Monday 12th September 2016

The Central Belt - a Creative Hub in Stirling

In our latest guest blog, Founder of Ping Creates Jason Wagner writes about his career journey and what his hopes and aspirations are for Stirling.


I was brought up in Cambuskenneth and I have very fond memories of exploring Dumyat, birthday parties in Riverside, visiting the Wallace Monument and so much more.


However, at age seven we had to move as the John Player’s cigarette factory closed and my dad had to find a job elsewhere. This took me south and then north over the next four years until we settled in Edinburgh.  The opportunities in the capital city were immense and I found my entrepreneurial nature start to blossom.


From creating my own computer magazine to competing with the school tuck shop, I jumped at the chance to make any extra money during my teenage years! I can’t honestly say these were successful profit-making enterprises but, from them, I learned that it was the creative stages I enjoyed the most.


I went on to study Animation and Visual Communications at the Edinburgh College of Art and was plunged into an environment that inspired ideas, innovation and creativity.


During my third year I had the opportunity to work with a new company in Edinburgh, creating computer generated animation for their international customer base. Although I didn’t know it at the time this was the start of my freelance career.  Over the next twelve years I built up a large client base within the private sector creating TV adverts, games, websites and more.


There was, however, a limit to how far my career could go as a freelancer as I wanted to work more directly with clients rather than going through multiple agencies. I’m not a fan of the middle man!


Also, although opportunities were all around I was continually frustrated as creative talent across Scotland left in droves for the promise of better money and more exciting jobs elsewhere.  It took me a while to realise that although there were many other creatives out there, not all of them were happy or enjoyed promoting themselves in the same way I did.  This presented an opportunity, one that would help other freelancers and take my career to the next level.


I set up Ping Creates in 2010, a creative studio which, at the time, was based in Glasgow. This new start had simple core aims: To offer real opportunities for the artists, developers, business thinkers and talented individuals I meet each day and to be creatively led.


I decided to approach The Bridge, one of the leading advertising agencies in Scotland, to set up a joint venture.  My reasons for approaching The Bridge were three fold:  They were a traditional agency with no digital offerings - a gap I could fill; they were extremely successful within the public sector and they offered a real opportunity to go from sole trader to fully fledged registered company with the backing of an established agency.


During our time together we created an App for Abertay University; a series of highly successful games for Zero Waste Scotland and advertising campaigns for NHS24.  It was a huge learning curve for both agencies and to this day I’m proud of everything we created together.


And I’m proud to say I kept true to those core values, employing and keeping talent that previously was on the cusp of leaving Scotland for London or the USA.


After three successful years, I had the opportunity to buy-out the Bridge and in 2013 returned home, to Stirling, an area that I love. My son was born that same year and I wanted to prioritise family, so rather than spend two hours commuting each day, the home office was set up and Ping Creates was ready for the next phase of growth.


And that’s where I’m writing this now, in the home office, surrounded by everything that inspires me from artwork to technology.  And although no longer owning a studio, Ping Creates is and always will be a collective and the talented individuals hired in those formative years are still very much part of the team today.


Ping Creates Historic Scotland App.jpgIn the last three years we’ve created an award nominated App for Historic Scotland, a series of games for Food Standards Scotland, Burn Stewart Distillers Sales App, websites for internationally recognised photographer Colin Prior and world record breaking endurance athlete Mark Beaumont.


Ping Creates - Peekaboo Planet App.jpg

These successes have allowed us to reinvest and create our own products including Peekaboo Planet and Creative Creature’. These projects give us the chance to work with new talent and help nurture the next generation of creative thinkers and doers.


However, with all this success and the digital market growing year on year in Scotland there is still a skills gap. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to hire talent across all sectors and the reality is they are still lured south, overseas or to the larger cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.


This talent pooling caught my eye and I couldn’t understand why Stirling was left out of this list. In all honesty, the majority of my team are based in one of these Scottish cities but why not from the Stirling area?


So over the last three years I investigated local businesses and the freelance talent and noted a thriving community but one that is completely disconnected. The number of self-employed people in this area is huge when compared to other parts of the UK.


For all of us working here we know why that’s the case: Stirlingshire offers affordable housing, an excellent lifestyle with the great outdoors at your doorstep and outstanding travel links to the rest of the UK and beyond.


However, when researching office spaces currently offered in Stirling, they were either far too large, in the middle of nowhere or a concrete bunker! Not exactly the most inspiring places to work or for clients to visit.


As I compared Stirling to the other Scottish cities, one thing became apparent very quickly. Each have areas that offer affordable spaces for individuals and SME in central locations. These locations are inspiring, creative spaces that bring the community together. There is tangible investment in arts, design, training and new technology.


So over the past year I’ve met with local freelancers, entrepreneurs, business leaders and Stirling Council to understand what we can do to make Stirling the place for new and existing businesses, recent graduates and the huge talent base in the area. At the same time Stirling city suddenly started to change. The renovations to the train station with a new bridge, the Seaforth building and Engine Shed are all exciting additions to a growing city.


And the upshot of these discussions was that almost all agree, we need a space that brings businesses and community together. This will allow us to grow the sector and put Stirling on the map as the place to start and build international businesses, to fill the ever present skills gap.  A creative space that looks for inspiration from around the world while bringing the unique character and community together that is so prevalent in Stirlingshire.


This creative hub is a dream that’s been knocking around in my head since setting up Ping Creates in 2010. The concept is to offer an inspirational environment for creatives across all disciplines and I believe it’s the perfect fit within the Stirling area. From coders to animators, designers to chefs and yoga teachers to architects, the creative hub would provide affordable space for established companies, freelancers and commercial businesses.


And the creative hub would be more than just another office space. It would inspire businesses, the community and entrepreneurs from the outset to become involved. We can harness our central location and provide a physical link between Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh as the place for events and festivals. Businesses will see the true benefits of a base in Stirling as it offers outstanding travel links to the UK and a huge talent base across a wide variety of sectors.


The space itself will inspire the community, offering real opportunity for skills development through placements and workshops for school pupils and students. With an in-house coffee shop, bar, yoga studio and more, it will offer a unique space for retail opportunities, public engagement and that arts.


This is a showcase for Stirling, as a forward looking, connected and inspiring city that nurtures, develops and keeps talent in Scotland.


This is my vision for a creative hub: "Welcome to the Central Belt"


However, this isn’t a personal quest, the Central Belt is nothing without the people of Stirlingshire and the community that binds this area together. I’d love to hear from you directly, your thoughts on the idea, your own ideas and what you could do to help bring this to fruition .


My passion is to see Stirling and the surrounding area offer real opportunity for my son and for all young people in Stirling. So that when they leave school to start a career or come back from travelling or wherever their lives take them, they look to Stirling as the place to live, work, play and have a family.


Then, and only then, will the community and area I love so much be secure for future generations.


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