Can We Afford to Be Creative in London? Part 2

Being a young creative in London pretty much sucks right now. Our favourite clubs are being shut down (R.I.P Fabric), our cultural spaces are disappearing, tuition fees are sky high, wages are the lowest they’ve ever been and rent rates have never been higher. Our City is known for its diverse, multi-cultural art scene, but artists and young entrepreneurs are being priced-out. To investigate, for the next couple of weeks, we’re asking young creatives currently living in the city, can we afford to be creative in London?

Tean Roberts, Photographer, Hackney

What is so brilliant about London’s art scene? 

The thing I think that is most brilliant about London’s art scene is that it is MASSIVE, so there’s something for everyone.There’s The Art Establishment for sure, but there’s also all this other great stuff going on more under the radar – so in the same week you can see a retrospective of Georgia O’Keeffe and a solo show of cartoon aliens vomiting on each other; and if you aren’t well connected enough to show at Frieze you can show at The Affordable Art Fair or something instead.

Does working full-time in a role just to pay the bills make you feel less creative? 

I couldn’t work full time in a job just to pay the bills. It sounds cheesy but I really believe that time is the only thing you can’t get any more of, so spending all of my time working for someone else to make their dreams come true instead of my own, would probably break my heart.

Are you currently affording to do what you’d like to do? 

Yes, I am somehow.

How the hell are you doing it? 

To make money I work freelance doing lots of different things so I can still make enough money to live in London. Some of those jobs are amazing, some of them are less so, but because I do everything freelance I feel like I’m still in control of my own time. I only work for people that I like and respect and make sure I have time to do creative photography projects for myself between / along side money jobs. I also have an overdraft to cover me when invoices come in late, and over the years I’ve learned how to save money to live in London: cycling everywhere, going to house parties rather than going out to bars etc, buying fruit and veg on Ridley Road and clothes on Roman Road, etc, etc. 

London has been a hotbed of creative rebellion forever and I don’t think housing developers and the Tory Government can squash that spirit.

Tean Roberts

Can you afford a studio/do you work from home?

I don’t have a studio anymore because I realised that I’m actually in love with natural light and am a location photographer at heart, so having my own studio was kind of hindering my progress in a way, although it wasn’t really a case of not being able to afford it. I think a studio is the same as anything: If you want it, you can have it, you just have to find a way to make it work. If you can’t afford to do something the typical way in London — like hire a share in a photo studio for example — there are usually other people in the same boat as you who have already found a solution, you just need to find them. When I needed a studio I stumbled across this amazing live and work space in Hackney Wick sharing with nine other amazing people who became my best friends for two and a half years and facilitated an incredible adventure for me. You shouldn’t let the fact that you have no money stop you from doing all the stuff you want to do, you should just find a way to do it with the budget you have. 

Do you think London’s art scene is under threat? 

I do and I don’t. I think the art scene as I know it at the moment is definitely under threat because London doesn’t care about protecting young people or poor people in this housing crisis, avant-garde artists are typically both young and poor. Take Hackney Wick – it’s got the biggest concentration of artists per capita anywhere in Europe. Those artists made the area what it is today when they moved in ten years ago. Nobody lived there then – it was just old disused factories that creatives started moving into, even though it was rough as guts, because they could afford the cheap studio space. Now those people are being evicted from their homes and studios in order to make way for luxury flat developments, who wouldn’t have looked twice at the area if the art scene hadn’t made it cool in the first place. On the other hand I think London is exciting and artists are innovators, so some will always find a way to make it work. London has been a hotbed of creative rebellion forever and I don’t think housing developers and the Tory Government can squash that spirit.

Would you consider moving to another city to not have to work full-time? 

I would move to another city for a new adventure. 

What could be improved to help young creatives currently living in London? 

Pay them for the work they do would be a good place to start, rather than this ‘we’ve-got-no-budget-but-it-would-be-great-for-your-portfolio’ nonsense. 

Dylan Leadley-Watkins, Filmmaker, Mile End

The art scene in London is vibrant; there are lots of cool people doing inspiring things all over the city. I think younger generations are really starting to put their foot in the door and show bigger more established companies they are capable of creating stuff just as good if not better than them. Being a “creative” in London can be really hard, especially in the beginning. I recently graduated, but was fortunate enough to start working freelance as sound recordist whilst studying. Having a student loan to support that was extremely helpful. When I graduated, the loan dried up and I began to worry how feasible it was going to be to carry on working freelance.

I was born and raised in London, all of my friends and contacts are here and I’ve never lived anywhere else. The thought of leaving the city I love just so I can afford to do what I want is heartbreaking.

Dylan Leadley-Watkins

Rising rent prices and travel costs are a real threat to London’s art scene, people who really live and breathe the city are getting pushed further out and being replaced by professionals, if things get any worse I think the scene could really suffer. People will start moving to other cities. I know a few people who have moved to Berlin because they can’t deal with the pressures in London. My parents moved out of London a couple of years ago and have a spare room, the idea of being able to live there cheap and work freelance is appealing. I was born and raised in London, all of my friends and contacts are here and I’ve never lived anywhere else. The thought of leaving the city I love just so I can afford to work there and do what I want is actually pretty heartbreaking, I’m just trying as hard as I can to make things work and hustle to stay in the city.

I think the biggest change that could be made to help creative in London would be a rent cap similar to what’s happening in Berlin, if there was enough actually affordable places to live and rent in the city it would help to keep those creatives who are struggling in the city.

If you’re a young creative currently living in London, we’d love to hear your thoughts, contact