Creative Cities is a regular feature where I focus on local creative scenes throughout the UK, giving a general overview of what's happening in each city and an insight into its creative industries and the people who work there. Next up, I'm looking at Newcastle upon Tyne…
So what's Newcastle all about?
Newcastle upon Tyne - often shortened to 'Newcastle' - is a wonderful, buzzing and creative city in the North East of England. Part of Tyne & Wear, historically Northumberland, it's situated on the banks of the River Tyne and close to the North Sea. It's a city that grew as an important trading centre for wool, playing a major role in the Industrial Revolution, and later became a major coal mining area. Its port, which developed in the 16th century, was once one of the world's largest shipbuilding centres.
Alas, these industries declined and, for the most part, have closed down. But today, Newcastle's economy is thriving with learning, digital technology, retail, tourism and culture all playing a part in its success. What's more, the creative industries are rapidly growing here and the city has plenty to offer the discerning freelance professional who's looking for somewhere to live, work and play. Plus if you're a startup looking to launch your own business, Newcastle offers the best place outside of London to get established - and it's really kicking off. Plus if you love computer games, Newcastle has a thriving gaming sector (think Reflections Ubisoft, CCP Games and Eutechnyx) and some of the best video games courses in the world.
When it comes to downtime, many will tell you that Newcastle is a 'superb night out'. In fact, The Rough Guide to Britain placed Newcastle's nightlife as Britain's number one tourist attraction. And the people - known as Geordies - would agree. But it's not just dancing the night away that they do so well here - they have superb theatre, festivals, fairs, music, concert venues, museums, galleries and cinemas. You name it, they've got it - and they do it with a scary amount of energy and enthusiasm that could put most other European cities to shame. Even the local craft scene is one of the best in the UK. Newcastle - you creative hotbed - it's over to you…
What Newcastle creatives say
“I’m not native to Newcastle. I moved here from Yorkshire in 2006 for University, and the buzz around the city was something I hadn’t experienced before. I became instantly enamoured with the city and its genuinely friendly inhabitants. The most notable difference seemed to be in the post graduate community; where students in other cities seemed to scatter, Newcastle managed to hang onto a sizeable number of its graduates. These circumstances and Newcastle’s emerging digital marketing scene has given creatives an exciting and viable alternative to London and Manchester. The sheer amount of the ‘bright and brilliant’ migrating here makes it the ideal place for any emerging or ambitious business looking to expand its workforce.”
Jonathan Birch - from mediaworks
"Newcastle is buzzing with opportunities and I've found, as a new graduate, that there has been no shortage of both freelance work and full-time design jobs. On first leaving university I worked as a graphic designer for a digital marketing agency, and after eight months left to work freelance. I have a shared space in F6.Studios where I work alongside textile artists, animators, photographers and other illustrators. It's a great atmosphere to work in."
Katie Chappell - Illustrator & Designer
"Newcastle, like every other city, has some incredible talent. But I find the big difference from other cities in the UK is that Newcastle tends not to shout too loud about it. This is great if you're a person who likes to make your own discoveries and be constantly amazed by new work that will just suddenly appear from either a new graduate who isn't just following the latest trends or someone who has been producing stunning work work for many years and you just didn't know about them. This sense of discovery and the unexpected is what makes Newcastle a great place to be creative."
Paul Robson - founder of Muro Buro
"I love Newcastle. It's a city that's easy to walk around, but is packed with things that inspire - old and new architecture, cultural events, and a bubbling scene for technology and creatives. We have a strong, friendly community - people who love what they do, who enjoy mixing, sharing, and organising meetups. We have people who keep on pushing at the boundaries of what we have - such as the Ignite100 accelerator, MakerSpace, and co-working spaces. It's a city that offers both opportunity and support. My original plan was to live here for two years; but 14 years later, I'm still enjoying it!"
James Rutherford, from Creative Nucleus
"I'm a designer, maker and writer based in Newcastle, and am super passionate about the North East and its diverse culture. After the decline of industry and manufacture, creativity has become a main stay in the region and its regeneration. Funding cuts have meant that cultural venues are closing or being merged, and just as we are getting somewhere, we need to maintain growth to continue and sustain the city. Trends for vintage, thrift and economy have helped to make local shopping and collaborative projects popular, and if this can be maintained - Newcastle will become a leading European city for culture & creativity. It is the open and accepting nature of people in the North East that makes it so special. I asked a while ago for words which best describe the region; here are my favourites...warm, brave, self-sufficient, proud and fun."
Sarah Davy - of Make Write Live
Where to study in Newcastle
Newcastle has two major universities, including Newcastle University and Northumbria University - the former being one of the UK's leading universities and the latter being renowned for design. In fact, Northumbria University was voted 'Best New University' by The Times newspaper in 2005 and also won the 'Most IT enabled organisation' in the UK by Computing magazine.
But it's not just the local universities who impress. Newcastle College has purpose-built facilities for art, design and creative industries including fully equipped drawing, painting and sculpture studios, fashion and textile workshops, a digital photography suite, as well as digital light and darkrooms. They've also got extensive industry links, giving students a greater chance of employment.
Newcastle's startup scene
Tech is big in Newcastle. Really big. Thinking Digital - what some would describe as the UK's answer to TED - is based here. It was founded by Herb Kim, whose also behind multiple TEDx events across the North. Then you've got Digital Union - a membership organisation for the digital creative industry in North East England.
With a buzzing tech scene, you'd naturally assume that the startup culture would be pretty big here. And you'd be right. Startup-wise, this is a city home to things like ignite100, Europe's first £1 million accelerator programme for early-stage startups. It's also home to Software City, or at least Sunderland is, but it covers Newcastle and the rest of the North East. There's also Made in Newcastle, a local community of website and internet companies.
Earlier this year, the BBC reported that Newcastle's startup scene has reached critical mass - marking it as the place outside of London to launch a business. And people are flocking here too, including the investors. It's an exciting time to be based in Newcastle if you're trying to launch your own product.
Paul Smith, founder of ignite100, said: "Newcastle benefits from a natural and growing community of digital activity; formed through the evolution of a strong media agency scene, revered design and computer schools at the universities, global companies such as Sage (the only software company on the FTSE100) and the presence of several VC funds focussed on early-stage software investments.
"The work of bodies such as Digital Union and ignite100 has been to underpin this community, providing the network and support for startups, agencies, meetups and events. We're beginning to see a decade's worth of focus and support come to fruition, with dozens of teams building and launching product in Newcastle and the immediate region.
"But the most exciting thing about all of this activity is that it's complimented by the low cost of living and the relatively short commute to London (under 2 hours and 40 minutes). The result is we're now seeing teams base operations in Newcastle and travel to the capital for business development. A startup needs a low burn-rate to make any investment last longer, so by operating between Newcastle and London, teams can enjoy the best of both worlds - a long runway while still being part of the London scene. There's no real need to choose between the two."
Some notable startups worthy of a mention include: Arcus Studios, producers of animated content for broadcast, short or feature film; Recite, which transforms the format of websites, repackaging the content by adding disability functionality; Appysnap - which completes missions with your phone's camera to win instant prizes and special offers, and Screach, an app that lets you interact in real time with any digital screen from your smart phone and rewards you for doing so.
And if you want to keep up with what's happening, betarocket is a startup and tech news website for Newcastle and the North East of England. Sorted.
Where to network in Newcastle
When it's time to get out there and network, Newcastle has it covered. For general creative industries networking, check out NECreative. They only just kicked off last November but new members are joining all the time and it seems they've got plans in place to bring people together. You should also check out North East Hour, a little online social networking that takes place every Monday between 8-9pm and Tuesday 2-3pm.
For all you artists and makers out there, check out Maker Space, a community owned and run workshop where an eclectic group of makers, creatives, programmers, scientists and engineers meet, work, socialise, share ideas and collaborate.
If you're technical, you'll love Sparks North East. It's a new competitive event for designers and developers to play with data. Or there's SuperMondays, the greatly named Appy Mondays and Design Interest. For more tech-related networking events, check out Tech Diary.
Where to work in Newcastle
If you're a creative in Newcastle looking for some office space, you're spoilt for choice really. Hoults Yard is a friendly business centre where a lot of creative and digital firms have set up shop. It's also a great events space where its warehouse can house up to 900 guests.
You've also got the Toffee Factory, a beautifully refurbished building over on Quayside, offering some seriously high quality office space, shared offices and virtual space.
The Schoolhouse Creative Hub is located in an historic building behind Live Theatre, close to Quayside. With five office units across three floors, it's a place made especially for small creative and digital businesses. The Mushroom Works offers studio, gallery and exhibition space - but they also stage an art club every Saturday, taught by award-winning artist and teacher Amanda Rabey.
If you're a maker looking for something affordable, check out F6.Studios based in Commercial Union House on Pilgrim Street in the heart of the city centre. There are individual self-contained spaces and a large communal workshop room.
Finally, Bright Road Studios provides affordable creative space in a variety of shapes and sizes. It's a Grade II listed building, originally built as a church in 1903.
Where to hangout in Newcastle
Calling all coffee lovers! Your time is now! Newcastle has plenty of independent coffee shops to indulge yourselves or meet a client for a brew. Central Bean is a nice, little chain with a couple of stores dotted around the city. You should also check out Teasy Does It - a cafe on Heaton Park Road specialising in loose-leaf tea, nice coffee and homemade food. And the Ouseburn Coffee Company does seriously good coffee over on Foundry Lane.
If you fancy a lunch out or you're entertaining clients, Newcastle is overwhelmed by amazing restaurants. Blackfriars is pretty special and housed in a Medieval monastery in the city centre. SIX is the stunning rooftop restaurant at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. For something a little more laid-back, check out Olive & Bean for great sandwiches and afternoon tea treats.
For those Friday night drinks, check out Alvinos Cocktail Bar. There's a local DJ at the weekend with a great atmosphere. It's got a roof terrace at the back as well as vintage games machines. And the pizzas aren't bad either. Number 28 won North East 'Bar of the Year' and is a hidden gem situated above Granger Market. If you love a bit of gin, try Pleased To Meet You. They do two cocktails for £10 Sunday - Thursday, 4-7pm. And don't miss the toilets! There are bicycles constructed into sinks - the very same bicycles that were used on the set of Steven Spielberg's The Warhorse in 2011. Also worthy of a mention is Livello, a pretty cool bar with loads of nice spirits (especially the gin section) and they have plenty of different nights on, including a local act ‘live lounge’ night.
To live it up and dance the night away, The Big Mussel on Quayside offers live jazz, blues and latin music played from 7pm, as the band sits above the restaurant. The Cluny is a live music venue, also known as a 'Gentlemen's Dub Club'. Or there's Newcastle City Hall for further music nights.
What to do in Newcastle
What isn't there to do in Newcastle? Galleries-wise, you're spoilt. First up, is the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, which holds exhibitions from leading artists such as Damien Hirst and Yoko Ono. Laing Art Gallery is always worth a visit because of its permanent art collections. And you've got the UK's biggest commercial gallery - the Biscuit Factory.
For entertainment, Theatre Royal is the regional home of the Royal Shakespeare Company and stages world-class productions from West End musicals to quality drama. Live Theatre offers a more intimate setting while Northern Stage has modern classics for all ages. The Mill Volvo Tyne Theatre is the world's oldest working Victorian theatre showcasing contemporary comedy and concerts all in one venue.
For a little cinema, check out The Customs House in South Shields, Side Cinema or Star & Shadow Cinema. Otherwise you've got The Gate, Newcastle's largest leisure and entertainment centre with its Empire Cinema. But you simply can not miss Tyneside Cinema - housed in a beautiful, old building in the city centre, this is how cinema really should be.
For shopping, Newcastle has plenty on offer with Eldon Square being one of the UK's biggest city centre shopping malls. However, as we're all creatives and prefer to step away from the usual high street brands, you might prefer the charming, cobbled street of High Bridge where loads of independent retailers reside.
For more ideas on what to do in Newcastle, go to the official Newcastle Gateshead Tourism Site.