New development will make St Neots a creative town

THE £2million creative enterprise centre on the Longsands campus in St Neots should be fully operational in the autumn. Huntingdonshire District Council sets great store by the jobs spin-off from the new centre, with the creative sector as one of four cor

THE £2million creative enterprise centre on the Longsands campus in St Neots should be fully operational in the autumn.

Huntingdonshire District Council sets great store by the jobs spin-off from the new centre, with the creative sector as one of four cornerstones of the 15,000 additional jobs the district will need by 2026 to support 14,000 extra homes - many of them in St Neots.

Part of the vision is that former pupils of Huntingdonshire schools, newly-graduated from university, will return to the centre to set up new businesses.

The state-of-the-art four-storey building, now nearing completion and offering fine views of the town from its roof-garden, will offer 14 individual work spaces, each for up to four people, on the upper floors. The ground floor will house a staffed reception area, with networking space and a meeting room. On the first floor will be an open-plan shared studio space where tenants on flexible leases will rent desks and have the chance to bounce ideas off one another.


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Nationally, two million people are employed in the creative industries - occupations such as advertising, architecture, art, antiques, crafts, design, fashion, film, video, computer software music, performing arts, photography, publishing, computer software, television and radio - and the sector is growing by five per cent each year, said HDC head of economic development Ian Leatherbarrow.

"Creative industries have transformed many urban areas, and market towns are starting to attract them," he said at the topping-out ceremony for the building on Monday. "It's about wealth-creation, not a sop to creativity," he insisted, as a rebuke to those who deride soft-option GCSE courses, such as media studies.

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"At least 70 per cent of the cost of a new product is design. Manufacturers see the creative industries as giving them a spin-off."

Not just market towns, but rural areas were well suited to housing the burgeoning sector, he said. But St Neots had a particular advantage because of the two secondary schools' specialist focus and good transport links, within walking distance of the rail link to London.

HDC had a responsibility to help emerging ideas-based businesses until financial backers came along, he stressed. "These businesses have no real physical assets, so there's an issue about how we support fledgling businesses until the banks will back them."

Funding for the project has included £1million from Whitehall, £330,000 from the East of England Development Agency, over £300,000 from HDC and land worth £300,000 from Longsands, where the new centre - to be called the Creative Exchange - is part of a major redevelopment of the site.

Although marketing of the site had not yet started, 10 or a dozen people had already shown an interest in locating there.

College principal Rob Whatmough said an unprecedented level of collaboration between the two St Neots secondary schools would see a new creative and media diploma course starting in the town in September, stressing the link between creative enterprise and business, and including student exchanges between the two campuses. Huntingdonshire Regional College, which is set shortly to start work on its new campus in the town, would provide some of the top-level input to the studies.

"We have students who are already running mini-businesses," he said. "It would be nice to think that, if they wanted to start a [serious] business, there was somewhere in St Neots to do it when they come back from university."

TOP GRASS: Business, civic and education leaders watch as Councillor John Davies, chairman of Huntingdonshire District Council, lays the first turf for the roof garden on the Creative Exchange in St Neots.

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