Holding a stake – a cultural strategy for Nine Elms on the South Bank

‘Stakeholder’ is one of those terms you often come across in policy documents, press releases and discussions connected to big-name schemes that affect a lot of people. And as often happens with such overused words, ‘stakeholder’ has lost some of its power – it’s dismissed as management speak.

A project like London’s vast Nine Elms Southbank regeneration scheme, however, almost insists on the use of the term. Take a look at the website for Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership and you’ll find it is formed of no fewer than eighteen organisations, ranging from the Mayor of London, the GLA and TfL, to two local authorities, to construction and development companies, a major supermarket, and even the company set up to build London’s massive new sewer.

We at Associates became very aware of the different and sometimes competing stakes each of these organisations held in Nine Elms when we were engaged to develop an arts and events strategy for this shiny-new central London neighbourhood. And, being Associates, from the off we were thinking of others who would soon be holding stakes in the cultural life of Nine Elms: the people currently living in and around the site; the new residents moving into the swathes of apartment blocks under construction; and the visitors brought to the area by the Northern Line extension.

Local government at Nine Elms was keen to tap the project’s developers for funds to pay for continuing arts activity that would animate the new neighbourhood. However, those developers were loath to expose themselves to any type of financial obligation in a place where they would no longer be operating. So we came up with a way to satisfy the needs of both sets of stakeholders while offering audiences – local and visiting – a vibrant and permanent arts and culture scene; in the words of Associate, Lois Stonock, ‘culture for communities, people and places in the longer term’.

We suggested the developers provide established London cultural organisations virtually rent-free spaces in and around the new park that runs through Nine Elms. The leases on the spaces would be long-term – 25 years (and in some cases 99 years) – and the developers would put up money to pay for the arts organisations’ initial fit-outs.

So now, another set of stakeholders would have their needs met: namely, respected arts and culture groups, with good reputations and programming experience, who were finding it difficult to hold on to permanent London homes because of the capital’s sky-high rents. The quid pro quo was that these organisations would be collectively responsible for Nine Elms’ long-term arts and culture programme.

Seven 750,000-square-metre spaces have now been earmarked for arts organisations in Nine Elms, and arts events are popping up across the site even while the residential towers and office blocks are still being built. Culture has staked a claim in Nine Elms and Vauxhall. The hope is that the new resident organisations can hold on to it for the foreseeable future.