Creating a special buzz

By Ged Henderson

13 Jun 2022

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Lancashire’s creative hubs are thriving as the sector emerges from the shackles of Covid and the impact of the pandemic.

Shared workspaces are seen as critical in bringing together innovators and creatives to use digital technology to scale and to attract talent.

Co-working spaces such as The Landmark in Burnley, Strawberry Fields in Chorley and Lancaster’s Fraser House are coming into their own – sparking inspiration and building communities and bring together like-minded people.

Dan Knowles, digital community developer, has played a key role in the growth of Fraser House. He believes there is a need for hubs like this in all Lancashire’s city and town centres.

He says: “We’re seeing at Fraser House a whole range of businesses, including start-ups and early-stage enterprises. There’s a real mix of innovation.”

Dan believes the idea of co-working spaces and hubs is being driven by the creative and digital sectors.

He says: “Places that are starting to attract some really interesting and exciting businesses. One of the strengths is the beautiful partnerships that can emerge just out of conversation in these spaces.

“It is absolutely critical now as we look towards the next stage of digital evolution in the county that we look at the real estate footprint for businesses.

“A lot of towns have received Town Deal funding to reimagine and reopen their centres.

“As part of that they are looking at how they can reimagine spaces to bring them into use and support economic development.

“I hope they will look at how to create really exciting, shared workspaces in these areas. Every town and city in Lancashire should have a digital creative hub. “When we look at how we compete with big urban regions and cement our place in the Northern Powerhouse, we need to identify ways of networking.

“For me it is critical that smaller regional towns and cities have hubs and that we find a way to build these networks.”

He adds: “Another challenge we have is finding the space for these businesses to grow, to prevent them leaving for Manchester. Businesses can grow quickly.”

The Landmark is a thriving business hub in the heart of Burnley town centre offering flexible workspaces.

General manager Claire Rhodes describes it as a “friendly and inclusive network of small businesses, freelancers, remote workers and more.”

Through a partnership with Barclays Eagle Labs, local initiatives and organisations and an onsite team, members have access to business support, free training, and services. The hub is also beginning a collaboration with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

There are also regular social events for those 100 members, who range from digital website companies to legal firms and accountants.

Claire says: “From day one the aim has been to bring people together. We’ve got an eclectic group of people and businesses. It is really nice to see that kind of working place, a really good array of people.

“We’re creating this community, creating this network and encouraging innovation with likeminded people all within one building.”

Paul Sparkes runs his own freelance video production business from The Landmark. He has an international client base and since the pandemic began has seen an increasing demand for his editing skills.

Paul says: “Working at the Landmark is a great way to meet with other creatives. Just being around other like-minded people in a comfortable environment helps.

“You feel energised every time you go into the building, and you get a lot of work done.”

Digital agency Bespoke is based at Strawberry Fields in Chorley. The high-tech business centre offers collaborative office space, hot desks, pods and meeting spaces.

Bespoke chief executive Steve Brennan says: “Moving into Strawberry Fields after Covid is an opportunity to entirely reboot the way we use the office and how we work there.

“The 9-5, for a start, is basically out of the window. Rather than being a place that our team have to come, we see the office as something that we provide for our team to use as they best see fit and to achieve the best results.

“We have found that Strawberry Fields actually fits that ethos even better than our old offices. While we have our dedicated space, there is also plenty of opportunity to mix with other companies in the breakout communal areas. That gives the place a real buzz, which also banishes the idea of being ‘tied to the office’.

“Moving forwards, we see the office now as somewhere new, vibrant and rich with new opportunities and increased productivity benefits, where work is a happy place to be, which I think bodes well for the future.”

Ed Matthews-Gentle, of Creative Lancashire, says successful hubs such as Society One in Preston city centre are more than workplaces with strong community sides to them. At their heart is the encouragement of collaboration and he adds: “People find connections where connections aren’t obvious.”

He predicts a growth in co-working and agile spaces and believes that hubs should be ‘eco-systems’ offering support and access to skills through partnership working with establishments such as universities.

Ed adds: “Creativity is now across all sectors, including manufacturing and engineering.

“The sector in Lancashire is part of a supply chain of talent that supports the bigger North West creative eco-system. It’s not about competing but better considering how the dynamic works.

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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