Gone but certainly not forgotten, The Artworks Elephant helped shape Elephant Park thanks to its fresh, dynamic atmosphere and gloriously diverse mix of foodie pop-ups, retailers and events. With things moving a little slower during lockdown, we’re reminiscing on past successes and looking forward to seeing all of our bustling businesses - many of them alumni of The Artworks Elephant - back in action once more. Here’s where it all started and the legacy The Artworks Elephant helped create . . .
The Artworks Elephant was as a pioneering 5-year project which aimed to galvanise new and promising self-made retailers, businesses and food pop-ups to promote talent and generate growth and return on investment for the site.
Around sixty enterprises called The Artworks Elephant home, taking the leap to start their own business, with 15% of these pioneering teams moving to larger spaces as permanent locations; Beza, Dima and Tasty Jerk, to name just a few. The Artworks provided our community with 159 new jobs, and a £7m boost to the local economy, with nearly £800,000 going to the public purse in the form of library provision, national insurance and income tax. Even the NHS benefitted; wellbeing activities, classes and other events at the site’s community space ‘The Trunk’ provided resource savings for the health service and a lasting impact of visitors’ sense of self-worth and pride in new skills.
This pride, and the glowing socio-economic impact of the site, fuelled the greatest gratification felt from the success of The Artworks. On a physical level, the inclusive courtyard space provided a welcoming, stylish place for people to hang out, pulling in groups of visitors who might not usually interact together. As one business put it, ‘Each tenant brings in their own demographic and because we have such a mix of tenants, we attract a very different audience.’
Such an eclectic mix of shops, events and fun places to eat meant the atmosphere created was distinctly ‘carnival-esque’ in ambience and buzz, with one retailer commenting; ‘The Artworks brings people together . . . It’s a good thing; people visit, come to the library, families come together on Sunday to eat. There’s so much choice all in the same space.’
Money-saving and investment-speak aside, one of the site’s biggest achievements was also the simplest - it made people happy. A huge 90% of local people felt the site lifted their mood, and they felt safer in the area which had improved in such a way that their sense of fulfilment and contentment with their surroundings had profoundly increased. Before stats and results were measured the results were already ‘in’ and overwhelmingly positive, confirmed when the site, always intended as a temporary fixture, closed its doors. If you mentioned its closing to a local person, more often than not they’d express sadness- even disbelief - that it was shutting shop.
Yet while The Artworks Elephant ended its time at Elephant Park, its legacy is ongoing. The project has provided major food for thought on the changing landscape of retail and visitor experience for the site - it helped inform on the things our community holds dear: affordable wellbeing events, outdoor spaces to enjoy with friends and family, and an assortment of interesting, unique places to eat and drink. It provided the operations teams at Lendlease and Elephant Park’s own head office with a major indicator of the effects of the venture which will spur future growth and progress in years to come.
In these testing times, who knows when the doors of businesses can be fully opened to welcome the community back to Elephant Park. All that’s certain is The Artworks' legacy of hard work, inclusion, diversity and fun will have further boosted a sense of pride and love for all things local. For now, keep safe and think of the fun times not too far on the horizon.