“Down here,” she says, “it’s a unique creative ecosystem. So Doorstep offers solutions that are custom-built for the rural economy. It’s just about allowing people the space to build their own networks on their own terms, sharing knowledge and skills within a wider community.”
For Emily, it’s important to make it easier for people to admit to doing more than one job at once. “Everyone down here, especially the graduates, is having to diversify income and spin multiple plates. There’s a real culture of that in Cornwall. But this cross-sector fluidity and big picture mindset is not celebrated enough.”
How did you get into the cultural and creative sector in Cornwall?
After graduating from Falmouth University with a degree in Graphic Design in 2019, Emily knew she wanted to stay in the area.
“Throughout my degree,” she says, “I began to move away from traditional commercial graphic design and into design for museums and cultural spaces, as well as community-driven work”
And she was still at university when she co-founded Doorstep with Charlotte Higgins, out of a mutual desire to break out of the ‘university bubble.’ Their interest in putting down roots in Cornwall and making contact with local creatives ended up benefiting the wider sector. Doorstep launched as an event series in 2018 and, at that point, neither Emily nor Charlotte had any idea it would eventually evolve into a business.
Why did you want to join the leadership programme?
Working on Doorstep, Emily became “fascinated with dissecting the wider creative ecosystem in Cornwall and understanding how it works, with its unique challenges and unique opportunities.” So she applied to the leadership programme in the hopes of taking a more scientific look at what goes on in Cornwall. She is currently collaborating with other members of the cohort on a research project to map interconnected networks across Cornwall, noticing what ‘network’ means to different people across different sectors.
Although she didn’t necessarily think of herself as a leader when she applied, she is realizing as the programme unfolds that you can define your own version of leadership.
“I think a huge part of design is really just noticing things,” she continues, “noticing patterns and creative opportunities. Through the programme I’ve realized that a lot of leadership is also about noticing and observing and reacting to things, being sensitive to what’s going on around you. So the programme has helped me to understand that, like design, ‘leadership’ covers a much broader scope than I had originally thought.”
What have you learned from the experience?
In her design work with museums, Emily often finds herself talking about the need to embrace innovation through design thinking. But this isn’t necessarily intuitive for the heritage sector and so it can take time. In her role working between two very different sectors, Emily is sometimes the only creative in the room. “You do start to wonder if you’re going a bit mad,” she says.
“So I was quite excited by the whole innovation element of the programme,” she continues, “because these are all things that I’ve been thinking about within my own head over the last couple of years, but haven’t necessarily vocalised. The programme consolidated my thinking and reaffirmed the hunches that I have. It’s nice to know that the theories behind innovation support the ideas I was developing in my own work.”
What are your goals for the creative and cultural sector in Cornwall?
“We’ve got several major universities in Cornwall and have had a whole load of EU investment over the last few years to try and address the brain drain,” says Emily. “To a certain extent that has been solved, but there’s still a real need to make Cornwall an attractive place to stick around as well as to study, making sure that there’s the level of support to drive the entrepreneurship and ingenuity that you need to be able to establish yourself in a rural creative economy.”
Having been a student, graduate, sole trader and now business owner in Cornwall herself, she understands how tricky it can be to go out on your own and “put down roots.” Graduate retention is one of the main issues that Doorstep aims to address over the next few years.
Where would you like to be in three to five years?
In her independent practice, Emily is currently working with a number of museums across the UK to drive innovation in the sector as restrictions begin to ease, building immersive spaces and human-centric experiences for 2021/22.
She’s currently seeking innovation funding to support Doorstep to develop its business model to address the unique needs and opportunities of the changing rural creative economy.
“Because so often,” she continues, “people have shoehorned traditional urban models into rural initiatives without building from the ground up. As a result, it hasn’t worked or hasn’t lasted. Doorstep is a grassroots business growing within a unique ecosystem, and we are reimagining traditional business to better support our creative community”