How trips to Texas pay off for hi-tech Hackney

Silicon Milk Roundabout, the kind of event that has helped to put Shoreditch on the world creative-industries map © david.altheer@gmail.com
Silicon Milk Roundabout, one of the events that has helped to put Shoreditch on the creative-industries world map

A WORLD-RENOWNED technology and innovation festival is coming to Hackney next summer.

That is how the Mare Street media team spun the news that something called a Maker Faire will be held at Here East, the former media centre in the Olympic Park in 2015.

When you’re from Hackney council and spending several days at a festival in Texas that seems to have little to do with an inner-city borough struggling to find accommodation for its citizens, a “Faire” – as in Ye Olde Hi-Tech Faire, presumably – extending its reach from America is worth trumpeting.

Worth hailing, indeed, although a respected newspaper saw the announcement as a coup for the London Legacy Development Corporation‎. The Observer article did not mention Hackney council.

Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe 060610 © david.altheer@gmail.com
Yee-hah! Mayor Pipe

What is indisputable is that Hackney agreed a “sister city” deal with Austin. The city’s Mayor, Lee Leffingwell, flew to London to sign the agreement with his Hackney equivalent, Jules Pipe. Leffingwell may collect many frequent-flyer points: Austin has lined up 12 other sister cities.

The event at which all this arose was the South by Southwest interactive festival, which ran early last month March 2014 in Austin, a Texan city with a population nearing a million.

Regeneration councillor Guy Nicholson said Hackney’s regeneration service and the 30 northeast London firms that hung around the Hackney House set up at the event returned last year 2013 with “£7.5m of new business for the borough”. To clarify, they signed orders for the business.

Yes, yes, Councillor, but this year, how much “new business” was won this year? Nicholson lapsed into W1A-type platitude… “it is anticipated that considerably more will be achieved,” said the councillor, who has been appointed Labour candidate for Sittingbourne and Sheppey in Kent.

Nicholson: official pic
Nicholson: official pic

His hesitance is understandable because “showcasing the talents of East London’s creative, tech and design community”, as the council described the trip, must have been hard work and analysing figures and promised orders takes time. And competing interests came from around the world, not just the US.

Still, one would have expected some figure to have been put on the new business a month after the event.

At least the showcasers need not have been bored in Texas. Austin is famous for its Country and TexMex music and its bars.

Yee-hah, although any outside-schmooze-time entertainment would have had to come from private pockets. Private-sector sponsors bore the cost of Hackney House Austin but not of extra-curricular activities.

Hamish Scott  110414 

* Hackney businesses were able to use Hackney House Austin facilities without charge. To ask about a possible 2015 participation contact the council member for regeneration early next year or email info@hackney.gov.uk.

* Backstory: Visa problems in Tech City, Cyclist in the City and Moving on Shoreditch

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