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Collaboration transforms a city

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The Creative Quarter is the flagship project in Nottingham’s city deal, a package of support agreed with national government in 2012 to boost the local economy.


  • Project: Creative Quarter
  • Objectives: To boost business growth in the life sciences, cleantech, digital content and creative industries
  • Timescale: 2014-23
  • Cost to authority: £7.6m (current 2014-15 spend)
  • Number of staff working on project: 14
  • Outcomes: Results in first 18 months: 150 businesses supported via general services, 25 SMEs set up or developed through the CQ loan scheme, 19 SMEs awarded Nottingham Technology Grant, 237 jobs created, 53.5 jobs protect, 60 apprentices employed
  • Officer contact details: Kathy McArdle

The city deal emerged from the city council’s growth plan, based on research carried out by Nottingham Trent University. This identified three growth sectors for the city beyond its traditional manufacturing base: life sciences, cleantech and digital content/creative industries.

Nottingham has a rich history of designing and manufacturing and the Creative Quarter area includes locations that are a key part of that heritage. The Lace Market, in the times of the British Empire, was the heart of the world’s lace industry and Nottingham’s former traditional manufacturing centre. Hockley, a thriving independent retail and leisure centre, was the home of the first store of both the great pharmacy entrepreneur Jesse Boot and fashion mogul Paul Smith. The People’s Hall on Heathcote Street was originally built as a school for art and design, Sneinton Market has long been a thriving food and flower market and meeting point for traders and residents alike and the iconic architect Watson Fothergill was the designer of many of the buildings in the area.

Accordingly, many emerging growth sector businesses are already located in the quarter. It is here the city council is encouraging new creative businesses to locate to create a high-value clustering effect, using a package of concerted business support and development activity, co-ordinated by the Creative Quarter Company.

The council has created a package of investment funds to enable businesses in the quarter to grow. These are supplemented by business support structures and connections to bespoke apprenticeships. The area has secured funds for CQ Connect which, over the coming year, will enable businesses to install super-fast broadband. Plans are also in place for a CQ Capital Programme to transform some of the area’s heritage buildings into sector-focused enterprise and innovation hubs.

The project aims to increase business, growth and expansion in the area, particularly businesses of national and international reputation. This will create more employment for the city’s residents, particularly young people through apprenticeships, internships and work experience, as well as increasing the occupancy of commercial space.

Risks and Innovation

Nottingham City Council took a major risk in pinning the future of its economy on the emerging sectors of life sciences, cleantech and creative industries. The growth plan and the city deal represented a paradigm shift away from secure manufacturing and service sectors.

For councillors and officers this has involved engaging with small and medium enterprises operating at the cutting edge of innovation. Trying to match the diversity of support to the agility of these new high-growth businesses has been a significant learning curve for the council, but the success of the initiative so far has proved that being responsive to SMEs and their growth and innovation ambitions brings results.

What makes the CQ so genuinely innovative is its multi-sector focus. Creative quarters tend to focus on the creative industries and the cultural sector. This model tends to create a strong visitor economy offer but is limited in its ability to develop other key sectors.  


Life sciences: identified as one of Nottingham’s growth sectors

The CQ here has a much wider focus. We value creativity as it manifests itself through independent retail, design of all kinds, innovative manufacturing, cleantech, social enterprise, life sciences, digital content and the arts and culture.

For some time within the CQ there have been pockets of activity focused on gaming, music, visual art, digital design and bioscience, but these remained separate and mostly below ground.

Now something exciting is happening. The activities are starting to spill out of their confines, coming to the surface and blending with one another. They are of real artistic and intellectual credibility. This is an area where musicians rub shoulders with chemists, where artists and architects inspire each other and where entrepreneurship exists everywhere. It’s a place where ideas are being exchanged all the time through great conversations.

The council has also taken risks in that it is investing in creative workspace and sector hubs ahead of demand and in order to stimulate demand from businesses to move into and locate in the area. For example, in a £3.7m project jointly funded by the council and the European Regional Development Fund, the council purchased Sneinton Market’s disused industrial sheds with a view to transforming them into workspaces for creative industries businesses. 

Achievements so far

In fewer than 18 months, 19 SMEs in the CQ have benefited from the Nottingham technology grant, at a cost of £2.3m, which has created 237 jobs and safeguarded 53.5 jobs in life sciences, digital content and cleantech.

The CQ loan fund has awarded a total of £519,000 to support 25 SMEs to start up or grow. The project supported 13 retail and leisure businesses to open new shopfronts in the area through the council’s vacant shops grants scheme.

Meanwhile, 45 emerging retail businesses in the area were supported to test-trade through the Creative Quarter PopUp Centre which ran in a vacant shop unit from October to late December 2013.

CQ-based businesses have employed more than 60 apprentices in the past 18 months. This is significantly higher than the national average.

Five businesses have accessed the CQ’s business rates relief scheme, which offers enhanced rates relief for the first year of the firms’ operation.

In addition, more than 150 businesses have been referred to business support programmes and finance schemes, as well as receiving practical support with running and managing their business such as help to liaise with the planning department, licensing teams and events delivery. 


The project is an extraordinary collaboration of private sector organisations led by the vision and strategic direction of the agile Creative Quarter company, with a dynamic board made up of key stakeholders from the public and private sectors.

The project involves many partners including Nottingham City Council, the city’s two further education colleges, D2N2 (the local enterprise partnership for Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire), the city’s cultural and heritage organisations, our universities, businesses, and property owners, developers and agents.

This partnership working involves taking an integrated  whole-area approach where economic development, inward investment, regeneration, skills development, science growth, technological development, sector development, capital programmes, design, innovation, digital infrastructure and place-shaping are being developed in tandem.

This is achieved through strategic overview and co-ordination provided by the Creative Quarter Company, a private-sector led limited company with a lean and small operating team. It is closely aligned with but independent of the local authority, acting as an intermediary between businesses and the council.

The company and the council work closely with the private sector and property developers and owners who wish to contribute to the economic growth of the area to achieve major capital and refurbishment programmes.

The local corporate sector, including Boots, Experian and Capital One, contribute at a strategic and delivery level to the development of the area, while the two universities work as co-deliverers on a number of business support programmes.

Kathy McArdle, chief executive, Creative Quarter Company



  • The project is financed through a variety of sources including:
  • £10m from the government’s Regional Growth Fund, which funds the Nottingham Technology Grant
  • £40.06m in private sector and SME investment levered in
  • £8m of borrowing
  • European Regional Development Funds totalling £9.88mtowards major schemes such as Sneinton Market and Dakeyne Street, as well as highway improvements, additional business support and improved digital connectivity.
  • Nottingham City Council funds totalling £10.75m to match ERDF contributions










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