Living and Working Creatively on York Central – A workshop to develop ideas and networks

Post its of the discussion captured the big ideas

Wednesday 4th April
7:00pm – 9:00pm

As part of the ‘Work’ week of the Festival of York Central we collaborated with York@Large to develop a discussion about living and working creatively in York Central. Some new themes emerged, such as how to connect across scales of economic activity and how to make the city’s generational and class wealth gap work for York. We were also able to deepen and extend our discussions about some key themes – such as affordability and mix of uses – that have shot through many of the Festival of York Central discussions so far.

‘It is easy to build homes, office and hotels. You can’t build community. To get community you need to invest in people. We need to bind York Central to the city and bind York Central to the people of the city’.

Hubs of similar businesses

‘A hub of people doing the same things helps everyone thrive’

In Swinegate there are a small creative businesses above almost every shop. Rather than see each other as competitors, this hub and community was seen as positive and something to consider for York Central.

Creative industries were seen as ‘making good neighbours’…

  • With each other (for networking)
  • With other uses (they’re low impact)
  • They are often “first floor” businesses.

There is a shortage of flexible space – Hiscox local hub was oversubscribed by factor of four.

What makes for good work space?

York was seen to be doing ok in terms of creating space for very small business. The benefits of above the shop workspaces were seen as being ‘cheap and centrally located’. Clients often travel by train, so being in the centre or closer, as York Central would be, to the station was seen as positive. First floor work spaces was acknowledged as cheaper because there was no street frontages, yet it was suggested that ‘giving up the ground floor might be a mistake’ as lively inviting shop frontage might give a chance to show and showcase the work going on in York.

Middle sized businesses

‘We used to have industry, the carriage works and chocolate, but nothing replaced it’.

‘Retail and tourism has soaked up a lot of that… but there is that missing middle layer of better paying jobs’.

There is a missing “middle band” of size of business and premises for them SCY Creative strategy discussions suggest this is true for creative industries, where there are start-ups and some global mature businesses, but trading conditions are less ideal for medium sized (ie small) creative businesses. This conclusion is supported by the demographic analysis in Cities Outlook 2018 from Centre for Cities (Population Aged 30-44, percentage point change 2012–2016)

‘This is not about trapping businesses in York but we need to recognise that those middle band businesses are not thinking of coming to York’

An example given was that of architects with staff of ten in an office which fits seven with no space to expand beyond that. If middle-sized businesses do want to stay in York they are forced out to Clifton Moor. ‘If you bring a client to the centre of York, that’s great – Clifton Moor… not so much’.

If we’re building 3/4/5/ storey buildings adding “a floor for business” is a relatively cheap addition – just four extra walls since foundations/infrastructure and upper parts/roof would be built anyway.

More on mix of uses

‘Having a variety of spaces which allow different uses is powerful’.

Mixed uses has been a theme of the Festival of York Central discussions. The idea of York Central as a place where there is always exciting and creative things going on was discussed. How to make this happen was debated, the idea of spaces where things could happen was a key idea.

Ecosystem of economic activity (how it works across different scales)

‘We need to grow our own talent. Grow our own base’.

‘York is a relatively small city, we’re not about to become Manchester. We need to stay the right size city, which needs the right grain of development and link up with other cities of a similar size’.

‘Do we need to attract a couple of big employers?’

There was a lot of discussion about the wider economic ecosystem for York. The issue with the middle band of business was not simply seen as being about space but that there just isn’t the economic activity to sustain businesses once they get beyond start-ups. This was noted not just as a York issue but is region-wide issue. ‘Economic growth in York needs to “ripple out”’.

‘York Central needs to bring something to the broader table’. It was suggested that we need big economic drivers in York to create demand for smaller services. Ideally companies which make stuff and have big supply chains. We also need co-dependent businesses.

‘Media City in Salford has lifted the whole region but took time and required big investment’.

Generations and Class: York’s young people, keeping the city’s graduates and older people retiring to York

‘Young people feel York is for tourism and students’

‘I said to someone under 30 you need to be involved in York Central – this is the future of city – and there was this blankness’

‘You look at those pictures and you can’t place yourself there’.

‘People under 30 don’t believe they’ll ever buy a house or have a pension – so York Central feels very much like it is for someone else, someone older and more affluent’

We discussed the issue of how York can keep its graduates. This is seen as crucial to growing York’s own talent. It was seen as intimately connected to housing costs, graduates can’t afford to take risks because housing costs are so high. Graduates have to work so many hours to cover living costs, so there is a greater hurdle to jump in terms of getting starts ups happening.

But there is also an issue for York’s young people who do not go to University.  How do we create pathways from school and college. ‘We need to have a layering of the skills base – how do we develop this?

It was noted that there is a trend of people wanting to retire to York. As is often noted in UK-wide policy debate, the ‘baby boomer’ retirees can be comparatively wealthy and capital rich. This trend to retire to York is one dimension driving York’s housing costs and making it harder for young people from York and graduates to stay. As a positive response to this, we discuss what a ‘circular economy’ – cross-generation – might look like. This could include  learning from each other – (this brought to mind Ivan Illich’s classic Deschooling Society) – sharing skills across generations and making the most of the professional skills and networks of York’s new retirees. It also linked to ideas emerging from the Forever Affordable event about co-operative, mutual approaches to development, where funds for community-led development are raised though a community shares issues (see Headingly Development Trust for an example). This could also be a way of asking those that benefit from the tourist economy to give back to create facilities and housing for local communities (second homes owners / holiday home owners / big hotels).

Making the most of what is already going on

‘York doesn’t celebrate these things’

‘York Science park needs to be part of the city’.

There was a feeling that so much amazing work is going on in York but York doesn’t shout enough about it. ‘The Universities tend to keep stuff to themselves’.  Church Fenton was given as an example – ‘can we create a York post-production hub? ‘Or a centre for the interpretative arts – how good would that be?”.

The York Psyche! How to ‘break the spell’

‘York needs to pull its socks up a bit’

‘York has somehow got to sell itself, it has to be audacious’.

‘Sometimes feel like we ned permission for things to happen in this city’

Can we make a bold move in one area to “break the spell” – medical robotics?’

‘York’s reputation has allowed muddy thinking to persist’.

Throughout the conversation comments like this were made… with the positive flipside being some of the ideas around the idea of a development trust and ‘making it happen ourselves’.

Narratives for York Central

It was felt that narratives for York Central were needed. Could local businesses be involved in developing York Central. For example, like the example give at the Forever Affordable event, could a factory be onside to build the buildings (e.g. passivhaus). Then ‘how the site is developed becomes part of the ongoing story of the site’.

Areas to follow up:

  • How do we get the Universities involved in York Central?
  • Can we have an experimental Planning Order to enable flexibility of use/activity?
  • Can we create a development trust for York? Can this make the most of the circular generational economy?