As I write this I’m bumbling back along the south coast from Eastleigh. I’ve been to look at two spaces there that have been created to support the digital and creative industries in the town – Tec Hub and The Sorting Office.
Hubs are all the rage at the moment, with councils across the country seeking ways to support the creation of jobs in a growing sector – the kind of jobs that will attract and retain young people. This is particularly true of the chain of fading seaside resorts along the south coast. As cheap flights have attracted away holiday makers the fortunes of these towns have declined but some, like Brighton and Bournemouth & Poole, have seen the shape of their economies changed by the creative and digital industries.
Wired Sussex has built a body of experience into how spaces can support the development of the digital economy in Brighton through the Skiff and the Fusebox. So when West Sussex County Council started exploring the possibility of developing the creative digital economy in Bognor Regis it was natural that Wired Sussex would get involved.
Bognor Regis is an interesting place – the sunniest town in the UK, home to Butlin’s, originator of the Birdman competition and Rox music festival with a sizable Eastern European population. It’s been described as a ‘half-doughnut’ – in that the less well-off centre is surrounded by affluence. It’s full of potential, with lovely buildings and an unspoilt seafront.
From a digital economy point of view it’s very different from Brighton, which is what makes it so interesting to me. It feels like Brighton’s community has been evolving organically over the past twenty years. And Bognor presents a great opportunity to understand how some of what Brighton has learnt along the way can be applied in a very different setting.
For a number of years the County and District Councils have been working on various regeneration ideas, one of which was the development of a digital creative cluster. Plans started to fall into place when some unused Victorian waiting rooms at the station were spotted and negotiations started to take on the lease.
In the meantime Wired Sussex has been tasked to investigate the nature of the existing community of businesses which might make up this cluster – and find out what needs they have. We’ve been speaking to as many people as possible and also running a survey – all to help us understand how this unused space can best serve the development of their digital creative industry. We’ve also been finding out as much as possible about other spaces and how they’re helping people come together, build stronger networks and accelerate the creative industries. Hence my trip to Eastleigh.
If you work in or near Bognor and want to have your say, then get in touch.