By Rhys Handley, Monday 05 February 2018
Print has been reaping the benefits of a flourishing creative industry in the South West of England’s biggest city, as have many ex-Londoners.
It can be hard to escape London, even when you live very far away. The capital’s influence, and its standing in business and finance, reach far across the UK, overwhelmingly outpacing the comparatively paltry successes of cities and towns across the country.
London brings in 22% of the UK’s GDP, despite only comprising 12.5% of the population.
Plenty of cities are flourishing: Manchester and Birmingham continue to prosper as second cities, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast hold sway as capitals, and Derry and Hull have had a chance to thrive under the City of Culture banner. However, nationwide growth is largely stifled by business’s general tendency to centre the bulk of its vital decision-making and trade in the City with a capital ‘C’.
It is encouraging news, then, that there are reports of a scrappy underdog hauling itself out of the shadow of London. A survey by Ernst & Young (EY) has revealed that Bristol is, in fact, growing at a faster pace than the capital, with its gross value added (GVA) forecast to be 2.3% up to 2020, just ahead of London’s 2.2%. Furthermore, its successes
are set to benefit the wider South West of England.
“The city is finally punching above its weight,” EY senior partner Andrew Perkins says. “Bristol is expected to be one of the fastest growing UK cities over the next three years. This is underpinned by professional and back office services and real estate driving growth across the South West.”
Only Manchester and Reading can boast higher scores with 2.4% GVA predicted. Still, Bristol is reaching ahead in other respects, with its employment rate shooting up by 15.3% to become the UK’s highest over the past decade – now at 77.2%, above the national average of 74.4%. It’s also a hub of new businesses, with 2,799 start-ups in the professional, scientific and technical sector (which includes print) from 2013-2017.
“Bristol offers a diverse and dynamic workforce which is growing,” says Rob Page, managing director of Gemini West, the Bristol arm of the Gemini Print Group.
“It has a huge pool of expertise on its doorstep which attracts fast-growing industries such as information and communication industries, as well as many professional services, which in turn attracts financial service sectors to the city,” he says.
“Over recent decades, Bristol has proved to be a magnet for many large national and international companies, particularly those wishing to relocate from London. This has grown the local economy considerably, which is evident by the scale of the development within the central business district.”
The fact that print itself is thriving in the city is intrinsically linked to the success of Bristol’s other industries – they all need advertising and communication strategies put out on ink and paper. A major boon to print’s sail has been Bristol’s burgeoning creative sector, boasting a workforce of 16,000 people and making up around 10% of the local economy.
Alex Gerardi, general manager of the six-strong team at Clifton Print Services, concurs: “The city has a deep background with art, creativity and design. We have the lifeblood of people such as the street artist Banksy running through the population. There are a lot of creative people in Bristol and print is driven by these kinds of ideas. Even just speaking to our customers, they are optimistic about the future and that feeds back into our own success.”
He adds: “It’s good for business when you, your staff, and your customers, live and work in a place they love – that’s what every business owner wants. Bristol has this vibrant social scene that obviously impacts on its ability to create, and ours to print – there’s a real buzz around.”
Speaking to printers across the city, it’s impossible to find one who will not sing the praises of their city in the South West. The attraction is clearly infecting the country.
The Office for National Statistics reported at the start of this year that 80 people are moving from London to Bristol each week. A total of 4,210 people moved to Bristol from the capital across 12 months in 2015-16.
Print Co (Bristol) is one of the area’s newest print arrivals. Having set up shop towards the end of 2014, it very much emerged as part of this new wave of business.
“Bristol is growing faster than a lot of places, obviously,” says group production manager Danny Lock.
“There is a gradual move out of London, bringing industry and companies that we feel we are in a good position to support. People need advertising and paper for businesses, and Bristol is becoming one of the biggest financial areas going.”
Lock attributes Bristol’s renaissance to a variety of factors, which are both practical and figurative, and all of which build up to make not only a hub of business and creativity, but somewhere to settle and build a home.
Lock sums up the appeal of the city: “The beauty of Bristol is that it offers the infrastructure of a major city, while also providing easy access to vast countryside and also to the coast. It’s got motorway links that can easily take you to London, and it is ultimately still an affordable place to live,” he says.
“I know people who live here and commute into London for work, because Bristol is so appealing to live in by comparison. They still eat, sleep and drink within the Bristol locale,” he adds.
“Everything is within.”
There is no better place to learn about technology
Tim Bowles, West of England regional mayor
The region of the West of England has a long history of commercial strength, which dates back to the days when Bristol was the principal west coast port for England.
Since then, we have led the way in innovation, from the engineering of Brunel to George White’s pioneering aircraft that led to the Bristol Airplane Company which, in turn, attracted electronic innovation as aircraft became more complex.
After the Second World War, the tech economy took shape with government investment in Inmos. In turn, this helped to attract the research labs of HP, Intel, IBM, ST, as Bristol and Bath began to rival Silicon Valley as a centre for silicon and micro-electronic research and design.
As technology has moved on, so has the region’s tech cluster, developing into strands like artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous systems.
This diverse range of deep technology is fed from some of the richest pools of technological knowledge in the world, held in four universities in Bath and Bristol, globally renowned for their research.
But academic knowledge is not enough in itself; it needs to be translated into business. We have found excellent ways of doing this. SETSquared, a university incubator, and Bristol Robotics Lab, one of Europe’s largest robotics lab, are the places where it starts.
Oracle Cloud Accelerator, HP Labs and Toshiba Research Labs have all formed productive relationships with local universities that sustain the West of England’s leading edge as a tech cluster.
These deep technologies are all playing a part in the fourth industrial revolution, which is changing the way in which we live our lives and the way business is conducted. This is affecting the printing industry as much as anywhere else.
My advice to businesses is that if you want to futureproof yourselves at this time, then there is no better place to learn about technology than in the West of England.
What makes Bristol special to you and your business?
Marketing manager, Whitehall Printing
Last year was the 40th year of our business and we have always been huge advocates of Bristol. The city is a creative hub with plenty of industrial development going on – flexible workspaces and new businesses give us long-term and fresh clients to work with. The city ticks all the boxes: beautiful architecture, access to the countryside and facilities for children. Going out along Wapping Wharf, you can see low-rent space welcoming new firms into central locations. There is always something new when I go there, and there is a great support network for them.
Managing director,Hampton Printing
I have been with this firm for 31 years – I bought the firm 14 months ago. But it has been here since the 1960s. The creative side is growing massively and there are huge financial draws here, such as Lloyds and Dyson setting up major bases. The infrastructure is greatly improving with the new Metrobus transit system and links to Birmingham and London. Bristol City FC is doing well in the Championship, too. Overall it feels like a very young city, especially in terms of how it embraces music and creativity. Lots of agencies, blogs and magazines have sprung up around that.
Managing director, TwentySix01
Bristol is a very diverse city, I have found, in terms of its business and
its people. The city is not really a ‘mini-London’, but it is just as vibrant without the expense, the pollution or the traffic. My wife is from London, so we spend a lot of time there. However, I’m always really glad to come back to Bristol whenever I have been away. There is a lot of development here, which is exciting, and it’s not dominated by a single, mass industry, which means that there is some great variety in terms of the kinds of jobs we do and our customers.