Creative Freelancer Business Models and Place-based Growth


NESTA Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre

Waltham Forest Borough Council

Coventry University Team:

Prof Nick Henry, Prof Paul Sissons, Dr Tim Angus, Dr Kevin Broughton, Dr Victoria Barker


1st Mar 2020 to 31st May 2021

Value to Coventry University:


Total Value:



University of Warwick

Creative United

Northumberland County Council

Waltham Forest Borough Council

Project Overview

This research project was designed to address an important evidence gap around the contribution of creative freelancers to the economic and place-based impacts of the creative industries. The research responded to a national ask for greater understanding of creative freelancer business models and calls at the city and regional level for ‘inclusive growth’ and a more sustainable and resilient cultural and creative sector.

Designed to produce ‘deep dive’ qualitative evidence on creative freelancers working lives, the project interviewed a total of 84 creative freelancers across three places – Coventry, Northumberland and Waltham Forest. Interviewing took place in mid-2020 and included consideration of creative freelancer business models pre-, during and post-pandemic.

The research findings segmented creative freelancers into six types based on their motivations and style of working. On this basis a suite of recommendations was put forward to support creative freelancers to thrive in the future and maximise their economic and social contribution to place, communities, and culture.

Project Objectives

The project will generate new insights into the business models of creative freelancers and their relationship to (local) labour markets, creative networks and supply chains, and innovation ecosystems – as well as identifying the challenges that they face.

The first phase of work will develop a deeper understanding of the patterns of work across the creative industries by conducting a focused literature review to create a typology of creative freelancer working.

The project will then use this typology to investigate the possibilities, extent and nature of place-based creative freelancer working business models, through a series of qualitative interviews across three places of strategic investment in culture and creativity: rural Northumberland and London Borough of Culture, Waltham Forest. The objective of this stage of work is to test the literature-based framework (or typology) and to illustrate this with examples of the realities of living and working as a creative freelancer.

Overall the project aims to help policymakers and business support organisations to understand the breadth of creative freelancer business models, and the support needed to help creative freelancers thrive.

Impact Statement

A substantial array of research, policy and knowledge exchange outputs were generated by the project, including coverage in sector news.

Policy impacts at the national level were channelled through the work of NESTA Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and project partner Creative United, an Arts Council England-funded Sector Support Organisation. At local and regional level, the work has fed into Combined Authority and Local Authority policy activity.

An innovative aspect of the Project has been the gaining of further funding to support the composition of an artistic output detailing the project findings (In Their Own Words (


Reports and Blog

News Coverage

Visual Media Output

In Their Own Words (

Part of Coventry Creates Exhibition 2021 - animation developed in collaboration with a local Coventry artist on the creative freelancer research project

 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023