“THE creativity in Swindon absolutely spills over,” said Shahina Johnson.
As manager of Create Studios for five years, and with a decade of service before that, she ought to know.
Swindon, as lazy comics, sneering national media commentators and other fools know, doesn’t boast much by way of cultural endeavour.
If that’s the case, it’s just as well nobody told David Yates back in the late 1980s. It was in Swindon, and funded by Create, that he made a short film called ‘When I Was a Girl’, which secured him a place at the National Film and Television School and top honours at a film festival in San Francisco.
Since then he’s done alright for himself, with four BAFTAS, a couple of Emmys and the director’s credit for the last four Harry Potter Films.
Then there’s writer and producer David Collier, whose credits include the revived Basil Brush Show, My Parents are Aliens and CBeebies hit Big and Small.
“He worked with Create in the late 1990s,” said Shahina, “supporting people and developing their scriptwriting skills. He’s a great supporter who still comes back to judge film competitions and act as a script adviser on some of our productions.”
Other alumni of the suite of bright rooms above the Wyvern Theatre include Sherylee Houssein, an-up-and coming sound recordist who worked on BBC4’s well-received version of A Tale of Two Cities, and fellow sound specialist Stuart Hilliker, whose IMDb listing runs to about half a dozen screens of credits, ranging from the Chronicles of Narnia to Pride and Prejudice.
Shahina, 46, can reel off some remarkable numbers. Every year 7,000 people participate in Create Studios projects. They are drawn from schools, community groups and various other organisations. Create is behind 80 media productions annually, dips into a pool of 20 digital artists and expects its works to be seen by more than 120,000 members of the public during any 365-day period.
If you would like to boost the number of viewers, visit www.createstudios.org.uk/swindonjubilee. There you’ll find the whole of an acclaimed and moving film and photo montage about Swindon life called Portrait of Swindon. Put together on the council’s behalf to celebrate last year’s Diamond Jubilee, it has toured dozens of locations.
“Where Create Studios is important,” said Shahina, “is that it can be a focal point for the creativity in Swindon, translating it into live projects.
“I feel really privileged to be in Swindon because we have such a strong portfolio of cultural organisations in terms of arts and heritage. It makes it a great place for partnership and collaboration.”
Create Studios was founded in 1984. Shahina said: “It came out of a pilot project in which the then government was giving funds for people to set up local cable TV stations.”
Initially springing from the Swindon Viewpoint cable channel, the organisation became Media Arts and fell under the local authority arts umbrella, where it remains. Known as cre8 during the text-speak era, it is now Create Studios.
High-profile work includes the ongoing First Light project for young film-makers, Code Runners for young would-be games programmers, and Cultural Passport, an app offering users credits for attending cultural events. This proved so successful that Create has been drafted in to help with a similar nationwide project with backing from Whitehall.
Create also rents out some of its space. One of the tenants is 32-year-old filmmaker Gurchetan ‘Gurch’ Singh, who works on his own projects as well as commissions from Create.
He said: “When I came here it was fantastic – what I have here is the opportunity to work with like-minded people. You’re in a creative atmosphere. Rather than being at home where you have to inspire yourself, you find that you come here and you’re inspiring each other.”
Also based at Create are Gaz Bushell, 37, and Harry Jackson, 25, game designers whose company is called Fayju. They are about to head for San Francisco to show off three new games for iPhone and a forthcoming console called Ouya.
One of their games, a strangely addictive work called Amazing Frog, is set in a magical version of the carpark they see from their office window.
Harry said: “It’s good to have designers and music people around us because we can ask each other for advice.”
Another fan of the space is Mark Pepperall, 40, of Hot Pepper Design, whose current projects range from branding to an interactive version of a children’s book.
“I used to work on my own in an office or from home,” he said. ”I had no-one to bounce off of, but here Gurch might come over and I might show him a bit of work and ask what he thinks. We give each other feedback.”