Since our work began in late 2014 we have held an ambition to develop a creative hub for the Cardiff city region and its creative community. This is in line with our mission ambition to better to understand, connect, engage and grow the creative economy community.
Our research and development work has included an extensive mapping of Cardiff’s creative economy and a continuous dialogue with members of that community through the Creative Cardiff network, which went live in October 2015. To date over 550 people have signed up to join Creative Cardiff. We hope to publish our mapping report in the autumn.
Creative hubs are a growing phenomenon worldwide and are attracting interest from industry, policy makers and academics. The concept itself is not new – it has been around at least since the 1980s, when the incubation business model became popular. Most creative hubs developed from this model, adding features such as shared workspace to keep costs low and to sustain creative purpose in an evolving community of individuals.
A project by the European Creative Business Network in 2015 identified around 300 hubs in Europe (survey responses from over 100 and further analysis of approx. 200). It also indicated that hub business models vary from commercial (24%) to government (27%) and third sector (42%). University-led hubs currently contributed 7% of the total.
I attended the first European Hubs Forum organised by the British Council in January 2015 in Portugal, which welcomed hub managers from 23 countries to Lisbon. Key messages from this event were the value of the “supportive ecosystem” that creative hubs provide to practitioners, along with their significant contribution to the creative and wider economy. You may have noticed John McGrath, the founding artistic director of National Theatre Wales, making the same point in his brilliant Patrick Hannan lecture at the Hay Festival.
In the past five years several co-working spaces have developed across the Cardiff region, including Indycube, Welsh ICE and, until its closure in 2015, Founders Hub. Other newcomers are the co-working space in development at the Tramshed – Tramsheds Tech Ltd., Rabble Studio and the Sustainable Studios. These provide open plan space for individuals and micro businesses working across a variety of sectors. They make a significant contribution to the environment for start-ups in the city region and to the creative community. More are on their way.
At Cardiff University, we have been exploring the scope for university-led contribution to this ecology, with a particular emphasis upon innovation within the Cardiff creative economy. We anticipate our space would provide a studio or lab environment in which creative makers, designers, software writers, performers and other creative economy players could collaborate and engage with others including stakeholders and researchers.
Designed in this way, the hub would be flexible and suitable for many types of activity: meetings, networking, ‘hack’ events, private working, group working, discussion-based events, training, mentoring, incubation and acceleration of projects or firms, collaborative making and research ideas. The binding theme would be innovation in the creative economy. There would also be throughout a strong emphasis on digital culture and opportunities – something currently absent from Cardiff’s city centre. We have studied carefully examples such as the Pervasive Media Studio – a Bristol joint venture between the Watershed arts centre, two universities and business investors.
Cardiff’s current lack of a creative hub of this kind puts it at a disadvantage against other major UK cities. A recent visit to Dundee for Mass Assembly the one-day forum to explore the future of collective working for creatives and the places they are based highlighted this.
Our journey towards this development is gathering pace, with consultations and pilot projects planned over the summer. We recently undertook consultations during a week of hub-related activity in the Vertical Studio project, located in the heart of the Cardiff University campus. We look forward to engaging with more people and places as we continue this work with our forthcoming Creative Cardiff pop-up hub at Wales Millennium Centre between 20-24 June.
We welcome contributions from everyone to this thinking, so if you would like to talk or be part of an event, please do get in touch. The vision we have in mind is for a Cardiff city region, where shared working spaces and hubs of various kinds contribute to a dynamic ecology which enables individuals and microbusinesses to share space, equipment, contract leads and ideas. What will be unique about our hub will be its links into Cardiff University, one of the UK’s leading centres of research in everything from brain imaging and compound semiconductors to social media and journalism.
As John McGrath put it, the opportunity is: here, now, together.