It’s a Hat Trick! Three new investments announced for Arts, Creative Businesses, Heritage and Culture

3 June 2017

£4.5m funding from Arts Council England, SEMLEP, Local Growth Fund and National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has been awarded this week to Luton Culture, for the development of an innovative project, the ‘Hat District Cluster’, situated in the Plaiters Lea Conservation area of Luton. This ambitious project, which will help further boost the local economy, is also supported by Luton Borough Council and the Architectural Heritage Fund.

Luton Culture Trust, an arts and cultural charity, has been successful in several major funding bids to refurbish three historic hat factories into a vibrant cluster. This Hat District Cluster will nurture, support and develop creative industry in Luton as well as save historic hat factory buildings from dilapidation. The project will create cultural vibrancy, preserve important heritage buildings for future generations and breathe new life into the heart of the town.

The project will contribute significantly to the growth and development of Luton by providing 24,000sqft of creative business workspace; supporting 133 additional creative and digital industries jobs; and boosting the local economy by attracting 135,000 more visits to the area. The redevelopment will allow Luton to build a reputation as a cultural hub, on the upward trend like areas such as Shoreditch, Folkestone, Hull and Manchester. This ambitious project is situated just a stone’s throw from the Central Luton railway station which provides excellent transport links with London, and is within 10 minutes’ drive from London-Luton Airport.  Infrastructure, affordability, creative networks and the support by the Culture Trust means it’s an excellent place for creative business to locate and grow.

Luton Culture creates vibrancy, safeguards and re-engages people with heritage and promotes distinction through locally relevant and nationally important arts and cultural programmes, places and resources. The culture trust’s Chief Executive Marie Kirbyshaw said ‘We have developed a self-funding business model for the Hat District Cluster to help us to become more sustainable, so we don’t have to rely as heavily on public funding. The Hat District Cluster will contribute significantly to the growth and development of Luton, providing an economic impact of £29m over ten years. We are so excited about leading this change and would like to thank all our funding partners for believing in our project and in Luton.’

She continued, ‘All income generated by the creative workspaces, ticketed events, hires and services will be fully re-invested back into the cultural activities, operations, promotions, conservation and refurbishment of the buildings, as well as new technology and events. The project will strengthen the Trust’s position in delivering its long-term charitable objectives and provide a sustainable vibrant cultural core to Luton Town Centre’.

The Hat District Cluster will provide specialist support to artists and creative people, supporting their growth into careers, jobs and success. The ambition is to enable people to come together to innovate, collaborate and celebrate creative success. The plan includes state-of-the-art work spaces, specialist equipment, independent retail, and refurbished performance spaces, for creative young people.

Gavin O’Brien, Chair of the Business Improvement District, and CEO of Design Agency Clearhead, said, ‘Ten years ago, when I started up Clearhead, there were very restricted opportunities for start-ups. Even now creative young people are having to look for opportunities outside of Luton; but the development of the Hat District, and the focus on supporting and nurturing talent, means this will change.’

Major funding has come from SEMLEP, and the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This adds to project capital funding already allocated by Luton Borough Council and grant funding from Historic England. Work will start in 2018 and be completed by 2021. The Trust will develop a series of workshops to share their plans and open the hat factories for tours and talks from September.

Download the full press release

Download the Hat District Project Cluster Outline