Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism
The creative industries have suffered a challenging year. When I launched Creative Wales early in 2020, delivering against an important manifesto commitment, no one could have predicted the global coronavirus pandemic, nor its devastating impact on our lives and livelihoods. But Creative Wales, in its infancy, has been instrumental in supporting the sector to respond rapidly to the crisis. As we pass the one year anniversary of Creative Wales, I would like to provide Members with a summary of the important work undertaken to date and set out our priorities for the future.
Determined to support the sector, we worked in partnership with our stakeholders to refocus our activity. We established stakeholder groups for our key priority sectors and engaged with them throughout the year to identify issues and concerns, test our ideas and develop our approach to support. As an immediate reaction to the original lockdown, a small fund was made available to grassroots music venues, studios and rehearsal spaces. This was hugely important to ensure the ongoing sustainability of a sector that is still facing running costs but unable to open. Alongside this, we repackaged our planned development funding schemes for our TV and digital sectors to provide emergency support to organisations unable to operate as usual in light of the COVID-19 restrictions. We awarded an additional £150,000 to the Books Council of Wales to help to ensure the publishing sector was supported, including independent bookshops closed during lockdowns and affected by loss of sales.
These emergency interventions are bearing fruit. A modest investment in a TV development project for Avanti has now resulted in a C4 commission for a 20 episode prime time show. This is a big win for the company and would not have happened without our support. A similar investment in a games development business has secured £1.1m in funding from a publisher based outside of the UK. This type of private investment in a small games company is very difficult to secure and could mean significant growth if the title is successful.
This support has been complemented by the £63m Cultural Recovery Fund. Creative Wales played a lead role in the development and delivery of this fund, which targeted further essential support to creative organisations and freelancers. In response to ongoing need within the freelancer community, the Welsh Government recently announced a further £8.9m for the freelancer fund.
We worked quickly to produce guidelines in June 2020, to support a safe return to activity for the creative industries, in line with Welsh Government regulations. My officials worked closely with stakeholders in Wales and at a UK level to develop this guidance and to support the development of industry led guidelines. They have been a key tool in helping to restart activity. We continue to provide clarity on the rules in Wales, so that as many of our businesses, supply chain and freelancers as possible can continue to work safely.
Even in the face of unprecedented challenges, key areas of our work have progressed. We are supporting productions from both within and outside Wales, with eleven new productions supported in 2020. These include the widely anticipated thriller The Pact commissioned by BBC Cymru Wales. The six-part series is due to air in spring 2021 and is the first commission for the Cardiff-based independent production company Little Door Productions. The production was directly supported by Creative Wales through production funding, and logistical support via its Wales Screen team.
We have recently entered into partnership with the BBC to welcome the world-renowned National Film and Television School to Wales. We are also strengthening our infrastructure, and were delighted to announce in October 2020 our agreement with Great Point Media to lease and manage the Seren Stiwdios complex in Cardiff, Wales.
We are also hugely excited to welcome Lucasfilm to Wales. Lucasfilm will be shooting WILLOW, an epic fantasy adventure series which will debut on Disney + in 2022. The series continues the spirit of adventure, heroics, and humour of Ron Howard’s 1988 feature film which was shot in Llanberis in Gwynedd. Lynwen Brennan, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Lucasfilm is a native of Tenby, and facilitated the introduction between Welsh Government and Lucasfilm. Securing this project is a culmination of three years of dialogue with the company and will bring significant spend in Wales and excellent training opportunities. The series will begin filming in Wales in 2021.
These successes extend to our wider sectors. Creative Wales has supported Wallace & Gromit’s latest adventure into augmented reality, through the provision of advice and guidance to Fictioneers in securing Innovate UK funding for The Big Fix Up, An Augmented Reality Story, the much-loved Aardman characters’ mission to ‘fix up’ cities through a new interactive phone app. The Creative Wales Spotify play list has been well received by the music industry and audiences, and is creating opportunities to raise awareness of Welsh music and the profile of Welsh talent. The Books Council of Wales has recently launched ffolio.wales, as the first-ever bilingual platform to focus on selling e-books from Wales to the wider world. The initiative has been made possible due to the additional capital funding of £750,000 awarded by Creative Wales at the beginning of 2020.
As we look forward to 2021 we will remain flexible, to allow us to respond to ongoing issues and capitalise on opportunities as the economy recovers. We will do this mindful of the priorities set out in the Welsh Government’s draft Budget proposals for 2021-22, to protect, build, and change for a more prosperous, more equal, and a greener Wales. We will continue to offer a streamlined, dynamic and innovative service to the creative industries sector, aligned to the needs of the industry. For some time to come, those needs will include helping the sector to adapt to operate in line with continued restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will maintain our focus on those sectors that are still unable to resume normal activity, such as the music industry, and will explore options for continued funding to support ongoing sustainability. We will support the creative industries to adapt to the changing environment following our exit from the European Union and the introduction of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
2021 will see a continued focus on skills and talent development, diversity and inclusivity. We want a diverse sector that provides opportunities and equality of outcome for all, and will look to address any inequalities that have been exacerbated by the current crisis. We will explore all opportunities to further expand the availability of quality studio space across Wales. As demand for space increases in the UK, we want Wales to be at the top of the list of great locations to produce new content. We will focus on developing an action plan for increased support for the video games sector, alongside other technology based creative businesses.
Our new Non-Executive Board will play a key role in championing our priorities, providing advice and challenge as we move forward. We will work with our stakeholders, listening to them, and building on the genuine partnerships we have established following our launch. We will meet with the sector on March 18th for a stakeholder engagement session to discuss our plans for 2021.
The creative industries is an important part of the Welsh economy, its culture and society. It will be key to our recovery as outlined in the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Mission published earlier this week. The sector has shown resilience and an openness to find innovative ways to move forward and we will continue to work collaboratively with the sector to respond to ongoing challenges, to champion the creative industries in Wales and deliver our ambitions for growth.