#9 Played a key part in the regeneration of Thurrock through our role at High House Production Park

,  3 March 2015

High House Production Park is the result of a long-term collaboration between the Royal Opera House, Creative & Cultural Skills, Acme Studios and Thurrock Council. This unique partnership is building a centre of excellence for the creative and cultural industries.

Photo: Acme Studios/Hugo Glendinning (2014)
Photo: Acme Studios/Hugo Glendinning (2014)

I have been involved in High House Production Park (HHPP) from the get go. After seeing the massive opportunity to build on Thurrock’s natural advantage of its proximity to London, I was determined to inspire folk to come up with a game changer project that would galvanise disparate players in the area to work together.

All the sets and scenery for the Royal Opera House stage are built and painted in the Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop.

The pivotal moment was when I pitched Thurrock to Tony Hall as a place where the Royal Opera House could locate their backstage workshops. Tony immediately recognised potential for the Royal Opera House to be a catalyst for wider regeneration 

I now manage the production park. For me this means putting myself at the service of the HHPP partnership to continue to develop a shared vision and strategy for the park and for Thurrock, brokering wider relationships and resources to advance our joint priorities, and championing the work and achievements of partners I’m deeply proud of.

Kicking off the development

The first phase of development at the 14-acre site, its heritage buildings and public park, was completed in 2010 with the opening of the Royal Opera House's Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop.

This was followed in 2013 with the opening of Creative & Cultural Skills' The Backstage Centre, a world-class production, rehearsal and training venue for performance, broadcast and live events.

Acme Studios opened the High House Artists' Studios in October 2013, a new building that reflects the latest thinking in creative affordable workspace.

Since 2011, all the sets and scenery for each new production on the Royal Opera House stage have been built and painted in the Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop.

Since 2007, a dedicated ROH Learning and Participation Team has been working in schools and in the community in Thurrock, leading to the establishment of the Royal Opera House Thurrock Community Chorus, which now has 140 members, and RM19, the youth vocal group for 11-25 year olds.

Thurrock is doing no less than reimagining its place in the world.

The Bob and Tamar Manoukian Costume Centre, currently under construction on the park, will house more than 20,000 costumes for opera and ballet productions currently in the repertory, as well as stock costume and the archive collection. In a unique partnership with South Essex College, there will also be permanent workrooms for students.

The proximity to the costume archives will provide a wealth and depth of material for the students to study. The students will also be provided with opportunities for specialist placements with the Royal Opera House costume department, providing a springboard for ensuring the specialist skills are passed on to the next generation of costumiers.

Unleashing creative ambition

The depth and breadth of the HHPP partnership extends beyond the production park, as it shares its skills and acumen to shape the wider agenda in Thurrock and beyond. 
With support from HHPP, Thurrock Council agreed ‘Unleashing Creative Ambition’, a statement of its strategic priorities for arts, heritage and culture: 
  • A cultural entitlement programme that offers every young person in Thurrock regular opportunities to experience excellent arts and culture both inside and outside of school. Talent will be nurtured and there will be industry-led careers advice and clear progression pathways for young people to learn, train and be employed in the creative industries sector and beyond.
  • A creative enterprise and innovation programme that attracts and supports emerging creative talent to locate and start up their globally connected businesses in Thurrock. HHPP will be developed as an international centre of excellence for creative industries education, training, enterprise and innovation. 
  • A creative place-making programme that takes a culture-led approach to engaging communities with the physical redevelopment and future use of key sites and buildings in Thurrock. The riverscape is the most compelling place to develop a new cultural offer for everyone. It will connect disparate ideas, events, resources and facilities into one creative vision. 

A commitment to cultural entitlement in Thurrock

Thurrock is doing no less than reimagining its place in the world, from revealing the incredible heritage and contemporary identity of its 18-miles long riverscape, to unleashing the imagination of its young people through a bold commitment to a cultural entitlement, to forging new alliances with world-class artists and cultural and education institutions who are compelled by Thurrock’s future possibilities.

 Support for the growth of creative industries as an economic sector has been prioritised by the local council. It is a means of nurturing the creativity of young people, of attracting and retaining emerging talent looking for start-up opportunities and space to innovate, plus a great way to harness new ideas and acumen to increase the impact of regeneration.

Working with the Local Enterprise Partnership 

HHPP has also supported its Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to establish creative and cultural as a priory growth sector. With a GVA contribution of £2.5 billion per annum, the creative industries in the South East LEP (SELEP) area contribute more to the UK economy than those of any other LEP outside of London.

The sector employs more than 30,000 people across the SELEP area. The GVA contribution made by a creative professional is almost double the average GVA contribution of an employee across the South East’s wider economy. High House Production Park has set-up a Creative Industries Business Leaders Group, which has supported SELEP with evidence and ideas about how to increase the growth of creative and cultural industries.

There are leading companies from the sector involved including: METAL, Firstsite, Turner Contemporary, Jerwood Gallery, Historic Dockyards Chatham and Folkestone Creative Foundation. The group will be working on initiatives in their local areas and coming together to deliver LEP-wide programmes.

The National College

The next exciting phase of development on the park is about to commence. In September 2014 an expression of interest was submitted to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills by Live Nation, on behalf of a consortium of employers including the Royal Opera House, White Light, Britannia Row, UK Music and the Association of British Theatre Technicians who have been who have been working together over a number of years to develop The Backstage Centre and the National Skills Academy

This led to a successful bid to become a specialist, employer-backed National College to accelerate industry-led training in ‘behind-the-scenes’ craft specialisms that are relevant to the music, performing arts, events, film, television and visual effects industries.

Investment will enable the development of bespoke training for elite craft and technical specialisms to address skills gaps, and will provide funds towards a new building to include workspace, a training studio and overnight accommodation.

It is hard to overstate the value of deeper collaboration. I believe it is the most powerful way to broker bold collective ambition that can bring about successful regeneration.

In the run up to our annual conference and tenth birthday celebration we're looking back at our biggest achievements of the past decade: one a day for ten days.

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