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Special Event Blog: Launch of Creative Quarter Initiative

CQ - logo for Creative Quarter


the four speakers at the event

Gang of 4 in pensive mode: (left to right) Craig Chettle, Adam Bird, John Yarham, Nick McDonald

Antenna was full and buzzing on Friday afternoon for what was originally billed as the Launch of the Creative Quarter initiative in Nottingham’s Growth Plan.  (See our previous blog posts about this in July and September.) Their website changed during the week to call it a Pre Launch Workshop. What happened was a series of talks, outlining the plans, and a good question and answer session which might have gone on much longer (the whole event was two hours as it was). The summary below is not a transcription, I have re-arranged some of the discussion, and the Q&A, to match the overall impression I took away from what was a very encouraging event.

I started to live tweet the event for us (@creativenotts) until I discovered, some 20 tweets in, that almost half had not appeared even though sent. Still not sure what happened.  Fortunately Sarah McNicol was live tweeting for @Antenna_uk (and later running the mike for Q&A, multi-tasking virtuoso!), as was Richard Baker of the Post on @BakeronBusiness. Most tweets, from all of us, went out on hashtag #creativequarter. Caron Lyon (@pcmcreative) merged tweets from all three, plus others and some better photos in a Storify summary.

We were asked to use #creativequarter as the hashtag, although I discovered it was also used in Dublin for some events a few weeks ago (and neither had “registered” it with Twubs, not that it makes much difference. As I waited for the start I mused on how much fun it could be to do something jointly with the Irish capital city. Turns out that the next Bloomsday, 16 June, falls on a Sunday [Morning following, of course, Saturday Night] so my suggestion is some sort of Sillitoe/Joyce linkup.

After some opening remarks from Craig Chettle, MD of the Confetti Media Group (which includes Antenna), Cllr Nick McDonald, the City Council Portfolio Holder for Jobs, Skills and Business explained the background.

  •  the initiative is basically about business
  • in Nottingham the unemployment rate is above the national average
  • this is not a council project – but an initiative for private business, more startups and organisations
  • in July the Nottingham Growth Plan published after several months of consultation on the draft plan
  • it was the basis of Nottingham’s negotiation with central government as one of eight “core” cities for additional funding and freedom of action
  • the Creative Quarter is the flagship project in the overall City Deal agreed with the government
  • the Creative Quarter should be an “incubator without walls”

Cllr McDonald passed the baton, disguised as the mike, to John Yarham, the City’s Director of Economic Innovation and Employment who talked through some slides of more detail. He started by showing a map of the Creative Quarter. Since my map drawing skills are sub-iOS6, I will refer you to page 61 of the full growth plan (PDF). In shape it is a rough triangle, with Antenna to the north, Nottingham Contemporary to the west, BioCity to the east, and what is called the “Island Site” [presumably because it includes the old Boots warehouses and factory site on what was Island Street] of land stretching down to the rail line. It is claimed to be one fourth of the city centre.

After echoing Cllr McDonald with some banker bashing, John Yarham said that funding

  •  37.5 £M Nottingham Investment Fund – from Feb 13 [in response to a question from me after the event, Cllr McDonald said this is made up of 25M from central government with some matching funding the city must arrange and which it is still in the process of doing]
  •  20.0 M Nottingham Technology Growth Fund – also from Feb 13
  •  [unquantified] Creative Quarter Loan Fund – starting in Dec 12
  • Student Startup loans [again later, Cllr McDonald said this is a national scheme in which Nottingham will be a pilot]

Some of the funding for all of this will come from high net worth individuals locally.

As with all of the plans revealed and discussed, not everything is completely defined, the processes for application and the conditions attached are not complete. While this was clearly frustrating for the audience and the Gang of 4, people seem to accept this as the price of early announcements. If we had to wait until it was done, we couldn’t plan, nor start to dream.

Unfortunately each of the funding sources will have own process. Cllr McDonald said the two large funds would have their own fund managers, yet to be recruited.

Support was a big theme of John Yarham’s talk and Adam Bird’s talk (and answers to questions).

  • Generation Y – from Jan 13 [taking the term and ideas from the USA]
    • “inspired” mentoring from the local academic Gang of 4: Nottingham University, Nottingham Trent University, New College Nottingham and South Notts College
    • high growth accelerators
  •  Growth Investment Network – from Jan 13 [no more info on this at the event, and I couldn’t find it in the Growth Plan]
  • Apprenticeships – from Jan 13 [maybe managed centrally and allocated]
  •  Growth 100 Programme – from March 13 [not discussed at the event, but is described in the Growth Plan]
  • Events and PR

Cllr McDonald had spoken of infrastructure improvements being the specific contribution of the City Council. John Yarham gave some headlines:

  • transport improvements using 8 M “Tax Increment Funding (TIF)” funding
  • improved digital infrastructure [part of which is the ultraband network, which Antenna has implemented, and on which we were all tweeting, or in my case, writing to the ether]
  • stimulation for property development
  •  expansion of Antenna and BioCity
  •  use of new powers the city gains over business rates to create rate incentives for startups and others

He concluded by saying that “” was “pending” [the council registered this domain name a week earlier]

Adam Bird, co-founder of Esendex, then talked about his view and his role. He said that he was looking at three measures of success:

  • Business Occupancy Rate increases
  • Employment increases
  • Startup rate increases

He will be on the board of a Creative Quarter Company with a [relatively] small amount of seed funding which will consider proposals, take stake, reap dividend to invest in other startups/proposals. In a very supportive way. Adam talked about the benefits of mentoring, of local entrepreneurs “giving back”. In answer to one question about application processes, Adam made it clear they will work hard to work collaboratively, with people who have ideas and want support.

Adam also spoke of the need to change the operating model, move away from competition meaning the doing down of some one else, and moving to collaboration.

There was an extensive Q&A session. Here is a terse account of topics not re-worked into the above. Since I only caught the names of some of the questioners, I will cover up my embarrassment by not giving anyone’s name:

Q: will Creative Quarter include social enterprises or just profit making private companies? Several variations on this question were asked.

A: (Nick) – yes, value delivered not just financial

A: (Adam) – very much yes, looking at, for example, employment increases, and collaboration and contribution, his board will look at the whole return. And he/board would try to influence the other funds to do the same.

Q: what about relationships with neighbours on other side of boundary.

Q: my company is on the university Innovation Park, should I move it to the Quarter?

A: (John) – most of the funding is available to all in Nottingham, and the City Deal and the Growth Plan has benefits for the whole city

A: (Adam) – business support may be focussed in the Quarter, an owner might have to come to get it. He also pointed out that only two years ago his company moved out of the Quarter

A: (various) – [awkward, council want to square this circle or triangle looking at the map] They would like to point out the various benefits to firms outside the quarter but have the cake of the special buzz and benefits in the quarter. I didn’t make any notes of specific answers here which I can report. They are very aware of this.

Q: I moved my long standing creative business out of centre Nottingham due to high rents, what will stop property owners putting up rents in the Quarter?

A: (John) – city having conversations with developers about this, and there will be rate incentives

A: (Nick) – city is also property owner – will look at options,but admits that if things are successful, rents may go up. Important thing is to have good ways for small and initial startups to get going, even if they have to move/pay more when successful.

CQ - logo for Creative QuarterMingled with the Q&A format were more wide ranging discussions. The former head of Creative Brighton, now in Nottingham (not with us, but with NTU) said that he thought Nottingham “punches below it’s weight”. Various points were made. Adam pointed out that what appears or does not appear in national newspapers may not be relevant to people in the know in a specific industry sector. He said that when recruiting people who are moving to Nottingham, it is the whole environment of creative activity which is important.

There were also discussions about:

  • focussing internationally
  • trading within Nottingham
  • being more positive about Nottingham
  • working well with further education colleges
  • “silicon valley” approaches of innovative ideas, backed with passion

We even got onto the perennial favourite digression of the geographical boundary of Nottingham [in the context of official statistics]. Adam admitted having to “cross the boundary” every day from his home in far away Beeston, and suggested that “Nottingham is a state of mind”. I would agree with that, from my location across a different boundary, but think that “Nottingham is where the corporation bus runs”.

Antenna continued to buzz when the official programme finished. One sole trader asked, as we walked out, how this would affect him. We don’t know yet, may be it won’t directly since he doesn’t employ anyone nor plan to, but will change the context of creative work in Nottingham. Many questions still await answers, the detail is being worked through. Some questions were coming in via Twitter, this meeting wasn’t set up to respond, that will come. But what came across was the good will in the audience, and the determination at the front to make this happen for the benefit of the creative community, and all of Nottingham.

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John is one of our team of bloggers. He can be reached on john AT and followed on Twitter @johnwithbeard. He has read Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, and seen the film, but he has not read Ulysses………. Yet