Lift As You Climb – In conversation with The Arena
Join us in conversation with The Arena as we chat all things design community…
The Arena is a social enterprise and community platform, established with the core ethos of ‘lift as you climb’, sharing knowledge, opportunities and guidance for emerging creatives, from those who’ve been in their shoes.
Founded in late 2019 by London-based brand designers Dom Edwards and Ben Thornton, soon joined by creative project manager Lauren Archer in early 2020, The Arena is home to a community of over 5,000 aspiring creatives and industry professionals.
So let’s jump in and get to know The Arena…
First, let’s meet the core team. We’re lucky enough to have met for a pint in the ✨ real world ✨, but can we have an intro for our audience?
The aforementioned pint was also the first time all three of us at The Arena had been together in over a year! The story goes…Dom and Ben met at uni back in 2015, became great friends through an unspoken healthy competition between one another and a shared love for all things design. They later went on to graduate with the idea of starting a printed publication to celebrate their peers. That never happened, but throughout their first years in industry, a bigger idea started to emerge, later becoming The Arena – enter Lauren. Both Dom and Ben had big ideas, but what Lauren brought was the ability to make them happen.
Both Dom and Ben had similar starts to their careers, taking on internships, finding their feet and discovering what the creative industry was really like. But this led to feeling somewhat disconnected and lost.
Skip forward a few years and Dom is a freelance brand designer, Ben is a designer at Planning Unit studio and Lauren is a marketer, project manager and dance music vocalist.
And your wider team is expanding too, would you like to intro them?
Yes! We have a small army of legends who volunteer their creative skills to support the mission. From project managers, to marketers, illustrators to writers, we are eternally grateful for the folks who act as a sounding board for our crazy ideas, bring them to life and help keep the cogs in motion.
As ambassadors of creativity, how do you inspire and stimulate your own varied creativity?
Dom: For me it has been a real learning curve figuring out when and where I feel most creative. It wasn’t until I actually started to question and understand myself, that I was able to feed and stimulate my creativity. The Arena was originally my creative outlet from the lack of fulfilling work in my day job. I learnt so much about what it means to be creative from guests we interviewed and understanding what makes them tick. The important thing is finding what your outlet is, it could be as simple as starting a journal or if you’re like me, getting back into handmade craft like printmaking. Keep trying new things and you’ll never stop feeling creative.
Lauren: The best thing I ever did for myself was to stop forcing it and just start creating opportunities to let inspiration flow. Whether that’s weekend trips to exhibitions, going to gigs or just people-watching in the park (in the least creepy way possible…).
Ben: If I’m honest, it’s been very difficult to be constantly creatively stimulated during COVID and I’d just like to say it’s ok not being able to brew up idea after idea.
What’s helped me is to periodically take a step back from a creative task and do something completely different, normally mundane like doing the washing up or going for a short walk. This is great for subconsciously inspiring new ideas and giving your mind that well-needed breather to think of new ideas.
Another thing that helps me a lot is not questioning the ideas coming into my head and just ‘doing’. You’ll be surprised how many creative barriers you put up without you even knowing while creating something, trust your ideas and let them flow!
Let’s talk about London, often called the centre of the creative industries in Britain. With other cities such as Manchester and Glasgow growing their creative hubs, and remote working taking a large stake in job roles, do you still think that London retains its grasp at the top?
Great question, and something we’ve been thinking about a lot lately. London for all three of us has always been painted as the creative hub. For Lauren it’s been the place to be for music and similarly for Dom and Ben, the best jobs always seemed to be in London. A few years into our careers and it’s safe to say that London is not everything. It’s amazing and we’ve learnt so much from living and working in the capital. We live here and likely still will for a couple more years. If you can experience it, then we highly recommend it. But it’s absolutely not the only creative hub.
Our opinions changed when we started The Arena. The people we met and who really supported us early on, were from Manchester, Birmingham and Leicester. That says something about the nature of smaller creative hubs, they’re more connected and familiar.
London might still be the biggest, but bigger doesn’t always mean better.
There’s so much amazing talent emerging in the UK and it’s sometimes hard to feel seen, do you have any sage Arena advice you could give to creatives trying to get their first break into the industry
Yes – sign up to our mentoring programme haha. All jokes aside though, the amount of emerging creatives we’ve met with their heads properly screwed on and producing work x10 better than we were at that stage is unreal. It’s important to remember that we are all on our own path, and we reach levels of ‘success’ at different times in our careers. Ultimately, these levels should be defined by you and no one else.
Letting comparison get the better of you is the biggest waste of time and we all wish we got over that sooner. We’re not completely rid of it to be honest with you, but we’re much better at controlling it.
Keep mastering your craft and keep learning. Your break into industry doesn’t need to happen straight away.
Both FreshMeet and The Arena have a mutual love of discovering amazing work by the freshest of talent, is there anyone you’re especially excited to see where their future career takes them?
Absolutely – too many to name! But we’ll give it a go… A few good eggs that have really caught our attention and can’t wait to see where they go are Ben Clarke, Joana Dionisio, Annika Rabone, Kohenoor Kamal, Megan Fry, Georgia Baldassarra, Maria Beardall, Hana Middleton, Eliott Bulpett.
We also just want to take this opportunity to recognise the incredible talents of Cam Day, who was a mentee on our first-ever programme. Cam sadly passed away a few months ago but had a bright future ahead of him. So cheers to Cam
What is the most challenging part of running The Arena?
Time. As I’m sure you guys know all too well, it’s the time we run out of trying to do everything and the time we inevitably spend that leads to us burning out.
When you love what you do, you invest all of your time into it and forget to take a break or a step back, because why would you if what you’re doing brings you joy? But that’s actually our biggest challenge. We want to do so much and we’re not very good at pacing ourselves.
We’re all looking for that thing that brings us happiness, but when you find it, you have to treat it just like you would any other project. It’s a lot like trying to sustain creativity. You need to take breaks and not run yourself into the ground.
Thanks to Lauren, Dom and Ben for taking the time to share this great knowledge.
If you’d like to find out more about the mentoring scheme mentioned then hit this button to find out more and sign yourself up!
The FreshMeet team are mentors for the 2021 scheme and we can’t wait to meet you all!