Hot hubs

Especially contrived creative hubs can have a lot going for them, particularly for fledgling businesses or sole traders. As well as the support and bonhomie, there’s the advantage of working from an address with a reputation for creativity. What’s more, m

Basing your emerging business at an established creative centre can be just the way of getting it off the ground. Clare Dowdy looks at the benefits of shared nspaces and checks out three thriving studio complexes across the UK

Especially contrived creative hubs can have a lot going for them, particularly for fledgling businesses or sole traders. As well as the support and bonhomie, there’s the advantage of working from an address with a reputation for creativity. What’s more, most have a café whose aesthetics are somewhere between designer and shabby chic.

Each has its own quirks and benefits, many pioneered by Javier Mariscal’s Palo Alto, a 19th-century converted tannery complex in Barcelona’s Poble Nou district, which he moved into in 1989 and which now houses a dozen or so enterprises. As well as copious verdant landscaping with fish pond and vegetable patch, there’s a groovy restaurant called La Cantina – branded by Mariscal himself, of course.

Greenery will also be in evidence at Aberystwyth’s soon-to-be-completed business units. These garden shed-style units clad in stainless steel by Thomas Heatherwick are run by the University of Wales for start-up creatives. They sit in a bit of campus woodland, each of the eight accommodating two businesses. While some hubs have an artistic or designer-maker preference, others are broader and include local support agencies as well as practitioners. The cultural organisation Spin Out will be based in the Aberystwyth units.

And while some are commercial, like west London’s Westbourne Studios, others have a philanthropic, incubator-style element. This bodes well for start-ups, as research by UK Business Incubation found that, on average, 98.7 per cent of businesses working with an incubator succeed, with 87 per cent still operating after five years. This contrasts with the fact that less than half of all businesses nationally will achieve long-term success.

Either way, they’re often in overlooked quarters (or towns, in the case of Krowji), where rent is cheaper and there’s still scope for redevelopment. This suits those creatives who see themselves as more 1980s Hoxton than 1990s Soho. Here are three creative addresses.

Cockpit Arts, Deptford, London

While Cockpit Arts in Bloomsbury first opened in 1989, its south London outpost was set up in 2002, and houses 65 designer-makers. Its unlovely storage lock-up look is more than compensated for by the views towards Greenwich and the creativity within. Core craft activities break down like this: textiles 33 per cent, ceramics 18 per cent, jewellery 15 per cent and fashion 14 per cent.

‘We know working alone can be lonely, so the studios create a stimulating space with opportunities for sharing ideas and resources, as well as networking and collaboration,’ says chief executive Vanessa Swann. ‘This often leads to designer-makers exploring new techniques and processes.’

To support tenants on a formal basis, the management puts together a diagnostic plan and a package of services. Helpful events include this month’s Creating a Successful Business, which is free to members, and the Summer Open Studios selling event, which runs from 19-21 June this year.

Spike Design, Bristol

Bristol’s Spike Design opened in 2007, as part of the £2.25m revamp of arts centre Spike Island. It all sits in a 1960s former Brooke Bond factory on Bristol’s harbourside. Funded by the South West Regional Development Agency, it is for desk-based creative businesses, and unusually for such hubs, is open-plan.

‘Businesses should be either at the idea stage or an early stage,’ says marketing manager Lori Taylor, meaning established for less than a year and with no more than four employees. If they’re older than that, they can apply for a commercial space. Of the current 24 tenants, 30 per cent are in Web and digital design, 26 per cent are graphic designers, and there are illustrators, landscape designers, product designers and architects in the single percentage figures.

Formal support includes access to high-profile industry mentors and signposting to training and networking events. ‘Informally, it offers the opportunity to be part of a community and collaborate with other businesses,’ says Taylor. But most bonding is done during the table tennis tournaments, cake-bake days and nights out.

Krowji, Redruth, Cornwall

In 2005, the classrooms of an Edwardian grammar school building in the depressed town of Redruth in Cornwall were transformed into studios and workshops, most of which are shared. Krowji, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cornwall Arts Centre Trust, is now going through major refurbishments, but the hope is that the original features and its pleasingly scruffy feel will be retained.

The Melting Pot Café on the ground floor services the 45 tenants at Cornwall’s biggest creative sector cluster. A number of support agencies, such as Creative Skills and the county council’s Creative Unit, sit alongside hands-on creatives, including a furniture designer and photographer, four textile specialists, two graphic artists and three jewellery makers.

‘Generally, we expect tenants to commit to substantial and regular use of their spaces and this is a condition of tenancy agreements,’ says Krowji director Ross Williams.

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