Exeter Cultural Partnership: Mattie's Speech

Mattie was recently asked to give a talk at the Exeter Cultural Partnership conference in Exeter Cathedral, an event exploring the City’s cultural offering and the issues surrounding it. We thought we’d share with you her speech here, a very honest account of her personal experience of running an indie business for the last 14 years. Enjoy!

Partnerships for Enterprise: My Experience

One of the hardest things about running an independent business is when the customer that comes into your beautifully curated shop complains that you’re not on the High Street (let alone that they’ve had to walk up a hill or encountered a wobbly pavement) as they do to get to the wonderful independent traders of Fore Street.

I always want to say to them that the businesses that aren’t on the High Street are the ones worth stumbling over a pavement for (this isn’t to say that I’m not obsessed with the getting the pavements of Fore Street mended). We’re the businesses that keep corners, old buildings and back streets of cities thriving. We’re the reason that the city centre is bustling. Independent businesses bring something to the city that it has chosen to trade in, that no other city has. We bring jobs for local people, are here for the people of the city 9-5, 6 or 7 days of the week and are often the first to highlight any problems within the community.

For me, this is why Enterprise and Entrepreneurship is so important to Exeter – it’s also very similar to the role Culture plays in the city. The unique mix of business, culture, heritage, sport and education is what makes this city what it is, and keeps it developing and thriving.

I believe that in the Life of a City, every sector has its responsibilities and part to play in bringing all the pieces together. I want to live and work in a thriving, strong, exciting city, and I believe Exeter is well on its way to fulfilling its potential.

It can be hard for business to understand that everything else that goes on in the city centre has an impact on their sales and footfall. When you’re running a business, often alone with few staff, feeling like you have no support and cash flow nightmares, it’s very easy to put your head down and work your hardest on what you’re passionate about. I really believe that we, the independent business community, all need to look up. (We also need lower business rates, better city wide street signage and more support, but that’s a different talk!)

My teenage years where spent in a city that knows how to celebrate its indies, I often use the example of Brighton to show people where my passion comes from, it can be done! When you think of Brighton, do you think of the massive shopping centre, do you even know the name? Or do you think of the Lanes, and probably the Pier! Brighton celebrates its differences and diversity to give it its unique selling point. It’s a great example for Exeter.

My experience of enterprise and culture in Exeter is that we haven’t managed that much collaboration. Whether that’s because of the time constraints from both the business and culture perspectives, or the lack of money to make ideas actually happen. I really hope and believe that through work with Exeter’s BID we can start making ideas come to life, because we have a team with the resources to be able to make things happen, who are business focused but understand that a vibrant cultural life in the city will aid footfall, customer retention and hopefully spend!

I really hoped that the Exeter Trails project would lead to the independent businesses of Exeter having a singular, strong voice with which to communicate with the rest of the city. But the work it takes to keep 100 businesses involved, happy and attentive has proved too much without a dedicated, full-time team.

It can be very frustrating watching all the exciting events in Exeter happen up in Bedford Square, even ones that would be much better suited to being in an indie area of the city. There are, obviously, exceptions, the very wonderful Animated Exeter show on the buildings on Fore Street was woefully attended but was one of the best things I’ve seen in the city. We are lucky enough to have the Bike Shed Theatre at the top of Fore Street, a brilliant example of using a building inventively, and giving Fore Street a much better night time reputation. The amazing reaction to the loss of the West Gate Mural at the bottom of New Bridge Street shows how much the community values its artworks, and we’re trying to work our way towards having a mural in that position again.

My question to you is what is the way forward for collaboration between business and culture? One that gives us all the outcome that we need to carry on performing, creating and developing our businesses, ideas and city.