What do disused factories, coffee shops, skate parks, creative hubs and music studios all have in common? They all call Baltic Triangle home.
Over a decade ago the Baltic Triangle was home only to disused and uninhabited warehouses and relics from Liverpool’s industrial age, today it is emblematic of somewhat of a cultural renaissance that the city is undergoing. The area is quite stoic, the good news isn’t going to their head, they’re keeping it down and propelling forward. A large factor in the growth of the area is Baltic Creative, a stunning warehouse full of creative companies at the forefront of Liverpool’s buzzing digital sector. It seems as if every week the area is undergoing some form of renovation or revolution and we decided to meet up with Mark Lawler, Chair of Baltic Triangle CIC and Managing Director of Baltic Creative to find out how this all happened.
Where did Baltic Creative come from?
“The history of the sector in Liverpool is that it has been displaced over time. Jane Casey, put it well, “the creatives tend to navigate to places where the rent is cheap”. As those places become popular, music events, arts etc, begin to attract interest from other types of industry and business and you see property values rise. It has happened for 20 years. Happened in Ropewalks, Hardman Street and although they still have so much creativity, a lot of people get pushed about. About 7-8 years ago, a lot of those businesses were re-locating to the Baltic Triangle. What can we do to stop the sector getting pushed around? That was the question we first asked and how Baltic Creative was born. We own 18 warehouses which we converted into 44 spaces and these are now full of creative industries. But it’s not just about creative and digital industries – we have battery companies, garages, tyre shops, all sorts of light industry. That kind of industry is still here and the area continues to encourage this. We even have a school now – Studio School with 350 students learning about tech, gaming, apps and more and because the school is on the door step of businesses – industry meets students on a regular basis.”
We love the architecture in the building but we have to ask, why sheds?
“The architect for Baltic Creative suggested, while on a fact finding mission to Berlin, that we visit a hotel that incorporated hotel ‘shed-rooms’. That one night inspired the whole building. The architect understood the Baltic Triangle, is based in the area and most importantly, loves the area. We really wanted to home in on collaboration and I think the sheds aid that. You can personalise it, reflect your personality onto the walls and when people come in it is kind of like they’re walking into a little bit of you. It is nice that the tenants have taken them to heart.”
How has the area affected the local economy?
“Our 5 year review projected we put £1.4m into the local regional economy. As well as that, we have created 50 jobs, work with over 65 businesses and our tenants turnover growth is 7% over the last 12 months and employment growth is 7.6% over the last 12months. Basically, it is doing what it is meant to do. We’ve got workshop units, film studios, music studios, photographers and printers and even an auction house. In total we’ve got 18 warehouses with 65 businesses but we’re supporting a lot more in the process.”
Do you ever think gentrification will take over?
“That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Everyone who is behind the sector, who wants to see it grow, is of the same view. We want to see it grow and support creativity. It is a challenge, I’m not going to lie. It is a challenge for us and a challenge for the area. We now have an area company set up for the Baltic Triangle, and are developing a neighbourhood plan to define long term how we see the place growing. Developer investment will come, it is up to the area to shape it and see how to use the investment to support the vision and not detract from it.”
“We’re having some early success with developer conversations. PHD1 Construction, a local developer/construction company, paid for an art exhibition space to be built. Our first exhibitor was Laura Ford who worked closely with Castle Fine Arts (local foundry) and Laura chose this area as the first place to exhibit. Most developers are tarred with a bad name but the area is trying to work with people that get the areas vision and understand the area and the values that come with it. We won’t win all the negotiations but we hope to win some of them. Everything the area company does will be to support creative, digital and industrious business.”
What is the future looking like for the area?
“Baltic Creative own our buildings on a 250 year lease. It is mad to be thinking what some of the companies will be doing then. We will continue to invest in our space to ensure it meets our tenants needs. Baltic Creative will continue to try to add additional footprint in the area – we need more space for businesses. The area has such a wide variety of businesses from: breweries, artists, game developers and much more, it’s such a brilliant area. The area is hoping to host its first Creative and Digital festival later in 2015! Keep a look out for plans. It is an exciting time for Liverpool, there has just been a National Tech City Report, Liverpool has come 2nd in the top five fastest growing clusters in the UK and there was 119% growth in the last 12months – incredible figures for the sector in Liverpool. For Liverpool it means a lot of jobs and more importantly, a lot of high paying jobs. The Baltic Creative space is completely full and we have over 30 companies waiting to take space – so we have latent demand that needs to be provided for.”
The Baltic Triangle is a precious cornerstone of Liverpool’s creativity. We know the double edged sword of gentrification means that the area will lose battles and there might be planning permissions for student flats and supermarkets that are given the go-ahead but all we can hope for is that they win some of them. We have a feeling they will. Strip away the sheds and chop down the plants in the hallway and Baltic Creative is nothing more than a fancy landlord beneath it all. Mad to think that, isn’t it? That’s the beauty behind the building, nobody, even themselves see it as that. They’re viewed as a platform for local businesses to prevail, a gatekeeper to Liverpool’s creativity and a huge contributor towards the local economy first and a regular old landlord second.