Life

The four most creative places to live in the UK

Posted by
Anna Hart
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Creative communities always kickstart the coolest neighbourhoods. Here are four of the UK’s most up-and-coming…

Artists, musicians and writers have always flocked to once-unloved places, turning them into hip, oft-hedonistic creative kernels. 

In the Nineties, for instance, Shoreditch in east London became the de facto centre of the UK art world and also provided abundant grist to the creative mill. But cool gets commodified: areas become fetishised by the wealthy, property prices escalate and the art crowd move on (think the artistic exoduses of Notting Hill in the Eighties and Hackney in the Noughties).

Artists are even more free-range these days. Inner cities no longer have a monopoly on creativity, and people are looking further afield for available studio spaces. 

As well as farther-flung areas of London, fresh blood is flowing into Britain’s seaside areas, Birmingham, Glasgow and Somerset’s market towns. We sought out the artists living and working in the UK’s new cool hubs.

Deptford

The artist: Lara Proctor, 30, photographer (laraproctor.co.uk)

“I moved to Deptford in 2013. Despite being in London’s Zone 2, it’s still its own bubble of a town, with a mixed community that supports and celebrates each other. Deptford has maintained a real high-street atmosphere – from art galleries, independent stores and charity shops to the best fry-up in London at Café Bianca. I love finding bargains I never knew I needed at the Saturday flea market (my best find is my vintage telescope).

As an artist working with my surroundings, location is everything. My work focuses on movement, be it my feet walking along a path or the view from a bus or train. The titles of my work are literally the places they were taken – one show was named From Porto To Deptford: A Panoramic Journey, chronicling each stage of my journey home. I’ve had the chance to collaborate with many different people here: I’ve exhibited with street artist Tubecomix in my friend’s store Win & Ruby, shown my work at Deptford Does Art – Deptford’s newest community art space – and spent many great evenings sharing ideas and debates with other local, creative people.

Artists have a great support network here with lots of self-run arts spaces, and there are still affordable studios. Local opportunities include arts festival Deptford X, where anyone can be involved and showcase their work in a gallery space, outdoors or even at Uncle Ned’s beds store on Lewisham Way.”

Stylist’s picks:

Eat: Deptford Does Art, a cafe-cum-gallery space, shop and tireless champion of local talent that offers iced teas, sweet treats and beers in the evening.

Drink: Little Nan’s Bar, under the Grade II-listed Deptford rail carriage ramp, for cocktails and cake.

Folkestone 

The artist: Kate Knight, 39, figurative artist (kateknight.org)

“I was born in Folkestone, Kent, and moved to London to study. I graduated from Chelsea School of Art and Design in 2005, and then returned to Folkestone in 2007. At the moment, I’m working on large-scale drawings on paper executed in biro, focusing on the natural world, so my location is really important to me. I really need nature on my doorstep, since it’s my main source of inspiration, and Folkestone provides it in abundance.

I originally moved back due to family circumstances. But when you’re born by the sea it has an indescribable pull. I’d also been hearing about the town’s blossoming Creative Quarter, a regeneration project funded largely by the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust, offering aspiring artists and retailers a chance to become a part of this community. The cost of studio space was reasonable, and the light and space were fantastic, so I applied with success. Other artists are being drawn here now by the sea, by the creative community, by the affordability and by the excitement of what is yet to come. I’m a fan of The Pullman pub and the newly refurbished Harbour Inn. Steep Street has the best coffee in town. And the two-screen Folkestone Silver Screen Cinema also deserves a shout-out.

So much here is still in the making. It’s my home town and I’m so proud to be here.”

Stylist’s picks:

Eat: Cockles, crab, lobster thermidor and other seasonal Kentish food on the coast at Rocksalt.

Drink: The Lime Bar Cafe near the harbour, before catching a gig, film or art event over the road at the Quarterhouse0020.

Digbeth 

The artist: Louise Byng, 27, illustrator (louisebyng.co.uk)

“Walking through Digbeth in Birmingham every day gives me lots of inspiration, with its blend of functioning industrial and contemporary creative spaces, and the different types of people that come with those different industries. You can always be sure that behind every door somebody is either grafting or raving – or possibly both!

My artwork is centred around drawing, but my love of storytelling can often find me knee-deep in lots of interesting creative collaborations. Lately I’ve been working on a mural for Birmingham’s performance company and ‘social provocateurs’ Stan’s Cafe, and I’m planning on bringing a zine festival to Digbeth in July.

Once a month, for Digbeth First Friday, galleries and artists’ spaces stay open late, which is a great opportunity to see what everyone is making and to share ideas. Grand Union, a gallery and artists’ studios based within the Minerva Works building, also recently hosted a Digbeth neighbourhood tea morning that was great for breaking bread – well, cake – with other artists in the area.

There’s always something different happening here – from a Trade School Digbeth class on how to ice a cupcake to the Black Lives Matter organisers sharing their wisdom at a talk. In my downtime, I’m more than likely to be found grabbing a drink at craft brewery Dig Brew Co, checking an exhibition at Centrala or hunting for bargain threads at Credit Crunchers Vintage.” 

Stylist’s picks: 

Eat: Street food galore at Digbeth Dining Club

Drink: The area’s best venue for live music is The Night Owl.

Finnieston 

The artist: Libby Walker, 31, illustrator & maker (libbywalker.co.uk)

“I have just celebrated the two-year anniversary of moving my studio to Finnieston’s Hidden Lane in Glasgow. I’ve moved around Scotland over the years, but my heart firmly belongs to Glasgow. The Hidden Lane is a community of around 100 artists, designers, jewellers, musicians and more. With the Hidden Lane Tearoom keeping us going with cakes and coffee, we frequently bump into one another; a cornerstone of any community is communication, and we have plenty of that here.

Like a lot of artists, I was finding studio work lonely on a day-to-day basis, so moving to the Lane gave me a new-found sense of community. In the last two years, a lot has changed around here. Finnieston’s restaurant, bar and cafe scene is thriving. I love The 78, with its coal fire, comfy armchairs and hearty vegan food. And in the winter you can’t beat a whisky sat next to the fire in the Ben Nevis pub – you might even get to enjoy some live Scottish music at the table next to you.

My work celebrates the thriving communities and sprawling architecture of the city. Drawing inspiration from where I visit and people I meet, I aim to capture the places we go to in our daily lives. The Hidden Lane has contributed to my output. I promote ‘Made In The Lane’ products such as Finnieston tea towels and cushions. I also created a lampshade with local artist Kate Colin, inspired by our walk to Finnieston from Partick.”  

Stylist’s Picks:

Eat: Alchemilla specialises in natural wines and seasonal sharing Mediterranean plates from Rosie Healey, a protégé of Yotam Ottolenghi.

Drink: Cocktails, oysters and Scottish shellfish at The Finnieston.

llustration: Garry Walton / Other images: courtesy of artists