focus on Creative industries in Birmingham


 Custard Factory 600px

 Above: the Custard Factory, one of Birmingham's creative clusters.

The story of creative Birmingham is one that is still being written. The city has a deep talent base, developed expertise in areas such as gaming and a buzz of activity in other areas, but many of its proponents believe it has an even greater narrative yet to tell.    

A recent campaign, #techbrum, highlighted the region's technology credentials, celebrating the wealth of established tech/games companies such as SCC and Codemasters, supplemented in the broad Greater Birmingham area and associated regions by newer operations such as SOSHI Games, Whisk, Nyamnyam, Yamination Studios and Droplet.

Blackwell's Britain, a series of reports from round the UK's creative clusters, produced by The Drum magazine with support from the IPA and Creative Skilset, identified several characteristics of the Birmingham area. These included:

Young and diverse workforce: Under 25s make up 40 per cent of the population – it’s perhaps the youngest city in Europe", according to Anita Bhalla, chair of the Creative City Partnership, the body set up to promote the development of jobs and wealth in the city.

The city's multicultural character and access to universities and other educational establishments provide creative employers with a steady flow of talent. There are already an estimated 50,000 creative workers in the city area, and more than 5,800 companies (from larger agencies to small one-man bands). It is little surprise that Birmingham successfully lobbied to gain more investment from the BBC by pitching itself as "young, diverse and digital". 

Production company Maverick TV's founder and director Jonnie Turpie knows ceaseless reinvention is part of the city itself.

For Maverick, the young talent pool of Birmingham has been vital in how it can operate its “digital innovation
department”, where the aim is “to reflect a whole country through the diversity we have in this one city”. Television
sits alongside a powerful move into digital programming. The company has been working with both Microsoft and Google for content that exists wholly online.

We can do things in Birmingham that would be very difficult to do in most other cities – we have input
into programmes from high-end academics through to all kinds of productions skills,” said Turpie.

Digital clusters: Birmingham is home to 6,000 tech firms employing nearly 40,000 people. Twenty-five per cent of the UK’s gaming workforce is based locally and digital tech firms boost the region’s economy by in excess of £1.6bn every year. 

Talent is brought together in initiatives and areas such the Innovation Birmingham Campus, The Custard Factory (pictured above), Fazeley Studios, Entrepreneurs for the Future (e4f) and Oxygen Accelerator with geographical concentrations in Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter.

Endorsement for the area's digital skills base has come in the form of the BBC's decision to launch a digital initiative, the Guerrilla Group, in Birmingham with a broad remit to explore ways of communicating stories to all the
audiences that the BBC wants to reach.

ASOS, the online retailer, also established a major local base for its digital activities, developing its international range of websites with a new team based out of the Custard Factory.

Chief information officer Pete Marsden said: “Birmingham is a city with the talent, cost-effectiveness, physical infrastructure, plans and will to help our business succeed."

Entrepreneurial:  Birmingham has consistently received recognition from the business community, including Greater Birmingham being named as the UK’s most entrepreneurial city outside of London and a ‘start-up hotspot’ (Start-up Britain), as well as the number one Foreign Direct Investment destination of the future (FDI Association).

There is a cluster of new and established animation studios in the region, with the likes of CharacterShop and Second Home Studios joined more recently by Drew Roper’s Yamination Studios. In the games industry the East and West Midlands
account for 49 per cent of the UK workforce and nearby Leamington Spa’s historic association with that sector has spilled into Birmingham, seeing major studios rubbing shoulders with brand new businesses. The Midlands development scene shows real tenacity of spirit; it is thriving, with the collapse of bigger studios being the catalyst for new start-ups in
the area.

The Greater Birmingham region is a strong player in numerous areas of digital media including e-commerce, film and animation, interactive media, radio, music, gaming, photography, web design, open data and creative and social media. It is a fast-moving and high-growth industry, with many sub-sectors and more innovative and flexible business models than traditional industries.

Compelling cost base: The city offers attractive business rates, competitive labour costs and other forms of support for companies investing in the area. 

Wouter Schuitemaker, investment director at Business Birmingham, said: "It (ASOS) came here because we have a powerful feed of digital talent. It was struggling to get the staff in London. Here you can hire well and people will stay. That makes it much more efficient for business than if you have a freelance culture of people jumping in and out of a business, difficult to retain, as can happen in London.

You can read the full Blackwell's Britain report on Birmingham here. The creative industry scene in Bristol and Bath was the subject of a previous report


Useful links for further information: