A creative's guide to Dundee: Home of 'jute, jam and journalism' and the Dandy

We've looked at Manchester and Brighton & Hove in our series of features, focusing 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.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Next up, we're looking at Dundee. Tucked away in the eastern central Lowlands of Scotland on the north bank of the Firth of Tay, it's a beautiful part of the world and is bursting with creative, passionate people all eager to share their wonderful home.

The fourth-largest city in Scotland, it expanded rapidly in the 19th century, largely because of the 'jute' industry - this, along with many other big industries including journalism and marmalade - gave Dundee its byname as the city of "jute, jam and journalism".

Today, it's promoted as 'One City, Many Discoveries', giving a respectful nod to Dundee's historic scientific past, one such example being the RRS Discovery, Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic exploration vessel, which was built in Dundee and is now pitched up in the city harbour.

Tech industries arrived in Dundee in the 1980s and the city now accounts for 10% of the UK's digital entertainment industry - a staggering figure when you consider how big that sector has become in recent years.

A £1 billion master plan is underway to regenerate and reconnect the Waterfront to the city centre. It started in 2001 and is expected to complete in 2031. The Dundee Victoria & Albert Museum is part of that regeneration and is set to open its doors in 2015.

Work has also begun on Dundee's new £1.7m 'creative' district. Called District 10, it will be built at Seabraes Yard and will feature offices constructed from recycled shipping containers - another humbling appreciation of the city's past. It's expected to be complete by this summer and will generate up to £10m for the local economy.

The Macmanus galleries in Dundee, Scotland. Image licensed via Adobe Stock

The Macmanus galleries in Dundee, Scotland. Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Dundee is also famous for the Dandy, the Beano and Desperate Dan. And the Zine scene continues today - just take a look at Yuk n Yum to see a sample. Music is big here and it's hugely celebrated and supported. The Rusty Hip Collective are a great, little group aiming to unify and strengthen the local music scene - and great things are already happening.

And there is a wealth of local creative talent, arts organisations, startups and freelancers all hugely keen to help boost their own city and make it an even bigger and better creative success story. There's no 'resting on laurels' here or complaints about the recession - everyone is working really hard and just getting on with it. They even jump into the freezing sea for a traditional New Year's Day Dook! And you can see this passion everywhere you go. What more could you want from a thriving creative city? Here's a juicy insight into what makes Dundee so creatively inspiring.

What Dundee creatives say

"I think there's a misconception that you can only be successful if you move to London. Dundee is proving that theory wrong. It's an incredibly exciting hub of creative activity. I graduated in 2009 from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and set up my jewellery brand in 2010. Being a freelancer in the city has huge benefits including the wealth of creative knowledge and people's willingness to share it. The cost of living is lower than in other major cities so sustaining a business in its early stages is much more manageable. And with the announcement of the V&A at Dundee there is a huge buzz surrounding the city and its creative community. From Dundee, our jewellery has been seen on the front cover of Emeli Sande's number one album, as well as in iD magazine, The Herald, The Scotsman and The Times. It is stocked in Harvey Nichols and this year we have been named as a finalist in both the Drapers Accessories Designer of the Year Award and as New Designer of the Year at the UK Jewellery Awards."
Jane Gowans, Scottish contemporary jeweller - www.janegowans.co.uk

V&A Museum, Dundee. Image licensed via Adobe Stock / By Alan Davidson

V&A Museum, Dundee. Image licensed via Adobe Stock / By Alan Davidson

"As a creative, Dundee is a brilliant place to live and work. After graduating from DJCAD here in 2008 - I'd always planned to move on. However there was such a positive and encouraging buzz amongst the creative community, I had to stay and be a part of it. Our studio is in a big, bright airy converted jute mill and I feel so lucky to be able to enjoy working from such an amazing space."
Nikki McWilliams, designer and maker - www.nikkimcwilliams.com

"Knowing the gaming history of Dundee and seeing so many small companies do well in the current market really inspired us to set up on our own. While there’s great work going on all over the country it’s the feeling of community that Dundee offers that made us want to be here. Everyone we’ve spoken to, from fellow startups to heads of established studios, has been great at offering support and advice. Looking to the support network outside of the industry there’s just an incredible interest in the games scene with organisations like Interactive Tayside, Business Gateway and Scottish Enterprise all offering help. All in all, it’s just a great place for us to be."
Kyle Welsh, director/lead programmer at Criss Cross Games

"Dundee is small in size, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in passion, creativity, determination, resilience and loyalty. This city has introduced me to incredible people, shown me incredible support and it never ceases to surprise me. This city has gumption and you can't help but be swept up by it. The creative community has a strength that can not be messed with. With names like Jane Gowans, Hayley Scanlan, Nikki McWilliams and places like Fleet Collective, Tin Roof, RARA and the Pretty Vacant Showrooms, and Vanilla Ink show you that you can really make something in Scotland's underdog city. Dundee welcomes you with open arms and I love calling this wee city my home."
Kate Pickering, the driving force behind Vanilla Ink

"Dundee is going through a period of positive change. The abundance of creative talent coupled with the vibrant regeneration of Dundee's waterfront and creative spaces makes Dundee an exciting place to be. With the artistic hubs of Duncan of Jordanstone and games development at The University of Abertay at its heart, Dundee is sculpting some of the finest creative talents. It's a real privilege to be part of this innovative community... full of collaboration and enthusiasm for what the future has in store."
Barry Strachan, graphic designer - www.eagercreative.com

"Dundee is a small city but with so much going on, it feels electric right now! With a rich industrial heritage, we're now going through a major waterfront transformation, and with the upcoming addition of V&A at Dundee, it's all helping shine the spotlight on our creative hub. However, it's the city's creatives who are really shaping Dundee's strong and vibrant cultural scene - individuals who set up much-needed workspaces, collectives and events. Dundee's size coupled with the energy and 'just get on with it' determination makes it a pretty darn special place to be!"
Gillian Easson, co-founder of Creative Dundee

Where to study in Dundee

Dundee has two universities - the University of Dundee and the University of Abertay Dundee, both world-renowned and highly respected institutions and both heavily involved in supporting the local creative industries. The University of Dundee has one of the top art schools in the UK - the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

Check out this video of its students preparing for their 2013 Degree Show at the University of Dundee. Taking place 18 - 26 May 2013. Find out more at www.dundee.ac.uk/degreeshow. Thanks to Beth Lamont (a fourth-year jewellery student using ceramics) for sending me the clip.

As the Sunday Times University Guide once said: "Dundee is one of the prize catches in higher education... so apply soon for one of the best university experiences." It certainly makes me want to go back to university! Also worth noting is Dundee College who offer modern apprenticeships and courses covering a range of subjects, including performing arts.

Dundee's startup scene

Dundee has firmly placed itself on the map for the UK's growing startup culture. There is a hell of a lot going on up here. Back in the '80s, the city suffered the loss of 10,000 jobs after the closure of its shipyards and the death of the local carpet manufacturing and jute industries. To combat unemployment and economic doom, Dundee was declared an Enterprise Zone and what followed was a growing tech scene. The first Sinclair ZX Spectrums were produced here, don't you know.

Thirty years later and you've got thriving digital and gaming industries in Dundee. Rockstar North - developer of Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto (Remember the name! Tommy Vercetti!) - was founded in Dundee as DMA Design by David Jones, an undergrad from the University of Abertay Dundee. Other local game development studios include Denki, Ruffian Games, Dynamo Games, 4J Studios and Cohort Studios. And because of all this digital sch-nizzle, you've got a growing local startup scene. Boom!

Magdalen Green and bandstand, looking west, Dundee. Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Magdalen Green and bandstand, looking west, Dundee. Image licensed via Adobe Stock

It comes as no surprise that Dundee is to support these digital startups with the launch of a new centre. IDEAScotland plans to support up to 10 fledgling firms to develop into successful and sustainable businesses. With an initial investment of £250K, the centre will be based at the University of Abertay Dundee and will provide virtual networking, business mentoring, introductions to investors as well as free workspace. It'll work closely with IDEALondon, a startup centre at Tech City in Shoreditch.

"Dundee is a great city that has a strong culture of creativity, innovation and engaging community life. In the UK games industry, it's one of the standout regions with a rich heritage and a host of companies making games for a global audience. For us at Quartic Llama, a small independent games studio, it gives us access to a community of developers who we engage and learns from while also providing healthy competition.

"The wider creative scene is very active and open and as a result, we have collaborated with a number of local and national arts and cultural organisations on interesting projects. From '100,000 Lux' light installation alongside Abertay and NEON to 'Other' a community-wide project in partnership with the National Theatre of Scotland.

"There are so many start-ups it's amazing, and this is all sustained by the plethora of upcoming talent from the local educational institutions and further nurtured by local collectives and cultural organisations. From designers to developers to artists, there are plenty of people to collaborate with and plenty of scope to share, learn and grow."
Malath Abbas, co-founder of Quartic Llama

Where to network in Dundee

For general business networking, have a look at Let's Network Dundee. Taking place every second Tuesday of the month, it's a forum for local firms to make solid connections.

To get out and network with other tech-minds, creatives and startups, check out Dundee Tech Meetup. They're doing lots to bring local nerds, geeks, creatives, freelancers and designers together. Lean Startup Scotland is another one to follow - especially if you're starting up and trying to launch a product.

Elsewhere, Dundee is especially famous for its Pecha Kucha Nights - an ideal event to meet people, learn stuff and get creative.

Also worth noting is Taytrippers if you want to get social and meet some new friends. It's a social meetup that likes to organise cinema trips, walks and various other outings.

Where to work in Dundee

If you need to get away from your study and separate work/home life, then you can't go wrong with the Fleet Collective - a co-working community-based in the Chamber Building over on Panmure Street. They provide affordable studio space and while members are free to work on their own stuff, the idea is to spark collaborative opportunities. Fleet Collective also run the very cool NEoN Digital Arts Festival every year.

Meadow Mill Studios is run by Wasps Studios, a charity that provides affordable studios to support artists and arts organisations. They currently have 650 artists and 22 arts organisations at 19 buildings across Scotland! Amazing! And Meadow Mill in Dundee is spread over three floors with 58 studios, a gallery to showcase local artists and a large open-plan space to provide affordable bays for new graduates. Vanilla Ink is based there, run by the incredible Kate Pickering who also runs a one-year incubation support programme for new jewellery designers. She just raised Kickstarter funds to take nine jewellers to an international trade show in London!? Check them out on Facebook.

You also have Tin Roof - an artist-run studio and arts collective over in the Blackness area of Dundee. Their mission is to provide affordable studio space to artists in Dundee and help establish networks. And if you're an artist that needs to showcase your work and get noticed, have a look at Generator Projects who run exhibitions to help new and emerging local artists.

Where to hangout in Dundee

So where does one go to enjoy a flat white and enjoy a bit of remote working? Henry's Coffee House is a recommended independent coffee shop on Seagate. They have free wifi, great coffee and cakes - and they even run music events and acoustic sessions. The Parlour Cafe is another firm favourite with local hipsters. Over on Westport, they do some seriously nice beverages - they also do breakfast and lunch. Plus they've even got their own published cookbook! For some New York appreciation, visit Empire State Coffee - great decor and they do a £3 coffee and croissant deal.

RSS Discovery, Discovery Point, Dundee, Scotland. Image licensed via Adobe Stock

RSS Discovery, Discovery Point, Dundee, Scotland. Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Tartan Coffeehouse is a particular favourite with local creatives - everything's Fairtrade and fresh. Jessie's Kitchen, over on Albert Road and slightly further out of the city, is a home away from home. With free wifi and lovely views from the window, what isn't there to love about hanging out here? There's also a nice little cafe bar in the DCA.

What if you need to meet clients or other creatives for lunch? For a nice pub lunch visit The D'Arcy Thompson on Old Hawkhill. It has a cool interior design and will impress any client or friend. T Ann Cake is a cute, little establishment on Exchange Street that does lovely, homemade grub. And Madigan's Food Emporium is another little tearoom that does some lovely cakes, sandwiches and tea - they even have a gluten-free menu, which is top marks in my book.

Finally, where do all the creatives go to enjoy those after-work drinks? Drouthy's is a warm, cosy and unpretentious bar with regular music nights downstairs in its basement club. The Art Bar on Perth Road is another good watering hole. The Speedwell Bar, known locally as 'Speedies', is a real creative haunt - all traditional Edwardian pub and lovely. On Tuesday nights, Speedies is filled with music from fiddles, flutes and double bass to loads more instruments! Then to finish things off, go rock out and dance away the work stresses at Reading Rooms, Duke's Corner (with 30 craft beers on tap) or Clark's.

What to do in Dundee

Before you do anything else, may I recommend taking a walk (or drive) up the Law, Dundee which offers a 360-degree uninterrupted view of the city, the Tay estuary and the two Tay Bridges. It's a great way to orient yourself with Dundee and also see it from afar, in all its glory.

To kick things off - let's look at some good old art (or 'new' in this case), with the Dundee Contemporary Arts - a world-class centre for the development and exhibition of contemporary art and culture. And they're very friendly too. Follow them on Twitter @DCAdundee. With galleries, an independent cinema, bar and print studios - it's a crucial beating heart to the city's culture.

[Vanilla Ink](http://vanillainkstudios.co.uk/) – an incubator for other jewellers

Vanilla Ink – an incubator for other jewellers

The McManus is another must-see - it's Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum, offering a fascinating insight into the city and with eight galleries to explore, there's so much art and history to discover. All are housed in a splendid Gothic Revival-style building as well. The Hannah Maclure Centre is also worth a visit - it's a wonderful cultural facility that hosts art events, exhibitions and community collaborations.

For some first-class performing arts, you must check out Dundee Rep - there's dance, drama, comedy, music - everything creative for the entire family. Caird Hall is the city's concert venue - a beautiful building overlooking the City Square. And Whitehall Theatre has a varied programme of musicals and theatre to suit all tastes.

Maggie's Centre is a cancer care centre based at Ninewells Hospital. It was Gehry's first building in the UK and has been awarded a ‘Building of the Year' title by the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland. Worth a look if you love architecture.

If you fancy shopping, Dundee is fantastic for retail. You've got all the usual high street stores with Murraygate and High Street forming the main pedestrian area. But as a creative, you'll probably want to dig out the local independents. Running off the main High Street are lots of little alleyways where you can find independent stores. There is also the Forum Centre, which is like an indoor market and a hidden gem. Buy some local art from West Port Gallery, some vinyl or CDs at Groucho's and Lovely Things on Dock Street offers an eclectic mix of modern furniture and accessories with a smattering of vintage pieces all thrown in. Perfect.

If you want more tourist information on Dundee, check out Visit Dundee. For further insight, you must visit Creative Dundee - a wonderful online resource, set up by a local couple who clearly love their creative city. They've even created this very handy crowd-sourced Guide to Dundee.


Get the best of Creative Boom delivered to your inbox weekly