POINT (-1.479726 53.55263)
  • TechTown

    The Intercultural cities programme (ICC) supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage.

    Amadora launches a Guide on the welcoming of migrants

    Blue Economy Forum

    BluAct Toolkit

    BluAct: The Documentary

    2ndChance on Facebook

    2ndChance on Twitter


    Kick-off meeting in June (Basingstoke). Transnational meetings in September (Limerick) and November (Cesis)
    Transnational meetings in March (Barnsley), June (Gavle), September (Dubrovnik) and November (Loop City).
    Final event in April (Brussels).

    Municipality of Athienou
    2, Archbishop Makarios III Ave.
    7600 Athienou Cyprus


    Municipality of Santiago de Compostela


    Municipality of Udine (Italy)


    For any enquires into Tech Revolution, email:

    Keep following our social media channels as we develop Tech Revolution 2.0 as part of the second wave of URBACT ||| Programme. 

    Follow our Twitter: @Tech_RevEu
    Follow our Linkedin:




    Av. Movimento das Forças Armadas

    2700-595 Amadora



    +351 21 436 9000

    Ext. 1801


    City of Rome

    Department of European Funds and Innovation

    Via Palazzo di Città, 1 - 10121 Turin (Italy)



    Câmara Municipal de Lisboa

    Departamento de Desenvolvimento Local

    Edifício Municipal, Campo Grande nº25, 6ºE | 1749 -099 Lisboa



    Laura González Méndez. Project coordinator.

    Gijón City Council


    Municipality of Piraeus


    City of Ljubljana

    Mestni trg 1

    1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia


    Project Coordinator Martin Neubert

    +49 371 355 7029



    Riga NGO House


    City of Antwarp
    Grote Markt 1 - 2000 Antwarpen

    Manchester City Council
    Manchester M2 5RT

    City of Rotterdam
    Coolsingel 40, 3011 AD Rotterdam

    City Council Bielefeld
    Bürger Service Center
    Phone +49 521 510


    City of Eindhoven
    Stadhuisplein 1, 5611 EM Eindhoven

    City of Loulé
    Praça da República, 8104-001 Loulé
    Phone +351 289 400 600


    City of Igualada
    Plaça de l'Ajuntament, 1, 08700 Igualada, Barcelona


    City of Ghent
    Stad Gent
    Botermarkt 1
    9000 Gent

    City of Genoa
    Via di Francia, 1 - XI floor. 16149 Genova


    City of San Donà di Piave Piazza Indipendenza, 13 – 30027


    City of Naples
    Urban Planning Department 
    Phone +39 081 7958932 - 34 - 17 


    The Barnsley Digital Media  County Way, Barnsley, S70 2JW
    Phone +44 01226 720700 


    By exploring how small and medium sized cities can maximise the job creation potential of the digital economy, this Action Planning network examined whether there is potential for spillover from stronger city level digital economies; how clusters can work at city level and look collaboratively at what cities can do to support businesses to access the digital skills and innovations they need in order to start, grow and compete. The city partners further explored the role and viability of digital, content creation and technology clusters and how benefit may be gained from major city or national initiatives to benefit job creation and growth in small and medium sized cities. The project was 'of the digital economy' as well as 'for the digital economy' in that it used digital technologies as much as possible throughout management and delivery.

    A digital city future, adapt or die
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  • Tech Revolution

    Follow our Twitter: @Tech_RevEu Follow our Linkedin:


    Kick-off meeting, Barnsley.
    Final Sharing event
    Barnsley Kick off meeting
    Vilanova Transnational Meeting
    Tallin / Helsinki Transnational Visit
    Piraeus Transnational meeting
    Final Network Meeting

    Municipality of Athienou
    2, Archbishop Makarios III Ave.
    7600 Athienou Cyprus


    Municipality of Santiago de Compostela


    Municipality of Udine (Italy)


    For any enquires into Tech Revolution, email:

    Keep following our social media channels as we develop Tech Revolution 2.0 as part of the second wave of URBACT ||| Programme. 

    Follow our Twitter: @Tech_RevEu
    Follow our Linkedin:


    TechRevolution, an URBACT Transfer Network, provides an opportunity for six cities from across the EU to get under the skin of an URBACT Good Practice developed and delivered in Barnsley UK which centres around two main pillars (below) as well as some spin-off activities.
    • Enterprising Barnsley - a successful business support programme;
    • The Digital Media Centre (DMC) - a landmark hub for creative and digital business in the town centre.

    It enables these cities to come together to study every element of the practice in a safe and honest space, to consider their own local contexts and strategic priorities and then to adapt different aspects of what Barnsley has done within their local setting. See the full Tech-Revolution Transferability Study here.

    Working together to maximise the job creation potential of digital
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  • Tech Revolution 2.0

    Lead Partner Barnsley
    • Alytus - Lithuania
    • Roeselare - Belgium
    • Rzeszow - Poland
    • Novska - Croatia


    Kick off meeting

    • TechRevolution meeting in Rzeszow (PL)

      Flexible Workspace 101 - It’s all about the love

      An article by Alison Patridge, TechRevolution Lead Expert.

    • TechRevolution study visit to Finland

      ‘Communities that play together stay together’

      Some reflections from Alison Patridge, Lead Expert, on the URBACT TechRevolution 2.0. network’s study visit to Helsinki, Espoo and Tampere in Finland.

    Useful links

    Follow us on Twitter
    Check the Tech Revolution Hub

    Medium-sized post-industrial cities in Europe seek ways to grow & diversify their economies to compete with the pull of larger hubs. This is even more important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Barnsley has been committed to growing higher value jobs, particularly within its tech and digital sectors. The Good Practice comprises 2 main pillars: - Enterprising Barnsley, an award-winning business support programme - The Digital Media Centre, a landmark hub for tech business in the town centre which has recently expanded into a second building as Barnsley expands The Seam - Barnsley's Digital Campus.

    Working together to maximise the job creation potential of digital
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  • Nine solutions for more vibrant, productive cities

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    These local actions for community participation and productivity are inspiring cities across the EU. Could they work in yours too?


    The New Leipzig Charter highlights three forms of the transformative city which can be harnessed in Europe to enhance people’s quality of life: the Just City, the Green City and the Productive City.

    URBACT’s latest publication is packed with sustainable solutions to address these three dimensions – all tried, tested and transferred between EU cities, with adaptations for each local context.

    To give a taste of the stories told in ‘Good Practice Transfer: Why not in my City?’, here are nine examples of local actions for Productive Cities. We hope towns and cities of all sizes will be inspired to ‘Understand, Adapt and Re-use’ participative solutions like this – from education and entrepreneurship to efficient governance and better use of urban spaces – improving everyday life for residents, and supporting a just transition to a green economy.


    1. Give citizens a card for local services

    To simplify everyday life in Aveiro (PT), the municipality got together with stakeholders to launch a card that will give citizens easy access to public services such as the library, museum, buses and shared bikes, as well as improved online and front desk support. A first step was to issue a student card to access school services across the city, from stationery and meals, to school trips. The idea is to promote a smarter, more open, resilient and inclusive society. Aveiro and four other URBACT partner cities are introducing their local versions of ‘CARD4ALL’ based on good practice from Gijón, a Spanish city that has provided citizen cards for nearly 20 years.


    2. Put residents’ wellbeing at the heart of urban regeneration

    In a project to bring an old playing field back into use, Birmingham (UK) gave local people the power to drive improvements themselves, thanks to a Community Economic Development Planning model, mirroring successful approaches already used in Łódź (PL). Building on this positive start, residents went on to co-produce an alternative Community-Led Master Plan for the wider area — where all council plans had previously been opposed. Council-appointed community ‘ambassadors’ now work with local residents, businesses, service providers and volunteers with a direct stake in the area’s economic health. And the approach is being rolled out across other areas of the city. Birmingham is one of six cities to learn from Łódź’ collaborative model as part of the URBAN REGENERATION MIX network.


    3. Create a digital business hub with a local twist 

    The Greek city of Piraeus founded a new ‘Blue Lab’ near its harbour — the first Blue Economy Innovation Centre in Greece. Equipped with state-of-the-art technology, Blue Lab welcomes students and entrepreneurs, providing business mentoring, tech and entrepreneurship training. It has boosted cooperation with businesses and schools, and sparked an array of prototype technology solutions. Piraeus’ further plans now include a new larger co-working space, training facilities to upskill the workforce, and investment in more advanced technologies. Piraeus is one of six URBACT Tech Revolution network partner cities to set up their own start-up support schemes based on the Digital Media Centre in Barnsley (UK), an URBACT-listed Good Practice that has become a successful hub for local creative and digital business.


    4. Build local partnerships around education

    By involving parents, school staff, local clubs and council departments in ‘Educational Innovation Networks’ (EIN), the city of Halmstad (SE) is boosting local connections and sparking improvements in education. Thanks to the URBACT ON BOARD network, Halmstad learnt from Viladecans (ES) who originally formed an EIN to improve education as part of a drive to reverse rising unemployment and declining growth. Halmstad adopted new ideas, including ‘Positive Mindset and Emotions’ for better learning and methods for improving pupil participation. Communication within the municipality also improved thanks to cross-departmental clusters focusing on: Care and Support; Education and Learning; Growth and Attractiveness; and Infrastructure.


    5. Open a ‘living room’ for local clubs and residents

    Idrija (SI) transformed an empty shop into a ‘living room’ for the town, with free activities run by, and for, local associations and inhabitants. City administrators, social services and economic departments, local clubs and active citizens, are all involved in the project, as well as the regional development agency, library and retirement home. As a result, the site has become a meeting place open to all, with events focusing on topics as diverse as housing refurbishment, chess, and knitting. It also hosts a municipality-supported free transport service for elderly people and a book corner run by the local library. Idrija’s solution was modelled on the ‘Stellwerk’ NGO platform launched in Altena (DE) as a solution to help manage the town’s long-term decline.


    6. Turn unused buildings into homes

    Chemnitz’s (DE) ‘Housing Agency for Shrinking Cities’ helps transform empty buildings into valuable housing while reducing speculation, channeling grant money, and cutting future costs for both the owners of decaying buildings and the municipality. Initiated and funded by the city authorities, the project is carried out in the public interest by a long-standing private partner. This model inspired Vilafranca del Penedès (ES), partner in the URBACT ALT/BAU network, to review its housing policies and look for private partners with the technical capacity and financial solvency to help the city recover abandoned housing units. As a result, Vilafranca has signed an agreement with a social foundation whose main objective is to identify, obtain and rehabilitate low-priced rental housing in collaboration with job agencies.


    7. Launch a blue entrepreneurship competition (for cities near water!) 

    The port city of Mataró (ES) is boosting local entrepreneurship and jobs in the maritime economy – inspired by a BlueGrowth initiative in Piraeus (EL). Mataró encouraged diverse public and private stakeholders to get involved, including the City Promotion team, regional ‘Barcelona Nautic Cluster’, local port authority, and a technology park that hosts the University and a business incubator. The resulting Mataró Blue Growth Entrepreneurship competition provides cash prizes, mentoring and access to a business accelerator programme. So far winning projects include a boat repair franchise, a boat propulsion system, and an app linking up superyachts with relevant services.


    8. Help city employees become innovators

    When Turin (IT) teamed up with private sponsors to launch a competition inviting 10 000 municipal staff to submit innovative ideas for improving the administration's performance, winning proposals included solutions for improving community participation, smart procurement, and lighting in public buildings. This inspired Rotterdam (NL) and five other cities in the URBACT Innovato-R network to draw on Turin’s experience to boost innovation and process improvement in their own cities. As a result, Rotterdam took a fresh approach with its existing innovation network of over 1 800 civil servants and 500 external stakeholders, strengthening links with businesses and academics, introducing new online ‘inspiration sessions’, and co-designing a new innovation platform.


    9. Harness the power of public spending 

    Koszalin (PL) analysed the city’s procurement spending and is using the resulting evidence to shape public procurement practices in order to benefit the local economy, while taking into account social and environmental factors. To do so, they used a spend analysis tool that was originally developed by Preston (UK) and transferred to six EU cities via the URBACT Making Spend Matter network. Koszalin also started working more closely with key ‘anchor institutions’ in the city, such as the hospital and university, exploring how much they spend, and where that money goes geographically. Meanwhile, they improved support for local SME participation in public procurement.


    Find out more about these and many more sustainable city solutions – in the new URBACT publication ‘Good Practice Transfer: Why not in my City?’.

    Visit the Good Practice database for more inspiration.


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  • How are URBACT cities reacting to Covid-19?

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    At a time when the impact of the pandemic has changed our way of life, cities are showing their resilience.

    Digital transitions


    Cities are intervening in novel ways to support frontline health services, food supplies, the local economy and people’s mental well-being. Several are building directly on capacity built during their experiences in URBACT networks, showing that the programme’s principles of local stakeholder engagement and transnational exchange can support cities to achieve their objectives, even in times of crisis.

    Volunteers in action in Altea (ES)

    We asked some of our URBACT experts what examples of city responses had caught their attention. Read their thoughts, then check out the interactive map of other great city examples that the URBACT Programme is collecting from across Europe. More in-depth analysis will follow in the next few weeks so stay tuned!


    Cities supporting front-line health workers


    Cities are finding novel ways to support hospitals and health workers. “Right now, cities are throwing everything at the short-term problem,” stresses Eddy Adams. “That means supporting the medics, like in Pireaus (EL), whose Blue Lab has repurposed 3D printers to make protective faceshields for health staff.” This initiative builds on the experience of the city in supporting local innovation through the ‘BlueGrowth’ competition, recognised by URBACT as a good practice in 2017 and currently the focus of the URBACT Transfer Network BluAct.

    Meanwhile, in Hungary, Ivan Tosics highlights that “despite the increasing centralisation of government in recent years and severely restricted local budgets, the city of Budapest (HU) has reacted by ordering medical instruments from abroad and is distributing these to health institutions, homeless shelters and elderly homes. The city also signed agreements with private health institutions to test employees in key professions for the functioning of the capital.”

    Citizen-led solutions have also been an important aspect of the human response to the crisis affecting health services and city authorities can still learn more about how to support and encourage such initiatives. Laura Colini has been impressed that the URBACT Transfer Network Volunteering Cities - based on the experience of the Athienou (CY) Municipal Council of Volunteering (MCV) – “is now sharing how volunteers are engaged in different cities to provide first necessity products, producing masks or any other needed materials.”
                                                                                                    Also from the Volunteering Cities network, a volunteer in Capizzi (IT)


    Cities supporting the local economy


    Given the impact of lockdown policies on people’s economic activities, many urban authorities have swiftly introduced measures to freeze rents and business taxes, and are helping local companies to access support. Ivan Tosics flags that Budapest has “increased the wages of employees of municipality-owned enterprises and introduced a moratorium on rent payments for small and micro enterprises which rent space from the municipality. The local authority has also offered free signs to shops in the city to call attention to the right distance to maintain between customers.”

    Many cities are looking at opportunities to extend their digital service provision, including to local companies who cannot access traditional support in the current circumstances. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, the URBACT network TechTown was stressing the importance of the digital economy and its Lead Partner Barnsley’s (UK) Digital Media Centre was identified as an URBACT Good Practice - going on to form the basis of the current URBACT Transfer Network TechRevolution.

    Sally Kneeshaw has seen how the city has built on these experiences to step up its response to the current crisis: “Barnsley’s Digital Media Centre last week pivoted to virtual delivery to support businesses with chat and call centres, and made a commitment to bankroll the Government's grant scheme for those in the most impacted sectors of retail, leisure and hospitality.” The platform is also providing tips and guidance for more secure remote working.

    Supporting the local economy also means supporting families most affected by job losses and loss of income. Whilst many national unemployment schemes are being adapted in response to the specific current challenges, Laura Colini highlights that exchanges within URBACT’s Volunteering Cities network have also included “brewing ideas and exchanging practices on the involvement of local companies or individuals in offering products or financial aid to families in need”.


    Cities ensuring local food supplies


    Many European citizens are concerned about ongoing supplies of food as production and distribution systems come under strain from threats to workers’ health and restrictions on movement. The URBACT network AGRI-URBAN was addressing ways of improving local food supply in urban areas back in 2016. The AGRI-URBAN partner city, Mouans-Sartoux (FR) saw its collective school catering recognised as an URBACT good practice in 2017 and became the Lead Partner of the Transfer Network BioCanteens in 2018.

    Marcelline Bonneau has kept in touch with their response to the current crisis: “The municipal farm - initially producing organic fruit and vegetables for three school canteens providing a thousand lunches per day - has diversified its distribution channels to meet broader needs and protect jobs. A part still goes to the canteens providing food for the few dozen children of health workers and municipal agents who can still access school, a part is processed and frozen, and another part goes to the social grocery of the city.”

    The municipal authorities are already thinking about how to respond to the ongoing food supply challenges. “Soon-to-come lettuces, which cannot be frozen, will probably be given to the neighbouring hospital in Grasse,” continues Ms Bonneau. Meanwhile; the city is exploring ways “to increase production in the next plantation schemes in order to anticipate potential issues in conventional food supply chains” in the near future.

    Eddy Adams observes that ‘cities are throwing everything at their short-term problems’. In Vic (ES), this “means supporting communities.Lead Partner of the new URBACT network Healthy Cities is mobilising closed food-market vendors to feed isolated vulnerable individuals”. Such targeted approaches can be crucial for bridging the gap between supply and demand in the context of a lockdown.

    Mouans-Sartoux’s municipal farm (FR)


    Cities supporting education and mental well-being


    National education systems are struggling to rapidly adapt to the situation of students' confinement. Mirella Sanabria, Lead Expert the URBACT Transfer Network On Board tells us: “This is keeping some of our partners - in particular in big cities - busy and stressed. On the positive side, however, some local initiatives are putting into practice innovation related to the use of digital tools in education projects, which is a central aspect of the Educational Innovation Network that On Board is working to transfer.”

    For example, the On Board Lead Partner Viladecans (ES) has developed a dedicated School at Home! webpage which provides new creative and educational activities for children and families every day. Meanwhile, in the partner city of Halmstad (SE), a vocational school is now teaching cooking classes online. The municipality delivers grocery baskets to the students who prepare the meals, which are then supplied to people in particular need.

    Beyond education, Sally Kneeshaw is keen to highlight that “We are all learning, if we didn’t already know, how much we need culture to sustain us. I love that the librarians of the Tallinn Central Library are reading books on request via Skype or phone for children at home. Meanwhile, Zaragoza (ES) has launched a photography competition #DesdeMiVentana (From my window) open to people aged between 12 and 30, targeting young people who find it the hardest to stay indoors.”

    Marcelline Bonneau flags a different example from the city of Mollet del Vallès (ES) which “has created a Leisure at home programme proposing leisure activities to its citizens who are totally prevented from leaving their home without good reason. Launched on Friday 27 March, anyone interested can enjoy a selection of proposed activities alone or in the family. These range from physical classes to memory exercises and from cooking to robotics. The platform is updated and expanded regularly.”

    Laura Colini also highlights the work that the URBACT Transfer Network ON STAGE - working on introducing new curricula in schools based on music and arts - is doing in “keeping people together through music. They recently shared a video performance of young students from the school #ZsOsmec from the partner city of Brno (CZ)”. Such initiatives are a reminder of the importance of keeping our spirits high in these challenging times.




    Don’t forget to check out the interactive map of other great city examples that the URBACT Programme is collecting from across Europe.

    Have you seen another city response that has inspired you? Help us to share it by tagging @URBACT in a tweet or sending it directly to

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  • Digital Transition in cities – how can it benefit citizens?

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    Digitalisation is omnipresent in today’s social and urban life and URBACT cities are seizing the opportunity.

    Digital transitions

    Marcelline Bonneau, URBACT Thematic Programme Expert, says URBACT cities have seized their opportunity to develop local economies and governance models.

    Alison Partridge, Lead Expert of the TechRevolution transfer network, has been an advocate for cities to ‘adapt or die’ for many years: “cities of all sizes need to better understand the opportunities offered by digital and tech and jump on them to grow higher value jobs and start-ups for local people”. Indeed, at all levels of society and of governance, services and products are going digital: online availability, digital tools for access, compiling and using data to proceed to meta-analysis.

    The transition to a society based on “virtual”, intangible, vectors, using computing techniques and algorithms – a digital transition - is on the up in European cities, meaning more intrusions in our daily lives.

    The use of new technologies to communicate and access information is changing the way society works”, states the Action Plan of the Digital Transition Urban Agenda Partnership because “citizens live an increasingly digital life both in the public and private sphere”.

    Beyond the digital divide issue, private data protection and free choice, this trend follows new consumption and production patterns, as well as interaction between people.

    Taking advantage of digital transition’s potential is an asset for cities, not only for business development and job creation, but also for city governance and getting closer to citizens, thus developing more integrated governance approaches at city level. That is the way URBACT cities have approached their Digital Transition over the last 15 years – as a means of driving change in cities.

    This article presents a few cases from URBACT cities and Urban Agenda Partnerships, which can inspire other cities.

    Digital transition as a goal: Transforming cities’ local economic development

    Cities are taking advantage of digital transition as a goal in itself. Indeed, the digital sector has been and should be developed. Creating “smart cities” is now appearing in more and more cities’ strategy as a way to achieve competitive advantage. Focussing on local economic development, as a new way of addressing emerging societal issues such as environmental and social ones, requires strong leadership, commitment and investments.

    For some URBACT networks, digitalisation of cities means the development of incubators, hubs and other platforms to support the development of jobs and skills. Featuring a wealth of examples about the ways in which cities support tech and digital economy, TechPlace showcases URBACT networks such as TechTown, GEN Y CITY and Interactive Cities. It shares content such as articles, videos, podcasts and presentations on the ways cities use social media, digital strategies, digital education, digital health, co-working environments, digital hubs, etc.

    Developing digital strategies is the starting point of the DI4C network, one of the 23 new Action Planning Networks. It seeks to support the creation of global vision and improve technical and engineering capacities by incorporating digital innovation, with both hard and soft infrastructures.

    Supporting digital growth and transformational economies is also the key focus of the TechRevolution network. Transferring the experience of Barnsley (UK) and its Digital Media Centre, a business support programme which nurtures an 'ecosystem' thanks to knowledge-based jobs and businesses across all sectors and industries.

    As for the skills needed to move towards more digital cities, URBACT has also contributed to the Digital Skills Map platform, as an outcome of the Urban Agenda Partnership on Jobs and Skills, presenting local know-how on digitalisation in vocational education and training.

    Digital transition as a methodology: A governance focus

    Digitalisation can, on the other hand, be seen as a methodology. The process, supporting societal and urban transition, has a strong impact on governance, and on how our everyday life is organised - as well as on the way we make the city work.

    Although the use of technology can lead to personalisation of services, “strengthening the barrier between the people and the services which their taxes fund”, as pointed out by Eddy Adams following URBACT City Lab 3, it is key to use adequate language which does not alienate people. Indeed, administrations and citizens need to get to know each other and adopt a language that is understandable by both sides. When used correctly, digitalisation and new technologies can be harnessed to transform cities into platforms of open innovation and develop digital urbanism. The ESPON working paper on the “Digital innovation in urban environments: Solutions for sustainable and fluently working cities” (draft Working Paper) backs the benefit for vertical and horizontal co-creation of cities.

    Digital transition can be supported by specific tools to make governance more inclusive, participatory and more efficient. As identified by ESPON, larger cities and Northern European cities are more advanced than the rest of European cities.

    Such a process, according to the Urban agenda Partnership on Digital Transition, can be supported by 4 frameworks: technological, organisational, institutional and by stakeholders (see figure). Indeed, what is of crucial importance to cities is not what technology is used but how it is used.

    Nele Leosk, 2019, DIGITAL TRANSITION ABC

    Creating a one-stop shop for citizens and ensuring the centralisation of citizens’ information is the core of the Card4all URBACT network transferring the experience Citizen Card System of Gijon (ES). The card enables using innovative services and technologies. Cities can thus gather information to improve their services and use it as part of a participative processes. This can be applied to promote social inclusion, local trade, urban mobility and sustainable living, creating a Smart City with Smart Citizens. Such a card can be used for access to citizens’ terminals (for public services), public transport, library, swimming pool, public toilets, car sharing, etc. The IoTxChange network also seeks to benefit from the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to improve the quality of life in small and medium sized EU cities.

    At the same time, participation and citizens’ engagement is also increasingly relying on digital tools. The participatory budget of Paris URBACT Good Practice is an online process which combines offline and online promotion. The city of Agen (FR) has started a new network, ActiveCitizen, placing citizens at the heart of local democracy in small and medium-sized cities, developing new interactive platforms such as Agen’s Tell My City.

    Many other URBACT cities have developed digital solutions on a wider scale. For example, Helsinki (FI), within the REFILL network, shared its experiment with an online service, Flexi Spaces, allowing people to find and book spaces by the hour in the neighbourhood of Kalasatama.

    More insights into European cities’ digital transition this month!

    URBACT brings a wealth of knowledge and practical cases into the European Urban Policy debate – helping develop and share new innovative solutions creating smart cities – and through its involvement with the Urban Agenda Partnership. URBACT cities are making the best out of the Digital Transition for their citizens.
    Discover more on the topic this month, with an editorial highlight on Digital Transition in cities. All articles will be published on Thursdays!

    Keep your eyes peeled and check the URBACT Digital Transition page.

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  • Tech Revolution – the art of the possible

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    CSI Europe Regulation Conference Report
    Digital transitions

    TechRevolution, an URBACT Transfer Network, builds on the work done so far and provides an opportunity for 7 cities from across the EU to really get under the skin of what Barnsley has achieved, to study each and every element in a safe and honest space, to consider their own local contexts and strategic priorities and then to adapt different aspects of what Barnsley has done within their local setting. It is hoped that over the next 2 years they will be able to really benefit from lessons learnt in Barnsley and revolutionise the way that they approach digital and tech job creation and entrepreneurship so as to grow more and better jobs for local citizens.

    This article starts with a short introduction to the good practice, goes on to introduce the TechRevolution network, showcases two of the transfer cities and sets out some initial thoughts on how the network will achieve impact.

    We need to talk about Barnsley

    A former mining town in the North of the UK with a population of around 240,000, Barnsley lost tens of thousands of jobs through contraction of traditional industry and at first really struggled to understand how it might build a new economy. For over 10 years, the council has been committed to growing higher value jobs, particularly within its creative, tech and digital sectors. The good practice comprises 2 main pillars:

    • Enterprising Barnsley - a successful business support programme
    • The Digital Media Centre (DMC)- a landmark hub for creative and digital business in the town centre

    Through the success of these interlinked activities, Barnsley has also been able to spin out a number of new initiatives and these are also important in the context of the transfer network. So, for the purpose of the transfer network, the good practice is defined as follows:

    Key achievements

    • Since 2010, Enterprising Barnsley has supported the creation of over 1000 jobs per year.
    • The creative and digital economy has grown from 540 businesses to 679.
    • The DMC has seen an increase in occupancy from 54% in 2015 to 98% in 2018, with an approximately 25% increase in turnover.
    • Digital companies in the DMC have grown in terms of job numbers, turnover and space rented.
    • Projects run through the DMC have attracted a range of funding for delivery from public and private sector sources.

    Watch the interview with Tracey Johnson on Barnsley’s Good Practice the Digital Media Center.

    From Coal to Code through TechTown

    From 2015 to 2018, Barnsley led the TechTown URBACT Action Planning Network, which focused on what medium sized cities can do to create digital jobs, whether through entrepreneurship, digitalisation or disruption of existing industry. The URBACT methodology, the TechTown Local Group and an intensive and fruitful transnational exchange programme enabled Barnsley to structure some potentially difficult discussions with local and regional tech and digital stakeholders. Together they co-created an Action Plan which was launched in June 2018 and is intrinsically linked with the good practice. Positioning itself at the heart of a web of valuable connections locally, regionally and internationally 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 TechTown Action Plan sets out the pathway for the creation of a Digital Campus that will help to continue to develop the sector and commits to a series of co-created actions around A Digital Place, Digital People, Digital Partnerships and Digital Businesses.

    TechTown has put us at the top table in terms of moulding economic development and enterprise strategy at regional level’ Martin Beasley, Group Leader, Enterprising Barnsley.

    Always learning, always asking questions

    It is against this backdrop that Barnsley decided to embark upon a new URBACT adventure through TechRevolution, which has a very different partnership and a very different purpose.

    TechRevolution is all about sharing the knowledge, experience and (perhaps most importantly) lessons from Barnsley and learning from others so as to support next steps locally.

    All the transfer partners are medium sized towns or cities, seeking to revolutionise their local economy through the development of tech and digital jobs and entrepreneurship. They all want (and need) to transform their economies from being heavily reliant on traditional industry to supporting the development of high value, knowledge-based jobs within the ‘next economy’. They all also have significant learning and experience of their ow which will contribute to enhancing Barnsley’s existing work and developing it into a new Innovation Campus which, it is hoped, will move from conception to inception over the course of the 2-year transfer network.

    Zooming in on Pardubice (CZ) and Vilanova I la Geltru (ES)

    This section zooms in on two of the transfer partners and serves to illustrate examples of local contexts and ambitions for TechRevolution.


    Pardubice lies on the river Elbe, 124 kilometres east of Prague. It has a strong manufacturing sector including the Synthesia chemical factory (manufacturer of Semtex, a plastic explosive) and automotive and engineering plants. It has a population of 90,352.

    The city wants to gain new knowledge and skills to develop its co working and incubation offer and, more specifically, to inform the development of its newly opened city centre incubation building (P-Pink).

    Every other region in the Czech Republic offers co working or incubation space for start-ups. There have been 2 previous attempts to create an incubation-type facility for city start-ups (in 1991 and 2008). Both failed and this is thought to be because they provided little other than a physical space for small businesses with no wider start-up support or community offer.

    P-Pink opened in March 2018 and, against a slightly nervous backdrop, has clear plans in terms of occupancy and community. It has recruited a wide network of mentors and opened its doors to start-ups in June 2018, following a few months focusing on branding and marketing. Since 2016 the city has also been involved in the development of a Smart Accelerator, led by the Region, and focusing on creating the conditions in which innovation and entrepreneurship can flourish.

    Pardubice wants to use TechRevolution to:

    • Contribute to the development of an effective start-up ecosystem – a functional system of business incubation
    • Inform the development and operation of a business incubator (P-PINK) with a strong community and start-up support offer, an incubation programme and co-working space
    • Explore opportunities to move P-Pink into a position where it might be financially independent of public sector support
    • Better understand the tech and digital sector so as to support the growth of tech entrepreneurship and higher value local jobs, linked where possible to manufacturing
    • Better understand the ‘customer’ and how to develop effective and meaningful relationships and networks with them and other ecosystem stakeholders

    Vilanova I la Geltru

    On the coast, south of Barcelona, Vilanova I la Geltru has a population of 66,077, a close relationship with the sea and a strong industrial heritage.

    The city wants to transform its economy from one which historically was reliant on traditional sectors to one with a range of high quality digital and creative start-ups jobs for all citizens. It sees innovation and creativity as central to success. Since 2008 it has run the Neàpolis building, which houses local TV and radio, film sets, an auditorium, a research centre, a ‘hotel’ for companies, an incubator and a co-working space. In this period it has hosted 15 SMEs in the ‘hotel’, 9 Micro SME’s in the incubator and 11928 entrepreneurs supported. The building is now at full capacity and the city needs to consider both follow-on space and a wider community entrepreneurship offer.

    It wants to use TechRevolution to:

    • Improve the delivery, quality and accessibility of its services to local entrepreneurs
    • Explore the development of new spaces and places for digital and creative entrepreneurs including re-use of old buildings to contribute to a strategy which includes pre-co-work and follow-on space so there is something for all entrepreneurs and SMEs at every stage of their journey
    • Explore how to use digital platforms and communities to improve support for entrepreneurs or businesses
    • Engender more of a sense of community amongst creative entrepreneurs and a ‘pay it forward’ culture e.g. by testing different, maybe more informal, community offers or events 
    • Contribute to the city’s internationalisation and optimise local opportunities from international networks
    • Develop new better skills and capacities to drive forward, and govern, innovation e.g. develop more of an appetite for risk, more collaboration
    • Further develop Neàpolis’s reputation locally and develop and strengthen local relationships and networks

    Exciting times ahead – the art of the possible

    TechTown’s mantra of ‘adapt or die’ continues to resonate in these fast-moving times where cities of all sizes need to better understand the opportunities offered by digital and tech and jump on them to grow higher value jobs and start-ups for local people.

    In Europe’s small and medium sized cities, the challenge is greater. These places are at risk of being ‘eaten up’ by their larger counterparts which act as magnets and naturally attract clusters of higher growth businesses. They are also home to industries often most prone to automation and machine learning advancement, which will inevitably mean rapidly changing economic and skills requirements.

    It is hoped that TechRevolution will provide a safe, constructive, fun and honest space in which to have difficult conversations and structured exchanges about what is actually realistic and achievable in cities like these. Phase 2, which starts in December 2018, will comprise a mixture of full network activity, unpicking different elements of the good practice, and bilateral activity where individual transfer cities can access ongoing support and advice to facilitate the effective and meaningful transfer of good practice and achieve impact on the ground.

    Small and medium sized cities need to think differently about their future. They need to dare to dream and believe in the art of the possible.

    "We have a real advantage in small and medium cities – we can, and should, be agile and nimble. We can innovate and trial ideas in a way larger cities can’t. We’re looking forward to working with our partners to discover the art of the possible!" Tracey Johnson, Lead Partner, TechRevolution

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  • Cities and digitalisation: “Adapt or die”

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    How can cities benefit from digitalisation?  With dramatic headlines about jobs being destroyed by digitalisation, and many policy makers resisting change, Alison Partridge argues that the 4th industrial revolution, and industry 4.0, are best seen as an opportunity, not a threat, for Europe's towns and cities.

    First, some definitions…

    For many this is a complex, unfamiliar and somewhat bewildering landscape. So here are a few explanations of key terms before delving deeper.

    Digital transitions

    4th industrial revolution

    This phrase was coined by Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, in his book of the same title. “Previous industrial revolutions liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however, fundamentally different. It is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human. The resulting shifts and disruptions mean that we live in a time of great promise and great peril.

    Industry 4.0

    Mckinsey defines industry 4.0. as “the next phase in the digitization of the manufacturing sector, driven by four disruptions: the astonishing rise in data volumes, computational power, and connectivity, especially new low-power wide-area networks; the emergence of analytics and business-intelligence capabilities; new forms of human-machine interaction such as touch interfaces and augmented-reality systems; and improvements in transferring digital instructions to the physical world, such as advanced robotics and 3-D printing” - Source: University of Sheffield

    Digital disruption

    "Digital disruption is a transformation that is caused by emerging digital technologies and business models. These innovative new technologies and models can impact the value of existing products and services offered in the industry. This is why the term ‘disruption’ is used, as the emergence of these new digital products/services/businesses disrupts the current market and causes the need for re-evaluation" - Source: Oxford College of Marketing

    Why is this relevant to cities? Keep reading...

    To take the mantra of the URBACT network TechTown - cities and businesses need to adapt or die:

    Digitalisation is happening. It's often described as an 'unstoppable juggernaut'. Most businesses really don’t have a choice. They can choose to change nothing and risk fragility and, in the long term, almost inevitably die. OR they can be proactive, adaptive, disruptive, agile and hopefully that will enable them to survive and thrive. It really is as simple as that. Disruption is only a threat to those who choose to ignore it or try to fight it. Those who embrace it find that it can benefit their business in lots of different ways and contribute success and growth.

    Cities have a clear role to play supporting the business community. If their businesses can't or won't adapt, city economies will suffer: companies will go out of business and jobs will be lost.

    “But isn’t it destroying jobs?!”

    Digitalisation is not the same as automation. Automation is a start. Using information from automated processes is where digitalisation kicks in and starts to reap rewards.

    Digitalisation is not about reducing headcount or destroying jobs. It is more helpful to think of it as removing non-value-adding tasks or roles. This enables humans to focus on the parts of the business that add value. So yes, it will have a massive impact on the future workforce, and yes, there is much to be done to explore how the existing workforce can be effectively redeployed rather than unemployed. But that is a whole other topic - touched upon in URBACT's own Job Generation and New Urban Economies Capitalisation series.

    Here the focus is more on the role of cities in digitalisation itself.

    So why is digitalisation important to cities?

    The most cited examples of digital disruption are often the least helpful when it comes to considering the potential positive impacts on urban development. Uber and Airbnb, for example, may have revolutionised peoples' ability to travel within and between cities, but they have also provided real challenges in urban development terms, for instance increasing rental prices and often adversely affecting employment conditions for citizens. URBACT has published articles on this topic - focusing for example on the role of cities in the sharing economy and the gig economy.

    A number of more positive examples of digital disruption and public sector interventions were highlighted at the TechTown network event in Gävle, Sweden, in June 2017. They show how digitalisation can help address long-term economic challenges like productivity levels, business efficiency and logistics.

    Here are three examples of public sector interventions within digital disruption:

    KickStart, run by a national cluster called Fiber Optic Valley, is a pilot project covering 10 Swedish Cities. Funded by both the public and private sectors, the overall aim is to increase the understanding, willingness, pace and volume of digitalisation.

    The pilot project works with 10 companies in 10 cities. Over the course of 4-6 weeks the companies invest 2 days (1 full day + 2 x half days) in workshop activities to understand how digitalisation can help them to increase productivity and efficiency. The emphasis is very much upon helping the companies to identify their problems - their needs - rather than leaping towards a solution. In 90% of cases the tech solution exists; in the other 10% there is a start up eager to find it - so this is as much about changing mindsets as it is about the technology itself. Often there is a reasonably simple 'fix' and Kickstart can play a useful role in brokering relationships between companies that have an identified need and those that have already found a solution.

    With the pilot project proving to be very popular with business, and reaping tangible rewards in terms of productivity and efficiency, there is now a plan to roll the programme out across 100 Swedish towns and cities.

    • Connected Manufacturing

    In 2017, Barnsley Council, leaders of the TechTown network, launched a programme to support digitalisation of existing local manufacturing companies while enabling digital companies to grow. “Connected Manufacturing” brings the manufacturing and digital communities together to encourage adoption of digital technologies that can improve manufacturing productivity and competitiveness. This is especially important given that advanced manufacturing is a key industrial sector across much of Europe.

    A trusted Barnsley business advisor with a manufacturing background, supported by an independent digital consultant, visited local manufacturers, many of which were family run firms using old mechanical equipment. The advisors helped the manufacturers to identify their industrial challenges and find ways to improve operational efficiency through digital changes that were often small and inexpensive. The findings fed into a big event which brought manufacturers face-to-face with small digital start ups, SMEs and entrepreneurs.

    • Case study

    Naylor Industries in South Yorkshire, UK, is a fourth-generation family business with a 127-year history. The company has five factories that manufacture construction products, such as clay pipes and plastic drainage systems, for export around the world. Facing global economic uncertainty and rising energy costs, as a large energy user Naylor realised they needed to change. They formed an internal action team and partnered with Siemens Digital Factory to analyse the power usage at their factory sites. Seeing the benefits of real-time data to inform operations and production, Naylor is now digitally enabling their new and existing facilities for an intelligent data-driven future.

    Event programme and presentations

    Everybody wins - brokering relationships between large and small companies

    Sandvik is a global materials engineering company with headquarters in the Gävleborg region in Sweden. Last year it worked with a 'business tailor' from the regional incubator (Movexum – co-funded by local and regional government and a range of private partners) to identify its digitalisation needs. In short the Sandvik site covers a massive industrial area equivalent in size to 800 football pitches. Sandvik was keen to understand how digitalisation might help move materials more efficiently into, and around, the site. Movexum put Sandvik in touch with a local tech start up called Invotech. As a result, the two companies co-created a new GPS system which supports truck drivers and management with the positioning of materials. The impact has been massive for both companies - Sandvik has improved safety and productivity; and Invotech has won a large new industrial client and a gateway into a global market place, not to mention unrivalled PR and media exposure.

    None of this would have happened without the intermediary, funded through the public sector - in this case a regional incubator.

    So what role can cities play?

    Hopefully by now it is becoming clearer that urban economies are being impacted by digitalisation. But what does this mean for cities in practice? Realistically, what can cities do to make sure that their businesses can benefit from digitalisation?

    • Messenger

    Cities can reach out to their business community - who are as much their customers as individual citizens - and help remove the 'fear' of disruption and digitalisation. This might involve helping them to understand what opportunities it offers in terms of efficiencies and productivity and / or to learn from peers who have already risen to the challenge.

    • Broker and enabler

    It is clear from the examples above that cities may have a role to play in funding, or directly employing, an honest broker, a navigator or catalyst which brings together large and small companies to benefit both partners and the local economy. Cities can also help established companies to identify their digitalisation needs and find tech start ups , preferably local ones, to address them. 90% of the time the tech solution exists; in the other 10% there is a start up eager to find it. So this brokerage role can help companies to come together to co-create ‘win-win’ relationships between large and small. It can also help peer-to-peer learning - cities can identify and share good local examples of positive digital disruption and stop policy makers focusing on some of the better known disruptive brands like Uber and AirBnB.

    There is also a brokerage role around the theme of skills and talent - local authorities can, for example, support companies to identify local talent and embed digital skills into local training provision for people of all ages.

    • Early adopter

    Cities can - and probably should - lead from the front when it comes to digitalisation. It may not seem obvious - and it certainly won't be easy - but city authorities can ‘walk the talk’ by working with local tech start ups to disrupt and digitalise the provision of public services. They can also run challenge-based competitions to encourage local start ups to address smart city challenges.

    • Adapt or die

    The message is clear and TechTown cities have used their Action Planning Network to consider their margins of manoeuvre in what is essentially a business-led landscape: How can city authorities help their business community to rise to the challenge of digitalisation? (How) can they support businesses to treat this as an opportunity to improve productivity and grow higher value jobs? What is the role of the public sector?

    The emerging action plans call for a more proactive approach to supporting local business, based on the learning from cities which are already doing so. TechTown cities know that digitalisation will revolutionise their economies. They will be doing everything they can to contribute to a positive outcome: more and better jobs for local people.

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  • Digital media centre


    Create more and better local jobs through an inspirational hub space and focused business supportsed business support

    Tracey Johnson
    Digital Media Centre 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 and has recently expanded into DMC 02
    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 as well as attracting investment into DMC 02 and it is now developing The Seam, Barnsley’s Digital Campus which surrounds the DMCs .


    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 and has recently expanded into DMC 02
    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 as well as attracting investment into DMC 02 and it is now developing The Seam, Barnsley’s Digital Campus which surrounds the DMCs .


    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 creative and digital businesses. The Digital Media Centre tech hubs (DMCs) are landmark hubs 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” DMC 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 digital platforms to collaborate with the 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 including with academia 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 01 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 local Economic Partnership. Our current support programmes are part of a city region approach to business support which has been influenced by our existing practice.

    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 and good relationships are a foundation for our work. This approach was used to consider how best to integrate the DMC when direct management of the building was taken on. 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 developed alocal 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. This work carries on in the Tech Revolution Transfer Network and we actively contribute to regional policy and invest in participatory actions with tech ecosystem stakeholders such as a recent project linked to Sheffield City Region’s MIT REAP work on entrepreneurial ecosystems.
    We use a range of platforms to link across businesses and support networks. These are useful tools 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 central to our ethos, 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. Whilst occupancy has been impacted by Covid, it is now growing again. 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. This company went on to achieve even greater growth and now is a team of 17 with turnover of £1m.


    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 that emerged from the TechTown project has formed the basis for ‘The Seam, Barnsley’s Digital Campus’ which is an ambitious regeneration programme centred on the DMCs that will see a new district of the town centre be developed over the next 10 years. Already, DMC 02 has emerged from this plan as well as Barnsley College’s SciTech Hub for digital education, and funding is secured for active and electric vehicle travel hubs. Additionally a new ‘internet of things’ network is being installed across the town centre to support DMC and Seam activity, and Barnsley is now a testbed for a range of technologies supporting sustainable place making. We have secured ERDF investment to deliver two innovative programmes to grow the tech ecosystem (in partnership with Capital Enterprise) and drive the adoption of digital technology (in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University). We also now work closely with the University of Sheffield on entrepreneurship and Internet of Things technologies and are leading an IoT pre accelerator programme with a large network provider to support new business ideas. We have completed three IoT Tribe programmes with the most recent programme seeing ten new smart city technologies piloted in Barnsley as well as new companies locating in the DMCs.

    Transferring the practice

    Over 2.5 years, Barnsley has led the TechRevolution network, transferring its practice to 6 other cities: Bacau (Romania), Piraeus (Greece), Schiedam (Netherlands), Nyíregyháza (Hungary), Pardubice (Czech Republic), Vilanova i la Geltru (Spain). You can, in particular, check Piraeus’s Good practice here. The approach was based on the 3 elements of the Barnsley’s Good Practice, adaptable to each city’s reality: Enterprising Barnsley, Digital Media Centre and Spin-off. In Barnsley, TechRevolution has helped to continue stakeholder engagement and to develop and deliver significant improvements and expansions to our local, regional and national tech sector support and policy. The final outputs are all available on the URBACT website. TechRevolution might also be reloaed with a new Transfer Network starting from June 2021.

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  • The co-working revolution

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    What can cities do to create open workspaces where entrepreneurs can connect and grow jobs?

    An explosion of new workspace

    Abandoned Spaces

    I first came across the notion of a co-working space in Sweden, probably about 12 years ago now. I remember agreeing with my colleague when she commented 'This will never take off; it's just a funky room with a shared kettle'.

    How wrong we were. Just over a decade later Europe's cities are full of open workspaces, meanwhile spaces, co-working spaces, incubators and accelerators, providing temporary and sometimes permanent accommodation and support for entrepreneurs, start-ups and scale-ups. 

    Take London as an example: the first cited co-working space was the Hub in Islington, which opened in 2005. The current workspace providers map now includes more than 400 different spaces and a recent report 'Start Me Up: The value of workspaces for small businesses, entrepreneurs and artists in London' (IPPR, December 2016), estimates that these host 31,000 people, and have generated £1.7bn in Gross Value Added and an additional £40.80 for every £1 invested. As many as one in four of London's SMEs working in the digital and creative sectors have used an incubator, accelerator or co-working space and, while in 2009 co-working accounted for 5% of serviced office lettings, by 2014 this had risen to 20%.

    This picture is mirrored across Europe's cities as the growing numbers of self employed people and entrepreneurs recognise the value of workspaces which offer shared resources, flexible access and a curated programme of community support. As well as a broad shift towards knowledge-based work, technology is of course also key to this explosion as it enables people to work more flexibly from just about any location with good wifi.

    However, open workspaces are coming under threat in some urban areas. When the affordable housing agenda, and the planning policies behind it, push affordable workspace down the list of political priorities, (would-be) entrepreneurs can risk being squeezed out. More progressive administrations recognise that a sustainable city needs to consider liveability and affordability as well as businesses, communities and residents, hand-in-hand.

    URBACT cities and the need for workspace 

    In its publication 'Job Generation for a Jobless Generation' URBACT noted the importance of spaces and places for connections between young people, employers, innovators and entrepreneurs. More recently the TechTown Action Planning Network has produced an interesting podcast and slide deck considering what medium sized towns and cities in particular can do to grow spaces where digital entrepreneurs can connect and grow jobs.

    In this article, I’d like to draw on – and supplement – URBACT’s work so far on cities and accessible workspaces. It is very much an opinion piece based on my own experience in this landscape. I’ll present some examples of co-working spaces in URBACT cities, then consider the role of the city and its stakeholders and why this is relevant to ALL cities and contributes to many parts of the integrated sustainable urban development agenda.

    But first, some definitions

    As with so many things there are many definitions – some better than others – for incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces. These terms are often used as if they are interchangeable. They are not. So, for the purposes of this article, I will draw upon the definitions used in a recent NESTA report 'Business incubators and accelerators: the national picture' (April 2017). This considers an incubator as being defined by the following characteristics:

    • 'Open-ended duration (exit usually based on the stage of the company, rather than a specific time frame)
    • Typically rent/fee-based
    • Focus on physical space over services
    • Admissions on ad-hoc basis (not cohort-based - i.e. people can join at any time rather than being recruited at set times of year)
    • Provision of services including mentorship, entrepreneurial training
    • Often provide technical facilities such as laboratory equipment
    • Selective admission (but typically less so than accelerators)'

    And lists the following characteristics for accelerators:

    • 'Fixed duration programme (usually between three and twelve months)
    • Typically growth-based (payment via equity rather than fees)
    • Often provide seed funding
    • Focus on services over physical space
    • Admission in cohorts
    • Provision of startup services (e.g. mentorship, entrepreneurial training)
    • Highly selective'

    Of course, the support offered by both incubators and accelerators can also be delivered 'virtually' and accommodation is therefore not always in the mix.

    Co-working space is different. It is a much looser term and, perhaps not surprisingly, organisations operating in this space range from highly commercial providers to small grassroots community groups. Again for the purpose of this article we will consider them to provide a combination of workplace and supporting facilities at affordable rates with easy in-out contractual conditions. The renting of space – or desks – is set up to attract users who require ad hoc and short term access to workstations and supporting facilities such as meeting rooms. The format of space is usually open plan and of an informal setting, aimed at facilitating an interactive and creative networking environment to form a sense of community among users.

    But enough of definitions – it's just important that city practitioners and policy makers are able to differentiate between these different elements which all have unique places within an entrepreneurship ecosystem. Of course physical spaces do not in themselves grow jobs. It is the interaction of the different components of this ecosystem that create the magical conditions in which companies can start, grow and flourish. As well as access to the right space in the right place at the right time, early stage companies also require access to market, finance, talent and networks to grow and scale effectively. But workspace is a vital component

    So, let’s look at some workspace examples...

    Let's now look at three (very) different examples of successful workspaces from the URBACT-supported TechTown Action Planning Network. These have been chosen to provide a flavour of a few different models, types of ownership, users and community approaches.

    Le Bivouac, Clermont Ferrand, France

    'Le Bivouac - StartUp Booster' is an accelerator operating in seven key 'domains' – health prevention, sustainable agricultural systems, cyber security, sustainable living, intelligent systems, mobility and energy transition. Set up by the public sector and with the city's mayor as its president, perhaps one of its unique characteristics is the engagement of some really big players from both the public and private sector (the municipality, region and corporates like Michelin, EDF, Limagrain, Orange and the Caisse d'Epargne etc), making Le Bivouac a huge networking platform through its partners’ own networks.

    Rather than asking these organisations to contribute funding, Le Bivouac's model relies heavily on them for support, training, coaching, expertise and mentorship, valuing this at over €1m per year. In return, it launches two calls for start-ups each year. The two parallel aims are:

    • to enable its (public and private sector) partners to find the expertise and skills they need to develop their future business model.
    • to enable start-ups to develop long term partnerships with large businesses, to find innovative ways to address their challenges and thereby to provide opportunities to scale.

    In terms of space itself, Le Bivouac offers 1000m2 of dynamic workspace with state of the art digital and tech facilities. But perhaps more importantly it facilitates access to real business opportunities and to the region's research and innovation system of universities, R&D centres, etc.

    Digital Media Centre (DMC), Barnsley, UK

    The DMC is part of the city's suite of business support known as 'Enterprising Barnsley' and home to several business advisors - so resident businesses just have to knock on the door to discover a whole range of advice and support. As you walk into the building's airy atrium, you are greeted by the smell of coffee and the sound of ping pong balls.

    Of course there’s more to the DMC than the building it’s based in, but the fact that it is a beautiful, well-designed space does make a difference. The building is capable of hosting numerous digital and creative businesses as well as a wide range of business development workshops, seminars and events on everything from online marketing and digital law to HR issues and tender writing. More info on the business events programme is available here. For very new entrepreneurs, there is a specially-designed programme of support called the Launchpad service, again, based within the DMC. Read more here.

    One of the interesting things about the DMC is that, having started with an externally contracted operator who only achieved an occupancy level of 53%, a decision was made to bring management of the centre ‘in house’ within the council – to control operations, revenue and expenditure more closely, and align the centre with the Enterprising Barnsley business support service.

    From this, a new model was developed positioning a financially viable DMC as a hub for creative and digital businesses, skills and knowledge. The focus was on generating more and better jobs and businesses in Barnsley. Financial viability required a significant uplift in occupancy at a price considered high for the area; shifting to a recognisable ‘hub’ model required more and better activity to be programmed, and significant improvement to the services provided.

    Through the ambition and vision of the plan and the hard work of the whole delivery team, one year into the new approach, the occupancy rate had reached 75%. In April 2017, two years in, occupancy is at an all time high of 95%, and the team have won a national award for business transformation. A significant contributor to successful growth has been introducing an ‘open door’ policy, welcoming any businesses and people who want to be in the DMC. The improved animation and service offering has helped to establish a recognisable ‘hub’, whilst new external partnerships have widened reach and provided recognition for the quality of activities. As part of this service, a dedicated ‘Enterprising Barnsley’ Business Development Manager offers inclusive business support to client companies, helping them achieve growth.

    Skola6, Cesis, Latvia

    Skola6 is a very different type of co-working space. Housed in a redundant school building, it is Cesis' newly founded creative and digital industries centre. It was conceived, designed and co-created by the local community, and anyone from the local community can access the services and opportunities provided there. Unlike the new and shiny Barnsley DMC, it has grown organically and has a calmer, more homely feel.

    Here too however, small businesses (mostly sole traders) can access the workspace – including hot desking, co-working and a studio / workshop space – as well as business support and shared equipment, which they might not have been able to afford individually. Events are organised by and for young activists and entrepreneurs.

    Different business models and drivers

    Just within these three examples we can see different revenue models (memberships, monthly fees, tenancies), different physical spaces, different community offers and importantly when considering the role of the city, different types of ownership or operator such as public, private, community-led or charitable.

    Let’s consider this ownership issue for a moment: Coming back to our London example, it is interesting to note that around 40% of the city’s open workspace provision is run by the charity sector, with a further 12% being run by social enterprises or community interest providers. 37% of open workspace is operated by the private sector and just 8% is run by educational institutions, local authorities and cooperatives.

    So where does that leave our original question:

    What can cities do to create open workspaces where entrepreneurs can connect and grow jobs?

    Tips for cities for successful workspace development

    My view is that the most important message for cities is that they are one cog in a very big and complex wheel of activity when it comes to providing open workspace. Whatever the economic and political conditions, it is simply not possible for cities to solve the workspace challenge on their own. What they can do is to provide high quality collaborative leadership – 'to walk the talk' – and facilitate the conditions in which open workspace operators, in different forms as described above, can develop and thrive.

    These spaces work best where they are co-created by, and with, entrepreneurs rather than for entrepreneurs. The best examples build upon the differences of the place rather than copying what others are doing in other cities. There are lots of ‘anywhere towns’ so when considering co-working spaces it is good to remember that places have meaning and spaces often do not. Therefore cities should start with their own culture, assets, characteristics and heritage and ensure that these spaces build on this provenance. In this instance, there is no one-size-fits-all model, and it is best not to simply cut and paste approaches from other cities.

    Cities can also facilitate access to public and private sector funding for workspace – perhaps helping other stakeholders to navigate around local European Structural and Investment Fund opportunities. They can consider using discreet social impact or affordable workspace clauses in local planning policies and / or be creative and progressive in how existing clauses are interpreted. Cities also have a role to play in brokering in users of the space. For example they might help local enterprise agencies or business support providers to navigate the start-ups they are supporting around workspace options. Or they might refer institutions, which could act as ‘anchor tenants’ to new or growing open workspace providers.  

    Many municipalities also own redundant public buildings, and often these are perfectly suited to meanwhile or more permanent co-working facilities. Libraries and schools are increasingly being used to co-locate community, education, workspace and business support services. As well as providing invaluable workspace, this sort of co-location has many additional benefits in terms of inclusion, youth aspiration and ambition and entrepreneurship education. All of this is really important at a time where young people increasingly need to carve out their own career in a changing world of work.

    As is clear from the examples above, this is not just about property. A good co-working space needs a high quality community offer with wraparound business support services and other reasons to visit. An open door policy can be part of this, but may not work everywhere. Cities have a clear role in scoping out and supporting such a wraparound offer. They can provide access to data and other evidence of demand for, and supply of, workspace and linked services, and help to identify market gaps.

    Whether cities fit out the spaces themselves or with other stakeholders, good quality design is also important. And this does not necessarily mean expensive design. It is possible to create a great co-working hub with very few resources, providing the community is active and willing. Skola6 in Cesis is a great example of this and the municipality has played an active role in bringing this space to fruition.

    There are of course lots of examples of co-working spaces targeting specific sectors – tech and digital, artists and creatives, makers, social entrepreneurs and food entrepreneurs to name but a few. Cities can also drive innovation through 'mixicology' – co-creating spaces which bring some of these communities together – to disrupt and generate innovation and creativity.

    So it is important to look beyond the building and to prioritise relationships and people. These spaces need to be places where people want to be – where they feel a sense of belonging. It seems that across Europe, good coffee is an important part of this. This might seem a bit superficial and maybe that is the point. In co-working, small things done well can make a massive difference. So, operators – whether public or private – need to listen to and learn from their users, customers and data. In the DMC, attracting a local, start-up coffee cart was in direct response to demand from users and has reaped real rewards in terms of community engagement and ownership.

    And why does this matter for ALL cities?

    Some of you reading this will probably be thinking (hopefully;) 'Nice piece; now back to the day job'. I would urge you to stop for a moment and think a bit more about how the workspace issue is relevant to you and your city, or your URBACT network. Maybe consider the following:

    The contribution of these spaces to economic growth is clear. However, there are many other benefits, which may not seem to immediately apparent:

    Open workspaces can make a clear contribution to placemaking and regeneration. Not only can they bring vacant, unused and dilapidated buildings back into active economic and community use but also they can provide an opportunity for people to work close to where they live; they can create a real local ‘buzz’ and also have potential to increase footfall and local spend. Maker spaces and spaces for artists, creatives and food entrepreneurs can also add to an area’s overall cultural offering.

    They can also help address disadvantage more generally, for example by providing an opportunity for local charities and community interest groups to provide affordable workspace for the communities they serve. They are a living, breathing example of how the workplace is changing, and they offer excellent opportunities for young people to better understand what the labour market of the future is likely to look like. When linked to educational establishments there is clear potential to create mutually beneficial relationships:  young people can gain invaluable work experience, making them more ‘work-ready’; start-ups and small businesses get access to fresh young talent, helping them to develop.

    Linked to this, open workspaces build real communities. A place for peer-to-peer interaction, which would otherwise not be possible. These collaboration opportunities lead to, and feed from, new ideas, new networks and new audiences. Ultimately they create more jobs, but the community is about much more than that. It makes the neighbourhood and the city more attractive to residents and businesses alike – old, new and potential. Surely that has to be a good thing.

    …and let’s not forget the fact that they often provide great coffee!

    So, ultimately, at least in one sense, maybe my colleague was right 'it's a funky room with a shared kettle' but she was wrong in her gloomy prediction. It is abundantly clear that open workspaces and co-working WORKS!!


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