Caroline Norbury is founding chief executive of Creative England, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 2011 to support and invest in creative talent and businesses in film, TV, gaming and digital media. Its main aim is to promote regional talent and create opportunities for people and companies based outside of London.
Before joining Creative England, Norbury was chief executive at South West Screen. She is also a member of BAFTA, the Royal Society of Arts and the UK Trade & Investment Creative Industries Sector Advisory Group and was awarded an MBE for her services to film in 2012.
Under her leadership, Creative England has partnered with organisations from the BBC to BFI and Microsoft to fund shorts and feature films, support new writers and directors and help indie games companies bring their products to market. It also runs projects to fund digital innovation in industries from healthcare to law – last year, it launched an interactive healthcare programme offering £750,000 to digital companies outside of London looking to develop healthcare tech.
“The further away you are from London, the harder it is to build a business, to access capital, to be part of networks that can help your business grow. So our focus is very much on providing access to money, markets and networks,” explains Norbury.
Creative England hopes to achieve this largely by pairing small to medium sized creative companies with large brands that can offer financial backing and business support. A recent project launched with Disney offered funding for digital products encouraging families to be more active (creatives were given access to Disney’s IP and could use some of its famous characters in apps and games), while its ongoing Greenshoots project with Microsoft provides business support to indie games developers. Companies are given between £25,000 and £50,000 in funding and access to mentors, technical support and developer kits.
For smaller brands, these partnerships provide the tools needed to grow. For larger ones, they offer a chance to work with smaller, more agile teams who have more freedom to innovate and create new products. Creative England typically offers grants of between £50,000 and £100,000 for businesses and ideas and while it’s not a vast sum, it’s enough to have a significant impact on a business. “Typically the people we support already have some kind of business but they don’t have anyone willing to back them, because that’s quite risky,” says Norbury. “Once we’ve done that, it’s a massive tick to the next person they go and talk to who might put money in, whether that’s a bank or an equity provider.”
While it receives public funding for grants, most of Creative England’s revenue comes from partnerships (companies will usually pay a fee for its services in sourcing regional talent). “We’re not here to make a profit, but we have to be commercial, and my challenge is to diversify our revenue streams,” says Norbury.
The organisation now has 45 staff, with offices in Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol and London and freelancers based in cities around the country. “If we’re trying to work in those places, then we need to have people who live and work there and breathe that air, and are a part of those networks. The idea that you can all work from one office and pretend to identify with groups of businesses [in other cities] is nonsense, so having people from a range of different places and backgrounds is part of our DNA,” she says. Norbury describes running a not for profit with such a broad focus and limited funding as a massive challenge and says the business has to change on a regular basis to survive. It recently brought in a CMO and director of content with strong commercial backgrounds to help build the organisation’s profile and secure partnerships – including one with Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium, which plans to bring five to ten new games to market.
“It is difficult running an organisation with such a broad focus and footprint with bugger all money and we’re probably overambitious, but we’re working on that. We’ve gone from nothing and we’ve completely changed as an organisation in the last four years or so: we’ve quadrupled our turnover and put out £15 million in small creative businesses that wasn’t going to them in the past.”
“The other difference I hope we’ve made is at a policy level, by constantly talking about the importance of creativity outside of London. I do feel that people are paying a lot more attention to things that are happening outside of the capital and the creative sector as an economic driver is being taken more and more seriously. There’s no way we can claim credit on our own for that but I do think we have made a real difference,” she adds.
While Norbury notes greater opportunities for creatives outside of London, diversity – or rather, a lack of it – is still a major issue in the creative industries, and this is also something Creative England hopes to address. It recently teamed up with the BBC to offer funding to women filmmakers and Norbury says she would like to see more done to support diversity across the creative industries. “The global market isn’t white, male, bearded and from East London and we have to take that seriously,” she says.