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Digital media centre

Create more and better local jobs through an inspirational hub space and focused business support
Barnsley / United Kingdom
Size of city: 
241 200 inhabitants


Tracey Johnson
Digital Media Centre Project Manager
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Through Enterprising Barnsley, the city of Barnsley (UK) delivers a focused programme of business support across inward investment, growth businesses, startups and business incubation centres. Delivered by a team of business development and project managers with specialist, private sector experience and knowledge, the programme puts the customers (businesses) at the heart of the process, building strong client relationships and delivering bespoke, relevant support.
The main physical asset of the Digital Media Centre (DMC) is connected with support programmes and activities, adopting an open-door policy and co-locating the startup support service here. The DMC is a town centre hub of creative and digital businesses, which hosts regular networks and events.
The DMC works hard to grow the digital and creative economy through clustering and community building, and also to drive demand for digital products, skills and services. It collides traditional and digital industry expertise. Enterprising Barnsley has delivered thousands of new jobs into Barnsley over recent years, and has transformed the DMC into an award-winning hub.

The solutions offered by the good practice

Enterprising Barnsley has built on a successful business support programme and integrated this expertise into a physical hub for high growth businesses. The Digital Media Centre is a landmark hub for creative and digital business, as well as a base for a startup programme open to any new entrepreneur. Bringing together the “soft” Enterprising Barnsley support with “hard” Digital Media Centre facilities presents Barnsley as a destination for business growth.
The solutions include:
• Adopting an ‘open door’ policy: availability for any growing business, putting customers at the heart of the work;
• Make space available at no or low cost to those who want to deliver activities for other businesses, or digital sector events (e.g. hack days);
• A varied and changing programme of events, from casual meetups to networking and ‘dives’ into new tech;
• Use Slack as a digital platform to collaborate with digital community, generate feedback and ideas, as well as informal conversation;
• Delivering a regular programme of free events - a monthly breakfast club and workshops for startups based on Lean Canvas;
• Free-to-access bespoke business support for growing companies;
• Developing own programmes using sponsorship funding, to collide digital experts with traditional businesses to drive innovation/disruption;
• Flexible and entrepreneurial working style – going the extra mile to respond to business needs;
• Staying connected with the cutting edge of tech, and establishing high-level networks to benefit clients.

Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

Enterprising Barnsley and the DMC are born of seeking to improve the social and economic wellbeing of Barnsley and its citizens through the creation of more and better jobs and businesses. Additionally, by focusing on digital and knowledge-based industries at the DMC, the future direction of travel of industry is recognised, by trying to ensure that citizens have the skills and opportunities to access higher value jobs. The DMC itself is a BREEAM Excellent building, which was sensitively designed by architects as a landmark hub with environmental credentials.
There is clear horizontal integration demonstrated by combining the DMC with our Enterprising Barnsley support programme. This is set within a vertical integration of cooperation between the municipality, other public sector agencies, education and private sectors via TechTown, our digital economy action planning network, and the relationship with our hyperlocal Economic Partnership. Our current support programmes are part of a city region approach to business support which has been influenced by our existing practice, and we actively contribute to two leading city regions, Leeds and Sheffield.

Based on a participatory approach

Enterprising Barnsley emerged from collaboration between the city, businesses and the local chamber of commerce. Working with stakeholders has been a key element of the programme's success. This approach was used to consider how best to integrate the DMC when direct management of the building was taken on. Enterprise Partnership, a hyperlocal group of business leaders, contributed to planning, and remains a check and challenge group.
Taking on an existing space & clients necessitated building relationships, and ensuring they have a voice in how things would develop. External experts facilitated workshops using SWOT analysis and ideation techniques to identify things to address, and future needs.
As the lead partner of the URBACT TechTown network, Barnsley has developed an additional local group of digital economy stakeholders, working collaboratively to develop and deliver an integrated action plan for future development of the digital sector. This includes extensive work with education, private and public sector partners on a local/regional level, with difficult conversations and facilitated workshopping of new ideas.
We use as a platform to link across businesses and support networks. This is a useful tool to foster open, honest discussion/ideation. The community 'owns' actions and can connect them with strategic city level policy/planning.
As a team, an open door policy is delivered, and work outside of office hours is possible when customers need help.

What difference has it made?

Since 2010, Enterprising Barnsley has supported the creation of over 1000 jobs per year. This is a gross total across ERDF-funded programmes and direct investment by BMBC. The creative and digital economy has grown from 540 businesses to 679, as indicated by mapping reports commission in 2010 and 2015 respectively.
The Digital Media Centre has seen an increase in occupancy from 54% in April 2015 to 96% at March 2017, with an approximately 25% increase in turnover. Significantly, digital companies in the DMC have grown in terms of job numbers, turnover and space rented. Highlights include a DMC company who forecast first year turnover of £90k/€105k and actually achieved £250k/€294.
Projects run through the DMC have attracted a range of funding for delivery from public and private sector sources.
By intrinsically linking the TechTown Action Planning Network with the DMC, significant reach and recognition for the approach to growing the digital sector has been achieved. Working is carried out closely with partners on a regional as well as local level, and well connected into national and overseas digital sector networks. Being at the heart of a web of valuable connections makes the DMC and its projects more relevant and meaningful for the support of companies and people, as well as ensuring awareness of sector trends and developments.
The Action Plan emerging from the TechTown project will help to continue to develop the sector and commits to a series of co-created actions.

Why should other European cities use it?

Growing more and better jobs and businesses is a key focus for many cities across Europe. Medium sized post-industrial cities in particular seek ways to grow and diversify local economies, needing to compete with the pull of larger hubs.
The integrated DMC and Enterprising Barnsley model of growth support provides an adaptable blueprint that can be varied based on the local context of a city. The Enterprising Barnsley verticals of startup, growth, inward investment and business incubation are cut across by digital, and the DMC provides a focal point for this.
The integration of project management, customer relationships and income generation into the DMC is built on several years of developing and delivering effective business support. This foundation of success is fundamental to being able to take risks, as the team is seen as trusted and capable.
A key element of the practice that will be relevant is the focus on digital, both as a sector and as the lifeblood of any and all businesses. Our practice in this area can help other cities identify and support their digital communities, provide places and places for connections and ensure all businesses benefit from new innovations, skills, services and tools. Softer practices such as the 'open door' approach, coffee cart, pizza and beer events and ping-pong table with a lean, private sector mindset/methodology in teams are replicable, and are unusual to see working at city administration level.