The Hat District & The Culture Trust, Luton

Transforming Luton through Placemaking 

Luton was once the largest hat manufacturing town in the world, but over the 21st  century Luton it began to lose its identity. Recognised more for its London-linked airport, the town started to look forgotten. But what Luton did have is a thriving mix of cultures, a great arts centre, the University of Bedfordshire campus and several small but growing creative businesses. 

To transform a key area of the Town that connects the train station to the city centre, required a brave placemaking strategy. The brainchild of The Culture Trust (formerly Luton Culture) and Chief Executive, Marie Kerbyshaw, Hat District is a placemaking concept with bold ambitions to transform the town for generations to come.

Creating a sense of place.

Many of the larger old buildings around Luton had previously been hat manufacturers, beautiful old victorian buildings full of great architectural details. Over the years, left unlet, many began to fall into disrepair. The Culture Trust’s ambition has been to reinvigorate these once bustling buildings into creative enterprise hubs to nurture local talent and promote their growth into dynamic businesses.

Without a brand story or identity, Hat District was little more than a white paper outlining the concept with big ambitions. The core aim was to draw creative agencies away from setting up their base in London and considering Luton as a place to grow and expand, benefiting both them and the community at large. 


We interviewed numerous London creative agencies, and then spent days in Luton before presenting our scoping document with a strategy to deliver Hat District. Our objectives were to create a sense of arrival, improve navigation between the district, and delight and surprise locals through changes to the offering of food and retail to match the values of the Hat District.

Drawing from the hat factory history, we used patterns found in weaves, straw and machinery to carry through as graphic devices. Our ambition was to create a brand that could act as a placemaking. Our approach to branding the individual buildings was simple, systematic and follows the chronological order in which each hat factory was originally built. For our earliest dated building, Hat Works, we started with an outlined logo which gradually builds up with graphic lines to create unique logos and patterns for each subsequent building.

At the core of our identity is the idea of various elements coming together to create a finished piece. Our individual building logos are layered to build our Hat District logo, and represent the journey through the Hat District from ‘start up’ to established business.

“Them listen to the client, do their research and then deliver. I’ve found the narrative behind concepts to be as powerful as the design solution. Twice contracted, doubly impressed and highly recommended.

Marie Kirbyshaw
Chief Executive


The Hat District now runs a series of arts programmes as part of its placemaking including This Is A Promise in the Hat District by Mark Titchner and Jonathan Barnbrook and Hat Pin by Tom Perman.

The buildings (designed by Fleet Architects) leases are being snapped up by the target audience of creative agencies, including Clearhead  and award winning, global creative content agency.

“The Hat District today is a catalyst for benchmarking a new representation of the quality of creative, pioneering and innovative independent businesses, venues and organisations that are thriving in Luton. Giving them a home to be proud of and passionate about. Establishing a new bright beacon for the town that will have a transformative effect on retaining and attracting the very best people and opportunities into the town.” Alex Lawrence, Founder and CCO at Clearhead / Resident of Hat Studio.

We also identified that Luton Culture was in a bit of an identity crisis but had the potential to become an influential and recognisable brand. Trusted and recognisable, in a similar way to the National Trust and helps to embody and unite the teams behind everything the Culture Trust was about to do. As a core representative of the brand we developed the branding for both in parallel.