Attracting and retaining creative talent in medium-sized towns. The strategy in Barnsley, UK


By URBACT, on November 25th, 2010

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Attracting and retaining creative talent in Barnsley (partner in the URBACT project Creative Clusters in Low Density Areas) is set against a backdrop of a deprived post-mining economyt, with a small but emerging creative sector. Located inside the triangle Manchester-Sheffield-Leeds, in Northern England, regeneration investment in Barnsley has provided key venues for culture and creative industries locally but these have struggled to attract occupants and audiences and there is a clear need for more focused activity, building on from a current mapping exercise and strengthening this emergent economic sector by understanding its needs and the challenges it faces.

Sector development is already happening, and over the last few years a stronger connectivity across the sector has been helped by social media. This ‘conversation’ has enabled individuals in the sector to connect naturally, and the public sector to ‘tune in’ to what is going on, and contribute where appropriate. Key to this has been creating environments for discourse and allowing free use of this – both cost and restriction free! The sector has been able to stimulate its own informal skill sharing and networking via these platforms.

There is a need to animate the sector if it is to grow stronger and keep talent local. This includes animating the places and spaces that we have built with cultural and sector development focused events such as networking, and encouraging sector led ‘guerilla’ activity across all venues and places as well as programmed activity.

The networking programme gives access to speakers, ideas and spaces that wouldn’t usually be freely available and brings interested parties from outside of the area to experience first hand a positive event and atmosphere. The events also encourage a sense of ownership of the sector and its physical assets, which in turn builds confidence, pride and word of mouth promotion. High profile events developed locally but for a local, regional and national audience are also important – Northern Futures, Small World and Barcamp Barnsley present the town in a positive and proactive way.

To summarise, we are aiming to attract creatives with the animation of our spaces, and our openness to ideas, and retain them with a strong, supportive infrastructure and a sense of ownership. The sector is encouraged to have its own voice, be confident and connected, get on everyone’s radar and be a friend to many. It isn’t about just throwing money at the sector – providing an ecosystem to encourage creativity is fundamental.

Tracey Johnson –
Sector Specialist Creative and Digital Industries
Barnsley Development Agency – URBACT Partner

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