Opinion: A new level of connectedness for the creative industries

By Stacey Lynch - 27 May 2021

Look Again Co-Director Hilary Nicoll writes about the success of the Creative Entrepreneurship short course and how bringing it online has opened up a new level of connectedness for the creative industries.

We’ve just wrapped up the final session of the Creative Entrepreneurship short course. In our digital classroom we have students from across the north east, all around the central belt and as far afield as the Island of Iona. We’ve just run though all the course work that we are asking them to complete, and have invited any questions. There are plenty, but then things take a more conversational turn, and we start getting all these messages about how much they have valued the course, how important it has been to have something to take part in during these isolated Covid times, and how much it has helped shape their thinking about creating sustainable careers. We end on a fantastic high. This is the third time we have delivered the course and we feel like we have something really special here. 

Just over a year ago, things were very different. We’d recruited our first cohort for the brand new post grad level short course, developed specifically for creative practitioners who want to start a new enterprise, or take an existing business to the next level. It has come about through an innovative partnership between the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group at RGU, and the Look Again team at Gray’s School of Art. We’d developed it to fill a gap in provision, knowing that the creative sector doesn’t feel that existing business support talks their language, or understands their values. It was a hybrid of the RGU Start-up Accelerator, re-framed with creatives in mind. We knew there was a demand for this and places had been oversubscribed. 

We were all set to meet the students in a seminar room in central Aberdeen in March 2020, then Covid struck. We delayed the course by one week, and took it online. Turns out the University had a virtual learning environment all along! So we welcomed the students virtually, learned on the job, and immediately it became clear there were real benefits to working in this way. The first was it was easy to ‘beam in’ industry experts from all over the UK, saving them travel time, saving us travel costs, and creating a new sense of accessibility and informality, as we chatted to them in their homes and studios. Next, we realised that students could come from all over Scotland. Not only did we no longer need to meet in a physical space, meaning students could attend from anywhere, but we suspected the gap in support for creative business was a national issue, not just a north east one, and we could really impact on that.  

We invited our next applications through our national creative networks, and once again were over-subscribed; our hunch was right and we had students signing up from all over Scotland. This allowed for a new level of connectedness for the creatives taking part. The north east can so often feel remote from the rest of the country, and we were finding ways to change that, to the benefit of the creative sector as a whole.   

As the course has evolved, we’ve developed very active, student-led approach to learning. We use break out rooms a lot, and give groups tasks to research and present back. We’ve really challenged the students, taken them out of their comfort zones, but because of the safe space we have created, even though we are online, this has been a hugely positive experience for them. The students have risen to the challenge (despite joking about a WhatsApp support group) and are emerging well-equipped for the next steps of their creative journey, whatever that may look like in these challenging times.

One year on and we are recruiting for our fourth cohort, after which we will have taken nearly 100 students through the course. Demand for the course seems to be increasing as each cohort spreads the word. Collective conversations are taking place among the students – what do they need next, can they work together, can they do pop ups, set up new networks, work collaboratively? There is a sense that they their confidence has soared, that  they are activated and excited about the future.

Look Again and EIG are committed to continuing to work together to support the creative industries in the north east and further afield, building on the course and responding to needs in the creative sector. Our latest students will have an online showcase of their creative businesses on the Look Again website in June, look out for details here

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