digital:glassworks in Folkstone - One of the pilot areas in CUPIDO
What is the background to the Pilot Project?
Folkestone and the surrounding area is an example of a rural region with a weak economy since the ferry port services closed 30 years ago. At times the town has struggled to provide people with the basic services needed and parts of Folkestone became neglected. The ferry port and associated businesses were one of the major employers in this region and hence its closure resulted in a significant lack of employment opportunities.
Historically, younger generations have encountered difficulties in finding work after leaving school with many seeking further education or employment elsewhere. Some return to raise their families but the community remains unbalanced with a large percentage of older people in the area. This creates economic issues as young people with the highest educational attainment and greater skills are most likely to leave for opportunities in larger towns across the UK or oversees.
Founded in 2002, Creative Folkestone has the vision to transform the town using creative activity to make this a better place to live, work and play. Creative Folkestone has established five key projects, including Folkestone’s Creative Quarter, Quarterhouse and Folkestone Triennial.
Folkestone’s Creative Quarter boasts a creative community of over five hundred people. The Creative Quarter is made up of over ninety restored buildings spanning residential flats, studios, offices and shops. The area is populated by artists and home to many creative businesses which have created hundreds of jobs and helped to rejuvenate the local economy.
Quarterhouse was built as a performance venue for music, theatre, dance and comedy and now has a programme that attracts a widely diverse audience from all over the area. The venue also acts as a community hub and sits in the centre of Folkestone’s Creative Quarter.
Folkestone Triennial is the largest exhibition of newly commissioned work presented in the UK. It has attracted more than 440,000 visitors since 2008. Artists from around the world are invited to use the town as their gallery, utilising public spaces to create outstanding art that reflects issues affecting both the town and the wider world.
Can you describe what you are doing in your project?
Our project aims to establish a creative tech industry in Folkestone by utilising vacant property to create a digital hub, digital:glassworks, offering high-quality bespoke office spaces for digital and creative businesses.
Digital:glassworks with its 1000 sqm of indoor workspace used to house the Folkestone Academy Six Form, an educational institution where students aged 16 to 19 were studying for advanced school-level qualifications. They moved from the premises in early 2018 and the move was a great opportunity to reassess the use of the building.
With a growing demand for space from digital companies combined with the need to digitalise the cultural sector, it was a good time to create digital:glassworks. We are repurposing the building once used for educational purposes into a centre of excellence for createch, fusing creative and digital industries.
The conversion creates competitive high spec offices of variable sizes equipped with high-speed fibre internet and shared break-out spaces and meeting rooms. The aim is to attract already established digital tech companies to make the move to Folkestone from other areas such as London as well as encourage new start-ups.
The new businesses will be supported through networking events, workshops, mentoring schemes and other training opportunities. This will help them to share knowledge and expertise and to better understand innovative approaches and how to advance their businesses through adaptation to digital technologies.
Digital:glassworks will attract and retain younger people to Folkestone to work in their area. The attractive location and inspiring hub of digital creatives is the perfect place to nurture and help grow young talent; boost innovation and bring new job opportunities to the creative community of Folkestone and surrounding areas.
Who are working together in your pilot and where is your pilot located?
Digital:glassworks is located in the heart of Folkestone’s Creative Quarter, an urban village of designers, filmmakers, musicians, web developers and artists. A stone’s throw from the sea and less than an hour from London, Folkestone’s Creative Quarter is an integral part of the town and economy; a playground for creative and digital businesses.
Partnerships with regional and local public authorities have been established that will be instrumental for the successful establishment of the digital hub.
Creative Folkestone has a thriving Learning and Engagement programme which forms one of our main activities. We work closely with many schools and higher education institutions to align our activities with their curriculum and learning objectives and to raise awareness about career opportunities in the digital and creative sector.
How are you working together in your region?
Communication plays a central role in ensuring that our partners are up to date on the latest developments of digital:glassworks.
Existing and potential future tenants of the Creative Quarter are made aware of newly available office spaces, networking and other business development opportunities through news updates on our website and newsletters.
We regularly liaise with our public authority partners to influence their policy-making and to align their future initiatives - to connect digital with the cultural sector - with our vision. For them to make funding opportunities for joint future projects available is crucial to leverage our investments.
We organise workshops and other events for young people, families and schools. The aim is to support young people’s interest in creativity to guide them into creative work, enabling them to work alongside and with local artists and businesses.
What are the challenges?
Folkestone is a seaside town that has suffered from several issues that were rooted in the decline of its core industries such as tourism like many coastal towns across the UK. In Folkestone, the closure of the ferry services had a huge impact on the local economy resulting in some parts becoming run-down and abandoned. In particular, the old centre of the town had a reputation of a no-go area due to problems of crime and drug abuse.
In collaboration with the Roger de Haan Charitable Trust, Creative Folkestone has already transformed the town and its reputation as a place with a thriving creative community. London is only a 55-minute train journey away which makes it attractive for SME’s to have their offices here and enjoy the affordable rental market.
However, this also means that Folkestone must compete with the advantages that a city like London can offer with regards to career and business opportunities. It is still a challenge to find highly skilled experts in some areas such as digital technologies considering the difference in salaries.
As the town itself grows and evolves there is also a delicate balance to be maintained. As there is an influx of individuals, businesses and families from London, native residents of Folkestone mustn't feel priced out or forced to relocate from the town.
What do you hope to achieve?
Our pilot project digital:glassworks aims to establish a createch industry in Folkestone promoting the digitalisation of the cultural sector. This will lead to an increase in the number of SME’s working in the createch industry in Folkestone and offer new opportunities to younger generations.
This will allow young talented people to find suitable jobs locally who are then inclined to remain and settle in Folkestone. This will provide a boost of ambition, knowledge and eventually experience to the already existing creative community. Eventually, it will help to change the demographics of Folkestone and its surrounding areas towards a younger population.
The digitalisation of the creative sector will bring new skills and innovative approaches to existing and newly established SME’s and will allow them to develop their companies to the best of their abilities. This will help their businesses to be more sustainable and protect them from economic windfalls anchoring them deeper into the local economy.
Who will be affected by the result?
The project will have a direct benefit for local existing SME’s and will allow them to maximise their capacities through the adaptation of digital technologies into their business models.
Existing businesses will be encouraged to relocate to Folkestone by making more high-tech office space available bringing a boost of knowledge and experience to the creative community.
Through our work with schools and higher education institutions, students will learn about career development opportunities within the createch industry retaining talented young people for many years to come.
Partner: Creative Folkstone