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6th Sep 2021 in Arts

Based in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, Blick Shared Studios is a unique space where the creative sector can have its own office space with none of the fuss or frills that come with added prices.

From digital artists, filmmakers, marketers, to photographers Blick Shared Studios is able to provide flexible spaces in a convenient location.

Their Hill Street headquarters, like all Blick Shared Studios, provides residents with desk or office space that includes rent, rates, utilities, and high-speed broadband.

All those who use the Blick spaces must be involved in the creative sector, and for the manager, Christine James it was the realisation that creative people work better around other creative people while doing a creative business course with NESTA, that led to this decision.

“I think just doing that course, being back with other creatives made me realize just how important it is to be with other like-minded people,” she explained. “I think because I’d just come back, and I didn’t really have any like-minded creative friends and I was living in Newcastle and was a bit outside the loop.

“When the course finished there were a few of us that decided to set up a shared studio for ourselves.”

In addition to the Hill Street studio, there is another in Cathedral Quarter at Cotton Court in Waring Street and a new Blick Shared Studios at Queens University.

For Christine, the amount of creative talent across so many areas is often overlooked when statutory agencies are producing their business support.

“There’s a need for support because the council and others do a certain amount of things and there’s a lot of stuff for high growth kind of companies, but there’s maybe not that much for creative companies” she explained.

“There might be a bit for digital, but there’s also maybe not that much support for freelancers and smaller companies.

“A lot of the support round there is for organizations to grow their business and I understand the need for that, but we don’t have to tick those same boxes, we can be a bit more flexible in what we provide.”

That flexibility means that Blick Shared Studios can offer real support as well as projects for their members.

“The one big project we did last year was one with, and for women,” Christine explained.

“That was all around building your business, advocative and the mental health aspects. We dip into stuff that government agencies maybe can’t.”

An independent social enterprise, Blick Shared Studios aims to be inclusive and open-minded to new ideas and new people and be an organisation open to everyone but is very much industry focused on the needs of creative industry entrepreneurs.

For Christine, the lack of a sector body meant that Blick had to step into the void.

“There are agencies in the Republic of Ireland and England, but not here,” she explained. 

“There are the likes of the Arts Council, Craft NI and others but it is very segmented, whereas sometimes the creative industries do not fit into the niches that are created around arts, business and innovation.

“There’s not enough value placed on people that want to be freelancers or just be their own boss. Because everything’s about high growth and employing people.”

The UK has defined the sector as those industries that are based on individual creativity, skill and talent with the potential to create wealth and jobs through developing intellectual property.  It includes thirteen sectors: advertising, architecture, the art and antique market, crafts, design, designer fashion, film, interactive leisure software (video games), music, the performing arts, publishing, software, and television and radio.

To be eligible for space at Blick you must fall within one of these.

Having two office buildings in Cathedral Quarter means Blick Shared Studios are members of the CQ Business Improvement District, and Christine is keen that the area maintains its identity.

“It’s good to see the area developed just trying to maintain the cultural aspect of it, so people don’t get pushed out by developers,” she said. 

“It seems really a shame that we’ve lost so many art spaces from the city centre.”

Unlike many of the managed office spaces Blick Shared Studios do not offer the frills such as complimentary coffee and snacks, as they are focussed on affordability, and with charity status, they are diligent about costs. However, with so many local amenities and dining options throughout Cathedral Quarter, there really are enough opportunities to grab something quick nearby or host the likes of business lunches.

To learn more about Blick Shared Studios go to blickstudios.org.

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