Lord Mayor Peter Estlin on creativity in the City of London

Lord Mayor of London at Mansion House

The new Lord Mayor of London, Peter Estlin, is a longstanding supporter of Create. On Saturday 10 November, the start of his year in office will be celebrated with the spectacular Lord Mayor’s Show procession. We are delighted to be giving a group of our young carers the chance to take part, displaying banners and mobile sculptures that they’ve created with us specially for the event.

In this exclusive interview, the Lord Mayor talks to us about his favourite places in the City, what we can expect from this year’s Show, and what creativity teaches us about failure.

What’s the difference between the Lord Mayor and the Mayor of London?

We’ve had a Lord Mayor in the City of London since 1189. At the heart of the role is responsibility for developing the economic growth associated with the City of London, not just that which touches the City but increasingly working with the Department of International Trade and promoting UK business. Financial and professional services are a core part of that, so our banking, investment management, insurance. But technology is also a core part of the UK business I’ll be promoting: financial technology, educational technology and, increasingly, the whole information and communications space. About 80%–90% of my time will be spent on business engagement, half of which will be abroad. As Lord Mayor I will spend about 100 days a year visiting 30-odd countries around the world.

In contrast, the Mayor of London looks at the administrative management of the populous of London and the services that run across London such as Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police. The relationship between the Mayor of London and the Lord Mayor is one that’s complementary.

I can’t wait to see what creative innovations are showcased on the day. I know that they will set the mind alight.

You’ve been a supporter of Create for a while. What inspired you to support Create and why you think it’s important for everyone to have access to the arts?

If I take a step back, this links to my own personal experience. My mother died when I was quite young, so I went to a boarding school and it became a strong foundation for developing who I am today. Having then had and enjoyed a healthy career, it became clear throughout my business life that creating opportunities for others is really important, because inherent in all of us is creative energy that often remains untapped. A good friend of mine introduced me to Create and I struck up a relationship with the charity because it helps people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds to untap their capabilities. That really resonated with me.

I’m a big advocate of arguing that, perhaps more so than ever, we need to look at a shift in our curriculum, so that one’s learning and growth in life is not solely about pumping in knowledge. Once you build the basic levels of knowledge, actually it’s developing creativity, developing our ability to think critically, to initiate things, that’s important. And all of those sorts of skills come out of creative learning, whether that’s through music, through art, through cooking.

According to the World Economic Forum, by 2020 creativity will be the third most important skill for business. Is creativity important to the success of the City of London?

Absolutely. We commissioned a survey to find out what is most associated with the City and amongst all of it, whether it’s our financial services or the English language, what resonated more than anything else with people was our creative energy. And we see the manifestation of that in being very successful, in leading financial services, in now being the global hub for financial technology. Silicon Valley and New York are 3,000 miles apart. We’ve got our finance and our creativity all in a square mile. So it creates that huge energy, it’s almost a nuclear fusion, because people are coming together, they bump into each other. Human beings work best when they’re interacting with one another. Very few of us are geniuses in our own right. Most of us succeed by interacting with other people; our ideas spark from each other.

Whether we talk about it or not, the City is a place that revolves around creative energy.

What creative activities do you like to do?

I love listening to music because to me it’s a way of creating calmness. It’s not dissimilar to cooking: I can spend a whole day in the kitchen. I can create chaos, actually! Cooking is relaxing, but also thought-provoking. You can experiment, and there aren’t many things in life like that. In a lot of the jobs we do, we move into binary outcomes and we’re all focused on 100% perfection. I don’t think we’re like that as human beings. We’re not all perfect. And so we need to recognise that it’s good to take risks, it’s good for things not to work out, because you learn from it. You can call it failure or you can call it learning.

The City is steeped in its history, but throughout its history it’s made mistakes. The Great Fire was devastating. It destroyed a huge percentage of the City but out of it came the insurance industry. Because there was so much devastation, they created an industry. Learning from mistakes is, to me, what we need to encourage.

Do you have a favourite place in the City as Lord Mayor?  

One of my favourite places, partly because it’s in my ward of Coleman Street [the Lord Mayor is also an alderman, an elected representative within the City], is Finsbury Circus. At the moment it’s being disrupted heavily through Crossrail, but it will be reinstated back to a beautiful bowling green. It’s an oasis within the City. It used to be marshland: Bethlem Hospital used to run along London Wall and behind that was the moorland stretching up into north London. It wasn’t inhabited.

The City is a gold mine of little alleys and buildings. There are guided tours around the City and they really are magical. The City is steeped in history and there’s something for everybody in that history. It could be an individual, it could be a building or it could be an event that occurred. It sparks the imagination.

The City is a gold mine of little alleys and buildings.

As Lord Mayor, what do you see the City looking like in 100 years’ time ?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do think that the City has adapted over centuries. If I could wave a magic wand, where would I see change? I think would see the City rebalance itself to be less pure business and more a combination of residential and public realm spaces, spaces people can sit and enjoy, as well as business. I also think there will be more walking and more automated transportation around the City and the rest of London, so we’ll end up with a cleaner and more autonomous city. And thirdly, we’ll see a more interconnected City as we leverage technology. At the moment, the Internet drops all over the City and it’s a bit clunky.

The challenge is that the speed of change is huge. Whilst there are a huge number of benefits coming out of the changes, the speed of change also creates the risk that we leave people behind. It’s therefore really important that we create opportunities for all, that we create opportunities for people to experiment and to develop.

What can people expect from the Lord Mayor’s Show this year and is there something you’re most looking forward to?

We’ve had a Lord Mayor’s Show since 1215. There’s a famous painting by Canaletto from 1746 of the Lord Mayor’s Show, in which you can see that it took place on the river. The 1750s were the start of the industrial revolution and in 1757 a City banker called Sir Charles Asgill commissioned a gold state coach for the Lord Mayor’s procession because he felt that the procession should go on dry land to give more people the ability to see it. This year, sparked by the fact that we’re in the digital revolution, whilst I will be in that vintage state coach, the Lady Mayoress and my children will be going in autonomous cars through the City from Guildhall to Mansion House.

We all know that we should read and write. We should also all have some exposure to creative activity. Supporting organisations like Create in helping to get the best out of people is a way of doing that.

Keep an eye on Create’s Twitter and Instagram on Saturday 10 November for live updates from the procession, watch BBC One’s live broadcast from 10.45am, during which one of our young carers is being interviewed, and find out more about the Lord Mayor’s Show here.

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