds particularly fulfilling.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work,” says James, “but I’m really pleased with where the business is right now. It’s on a solid footing and a great trajectory for the future.”
Image courtesy The Fairley Archive of Space Exploration
Alastair Fairley, Director of Fairley Archive of Space Exploration (FASE), based in East Sussex was supported by one of South East Creatives Top-up Grants.
Alastair had inherited an amazing archive of original NASA space photography and artefacts from his father, journalist Peter Fairley, who covered all the moonshots for ITN. He had had a website for his archive of original space photography for some time but needed assistance to take his business to the next level. Grant funding from theSouth East Creatives scheme enabled him to transform it, scan and restore many more images.
Alastair says “The South East Creatives scheme came along at just the right time. Having an archive of original NASA space photography is wonderful, but you need to look after it and that means making it pay. The funding has helped me buy the right equipment to digitise it all, sell prints and save it for the nation. With my own means to scan and restore the photographs I can expand the business internationally, and sell fine art prints online through my website.”
Visit the website and see more images here.
Image by Georgina Piper
St Leonards Modern Goods – The contemporary, understated clothing and lifestyle store
Owned and run by designer and maker ‘K’ Avery, St Leonards Modern Goods is a stylish unisex clothing and lifestyle store in the heart of St Leonards-on-Sea.
The store sells contemporary, well-designed clothing, gifts and homeware and is the studio hub and production space for K’s own St Leonards brand of leather bags and accessories.
“I love designing, making, curating and interacting with customers. St Leonards Modern Goods brings all my passions together in one place.” K Avery
A trained textile designer, K joined East as apprentice buyer when the fashion retailer was in its infancy. She spent eight years at the company, learning from the ground up, working closely with the owners, and gaining experience across all areas of the business including design, product development, buying and manufacturing.
A short-lived period as accessories buyer for an M&S supplier (“It was design by committee. I felt like a square peg in a round hole”) several freelance roles with fashion brands followed. Then, keen to move out of the corporate world and establish a better work/life balance, in 2010 K launched her own premium leather accessories brand St Leonards.
K ran the business – designing, sourcing materials, fulfilling orders – from home. Manufacturing was initially outsourced but after taking a specialist leatherworking course with Cockpit Studios, K started making the bags herself. Selling online and at makers’ fairs, she built up a loyal repeat customer base across the UK and overseas.
By 2016, K had started thinking about expanding her business into retail – her vision was to curate a store selling a mix of high quality contemporary goods. When an opportunity came up to lease a premises with an interior that fitted her vision and on Norman Road, home to an eclectic mix of shops, galleries and eateries, she jumped at it.
Thanks to loyal customers, friends and family, the start-up funding needed to get the store up and running was raised in just three weeks and on 1 August 2016, St Leonards Modern Goods opened its doors to the public.
To keep outgoings to a minimum, the store initially stocked K’s own-brand bags and smaller items. As the business became more established, the range was expanded to include trusted clothing and footwear brands such as YMC and Superga to fit with the store’s high quality, understated, pared-back ethos.
The business was doing well but K was finding it increasingly difficult balancing day to day demands.
“I was never great with numbers and data-entry. I was having to revisit spreadsheets and check for errors which took up a huge amount of time. Running your own business, you feel you should be good at everything. Realising I wasn’t really knocked my confidence.”
Following a recommendation, K applied for mentoring through the South East Creatives programme. The six sessions spent with mentor David Adlington helped K tackle her fear of financial admin and David also recommended increasing the frequency of her e-marketing and, crucially, delegating more.
“The mentoring was so liberating! I am more comfortable with the financial side of the business and my accountants now do the monthly reconciliations which takes some of the pressure off. I’ve also employed a fantastic marketing specialist to create and manage the e-newsletter distribution which I’ve increased from monthly to weekly”
K has combined the practical advice she gained through the South East Creatives programme with other mentoring support focussed on helping change her mindset towards certain aspects of the business.
“I’m in a much better place with the day to day running of the business. I have more time to devote to the things I do best and feel more confident.”
While the Covid lockdown has meant the store’s closure for long periods to walk-in customers, K has continued selling direct to her international customer base and, through visual merchandising on Instagram, – to local customers.
She has also used the time to develop her own Modern Mentoring programme where she shares her own experience and insight with other designers and makers through courses and a Facebook group. “The mentoring is hugely rewarding,” she says. “I genuinely get a warm kick out of seeing people blossom.”
At some point in the future, K would like to establish a larger space containing maker units, a retail space, a café, perhaps an on-site creche. But for the moment, the focus is on developing St Leonards Modern Goods, her leather accessories brand and new mentoring service.
“I’m really looking forward to re-opening the store after lockdown and, through the mentoring, continuing to work with a community of hugely talented people. Being self-dependent, designers, makers and artists develop resilience and life skills to help them adapt to all kinds of situations. Although it’s been tough for many, I think the creative community deserves a huge pat on the back for responding so well to everything the past year has thrown at them.”
Photo: Diego Barazza
Sketch House create comic content to get businesses noticed .In a crowded online world, companies and organisations are increasingly looking for imaginative ways to connect and engage with their customers and staff. Sketch House, owned and run by Creative Directors James McCabe and Mike Sengelow, meets these needs by translating serious business messages and sometimes dry subjects into bespoke comedy sketch videos that resonate and create impact.
The comic content created by James, Mike and their team of film and production professionals, can be used inside and outside organisations in different ways – from raising brand awareness and driving online traffic to recruitment and livening up staff training sessions and meetings.
Working for advertising and PR agencies, event companies and organisations direct, Sketch House produce their content end to end – taking a client’s brief, developing ideas, writing the script, producing, directing and performing the sketch and filming and editing the video.
“What we do isn’t just about making people laugh. Clients want reassurance that their specific message will hit home and that the production will be professional and fit their own particular brand and ethos. Sketch House gives them that reassurance.”James McCabe
James and Mike, both originally from New Zealand, met by coincidence in 2012 in their adopted home town of Forest Row.
Mike, an actor, was working in theatre and training, and James in advertising, working on high-profile brand campaigns at leading advertising agencies. Discovering they had a shared passion for comedy, the two hit it off straight away. They began writing sketches together then assembled a group of performers to put on a show for the people of Forest Row (known as ‘Frowers’). Now performed annually, their ‘Frow Show’ has become a local institution and they have also taken it to the Brighton Fringe.
In 2015, James and Mike started thinking about other ways to combine their comic talents and commercial experience. Convinced their sketches would add something unique and engaging to companies’ Marketing and HR mix, they set up Sketch House.
They began securing some clients and assembling the wider team but were struggling to get the business known and their new concept understood. Some potential clients also wanted to see more examples of their work before committing.
James and Mike met with Business Manager Chris Thomas at Locate East Sussex who recommended they apply for a grant from the South East Creatives programme.
The funding Sketch House received has supported the development and production of two new sketches and is helping pay for an advertising campaign on LinkedIn.
‘The funding from South East Creatives has been brilliant,’ says Mike. ‘It has helped us strengthen our portfolio which means we have a wider range of work to show potential clients. And the LinkedIn campaign is introducing new audiences to our comedy sketch concept.’
James and Mike have been on a steep learning curve, particularly mastering the world of digital marketing to promote their business. They’ve spent a lot of time and effort getting the LinkedIn campaign right and, while it started only recently, the results already look promising. They’ve also had a great reaction to a sketch produced for a client last year which has just gone online.
“We’re now in a much stronger position to take the business forward,’ says James. ‘We’ve got more content to showcase and are having some really interesting conversations with new contacts.”
James and Mike are developing their website as their main shop window and are exploring new ways of reaching out to audiences. They are looking forward to creating sketches for new clients and continue be driven by their shared passion for making people laugh.
“The great thing about comedy is that as well as lightening a person’s mood, it creates a shared experience and brings people together. In the strange times we all find ourselves in, this is more important than ever.” Mike Sengelow.
Barecats by Paul Spooner
Photo by Heini Schneebeli
Cabaret Mechanical Theatre (CMT), run by Bexhill-based Sarah Alexander, exhibits and tours its collection of wittily designed and expertly engineered automata worldwide. Originating as clockwork puppets in the 17th century, modern-day automata are mechanical sculptures which are mainly motorised and operated by pressing a button. Alongside exhibitions, the team also runs workshops and courses for artists, makers, schools and families, sharing their passion for automata and giving people the opportunity to learn about and experience the craft of model-making.
“Our automata share an eccentricity, a wry sense of humour and a slightly shrewd way of looking at the world. They bring pleasure to people of all ages.” Sarah Alexander, Cabaret Mechanical Theatre.
Cabaret Mechanical Theatre’s original owner, Sue Jackson, Sarah’s mother, began selling hand-made automata in her Falmouth craft shop in 1979. As more artist/makers began creating pieces and interest in the field grew, Sue closed the shop and opened a permanent exhibition of her growing collection nearby. Then, in 1984, the exhibition moved from Cornwall to a new home in Covent Garden in the heart of London’s West End. The business’ income came initially from exhibition entry charges, coin-operated models and sales of automata, kits and books. In the early 1990s, Cabaret Mechanical began touring its collection and in 2000 decided to close the Covent Garden premises to focus full-time on a touring business model.
Following Sue’s retirement in 2012, Sarah, who had always worked in the family business, took over. By 2018, she was organising a minimum of twelve tours a year, with shows, workshops and courses held at venues globally including in the US, Japan and across Europe.
While the demand for exhibitions continued to grow, the operational side of the business had become more challenging.
The automata collection was warehoused in London and rents were rising. Model preparation and repair was done at another site, a Bow Arts studio in London, and different parts of the collection were being continually shipped worldwide. Sarah, now based in Bexhill, was juggling logistics with venue pipeline and negotiation, marketing and merchandising and preparing and running courses, workshops and materials. At this point, she felt the businesses needed a new direction but was struggling to work out what that direction was. A conversation with Lisa Finch, a Hasting based freelance arts consultant, prompted Sarah to contact South East Creatives and Marina Norris, one of the East Sussex local co-ordinators, recommended she apply for business mentoring through the programme.
In August 2019, Sarah had the first of six 2 hour sessions with business mentor David Adlington of The Consortium. David travelled to Bexhill for all except the last meeting which, due to lockdown, was conducted on Skype.
“The mentoring came at exactly the right time for me’ says Sarah. ‘I was already re-thinking the business and it was great to get an independent perspective. David also really helped with practical advice and tasks to help me streamline the commercial side and work more efficiently and effectively.”
While the Coronavirus lockdown had a devastating impact on touring, CMT continued running workshops and courses online, sending materials in the post and welcoming participants from across the world. They were then awarded funding by Arts Council England (ACE) from the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund to help sustain and secure the business for the future.
Cabaret Mechanical Theatre will continue to tour their collection and share their passion for the art of automata.
Their current touring show at St Albans Gallery continues until 21 February and a new show opens at The Oxfordshire Museum on 27 February. Other 2021 exhibitions in the pipeline include Hastings Museum and Gallery and the RH Fleet Science Center in San Diego, California. A simple but ingenious solution mitigates the risk of operating the touch-button models – all visitors are given a free pencil to use to press the buttons.
2021 will also see the business move to a brand new home in Bexhill.
Cabaret Mechanical Theatre are one of the anchor businesses of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) and Rother District Council funded Bexhill Creative Workspace which is due to open in Spring 2021. The automata collection will be warehoused at the exciting new creative and cultural hub in Beeching Road and model preparation and repair will also be done on site. Alongside will be a small gallery and shop and workshops and courses will also be run from the specially configured premises.
Sarah recognises the support and guidance she and the business has received over the past two years and is excited about the future.
“The advice and mentoring from South East Creatives plus input from our amazing local creative network including Lisa Finch, who I’m delighted has since joined us as our Development Director and Stewart at the De La Warr who first planted the seed of an idea about the Beeching Road workspace in my mind, really helped shape my thinking about the direction of the business. I can’t wait for the move to the new space and am so pleased to be bringing everything together and establishing a legacy for the collection in Bexhill, my adopted home town.”
Photo by Gayle Laird
Ouji Board by Paul Spooner
Photo by Heini Schneebeli
Boys with Peas by Andy Hazell
Photo by Steve Tanner
Bexhill Museum is a classically curated traditional Edwardian town museum with modern aspirations in a changing world. Founded in 1914 by a woman botanist-explorer and a local clergyman-geologist it built its early collection on the cultural traffic of Empire and in some physical ways has not changed at all in over 100 years.
Yet in other ways it is strikingly modern. Its costume collection is firmly grounded in social history as well as textile and design studies. Its educational programmes deploy performance, storytelling and carefully designed replica artefacts. Its digital archives were curated specifically for the purpose of community historical research from the outset, from 2009, when simply ‘getting a website’ was enough for most museums of its size and style.
It has embraced digital mapping and LIDAR representations of local archaeological sites in its care. It has a popular social media presence. And at a time when traditional curation is being required to ‘explain itself’ in the era of #RhodesMustFall, the Museum increasingly hopes to use the digital to bridge the gap between traditionally collected artefacts and the contextualised meanings that accessible archiving brings to them.
A museum also has the ideal skill-sets needed to bring provenance, authenticity and authority to today’s complex public debates around matters of history, culture and society. But it needs to apply these skills in an intensely digitally mediated public space.
In the wake of these transformations, South East Creatives is helping the team reframe the digital functionality of Bexhill Museum: trustee, artist & PhD candidate Leah Fusco, currently working on digital representations of a ‘lost’ village along the local coast; Alex Markwick, from the Museum’s Local History Group, founder of a digital workshop producing historically-bound representations of town spaces from open source maps new and old; and project manager Rohan Jayasekera, a journalist, technologist, and recent MA graduate with distinction from Goldsmiths College in Digital Media, Technology & Cultural Form.
“Bexhill Museum’s curator, Julian Porter MA, is developing exciting new project concepts for digitally rendered 3D maps of archaeological sites around Bexhill, made possible by the new equipment and training supported in part by SE Creatives. This support allows us to make credible offers to contribute to new digital projects on equal terms with bigger heritage organisations such as the Queens University centre at Herstmonceux Castle.
It better prepares us to adapt to change and contribute to an emerging digital cultural sector in Rother. It will enable the museum to develop products & services designed to tap into a growing market interest in local & family history, and to better assist a local community of digital art and AR/VR event programmers seeking partners for new creative projects. It will also allow us to expand our existing educational services into a new area of vocational training for young people, with training in audiovisual technology skills, interview techniques, podcast and online marketing skills. And in the short term, the new equipment & we have been given a head start in developing digital solutions to the problems of access caused by the COVID-19 crisis.”
Our creative ambition is to use the affordances of digital technology to tell stories about people and places, mapped in space and time; making their historic & cultural presence ineradicable from public record; to do so with the professional rigour of traditional curatorial and archival best practice.”
The partnership with South East Creatives
” The immediate objective in seeking South East Creatives support was to secure additional funds for training and investment in new technology planned under our existing development programme. This is essential foundation building work for the future of the wider project. South East Creatives support was additionally helpful as 35% matched funding, as it made the use of Museum reserves more productive at a difficult time for a cash-strapped sector.
It can be hard to find this kind of investment from the public sector; so, it is useful for the museum to get ‘acclimatised’ to the idea of private sector investment. In more creative contexts, it was also important to the museum to make the connection with partners outside the traditional museum community, essential if we are to successfully actualise all our ‘data’ in new formats and sets that will enable researchers, artists and creative entrepreneurs to find exciting new uses for it.”
Breaking new ground in ceramics
Ceramicist Anna Thomson works from her studio in East Sussex producing vessels, lighting and wall pieces. She works with interior designers, galleries and private clients to provide unique ceramic peices that celebrate craft and materials. Anna says;
“Inspired by themes of repetition, variation, erosion, transformation and duality I hope to bring a little delight, intrigue and discovery through my work.
I draw on my experience with industry and technical skill in mould-making, embracing 3D digital technologies and bring these to a craft environment to explore possibilities, innovating new techniques. I work with different vitreous clay bodies like porcelain and bone china. The materials themselves and how they have been constructed often play a part in the final form or surface qualities of my work.
I love the challenge and continual learning that ceramics brings and working with a material imbued with history and the magic of transformation in fire.”
Anna explained how she started and her creative journey so far.
“Having undergone a very academic education I surprised everyone when I decided to pursue a creative career after my science A-levels. On the foundation course, I discovered materials and workshops for the first time and fell in love with 3D design. I was accepted onto a workshop-based Design for Production course at Brighton University and graduated with a first class degree presenting innovative compression moulds for recycled plastics, new materials made from waste sweetcorn husks and sculptural hollow cast ceramic tableware. At the time, back in 1997, I was the only student embracing CNC and CAD.
In 1999 I co-founded the design company Hub with a start up grant from the Crafts Council and a £5k loan from the Princes Trust. Hub designed a range of ceramic homewares with sculptural influences. My business partner had majored in Ceramics so this was an obvious choice of materials that we both had experience with. Model and mould-making was completed in-house then outsourced to be made by UK manufacturers in Stoke on Trent. We launched with One Year On and had help from The Design Trust. Both were the brainchildren of the fabulous Peta Levi MBE (also founder of New Designers and Design Nation) who believed passionately in forming links between designers and industry and providing opportunities for those starting out in their design careers. Hub exhibited at tradefairs including 100% design in the UK and then worldwide under BEDG (British European Design Group). The collection was stocked by some big names like Conran, Liberty, Harrods, DKNY. The press loved us and we had much success with big features in The Sunday Times, Elle Decoration, Wallpaper and many more.
In 2002 I had to take a career break that extended into a decade during which time I kept a little of my creativity going with freelance work. When I was able to return to ceramics in 2012, Stoke on Trent had undergone massive factory closures so I had to reassess the way I would set up second time round. I had a passion for making and needed a slower start to balance with my other commitments. I set up a studio at home and bought a second hand kiln. I worked in a part time capacity and really enjoyed bringing decisions into the making as well as the designing, being free from the constraints of production and bringing a high level of craftsmanship into my work. It was a completely different business model with limited supply capabilities and high time costs to factor in. With this new found freedom, I couldn’t help but start innovating and developing new making techniques, utilising industrial techniques in a craft environment and making things that wouldn’t be possible in industry. So, I find myself in the craft sector and loving it!
Today I work full time in my studio and am ready for some bigger challenges, stepping up my practice and hoping to make a contribution to craft through my unique approach, scaling up and taking on some bigger commissions. By the end of my career I want to be able to look back and say that my work drew on all my experiences and passions. That it succeeded in encompassing my whole creative journey in form, inspiration, innovation concept and skill. That my work has integrity, is enjoyed and makes a long lasting contribution to this period of ceramics and craft.”
Anna applied for SEC support for some specialist input into the further development of her creative business. She says;
“The timing was perfect. My social media and marketing skills really needed a lot of attention as well as a confidence boost to play bigger again. I knew I needed to make some changes to the way my business was working, but needed some specialist help with exactly what and how to make those changes. Workshops over two full days were really helpful, but for me the one to one mentoring sessions with Patricia Van Den Akker from the Design Trust have been especially invaluable in helping me to understand the values that underpin my business and helping me to gain more clarity and vision. The who, how and what fall into place a little easier then. It was fabulous to reconnect with Patricia from The Design Trust after a good 20 years. Her expert understanding of craft businesses together with her down to earth approach was an honour to experience. Reading suggestions have been so helpful too.”
The mentoring process coincided with the lock-down period when galleries closed, events and teaching workshops were cancelled. She says;
“The sudden availability of time was an amazing opportunity for me to really indulge in the process and do all my homework and reading tasks set by my mentor alongside undertaking new experimental studio work that was in tune with my values and vision. I have developed an ambitious 38-piece modular mould which involved some CAD and 3D printing initially and am exploring its possibilities at the moment. I am running a series of experiments laminating different vitreous bodies and utilising the tensions created between them to transform the work during the firing. I am developing different subtractive erosion techniques that can reveal hidden layers built up within or accentuate softer and harder materials. Exciting new work is emerging and I will be sharing these developments over the coming months. I have two events this Autumn/Winter where I will be showing some of this new work and gauging the response to help inform the direction I go with it.
As a sole trader my biggest challenge will be allocating the time away from the studio for marketing, social media and building new client relationships.
It also looks like I will be needing a bigger kiln soon too!
Luxury scarves designed in Hastings, made in Britain, worn world-wide
Textile designer Melanie Laslett creates premium scarves, neckerchiefs, bandanas and pocket squares inspired by art, nature and found objects and influenced by a love of vintage fabrics and fashion.
‘Five years in, I feel my business is now gaining traction. And, with the start of the new decade, it’s like it’s entering an exciting new phase.’ Melanie Laslett, Laslett England
Passionate about design from an early age, Melanie studied Textile Design at Central Saint Martins then spent three years with Palm Studio, creating and selling designs in the US, Japan and Europe. After a spell working for herself – which involved hiring a car and driving around Europe with suitcases full of design samples – she was head-hunted by Courtaulds, a major supplier for M&S and other high street stores. Over the next 14 years, Melanie created textile designs for lingerie and lounge-wear lines and became Manager of the Lingerie Design team. Her time at Courtaulds was instrumental in expanding her knowledge of garment design and manufacturing processes as well as giving her hands-on experience of a commercial textile operation.
Armed with business acumen and newly acquired digital design skills, Melanie launched her premium scarves business Laslett England in 2014.
Inspirational design, premium product
Melanie’s designs – with names including Riviera, Nordic, Faded Star and Deco – are original creations inspired by combinations of influences. Melanie describes the design process as ‘Often being about bringing together contrasting elements, such as a floral juxtaposed with a geometric pattern, and discovering the design that lies hidden within the concept’. The scarves are printed in Macclesfield on the finest luxury silks, wools and blended natural products with finishing – hand-rolling and hand-fringing – completed by specialist manufacturers in Rochester and Manchester. All scarves come hand-packed in signature luxury red boxes.
Since starting the business, Melanie has supplied six collections to Bloomingdales, launched her online sales channel lastlettengland.com, established a global customer base and collaborated on premium personalisation projects including developing a bespoke pocket square with a Saville Row tailor.
While 80% of her business is now online and through stockists, Melanie continues to run stalls at designer and maker fairs, using them for networking and research as much as a sales channel. ‘I’m continually looking at ways to refresh my collection, applying new colour schemes or styles to popular lines or introducing new designs. Speaking directly to customers at fairs is a fantastic way of getting feedback, seeing how the design and material sits or hangs, discussing what colours, shapes and fabrics they prefer and why.’
Melanie has received invaluable support at key points over the past five years. UKTI (now the DIT) helped her develop her exporting and digital strategies and a funding contribution from the Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP) was instrumental in getting her ecommerce platform up and running.
Recently Melanie has secured match-funding from the South East Creatives programme to support a PR push using a specialist fashion, beauty and lifestyle agency.
‘While you have be multi-faceted to run a business, you also need to be able to recognise when you need specialist support. The grant from South East Creatives is helping pay for the PR expertise I need to help promote my business and take it to the next level.’ Melanie Laslett, Laslett England
The 2020 PR campaign will run in two tranches to mirror the Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter buying cycles and the aim of the campaign is clear – to increase brand awareness and sales by getting Laslett England scarves onto the pages of the fashion press and into the Christmas present-buying guides.
Melanie is currently developing a new digital look-book and exploring collaborations for the premium personalisation side of the business. And with the PR campaign now underway, she can’t wait to see what the next five years brings.
Creating mesmerising and memorable experiences for the whole community
With a passion for diversity and community, 18 Hours delivers events, education and activities that engage and resonate
A host of vibrant local festivals and events are planned and produced by Mandy Curtis and the team at local organisation 18 Hours. Events include Hastings Storytelling Festival, Streets of Rother, Little Gate Big Festival and many more.
With twenty years’ experience in events, education and research, Mandy ran the Development Centre and Global Fusion festival at Pestalozzi Village before going on to deliver local festivals including Coastal Currents with producer and writer John Knowles. After taking time out to do a PHD, she set up 18 Hours in 2013. Marketing expert Naomi Robinson joined Mandy, initially as a volunteer, and since then the team has grown to six. Running a portfolio of around ten festivals, each member of the team has a different specialism, but all get involved in many aspects of the events.
‘We have an amazingly versatile team with everyone helping each other out to deliver what matters most to all of us – creating a fantastic experience for our audiences.’ Mandy Curtis, 18 Hours
Storytelling and more
Since 2008, 18 Hours have produced Hastings Storytelling Festival which celebrates the art of storytelling through magical, moving, joyous and often raucous spoken word, dance, puppetry and digital performances. Sir Quentin Blake is the Festival’s Patron and four Children’s Laureates have appeared. Events have ranged from puppet shows in local schools to crazy nights of cabaret, performance and adult stories at the Velvet Curtain events.
But festival planning and production is just one strand of 18 Hours’ activity. The organisation also works with schools to embed the principles of global citizenship in the classroom, with modules ranging from environmental sustainability to British values. They also manage research projects in diversity, community and the Creative Industries for clients including Rother District Council and Hastings Borough Council.
A not-for-profit organisation, 18 Hours relies primarily on funding and some sponsorship. With decisions often made annually, forward planning, particularly around cash-flow, can be challenging.
Also, with the increasing number of festival and events in the area, 18 hours would welcome more co-ordination and network support opportunities.
But the greatest challenge the team faces currently is a lack of storage space.
‘Over the years we’ve amassed a huge amount of equipment and props, that have gradually taken over the office,’ says Naomi. ‘So, although we love being in the buzzy environment of Rock House with other creative and digital small businesses, we’ve outgrown the space.’
‘For small creative businesses like ours, finding affordable workspace is an issue,’ says Mandy ‘The area is crying out for more reasonably-priced options, preferably with capped rents.’
One issue which has been resolved this year is transport. Mandy was using her car to ferry equipment and props to and from events and continually having to make multiple trips. Now, thanks to a match funding grant from the South East Creatives programme, the team have a bought a Peugeot Partner van.
‘Getting the van has been transformational. Just being able to load up and go saves us so much time and effort.’ Naomi Robinson, 18 Hours
Funded by the European Regional Development Fund, South East Creatives aims to give small businesses in the creative, cultural and digital sector a boost through a programme of grants and business support through workshops, training, mentoring and events.
‘Getting the grant was pretty straightforward,’ says Mandy. ‘The local South-East Creatives co-ordinator Marina Norris supported us through the application process, we got the go-ahead within a month of applying and then had three months to spend the money. This coincided with our busiest time of year so put us under pressure slightly to find the right van quickly. But we’re so pleased now we’ve got it and we especially love the fantastic signwriting on it which was done by Sign Tek in Eastbourne.’
In the same way that 18 Hours took their Streets of Battle festival concept and applied it to Streets of Bexhill, the team are now exploring opportunities to expand their existing festivals franchise into new areas. The team is also managing two exciting new projects in 2020, but details are still currently ‘under the hat’.
Challenging the conventional and re-defining the possible
Tucked behind a shop front in Hastings town centre, the team of ‘digital explorers’ at Holograph are shaping the future of how we interact with technology.
Holograph combine advanced technology with insights into human psychology to develop ground-breaking products, systems and platforms in fields ranging from real-time analytics and eCommerce to AI and Robotics. ‘Problem solving,’ is how CEO Marc Woodhead describes the business.
Marc is the driver behind Holograph. His passion for the creative and the digital – influenced by his French artist mother and computing-expert father – emerged at an early age and spurred him into becoming a digital artist and embarking on a career as a digital architect at Hastings-based design and marketing company Brooker & How. Hastings was one of the first five places in the UK to get ADSL broadband creating a unique opportunity for Brooker & How to venture into new-media 19 years ago. Then, twelve years ago, Marc, with the support of long-standing colleague, engineer and software developer, Ben Clayton, decided to strike out on his own.
Holograph has grown by reputation, moving from developing websites and eCommerce systems into Machine Learning (A.I.), Robotics and Wearable technology. The company’s expansion has been helped by the area’s legacy as a hotbed for businesses working in the defence and aeronautics sector and attracted a pool of some of the very best mathematicians, software engineers, physicists and developers in the country.
Holograph now has 30 staff, a turnover of £2m and a world-class client list including Ribena, Lucozade, Britvic, Mars Petcare, the NHS and global shipping organisation, the Baltic Exchange. FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) projects include generating easy-to-use on-package coding to help increase engagement with consumers. And for the Baltic Exchange, the team developed a global platform which gives indices of world-wide freight and shipping costs and enables 24/7 online futures pricing, trading and settlements 4 times a day for different time zones. As well as developing the technology, Holograph also create content in their on-site production facilities for projects including their own children’s story-telling app PickaStory.
Marc puts the business’ success down to the incredible team which has evolved around the projects they have won.
‘We have a collective of really interesting and talented people – software engineers, physicists, mathematicians, designers, customer experience, user interface and marketing experts – all working together to blur the line between the human and the digital.’ Marc Woodhead, Holograph
He is particularly proud of Holograph’s diversity and equality. The multicultural team hail from different social backgrounds and 60% of the senior management team – Operations Director, Platform Producer and HR & Finance Director – are female.
Exploring new worlds
One of the team’s current projects is Lookinglass®. Developed out of their work in the FMCG sector, Lookinglass® enables a person to interact with a screen simply by looking at it. There’s no need to touch anything – smart camera technology tracks the movements of a person’s face, FocusTrack®, prompting the screen to react and respond. Marc is excited about the new product’s potential benefits. ‘Selecting a drink from a vending machine through a window, tracking interest in properties for sale, even triggering a call for help in the home, with Lookinglass® all this is possible with just a look.’
Holograph has stayed at the forefront of a rapidly evolving industry by re-investing profits including spending around 20% of its turnover each year on R&D. To support a project aimed at helping non technically-minded people easily manage their own web content, dubbed Content Stream v3, the business has received a grant from the South East Creatives programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
‘The grant from South East Creatives has been fantastic, helping to pay for two new members of staff, including a front-end designer.’ Tricia Jenkins, Holograph
In addition to Lookinglass®, Holograph have a number of other ground-breaking projects in train including Dynamo® an exciting new product that creates virtual holograms using traditional screen technology. Marc’s enthusiasm is infectious. ‘It’s a fantastic industry to work in,’ he says. ‘Every day is different and throws up endless opportunities and possibilities.’
AYM : Unique, bold and minimal clothing
Womenswear label AYM is on trend for global growth, catching the attention of celebrities as influential as the Kardashians.
AYM (All Your Moments) is a fashion studio aiming to create clothing that is unique, bold and minimal. Creating basic pieces that can be moulded into the style of the woman wearing them. The studio was founded by Central Saint Martins’ graduate Alie Mackintosh with the aim to create pieces that allow women to feel confident, vivacious and contemporary.
Alie’s fashion business has the ability to pick up on what young fashion-conscious women around the world want to wear next weekend. From the moment Alie spots a trend on social media, her operation in Lewes has the ability to create a dress within a week – then ship it overnight to New York.
Originally, Mackintosh started off making dresses for herself when she was studying product design at St Martins. After lots of positive comments, she set up her own label, Boom Boom The Label, six months after leaving in 2013. The recent re-brand to ‘AYM’ marks an exciting stage in the company’s strategic plans to grow the agile fashion company to further heights. The bold new brand image under the name of ‘AYM’ has added fuel to the fire for this already fast-growing brand.
Handmade in East Sussex
AYM sales are now £1m. Next year the target is £1.5m and £2m the year after. Ultimately, Mackintosh, who has just turned 27, is looking to open stores in London, New York, Los Angeles and Sydney, giving her customers the chance to feel her stretchy fabrics and try-on her figure-hugging double-layered dresses for themselves. Sales are up 47% compared to last year with over 287K Instagram followers worldwide and growing.
The Amack Group brand is based on selling high-quality garments all handmade in England using specialist techniques. The products are designed to have a supportive and figure flattering fit through a unique production technique that sculpts the body with double layered fabric.
With daring designs and statement styles, AYM is not for the fainthearted. It creates clothing for those who want to stand out.
Celebrity client base
Some of the biggest names in reality TV are already fans. When the Kardashians were opening their Dash store, Kim contacted Mackintosh direct through social media to make an order. ‘It felt a bit bonkers really,’ she recalls. ‘It was three years ago, just after we were getting started. If you are putting out the right content on social media and connecting to your customers, you have no barriers to your growth and to your reach. Even so, it was a real pinch-me moment when the message from Kim arrived, as she has access to so many other labels.’
Currently, Alie has a team of 14, bringing a full set of fashion skill together under one roof: designers, machinists, publicists, distributors and customer care. ‘Then we can bring in specialists when we need them. From London, graphic designers and marketing agencies, photographers and models, can just hop on a train. It is only a short ride.’
The other advantage of everyone working closely together is that they can learn quickly and innovate fast. Mackintosh is just developing an idea for high viz leggings that will light up and make you stand out when you are in a club. Her production co-ordinator and her pattern cutter are working with her to check out how practical the idea is.
‘Many businesses don’t realise what is available, as well as funding, you can access support from consultants, coaches and mentors.’ Alie Mackintosh, CEO of Amack Group
Her next priority is launching a second brand, Silho. ‘We found that we had two distinct customer groups. AYM is for trend-led 16-25 year-olds who go out partying every weekend and who are into body contouring.’ ‘Then we had another set of customers who order from us because we are made to order and we are based-in England. We can make dresses to last a lifetime in anyone’s size, whether they are 16 or 60.’ ‘It is slower fashion at a higher price point of £200 to £300. We are only expecting it to make up 10% to 20% of sales initially, although it will even out over time. We might ultimately divide into two teams depending on how the two brands evolve.
Supporting its growth plans for the AYM brand, Amack Group have invested in securing an agile supply chain system. The company has an in-house design team, production and manufacturing facilities, all based in Lewes. All garments are handmade in their studio and shipped to customers worldwide directly from its distribution warehouse.
An initial start-up loan for £8000 came through Locate East Sussex to buy machinery and set up the infrastructure of the company. Alie is now applying for a follow-up loan of £15,000 to invest in assets for growth. Through Locate East Sussex, she was also awarded a grant for £10,000 to fit out her studio.
by Beth King, Locate East Sussex
Photo: AYM ,
Image by Caitlin Lock
With over 300 sqm of space in the heart of Eastbourne and a brief walk from the main station, Cohub is a community of independent and remote workers living in and around Eastbourne, East Sussex.
Cohub is a bright, open plan coworking space – the main office space area has plenty of natural light, variously sized desks and a great open-plan kitchen. Every desk Cohub offers is a welcome desk, allowing members space to chat, share and possibly even collaborate on projects with one of the other 75 members of Cohub.
The venture was born by Stuart Lambert, co-founder of Co-hub and principal consultant at Qology, out of frustration at finding a decent, serviced office space for his small team in early 2010s.
Now with a combined conservative turnover of £7 million serving over 200+ brands, Co-hub members share conversations about what they’re working on as much as how the weather looks like outside or the next CoHub event. Open 24/7 to its members; space offers flexibility for many different styles of working… as long as you remember to turn the lights off when you’re the last one to leave.
As much as Cohub sets the scene, it is the community that brings the energy. Stuart believes that much of the reason people come to Cohub is that remote working can be a lonely business and that this Eastbourne community offers a chance to be an active participant.
‘We like our space, but it’s not our primary reason for existing… Every new member is an addition to the product.’ Stuart Lambert, Co-founder of Co-hub
With rising prices in London and Brighton, Eastbourne has proven itself a relatively easy place for young entrepreneurs to make their mark, as Stuart found in his own life. Soon, what became a search for the perfect place in Eastbourne became not just a financial one, but also an emotional one as well.
Cohub attracts a diverse range of members: global programmers and digital designers on the most part, it also hosts members within the hotel industry, medical tech, and even have occasional visits from an ecologist among a host of tech and media creatives. They have contributed to over 22 different new ventures, and had companies start out before being established in their own premises with bigger teams, such as The Network Factory and Ditzy Media.
A unique element about Cohub is that while they are even in teams, everyone is an individual member, and everyone engages with the work and life of everyone, with the same rights. With a culture of individual memberships, Cohub hopes to able others contribute their own ideas to the wider community on their own ventures, and even hire and form small teams. With over half the new members also being relatively new to Eastbourne, but also travelling from across East Sussex and Kent, Cohub is not only a place for locals.
by Milan Matejka, Locate East Sussex
Creating a plants-eye view of the world
Artist and photographer Clare Kersley creates high-quality fine art prints and greetings cards from her flat in Bexhill.
For her current collections, Vibrancy and Plant-Based Paint, Clare has incorporated leaves, twigs and roots into the painting process. She then photographs the artworks and reproduces them in accessible and saleable print formats.
“I am inspired by nature and try to reflect a plants-eye view of the world in my painting and photography.”
After working as an accountant then osteopath for many years, Clare’s creative journey began at the end of 2018 when she joined a 10-week sculpture course. The course had an instant impact.
“It seemed to flip a switch in me. It was as if all of a sudden I had creativity bubbling up everywhere!”
In 2019 Clare began experimenting with paint and taught herself photography, initially so that she could photograph her artwork professionally. In early 2020, she spent an inspirational weekend on a beginners’ life drawing course at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation and also joined a number of local art groups. During lockdown, Clare has used the time to develop her practice further, spending hours at home drawing with charcoal and creating her first paid commission Atom and Chester.
Keen to transform what had started out as a passion into a business, Clare built a website to promote and sell her work. However, her old computer was holding her back – it didn’t have the graphics capability, processor speed, storage space, file handling, screen size or screen resolution she needed to accurately and easily review, process and edit her photographs or produce high-quality images for print.
Clare successfully applied to South East Creatives and received a grant to help her buy a new computer.
Her new Microsoft Surface Studio 2 has transformed the way she works. It gives a true-to-life colour display on a much-needed larger screen and all the functionality Clare needs for fast professional editing, processing and image creation. She has been able to design new greetings cards and can now get all her products to market quickly and easily.
“The new computer has been brilliant! I can now run Lightroom and Photoshop, have started creating digital drawings and greetings cards. And because my workflow is faster, it’s meant I’ve had more time to focus on sales and marketing to help build my online following.”
As a relatively new artist with a growing body of work, Clare would love to have her own exhibition. But, for the moment, she is continuing to develop her photography, drawing and painting practice and focus on expanding her online sales. To help build her profile, she is also exploring creating new online content including promotional films.
Clare is thrilled about the direction her creative business is moving in.
“I’m really looking forward to making the most of the online world and establishing Clare Kersley Art as a new brand”
Curve Pusher studios announce new studio complex in Hastings
After nearly two decades of mastering and cutting records in East London, Curve Pusher announce their relocation to the musically rich seaside town of Hastings and the bespoke rebuild of its music mastering, vinyl record cutting and recording facilities, creating three new jobs.
Founded by Lawrie Dunster in 1999, Curve Pusher has had a vibrant heritage in the electronic music community in London – mastering the music made by its musicians, cutting dubplates for its DJs and providing recording facilities for its producers, they have been involved on every level.
In their time in operation, they’ve covered ground as far ranging as spoken word, noise, metal and punk. A few highlights include Damian Lazarus’ Crosstown Rebels, Jamie Jones’ Hot Creations, Seth Troxler’s Play it Say it, Jerome Hill’s Don’t and Super Rhythm Trax, dub legend Aba Shanti to techno innovator Nina Kravitz’s Trip imprint. Curve Pusher also works with some of the world’s major vinyl distributors including Juno, Above Board and Rubadub, along with the likes of Warners and Sony.
Hastings was chosen as the new home for Curve Pusher after Lawrie felt an instant affinity to Hastings and its people after being forced out of his premises in Hackney due to the building being sold for redevelopment.
The move has been a force for positivity enabling him to build a new bespoke studio complex from the ground up, overseeing every detail to achieve the highest possible specification for the mastering and cutting process.
In total Curve Pusher now houses three Neumann record cutting lathes and has the potential for high capacity and quality productivity. One of these is a rare Ortofon cutting amplifier and Neumann lathe and cutting head hybrid, which also offers the equally rare service of half-speed mastering and cutting for an even higher calibre of cut. Two of the rooms are also full mastering studios designed to provide the best possible listening environment with acoustic treatment from industry leaders Amadeus Acoustics while the third lathe is positioned for flat cutting from already mastered material. There is also the facility to cut straight from tape without entering the digital domain.
The recording studio has also been reinstalled and contains a high-spec list of classic equipment, at the centre of which is a 40 channel Amek Angela mixing desk – the same set up used by Quincy Jones. An extensive list of classic analogue drum machines, synths and outboard gear are in the room and the studio is also able to facilitate recording from a live room for a full band setup. This comes equipped with a full range of microphones, guitars, bass guitar and drum kit ready to use for recording musicians.
‘While I’m sad to leave Hackney, the relocation to Hastings has offered me a once in a lifetime opportunity to build this suite of studios from scratch.’ Lawrie Dunster, owner and engineer
Hastings has provided a welcoming environment for creative businesses and is working to make their town a hub for a musically minded community of creatives. Curve Pusher fully intend to embrace the local community, in addition to running an introductory discount offer to local residents they are also engaged in a project where they will record, master, cut and manufacture (at sister company Curved Pressings) a vinyl album for release for Fat Tuesday festival’s 10th anniversary featuring 10 local bands.
During their move, Curve Pusher have received the full backing and support of Hastings Council and Locate East Sussex who supported the business with match-funded financial loans, grants, advice and connections including from East Sussex Country Council, East Sussex Invest 5 programme and the South East Business Boost (SEBB) Fund.
by Beth King, Locate East Sussex
Photo: Tim Willcocks and Roland De Villiers
Surfer builds bespoke joinery business after TV success
From living walls and futuristic vacuum wardrobes to a 24-hour house build in the Welsh Valleys, Johnson Bespoke is revolutionising the notion of traditional carpentry and joinery, delivering ambitious projects for Channel 4’s hit show Amazing Spaces, and employing local craftspeople and engineers of the highest calibre.
Founder and director Robin Johnson, a local carpenter and joiner, born and bred in Hastings with a passion for surfing. He initially studied Surf Science and Technology at university before leaving the south coast in search of the swells of Western Australia where he took up post as Head of Visual Merchandise for Quicksilver.
On his return to the UK, Robin took up post as Head of Design and Technology at Hurstpierpoint College, inspiring pupils with new innovative projects that were relevant to the digital generation, such as a wooden Bluetooth speaker.
Taking a break from teaching, Robin decided to embark on his next life adventure to turn his talent and skills for design and woodwork into an entrepreneurial dream. Forged from a creative and ambitious mind, Johnson Bespoke began trading in 2013.
Johnson Bespoke first started delivering projects out of the basement of the local derelict Hastings Observer building. Robin’s design skills soon put his start-up business on the map for bigger and better opportunities.
Inevitably, it wasn’t long before his rising success outgrew the basement, and more space was needed to cater not only for bespoke commissions, but larger projects and to even develop a future in TV.
As one of the many thriving businesses in the wood-working community in East Sussex, Johnson Bespoke has a well-earned reputation as a collective of innovative designers, joiners and fabricators eager and un-afraid to take on a challenge. Its efforts proven with the collaboration on some ambitious high-profile projects, namely with architect and presenter George Clarke and William Hardie on their design and build of a futuristic rotating house for the hit C4 show, George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces. Johnson Bespoke was tasked with creating a ‘living wall’ of moss to fit inside the house and a ‘space age’ wardrobe which could hold vacuum bagged clothes.
One of the tougher projects that Johnson Bespoke took on for Amazing Spaces was the timed house build, based on the Ty Unnos 600-year-old Welsh legend that states if you can create a house with four walls, a roof and have a fire burning inside in less than a day, then the house and the ground beneath it are officially yours.
The team created the cabin in just 24 hours, using only natural, raw materials found in the Welsh Valleys. Despite facing extreme weather conditions, the monumental build was complete by sunrise.
Thanks to a combination of grants through Locate East Sussex as well as partners Business East Sussex, Robin boosted business growth by equipping his workshop and expanding the team.
Supported by East Sussex Invest (ESI4), Robin was able to create two new full-time jobs and get machinery that would allow the team to be more productive, taking his business from a one-man-band with casual subtractors to an experienced collective of craftspeople.
by Bethany Arnold, Locate East Sussex
Photo: Johnson Bespoke
Image by Caitlin Lock
Growing the digital sector in Eastbourne
Zoonou is at the forefront of Eastbourne’s growing tech scene. The software testing and quality assurance specialist works with some of the biggest and best-known brands in the world.
Last year, the company moved all its staff and testing facilities into a converted former derelict garage to create the UK’s largest state-of-the-art test lab, housing a library of over 300 mobile and tablet devices.
In the twelve years since Jonathan Rogers and Nick Turton first formed the company back in 2007, its global client base has delivered over 3,000 projects, earning a reputation for providing a highly reliable service that is in constant demand.
Having already been in four different locations over the decade, the team had grown beyond the capacity of its limited office space and so started to look for options for new premises. This led to a partnership with Mistywell Ltd who own the popular Enterprise Shopping Centre and office spaces in central Eastbourne. Mistywell had identified a rundown former garage on St Leonards Road that had been empty for many years.
In partnership with Mistywell, Zoonou helped to influence the plans and designs for the development. To support the renovation and the company’s high growth prospects, funding from ESI5, East Sussex County Council’s Grants and Loans Programme was secured to help Mistywell convert the exterior of the building, while further funding assisted Zoonou with the costs of the expansion and the refit of its new offices and state-of-the-art test lab. The project has transformed what was an eyesore for local residents and helped support the creation of four new jobs. The company employs thirty people now, with space to add another fifteen as sales grow.
The move has enabled all employees to work in two open-plan spaces, on the ground floor and mezzanine level above, with two meeting rooms along the edges of the space on the upper floor. The new open concept encourages collaboration and the cross-pollination of ideas. Focused work and noisier activities occur in the two meeting rooms on the upper floor, adding flexibility to the open workspaces.
The expansion has opened up a whole new wealth of opportunities for long-term growth, with plans to further develop its technical services, Zoonou plans to expand into new markets.
The company’s own investment was match-funded by a loan/grant from East Sussex County Council’s East Sussex Invest 5 fund for the redevelopment of an old garage into new office space and test lab in St. Leonards Road, Eastbourne.
Funding was secured to support the relocation of offices with investment into new state-of-the-art IT equipment, fixtures and fittings, and to create a great working environment for staff.
by Milan Matejka, Locate East Sussex
Image by Caitlin Lock
Hastings is a magnet of raw musical talent and home to one of the UK’s most vibrant music scenes. In fact, there’s so much music happening in and around Hastings that the area has been declared the UK’s newest ‘Music City’.
Unapologetically loud and proud of its musical heritage, Hastings and the 1066 area has a rich musical legacy. Legendary artists of the 60’s and 70’s from The Who, Pink Floyd, Sex Pistols to Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones have all graced its iconic Pier over the decades. Syd Barrett’s last ever gig with Pink Floyd was at the end of the Pier on January 20th 1968. Madness frontman Suggs is Hastings born and bred. David Bowie shot his video for Ashes to Ashes on the beach at Pett and Bob Marley’s first live UK gig in 1972 was at the De La Warr Pavillion.
Fast forward to 2018 and the energy infused in the towns and villages along the coast from Bexhill to Rye today is due to the sheer number of exciting, up-and-coming underground artists, an abundance of festivals and the rafts of pubs and venues essential for nurturing grassroots music. Hastings and Rother have been placed firmly on the map of the UK’s new music scene, earning 1066 Country the title of a new Music City.
A Music City by its simplest definition is a place with a vibrant music industry. Essential elements include artists and musicians, music venues, record labels and most importantly, an engaged audience. More than a match for the music city criteria, Hastings and the entire District of Rother is teeming with musicians and songwriters of every musical genre along with DJs, producers, recording studios and music mastering and production companies. As Andy Gunton, of The Stinger, puts it:
‘It’s a very vibrant and loaded local scene. For somewhere so small there is a hell of a lot going on’
Enough to excite all musical tastes, Hastings and Rother is home to Rye’s award-winning International Jazz and Blues Festival and Hastings Philharmonic, the first fully professional orchestra in Hastings in nearly eighty years. The reputation of the De La Warr Pavilion’s stand-out live music programme goes from strength to strength. The cultural powerhouse of the south coast sells over 45,000 tickets annually to over 120 events, adding a value of 16m to the region.
The whole area fizzes with creative energy, earning it a growing reputation as the new musical mecca of the south. The number of festivals and eye-opening events throughout the year range from Hastings Beer Festival, TN32 Festival in Bodiam, or the drum and bass of Pier Jam, and Beatwave – a weekend of live surf, beat and garage frenzy.
The Music City status is more than a tag of recognition for the town’s rich and diverse music scene, it’s a rallying call to action to support and nurture the next generation of aspiring musicians and help unlock the potential of young people through the transformative power of music.
Music Month runs from Valentines Day to St. Patrick’s Day each year and includes the mighty Fat Tuesday and the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition – both bigger and better than ever. Fat Tuesday is hailed as Hastings’ answer to SXSW in Texas, or Brighton’s The Great Escape and is the UK’s largest Mardi Gras celebration with its own distinctive flavour. It was voted by The Telegraph as the 12th Best Mardi Gras event in the world. The climax of Fat Tuesday consists of forty acts each playing 15-minute sets in different venues on rotation throughout Hastings Old Town. An afternoon of 200 raucous beer-heavy gigs makes it one of Hastings’ most celebrated events. This year’s line up included grime from Hull, female rappers from SE London, a punk-folk singer-songwriter from Southampton, all interspersed with some mighty fine local talent from indie-rock and acoustics to folk, soul and blues and everything in between.
Rye Jazz Festival
For four days every summer, Rye becomes a hotbed of jazz and blues, with the International Jazz and Blues Festival attracting a line up to rival the Montreal Jazz Festival. The festival is acknowledged as one of the best boutique music festivals of its kind in the UK with the potential to grow a truly international audience. The beautiful cobbled streets of Rye come alive as audiences are treated to the intoxicating sounds of the best jazz, blues, swing, afro-beat, funk, folk and Latin music. The festival and event headliners have included legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker, Wilco Johnson, Gregory Porter and Liane Carroll.
Over 100 pubs and venues are supporting the music scene. From Rye’s The Ypres Castle Inn and The Mermaid Inn, Icklesham’s The Queens Head, right through to Hastings’ Old Town, which is overflowing with popular live music venues including The Black-Market VIP, Whistle Trago, The Brass Monkey, Dragon Bar, Jenny Lind, Albion to name a few. It would be a challenge to find a pub without live music. Just a stone’s throw away is the enigmatic and atmospheric St Mary in the Castle, the White Rock Theatre and The Printworks, a flexible, multi-use music, arts and cultural venue in arguably Hastings’ newest creative quarter, America Ground, with its unique history of independence. Trinity Triangle is also home to the Palace, On The Rocks, Golden Axe Music Shop, indie record shop Wow and Flutter and Borough Beers, Wines and Books, who’s intimate underground gigs have included German Krautrock legends Faust in its basement, complete with axel grinder!
Record labels, studios and record shops
There is an array of first-rate recording, mixing and mastering studios, all bringing their own unique flavour, from Yiayia’s Studio, Savage Sound and 360 Mastering and Curve Pusher, along with independent record labels including the legendary BBE – Barely Breaking Even Records, releasing disco, soul, funk, hip hop, jazz and house music on vinyl for 20 years. Independent record shops provide the town with its vinyl fix, Wow and Flutter, Atlas Sounds Records, Japhy’s, as well as Bexhill’s Music’s Not Dead – opening as a “pop-up” at the De La Warr Pavilion, selling a wide range of vinyl/labels covering all music tastes.
De La Warr Pavilion is widely recognised as the cultural and musical hub of England’s Creative Coast. Multi-award-winning hip-hop DJ and producer, DJ Yoda launched the De La Warr’s new Debut programme earlier this year for #1066MusicCity. Debut is a new annual programme that supports emerging musicians from the local area, offering them performance and development opportunities, including local studio time with Curve Pusher Studios to record a track.
The Eggtooth Project launched the Arts Council supported Incubate project in 2017 to develop and “hatch” the potential of emerging young musical talent. While DV8 in Bexhill run accredited music production courses for aspiring musicians to get the chance to record their tracks and learn how to promote themselves online.
The Music City project was devised by the Hastings & Rother Music City partnership and supported by Rother District Council, Hastings Borough Council, De La Warr Pavilion Charitable Trust, The Joe Strummer Foundation and Rhythmix, with support from AudioActive and Eggtooth.
by Bethany Arnold, Locate East Sussex
Photo: 1066 Music City
Image by Mark Richards
The South East Creatives development and support programme, for which DLWP has been a local hub, has now come to an end. Over the past two years, the programme has helped more than 400 creative, cultural and digital businesses and provided nearly £1million in grant funding.