“40 miles from the UK” is a phrase often used by residents to describe Scarborough, Britain’s first seaside resort looking out over the ever changing North Sea. It is a town that is viewed with a mixture of nostalgia and a melancholic sense, from those who are on the outside of the town looking in, that its good old days have been and gone; in fact restaurant critic Jay Rayner described it as a “stagnant pond” and made reference to its “desperate grandeur” in a recent visit to the place. The feeling of of those who have chosen to make it their home, doesn’t seem to be further from the truth.
First things first though, who’s talking to you right now? I’m Richard and I moved to Scarborough around eight years ago to attend University, to cut a long story short I’m still here and I love it. I’ve worked at a web design agency and ecommerce company in the town and among other things I am director at Askew Brook, lecture Web Design at the University I graduated from and one of the many people behind a new group in the town called Digital Coast. I believe in something that isn’t very popular - I don’t think you need to move to large cities to succeed in your career and I don’t think that your career should be the overwhelming consideration when choosing where to live your life.
In order to make sure I wasn’t alone in this view I scoured my Scarborough based creative industry contacts (OK you got me, I took to twitter), asked about their businesses and why they live and choose to do business in a town that many feel has had its day.
With customers in nearly every country in the world, and working on finding some in Antarctica and Africa (edit: as of writing we just secured a reseller in Kenya!) we have a surprisingly large global reach. Our base in in Scarborough, Woodend. From here we manage orders and support queries from around the globe. Our largest customer base is the USA with Japan coming in a close second. The Internet has allowed us to virtually network and find our customers. While our competitors are generally in more metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, London, Manchester we remain competitive by taking advantage of lower overheads our location provides. But why Scarborough?
I grew up in Scarborough and love living here. The sea is less than 10 minutes away and Dalby forest 20 minutes. With a young family having these kind of amenities nearby means you rarely struggle for something to do. The low crime and safe feeling the area gives means it is somewhere I want to bring up my children.
Our suppliers often visit from places such as the USA and Europe. When I mention we are in Scarborough the response is “How far is that from London?” This is usually the only reference any foreign visitors have for the UK. I’m glad to say this has had no impact on the business. In fact it usually means visitors only come when they are serious about doing business. This can be a great time saving advantage. The Internet has made the world smaller. We can purchase a product from the US and supply it to a user in Japan via our website in the UK seamlessly in less than 10 minutes.
As Andy mentioned, ServerTastic are quite a major player in the SSL World, this is despite our main competitors largely being the utter giants of the Internet World and/or based in the States. I think there is an idea “in business” that you have to be seen to make the right moves, work in the correct cities or move in certain circles. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard people say to others “Well if you were in Leeds….” or “Well if you were in York….” then somehow their business would take a major step up and you know what? I don’t necessarily think its true, in the digital arena as in all business you have to be providing something that there is a demand for, and deliver it. That’s it. We have customers in all of the major cities in the World but we’ve never been……and it doesn’t matter.
I am a product designer, branding consultant, inventor and artist and I mostly work with charities, educational institutions and new businesses here in Scarborough. Outside of the commercial aspects of my business I do a lot of deep futures research and self generated design projects which are all given away for free. In this regard I have almost no competitors nationally, let alone in Scarborough, but in some areas of my business such as branding and web design, there are many competitors here. We all have a vastly different style and approach, most of us a self taught and are highly innovation driven, we all talk to one another and have a growing community. The quality of the work we produce as a community is exceedingly high.
My initial thoughts were that Scarborough would be a bad place to start my business, that there wasn’t much in the way of industry here, how wrong I was. Not only is there an industry here, but it is one of the best places in the country where you can start a business, there is a perception in the business community that we have to work together to build the local economy which is not present in other towns and cities, and there is abundant support on all levels for entrepreneurs and start-ups. Businesses here have a strong local economy to build upon, and then fantastic capacity to exfiltrate business from surrounding cities, as thanks to the Internet, there is little need for businesses to be based close to industry. On top of all this, Scarborough is a stunning town, a Victorian utopia built atop 2 golden beaches with a medieval castle at its headland poking out into the ocean. Its abundance of unique environments is the best possible atmosphere for creative thinking and ideas driven businesses like my own.
In 2012 there is absolutely no value to being based in a specific location unless your business relies in some way on foot fall. A future is already being painted for us that businesses no longer needs to have a fixed place in space time and are able to work entirely virtually and do business across the whole world. I have clients in the US and partners in Beijing. There is a perception that location is important for big business, but if you look at the big players in most industries they are increasingly becoming virtual. Small business has the best opportunity to work in a meta realm not limited by national boundary and time zone. As my business is digital, thinking in terms of location is part of a mind set which most of industry is dismantling as you read this. In many respects I have gained work through being here in Scarborough for this very reason, my studio is more cost effective, closer to where I live, and clients want to come to the sea to do business!
Callum’s view of competitors is quite refreshing, it is certainly the mindset that you observe in locations such as Brighton or Bristol when thinking about the major players in the web design and development world. As an outsider looking in, you get the impression that people are excited about other peoples work. They are their competitors but they meet at conferences and interact openly on Twitter as well as endorse other people. So far as I can see this is for two reasons; One, they are utterly confident in their own ability and two, they see the opportunity to form partnerships in order to win work that they may not have done otherwise.
It is great to see this mindset creeping into areas like Scarborough. Hopefully the days of holding your cards close to your chest for fear of losing potential clients is slowly ebbing away and we can encourage, not only in our sector, growth through collaboration but hopefully we can have an impact on other areas too.
I’m mostly an Internet marketer, and my clients are small to medium businesses who want to sell more online.
I ended up in Scarborough after following my partner, she wanted to work in mental health and live by the sea, and I had a marketing company in Derby. I commuted between the two for a couple of years before noticing in August 2000 that the local university campus (of Hull University) was offering an Internet Computing degree course (which was new at the time).
I actually really love Scarborough. It’s a beautiful place to live, it’s almost the perfect size, there’s always something happening, I always accidentally see friends in town if I wander, and when I used to run .. where could be better?
Scarborough does feel separate, it’s an hour away from anywhere. But, and people laugh at me for saying this, it’s surprisingly close to London .. I took the train to Ramsgate the other week and it only took 5 hours including two 45 minute changes. Of course, you could say Internet marketing can be done from anywhere, but increasingly I think meeting people in real life is still very important.
With that separation comes a little Scarborough magic. Anyone can be a big fish, that’s the first thing. If you want to make something happen, you can just do it. And if you go to events and get involved, you’ll meet people and over the years you’ll keep brushing up against the same people time and again. What that means is everyone has to get along, it doesn’t help to fall out with anyone, and we all know each other. It’s like a big village. So if I can pass on work to someone who is better than me at something, of course I will, and that means business comes to me by word of mouth too.
My clients at the moment are in Pickering, London, Scarborough, Camberley, London again, and Whitby .. it seems to be more important for clients to find people they can trust, than that they are in the same city.
John makes a good point, connection times to the major cities aren’t as bad as you would expect. In fact, you can get from Scarborough to London in a little of three and a half hours, Manchester in a couple, Leeds in just over an hour and York in 50 minutes. When you consider that there is a route on the London Underground that takes over two hours, are we really that unconnected?
I’ve been thinking about the apparent obsession that your town needs to be close to London. We are a small island compared to other countries on the continent and I don’t think people realise just how quickly we can get to pretty much anywhere we like. For example ServerTastic met with some prospective suppliers and they came over to Scarborough to meet us, nothing major in that you may think, but when you consider they came from Barcelona and Geneva you kinda get the impression we need to think again.
I’m Gordon Tennent and trade under the name ‘Sneakytrick’. I design websites, predominantly using Joomla CMS, for a range of clients from a world famous comic book writer to small local businesses. I also produce ‘white-label’ websites for other web design companies so you may have seen some of my work without realising it.
A complete change of lifestyle brought me to Scarborough, a place that I’d visited regularly throughout my childhood and adult life (my parents honeymooned here so it was a bit of a family favourite). Bored with living and working in Glasgow, I arrived in 2004 with no local clients and by the end of 2012 will have topped 100. I stay in Scarborough because I love living at the seaside and prefer to be a big fish in a small pond rather than the opposite.
I don’t think that living in Scarborough has made much difference to the work I do. I have a client base that covers various areas of the country and currently have around 90% client retention rate.
This historical feeling of belonging and place that Gordon alludes to is extremely common among those people that end up working in the town. They do tend to appreciate the unique location more than those that have lived in Scarborough all their life (pass the tin-hat). It isn’t a place you just pick on a map when you are looking for somewhere to live, there is a calling, you’ll either love it or you won’t, you’ll get a feel for the place and get its culture and that is either for you or it isn’t. With Gordon it was a childhood holiday destination, for me it was the first mates holiday I went on. You can keep Cancun and Ayia Napa, Hunmanby was where it was at in 2003.
I work with two other designers and collectively we’re known as Electric Angel Design. We work mostly with arts and third sector clients - festivals, art galleries, arts organisations, local authorities and charities. Our main work is graphic design for print or the web but we’re increasingly working on public art commissions too often with a strong text or typographic element. Our graphic design client base is largely within Yorkshire with a few notable exceptions but the public art work takes us across the country.
Rebecca (my wife and business partner) and I wanted to live by the sea rather than in a city which is the environment where we started Electric Angel. Scarborough is full of character. It’s everything you’d expect from a major seaside resort in summer but we fell in love with it out of season when it’s quiet and hauntingly beautiful. The vibrant arts scene is one of Yorkshire’s best kept secrets but word is beginning to get out. Scarborough is perceived as being a little isolated but is actually pretty well connected and we figured what’s the point of running your own business is you can’t choose where to live… Our studio looks out over Scarborough’s South Bay and down the coast. We’ve been here almost 10 years now and the novelty still hasn’t worn off.
Not being in a major city certainly means you miss out on opportunities in potential graphic design work purely because you’re not seen around and it’s harder to keep in people’s minds. As a small design studio the key is to initially build a reputation within the immediate area - when you live away from a city that can be very limited and we were fortunate in having a few years under our belt and a growing reputation before we moved here. With public art your work is more important than where you’re based and people are usually looking to commission something totally unique - that’s a bit different to design where there’ll probably be several design studios nearby who can all do a great job.
The scene is indeed very strong in Scarborough and in the surrounding areas. In the last year or so Matisse and Hockney exhibitions have taken place in the town, every year we have a World renowned jazz festival and a literature festival that is going from strength to strength each year.
These kind of events are key to attracting and keeping key talent in the town, be that from the University or individuals moving into the area. This is an area that probably needs to expand more though if we are comparing it with other towns and cities in the area. The art scene is great but beyond that I’m not entirely sure there are a large enough number of great restaurants (they do exist, see the Jay Rayner review referenced in the opening paragraph) and lifestyle shops (Habitat et al.) to comfortably keep these people occupied in the town at this moment in time.
I'm Sam Kitson - I'm a web designer and developer. I work freelance which the majority of my work comes through but I’ve just opened a digital agency called Wedogoodthings. Large digital and creative agencies worldwide employ me to work on specific projects they have won, usually from big name blue chip companies. Over the last year, I have worked on projects for Disney, Pixar, HSBC, Tog24, Halfords, First Direct, the UN, and many more.
The type of work I do varies between contracts. Some clients contract me for front-end development, others contract me for back-end development work , and some clients contract me for my design work; web design, branding, and logo design. A lot of the time I’m contracted to use a mix of my skill set.
I was lucky enough to be born in Scarborough and I grew up here before moving to Newcastle to attend University. After finishing my degree in Politics, and a postgrad in Law, I moved to York to attend College of Law for the Legal Practice Course to become a solicitor. To cut a long story short - I decided the legal world wasn’t for me and focused on the things that interested me - technology and design. I worked at an agency in Leeds designing and building for Nokia and ASDA for a time, before leaving to concentrate on being full time self employed. It was the second best career decision I ever made (the first best being my decision to leave the legal world). Since then, the work has been steady and I relocated from the Leeds area to Scarborough again.
So, why did I move back to Scarborough? Simply put, because I love the place. Being in Scarborough gives me a quality of life I wasn’t getting in the city. I’m able to go surfing anytime I like (I have 2 surfboards and a wetsuit in my office at Woodend - very handy for a lunchtime dip in the ocean), I get to enjoy all the things that Scarborough has to offer (a beautiful seaside town), and I still win the same contracts and work that I did when I was living in the city. I’m just a happier person for it. I get to cycle everywhere, see my friends and family, and take my kids to feed the ducks at Peasholm Park on the weekend.
I don’t think being away from the city has cost me any work. I’m still very much connected to the same networks and clients that I was before. I’ll admit that working for a spell in Leeds allowed me to build a good solid contact base, but I don’t see it as a necessary step. If you produce good work and tell people about it, then you’ll win clients and contracts. The Internet has made the world a much smaller place in terms of business, and if a client really needs to see me face to face, I can jump in the car, on a train or a plane and be with them pretty quickly. Most of the time I communicate with clients over the phone, over Skype, and over email. It’s the way that the market is evolving. In this sense, it doesn’t matter where in the world I am, as long as I have a connection to the Internet and/or a phone network. If I wanted to conduct my business on top of a mountain in the alps, then I’d do that.
Remember when we were told around a decade ago that the workplace would be a thing of the past and we could all work from wherever we wanted? Well, it hasn’t really happened has it? The business community (again, whatever that means) need to put a halt to the fear that they seem to have when breaking from anything other than the norm. You know what, your staff aren’t going to shaft you, they want to keep their jobs and want to be successful at what they do. Embrace it, go surfing, and if you want, run your business from the bloody Alps.
So, do you need to move to large city to succeed? I’m not that green to know it doesn’t have its advantages but, if you love what you do and are good at it, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t forge a very successful career in towns like Scarborough. In truth, this is a fraction of the creative businesses and individuals in the town, there are some major players here to. I think there is something of a revolution happening in Scarborough and there is no reason it cannot be seen as at least an equal to other towns and cities by the outside World. The brutal truth is that communities cannot sit around waiting for investment to come into the area, it has to get off its backside and create its own opportunities and Scarborough is in a great position to recognise this. There are lots of examples of towns being supported by one company or industry but when they’ve gone, what happens then?
To sign off then I’ll leave you with this; To be happy you simply need to surround yourself with people who are as passionate as you are, and the sea.