I spoke with our Scarborough Business Hero, Andrew Clay, back in June 2018. Andrew has been Director at Woodend Creative Centre for 10 years and is also now Acting CEO of Scarborough Museums Trust pending the merger of the two businesses.
Andrew is originally from West Yorkshire where he had a role running a similar facility in Leeds. He had thought about living in Whitby but had believed there would be no jobs in the creative sector. However, he kept his eyes open and the job at Woodend finally came up. He’d been working on the Yorkshire Forward project at the time and it was suggested to him that he should go for the role. He told me it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. But that’s how these things usually happen, right?
Andrew told me that what he loves about Scarborough is that he doesn’t have to commute to work; there’s no stress about getting to work if you live and work in the town. Property prices are low and the schools are great.
One of the great things from a business point of view is that because Scarborough is a small town, it was relatively straightforward for him to be accepted into the groups he needed to be part of for business networking. He told me that senior people are more accessible here than in Leeds for example.
When I asked Andrew about challenges faced by Woodend and the cultural sector more widely he told me that a major challenge at Woodend is the pricing of the office space. The largest portion of Woodend’s revenue comes from the office accommodation it provides. But Scarborough is a low price economy so Andrew feels it’s not possible to charge more. Office space in York is £20-£30 per square foot and in Leeds it’s more like £40.
Andrew’s role is fundamentally about flying the flag for creative businesses and culture in general and trying to emphasise how fundamental culture is to social wellbeing. As a town we haven’t yet embraced culture as a crucial part of our lives. The culture sector has been fragmented here with no strong central voice. For example, the Stephen Joseph Theatre, our Museum, Crescent Arts, and Woodend have all been working valiantly but often separately. We are developing a new cultural strategy now which will deliver that much needed unified cultural vision for Scarborough. With no cultural strategy, it has been difficult to work collectively. We will only be able to achieve more when key cultural parties work together. We all have to buy into a vision that’s bigger than each individually and sing from the same hymn sheet. This is what Andrew is now hoping will begin to happen and the merger between Woodend and Scarborough Museums Trust will contribute to this bigger voice.
While the office accommodation side of Woodend is doing fine, delivering a cultural programme at Woodend has been more challenging. We have no passing trade and are hidden in the far corner of the Crescent. It has been more difficult therefore to encourage people to come in to Woodend as a venue. Raising the whole aspect of culture as a destination in Scarborough is an on-going issue. It can be challenging to let visitors know where we are by way of signage, lighting, and where to place our marketing material. The issue is how to encourage people to engage in culture. We need to put culture forward more strongly as an option. Most people who come are older people, aged 65+. How do we attract younger people and make the gallery (and culture generally) attractive as an option. We need to tweak our offering for a broader appeal. We need to refresh, stop and reflect fairly regularly or our ambition will die.
Indeed, an exciting new development at Woodend Creative Centre must be the arrival of Yay Coffee in September this year when Lottie and Rob McFarlane and their baby son Timothy relocated from their café in York Place to move into the gallery space at Woodend. Andrew admitted that when people go to events and galleries they expect to be able to buy a nice coffee. He said that this is a partnership between Woodend and one of Scarborough’s most exciting young retailers and will give a whole new dynamic to the Woodend entrance. Tenants at Woodend have certainly noticed a new buzz to the place since Yay Coffee’s arrival. My interview with Lottie McFarlane will be published in a separate post.
To find out more about events at Woodend visit https://www.woodendcreative.co.uk/whats-on/
If you are a Scarborough Business Hero and would like to take part in this project please contact me at https://actioncoach.co.uk/coaches/ros-jones/#contact