Nottingham is a wonderful creative city in the heart of the East Midlands, famed for its links with Robin Hood and worldwide recognition for its lace-making, bicycle and tobacco industries which came about during the Industrial Revolution.
Today, the creative industries are literally buzzing here with graphic design, interiors and textiles all playing a large part in its continued economic growth. There is already a thriving design and new media industry in the city, and it's the birthplace, and joint headquarters of legendary fashion designer Paul Smith.
Along with its wealth of stunning architecture, cultural venues and a music scene that puts many other UK cities to shame (check out legendary venue Rock City to see what I mean) - you can tell that people who live here are hugely proud of their home and incredibly passionate about its success. Speaking to many Nottingham creatives, it became apparent that the city is also enjoying an emerging digital and startup scene, with gaming a particular focus. Nottingham is in fact home to one of the top games events in the UK, known as Game City.
It's also recently acquired its own Creative Quarter, an area of the original Lace Market which literally teems with independent shops, restaurants and bars - and is home to many studios of Nottingham's creative community. It's part of a £60million scheme to boost the local creative and digital industries.
And with so many theatres, cinemas (one of which is considered to be the best in the world), music venues, creative networking events and art galleries - you literally cannot move for the wealth of creativity that makes Nottingham a wonderful place to live, work and play. It's even got its own cricket ground. Nottingham, it's over to you…
What Nottingham creatives say
"Having grown up around Nottingham, I've seen it change over the years, and what's emerging now is an incredible creative movement with a great deal of youth and passion which will continue to grow over the next few years. One area that's thriving is Hockley, which is home to art shops, vintage stores, bohemian cafés and bars perfect for local live music and the Broadway cinema. It's a city rich in history, and people are starting to be proud to say they are from Nottingham once again."
Ian Carrington, illustrator - found on Behance
"Nottingham has a decorated past (literally) in terms of its textiles industry, which at one time was the very core of the world's entire lace production. But as the UK began to move all of its garment production to cheaper countries around the world, we were left with an abundance of empty buildings and lost jobs. This has led to sweeping industry change in the creative sector with the digital world popping in to fill those warehouse sewing spaces with rows of macs and blossoming studios. Boutique art galleries have popped up ten a penny, bringing all the associated halo effects with them. Just recently the council got funding to help cement and focus this exploding scene to garner the attention it rightly deserves. Alongside places like Manchester and Birmingham many eyes venture north instead of focusing on London as the rates for work will generally be more affordable. And, to be honest, the ideas born here are from a different background and tend to avoid virus like trends in London. Nottingham's central position geographically is also highly advantageous in terms of getting to any client in the UK quickly and easily. And with the advent of decent telepresence (Skype, for example) then I think we are reaching an age where having to reside in London and pay exuberant rents is no longer a requirement. It's a new age and this is a new city."
Simon Dunn, one of the team at Seismik
"There is no doubt in my mind that being a double university city gives Nottingham an exciting, ever-changing artistic edge and being immersed in that environment cannot help but spark the creative mind."
Sarah Manton, a local creative - Thesarahmanton.com
"After studying graphic design at Nottingham Trent University I've spent most of my creative career here. Nottingham is growing creatively. Recently there's been more of a buzz in the air, not only because of initiatives such as the Creative Quarter but because of the local talent in general. It's a great place for freelancers and studios with plenty of networking events happening, there's also a wealth of places to quench inspirational thirst such as Nottingham Contemporary and the New Art Exchange. The design community in general has an identity of its own which doesn't seem to follow trends for the sake of it, and they're a welcoming, modest bunch for the most part! Nottingham Trent University deserves a mention for its fantastic creative courses which pump out quality talent year after year. There are also quite a few other creative unsung gems in Nottingham such as the Montana Shop in Hockley, the wonderful Le Chien Et Moi on Derby Road, Left Lion Magazine which captures Nottingham's humour perfectly, the madness that is Rob's Records and great design from the likes of Studio Output... I certainly find inspiration in Nottingham's culture and creative heritage to fuel my work for personal creations and clients alike. Based right in the heart of England, it's a great place to live and work while being in the midst of some fantastic people and businesses."
Jason Holroyd, freelance designer and illustrator - Jasonholroyd.com
"Nottingham is a vibrant city with a real buzz about it in so many ways, not least the thriving creative sector. Even without the new Creative Quarter, which will pump millions of pounds of government funding into the city, there is a vast array of talent and also some brilliant collaborations between creative folk. This was illustrated by the recent “Creative Twinning” event, which saw creatives from Karlsruhe mix with Nottingham contemporaries at the perfect location of The Nottingham Contemporary. Elsewhere, Nottingham Playhouse played host to another brilliant year for the Nottingham Young Creative Awards, a superb initiative uncovering some amazing raw talent which will ensure the industry stays in good shape for years to come. And only weeks ago, the Confetti Institute played host to none other than Prince Harry, who officially opened the Notts TV Institute, a local television channel which will provide another outlet for local creativity."
Tony Bates, managing director of Fast Graphics
Where to study in Nottingham
If you're looking to study, Nottingham is home to two universities: the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University. Both have several campuses in the city. As a creative, you'll naturally want to know what relevant courses are available at each.
The University of Nottingham offers Art History; Culture, Film & Media and Music. Nottingham Trent is famed for its creative courses and covers just about everything from art, design and architecture to fashion, photography and theatre.
There are also three further education colleges in Nottingham - Central College Nottingham, New College Nottingham and Bilborough College.
Nottingham's startup scene
I'm happy to report that the startup and tech scene in Nottingham is growing at an exciting pace with plenty of people here keen to get ahead and develop their own products. And there's talk that Nottingham could indeed become the next Tech City as Nottingham City Council is well aware of its startup potential.
Working in partnership with local incubators, it's hoping to set up a startup accelerator programme that will offer business support to startups as part of its wider Nottingham Growth Plan. It basically wants to target at least 40 startups with the aim of creating 30 high growth businesses and over 100 jobs. It's great that local startups are getting the recognition and, hopefully, further support that they need.
In the meantime, there are plenty of groups and networking events where like-minded souls can get together. There's Nott Tuesday, an event that aims to bring Nottingham's tech scene together on the second Tuesday of every month. Or there's the credible GeekUp where web designers, web developers and digital folk alike can get together over a nice pint of beer.
Where to network in Nottingham
Golly - Nottingham is alive with creative activity! Certainly when you check out what's happening in terms of networking. On the first Friday of every month you have LaceMarket Open Link - a monthly chance to bring people together from the LaceMarket business community.
Second Wednesday is an inspiring gathering of people from - or wanting to get into - the web and related creative industries. They meet at Antenna and there are always guest speakers. Speaking of Antenna they hold regular events that are also a great way to meet local creatives. Get involved with the community to find out more!
If you're looking for something a little more digital specific, then Nottinghack could be the regular event for you. They have Wednesday Open Nights where you just rock up and join in the fun.
Where to work in Nottingham
If you're after hot desks or some flexible office space, then check out Lace Market House. Situated in the heart of Nottingham's Lace Market in a listed Georgian building, it's a nice place to work.
The Wallis Building offers workspace for tech innovators and entrepreneurs in a like-minded and collaborative environment. Contact Fay on 0115 941 3366 for more information.
Antenna, as mentioned before, is a vibrant hub for creatives over in Beck Street, in the heart of Nottingham's new Creative Quarter. Here you can become a member and choose from a range of services, including everything from virtual business addresses to full desk space and offices.
To find out more about desk spaces and studio offices in this creative area, 'like' Creative Quarter on Facebook, as they're always posting about spaces that come available.
Where to hangout in Nottingham
To grab a nice cup of coffee, Nottingham creatives love to hangout at Jam Cafe. It's a cool European style coffee shop that also does loads of interesting events, like Open Mic Nights and music gigs. Divine Coffee House is a quirky independent cafe in the old Lace Market area. Great food, decent atmosphere and lots of homemade treats. For a traditional tea house and some scrumptious cakes, head over to Tiffin in West Bridgford.
If you need to entertain a client then you can't go wrong with Iberico for some interesting tapas and a good vibe. All in what looks like an underground cave. Merchant is an impressive restaurant inside the Lace Market Hotel if you really want to push the boat out.
For some Friday after-work drinks, try The Bell Inn on Angel Row. It's a nice cosy pub with live jazz and open mic evenings. If real ale is your thing, then you can't beat England's oldest inn - Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.
Or if you're more of a cocktail type of person, then check out Tilt where they serve live blues every night along with an impressive list of drinks. For further exploration, go to The Canal Front, an area of Nottingham that has various bars and restaurants, right next to the canal… obviously. And for something a little different go to Pepper Rocks - it's a bar AND creperie. Nice.
To let loose, get your rocks off at Rock City, a fantastic music venue that offers a diverse lineup of gigs and club nights. Or you could head over to Annie's Burger Shack at The Navigation - it's a great venue not only for its real ales and fine burgers, but live music as well.
What to do in Nottingham
Nottingham is truly buzzing with creativity and there's so much going on, it's difficult to know where to begin! If you love art, then you must go and visit Nottingham Contemporary. It's a new gallery showcasing work from major artists. It also has a restaurant and bar - somewhere that local freelancers like to frequent. New Art Exchange is another notable gallery, mainly dedicated to visual arts. There's also the magnificent Nottingham Castle - which houses its own art gallery, exhibitions and museum collections.
To completely chillax, Nottingham has a wealth of parks and places to unwind. Nottingham Castle is one such venue, which itself has its own art gallery along with beautiful surrounding grounds to wander and explore. There's Wollaton Hall, which was used as Wayne Manor in the latest Batman movie. It's a lovely little spot with fantastic gardens, roaming deer and wildlife. Then, I simply must mention Sherwood Forest - home to Mr Robin Hood and the Major Oak - always worth a visit.
For some entertainment, you have to check out Theatre Royal. It offers so many plays and musical events, you'll be spoilt for choice. Or there's Nottingham Arts Theatre, a charity that is operated and run by the local community and a team of dedicated volunteers. Wonderful.
There's Nottingham Playhouse and The Lace Market Theatre. For a spot of comedy, you can't miss The Glee Club. If you like moving pictures, you can't beat Broadway - considered to be one of the best cinemas in the world.
If shopping is more your thing, then the two major shopping centres - Victoria Centre and Broadmarsh centre - will cover most of the high street chains. But for the independents, have a wander around the Hockley area of the city. Check out the Debbie Bryan Studio & Shop, it's a hidden gem selling all sorts of arts and crafts.
To find out more about what's on in Nottingham, take a look at Left Lion - it's a free magazine that details music, art and general events. Or there's the official tourism site Experience Nottinghamshire.