Science City York has been conducting research to map the creative and digital sector in the York city area and surrounding region. So far the research has found over 1500 businesses that are operating in the digital and creative sector or supporting those industries.
We’ve put together a list of our key findings in the research so far. Here’s a summary of exactly where, how and why the creative sector in York is thriving, and our predictions for the future.
1. York has a fast-growing video production industry.
It’s no secret that the film industry is booming across the North of England – in fact it’s the region with the fastest industry growth, and York is showing it. The creation of the Church Fenton studios (used in the recent filming of BBC Victoria) and work by Screen Yorkshire have put the region on the map as a valuable location for video production. In addition, the University of York’s Theatre, Film and Television Department, complete with on-site studios, is growing as more students enrol each year (up from 440 in 2013 to 590 in 2017). It doesn’t just end at academic facilities – the university has a TV society with its own television studio and regular broadcasts.
York already has a consistently strong networking group of filmmakers who host a variety of regular events, and as the industry continues to shift northwards we anticipate that the city will be home to an increasing number of opportunities for production companies.
2. The future is our design
Yorkshire is experiencing the fastest growing design economy in the UK after London. Our statistics so far have found 313 designers, graphic designers and architects in York, making it a key part of the economic growth here. The city is also home to award-winning companies such as United by Design which gained accolades for its branding of BrewYork. The demand for design skills is predicted to grow in the future and considering its overlap with other industries such as web development and software, now is the time to focus on equipping professionals with these skills.
3. The universities are hubs of innovation
One factor that plays a key role in many of the creative industries in York is the role of the universities. Both the University of York and York St John provide not just useful facilities and resources to foster business growth, but also a pool of student and graduate talent.
At the University of York, the Science Park and Catalyst are both hubs for IT and software development companies. The facilities continue to attract new businesses into the area, for example recently the immersive tech company Symbolism Studios moved into the Catalyst. In addition to this, the campus hosts Heslington Studios for video and sound recording production, two theatres on campus and an extensive range of equipment for hire. York St John also hosts its own TV studio and a range of art and design spaces.
The state-of-the-art facilities are a benefit both for businesses and for students, who can gain first-hand experience and knowledge that equips them for careers in the digital and creative industries. They are also at the forefront of learning the new technologies (York St John is introducing an MA in Virtual and Augmented Reality). This makes York students an ideal talent pool for companies looking to hire professionals with innovative new ideas.
4. Our past is not past
Although much of Science City York’s efforts are devoted to distancing York from its stereotype as an old-fashioned cathedral city, its museums and heritage are also one of our greatest assets and could be the platform for displaying innovation. The blend of hi-tech and heritage is the best way to tap into what makes the city unique. This combination has been highly successful before, with events such as Illuminating York, and the Jurassic World exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum which lets you step into the world of dinosaurs with a VR headset.
5. No city is an island
When doing the research it became clear that understanding the creative sector in York requires looking at the bigger picture. The area around York is as important as those businesses within the city walls and certain patterns emerge across the North Yorkshire region. A great bulk of creative professionals live outside the city and travel around the region for work and events. For example, freelance photographers, filmmakers and web designers may not have a fixed office. The network of creativity spans across North Yorkshire.
Part of the map of creative and digital businesses in and around York
6. Harrogate is hi-tech
The neighbouring town of Harrogate is making its mark on the North Yorkshire map as a hub of IT and tech innovation. So far it has the highest proportion of web designers and graphic designers of all the areas except for York city centre, as well as a sizeable group of freelance photographers. It’s also mirroring York in its endeavours to foster the innovation in the city, with new workspaces cropping up such as the IndieWorx Collective for independent businesses. Nesta named it as the 6th fastest growing creative cluster in the UK so we predict exciting things in Harrogate’s future.
7. Are you going to Scarborough fair?
No really, are you? Scarborough, our neighbouring coastal town, is buzzing with artistic talent and creativity. Our research showed Woodend Creative and the Crescent are thriving creative clusters and the arts organisation Create Arts Development holds a yearly festival in the town. The picturesque location, low cost of living and existing community of creatives makes Scarborough a draw for artists and designers.
In addition to the festivals there are a huge number of networking groups for all sectors and professionals at all stages of their career. In fact we’ve put together a handy list of all the business networking opportunities here and our Events Calendar is kept up-to-date with everything going on around the city and wider region.
Those interested in creative pursuits can attend regular events by the active informal groups in the area. For example, York Developers, the York Filmmaker’s Association and York Virtual Reality are all opportunities to meet likeminded people and share ideas and skills.
9. Anything Can Be a Venue
York wouldn’t be a creative city if it wasn’t, well – creative. During our research we were struck by the variety of ways that creative sectors have overlapped, workspaces have been founded in the unlikeliest of places, and cutting-edge technology finds a way to fit in to its historic environment.
Part of the database includes a list of venues and facilities for arts and businesses, but this was often hard to classify given that businesses are working in shipping containers, exhibitions are taking place on boats, and technology conferences happen among medieval ruins. Faced with a city with a small centre, businesses and creatives have responded by thinking outside the box (or outside the walls?) and making the most of the environment around them.
10. The future is already here
It’s easy to be fooled by the stunning old buildings around York and assume that an old city means old-fashioned businesses. And this is why the creative strategy is prioritising visibility as one of its key elements – because this assumption could not be further from the truth. York hosts award-winning app development companies, software businesses experimenting with immersive technology, and events like DotYork geared towards preparing for our digital future.
York has been ready for change for two millennia and the research shows that our city will continue to follow its tradition of innovation. Let's see what the future brings.
Are you a creative professional based in the York area? Help us shape our creative strategy by telling us how we can help your business and best promote the creativity of our region. Fill in our short survey and register your interest here.