Glasgow: Pushing the creative boundaries

By Magnus Bennett
BBC Scotland news website

image captionPacific Quay was chosen to host a digital media quarter under the original Scottish Enterprise masterplan

News this week that two major hotel operators are to start work soon on developments in the Pacific Quay area of Glasgow has been described by Scottish Enterprise as a "fantastic boost" to long-running efforts to build a creative industries hub at a once derelict stretch of dockland.

But original plans for a digital media quarter have undergone considerable change in the past two years as agencies and organisations attempt to kick-start a stalled process.

Imagine a mini media city in Glasgow - a compact Soho-style location where businesses gather together in a "skills cluster" and boost Scotland's creative industries' offering.

A fanciful thought? Perhaps not.

In 2008, a new digital media quarter (DMQ) was officially launched on former shipyard territory on the south bank of the River Clyde.

The concept, developed by Scottish Enterprise, was to provide a physical focus for new media activities in a part of the city which was sorely in need of regeneration.

'Creative cluster'

Pacific Quay is now home to a "creative cluster" that includes BBC Scotland, STV, Film City Glasgow and the Hub, which offers creative office suites.

But the original DMQ masterplan, drawn up seven years ago, has undergone considerable transformation in the recent past.

image captionThe Hub offers office suites for creative industries

The initial idea was to encourage private developers to take up space at Pacific Quay, creating up to 10 buildings which would house creative industries in one specific location.

But over the past five years, only two have been built at Pacific Quay - The Hub and Medius, which houses IT firm BiP Solutions.

The Hub's first tenant was Glasgow School of Art's Digital Design Studio, and as the building was completed Shed Productions announced it would also be taking space.

Recently it revealed a new raft of tenants, including entertainment label Thames - which produces shows such as The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent.

It also saw the launch of a business incubator programme at the site offering support services for digital, e-commerce, technology and creative start-up companies.

But it remains only 65% occupied, four years after opening.

Credit crunch

According to Scottish Enterprise, DMQ was hit by the credit crunch as developers found it hard to secure bank loans.

Linda McPherson, director of creative industries at Scottish Enterprise, said: "The global financial crisis of 2008 and its well documented impact on commercial property investment and development has been and continues to be a critical factor."

So in 2011, "Creative Clyde" was born - a partnership of businesses, agencies and organisation including Scottish Enterprise, Glasgow City Council, Creative Scotland, BBC Scotland, STV, the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre.

image captionPremier Inn is one of two hotel chains building developments at Pacific Quay

Its goal - as one Scottish Enterprise official put it - was "to put some oomph" into marketing Glasgow as a creative hub.

Creative Clyde describes itself on its website as "a flourishing, vibrant community for media, technology and creatively-minded businesses located along the waterfront in Central Glasgow".

But the focus is no longer just Pacific Quay.

Creative Clyde has been expanded to include the north side of the river, drawing in the SECC, the Clyde Auditorium "Armadillo", Scottish Hydro Arena and the Riverside Museum.

Its website describes the move as "thinking outside the Clyde-shaped box".

'Core location'

Ms McPherson explained: "The original Digital Media Quarter at Pacific Quay remains a core location for the Creative Clyde community.

"However, the creative industries are collaborative by nature and in acknowledgement of this, we recognise and include within Creative Clyde the wealth of innovative, creative work carried out in other clusters nearby such as Glasgow's Merchant City, the West End and on the north bank of the Clyde.

"At Creative Clyde, we are less concerned about strict geographical boundaries and more focused on nurturing the growth of creative industries across the city."

The move has confused some people working in the media, according to Kevin Sanson, research director of the Media Industries Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studied the development of Glasgow's DMQ.

Mr Sanson said: "I think the most fundamental problem for the DMQ at Pacific Quay is its increasingly diffuse identity.

"Who is this place for? Who belongs here? What sort of 'creative' work is it designed to facilitate? Film? TV? Digital media? Mobile technology?

"It's a rather benign pitch to call this place a community, but doing so raises expectations of support and belonging, and not everyone in the local creative sectors feels equally at home there.

"I think these feelings have been exasperated in the rebranding as Creative Clyde. I've had local media workers admit to me that they don't even know where Creative Clyde begins or ends."

'Encouraging results'

Ms McPherson argued there were early indications that Creative Clyde's revised strategy was "delivering encouraging results in both Scottish companies occupying the buildings and inward investors locating here".

"Based on the progress achieved over the first two years, we are very optimistic about future prospects for Creative Clyde," she said.

"The investment in infrastructure by people like De Vere and Premier Inns has been a fantastic boost.

"The latest business incubator for digital and creative start-ups in The Hub has only just opened for business and it's almost full already.

"We are the first to acknowledge that much remains to be done but the progress to date has been encouraging and we are committed to building on that."

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