Does anyone in Teesside creative industry really give a monkeys?

I have been reluctant to make this post for fear it is going to sound negative so let me set one thing straight right from the start…

  1. Teesside creative industry is huge and is still growing.
  2. We have some of the most creative minds in the North East.
  3. We have one of the best Universities in the UK outputting bright graduates year after year.
  4. We have a thriving community where people are willing to collaborate on projects, share knowledge and experiences.
  5. We have the most successful networking event for creative people that Teesside has ever seen! The last event attracted more than 60 people.
  6. We are home to some very successful creative companies, agencies and start-ups.

For those who do not know me, I am a web developer working for Thap in Middlesbrough. I am a graduate of Teesside University. I have worked in Teesside since graduating and live in Thornaby with my wife Fiona who was born in Middlesbrough. However, I am not from this area. I was born in York and bought up in Leeds. I came to Teesside to attend University. So why am I still here and why am I so passionate about the local creative industry?

About three years ago, I was working for a creative company in Stockton. We were just starting up and I was a sole developer working in a three-man team. I started to look for events I could go to meet other developers in my position. I wanted to talk about the technical aspects of the projects I was working on in order to get others opinions on the way I was going to approach them. I found myself having to travel to Newcastle to attend events because there was nothing in Teesside. This frustrated me because I knew that Teesside was marketing itself as a ‘digital hub’.

I started to speak to the few contacts I had at this stage. I did some research and stumbled upon Refresh Cities. Refresh is a community of designers and developers working to refresh the creative, technical, and professional culture of New Media endeavours in their areas. They promote design, technology, usability, and standards. Their manifesto fitted what I was looking to achieve therefore I decided to launch Refresh Teesside and the first event was held on Thursday 2nd April 2009.

Attendance was good. However three years ago it felt there was an unhealthy attitude towards networking in Teesside and this seemed to impact on who could get involved. Refresh Teesside is not and was never about pure networking. I leave what I class as ‘pure’ networking for the likes of BNI and events like that. I am personally not keen on ‘pure’ networking events although they do have their place. What I was interested in creating was an event which was relaxed, informal and welcomed people of all levels from any sized business in the creative sector. However, in 2009 it appeared that business owners were reluctant for their developers to go to these sort of events because they feared other businesses would poach them. They also seemed to worry that they might talk about projects they were working on and other businesses would then poach their clients. In my opinion this is totally unjustified. Although the event in 2009 was successful, the negative atmosphere meant I decided not do another event at that time.

Three years later my position had changed. I had made new connections in the region and once again it became apparent that there was still a gap in the market for an event like Refresh Teesside. I felt frustrated with hearing that Teesside is a ‘digital hub’ and that we were on the same level as Newcastle, Leeds & Manchester. In my opinion, we are not on the same level as these cities and I doubt we ever will be. That’s not a negative thing as I actually don’t think we need to be like these cities.

When I re-launched Refresh Teesside, I opened the event in February with this:  “People keep talking about Teesside being a creative hub. Have a think about that. Now think about Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester. Do you still think we are a creative hub?” This is a thought provoking statement. Teesside is an area which has lots of people saying Teesside is a creative hub but doing very little to promote the talent we have and boost collaboration in the region.

I re-started Refresh Teesside to combat these issues and create one well -known brand to represent the creative industry in and around Teesside. Refresh aims to give people a voice and a focus. It appears that people are keen to help make this happen. Each monthly event attracts more and more people, with sponsor’s being keen to support the event.

What Refresh Teesside is and what we promote:

  1. Give people an event to network with other people who are running businesses in the creative industry.
  2. Provide a relaxed, unthreatening atmosphere for people to share problems and solutions to every day problems.
  3. Allow people to connect and calibrate on projects to use the skills we have locally.
  4. Allow freelancers to make contacts with established businesses.
  5. Give graduates the chance to speak with the regions leading figures in the industry to help boost their confidence and improve there chance of winning a job they want to apply for.
  6. Create a brand that groups all things creative together for the creative industry in Teesside so people know where to go for news and to find professionals.

News of Refresh Teesside is spreading every day. People are realising the true potential of being part of something so fresh. I really hope that others in the region will work with Refresh Teesside to help promote what we have and help connect more of the talent we already have in and around Teesside.

I have a number of success stories which I am in the process of collating to produce a fact sheet on how Refresh Teesside is doing positive things for the creative sector in the region. Refresh Teesside has helped people find jobs, helped connect freelancers with opportunities and helped keep business local.

The future for Teesside’s creative industry is very bright; however even after campaigning and running events for the past 12 months we are only just starting to make a difference. Starting early next year I will be announcing a Refresh Teesside Board. At the time of writing it will consist of three people passionate about making a difference: Matt Kirwin, Chris Scott and myself. This is a true testament to where Refresh Teesside is today and reflects all the hard work from everyone involved and everyone who has ever attended the event.

Please help promote Refresh Teesside and what it represents. Let’s start to pool resources and start to make a difference under the already established, trusted and respected brand of Refresh Teesside. Teesside has something huge to prove and it is by no way unachievable.  If we promote the talent that we have, people will start to see what we have to offer. If we work with one another to produce the first class work we are all capable of peoples’ heads will start turning and people will start to look to Teesside as well as Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds. “Let’s gather great minds, share all of our knowledge, all grow and learn, promote local talent, be more than we think can be, make our cities better” and turn Teesside into the digital hub we all know it can be, together.

So to answer my original question, why am I still in Teesside and why am I so passionate? I am really excited about what’s happening. Every time I think about where Teesside will be in the next 12-24 months I think about us being a true powerhouse where people recognise the talent and enthusiasm we have to produce outstanding work. People are coming together, getting to know one another and sharing one voice. I have a feeling I am not the only one who goes home after a Refresh Teesside event energised and ready to take myself and Teesside to the next level. Come joins us!

3 thoughts on “Does anyone in Teesside creative industry really give a monkeys?

  1. I sometimes attend events around Newcastle but am not linked to any of the groups, so this is a bit of an outsider’s viewpoint…

    I think that the bigger groups (which organise themed events and consistently attract crowds from all sorts of backgrounds) have been a driving force for the array of niche events that now exist around Newcastle. Those groups have gradually built up an event-attending audience that didn’t exist prior, they established an infrastructure and eventually taught their attendees how to run their own groups.

    Refresh sounds like a similar sort of gathering with equal potential.

  2. Teesside has a mass of creative talent – from the guys at Visualsoft who have an amazing business model supporting amazing businesses, to the highly talented computer science students Teesside University turns out year after year.

    And RefreshTeesside is so needed, to celebrate and publicise what’s happening.

    My prediction is that the group will grow, but it will take time. As a Teessider working in digital and resident in London, I’ve embraced the networking culture, but it takes time. I started working with London Girl Geek Dinners 5 years ago when it was 30 women in a pub, and last year we hosted 200 people at the Mozilla HQ. It’s thanks to the persistence of people like Judith Lewis to keep making contacts, gathering sponsor support and chipping away that we’ve built a sound network and received some amazing press coverage.

    Despite living far away, I’m going to support the group as much as I can in the hope that one day my home town will offer up the same career opportunities as I see in London, with the added benefit of being able to get a parmo on demand.

    Refresh Teesside, James Mills, I salute you.

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