Chris Owen

Written by Chris Owen

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Warwickshire: One of the UK's Top Creative Clusters

What have William Shakespeare and a ZX Spectrum got in common?

If your answer was: ‘One wrote plays and sonnets, whilst the other: you play on it’, then good for you, well done.

However, if you answered ‘Warwickshire’, then you might already know why this picturesque county in the Midlands has become synonymous with both the Bard and the digital age.

Placing Shakespeare aside for a moment, Warwickshire in the mid-eighties was the location for some of the Spectrum’s best simulation creations with the likes of BMX, F1 and boxing all registering knock-out punches on the UK video games radar.

One company in particular were by far in a way the county’s number one creative producers, and if you’re looking for just one reason why Warwickshire is synonymous with the digital age then look no further than Southam for your answer.

How Southam helped to put Warwickshire on the digital map

Based in Southam, around 12 miles south of Coventry, Codemasters is a video games and software developer which was formed in 1986 by brothers Richard and David Darling.

Numerous deals, agreements and console upgrades later, Codemasters are still going strong with worldwide recognition ranging from Indian media group Reliance Entertainment to the Queen of England who awarded David Darling a CBE in her 2008 birthday honours list.

Although DD (CBE) sold out the year before he was officially recognised for his services to the games industry he has left behind something of a creative legacy with over 800 employees now working in Birmingham, Kuala Lumpur and back at base camp in Southam.

It’s no surprise that the achievements of the Darling brothers placed Warwickshire firmly on the digital map, giving the county a reputation as something of a creative hub. Web designers, games developers and digital media agencies have all flocked to the area in their droves and if you’re looking for further evidence of Warwickshire’s commitment to cutting edge then a visit to Leamington Spa is definitely in order.

Why Leamington is Warwickshire’s answer to Silicon Valley

As mentioned, it wasn’t just the games industry that was growing in stature in the shadow of Shakespeare, oh no; around 6 miles to the northwest of Southam there was another digital revolution taking place in the sophisticated Regency town of Leamington Spa.

Formerly famed for its sweeping walkways, green spaces and Edwardian architecture, Leamington benefited from the proximity of Codemasters with a hugely significant number of digital design agencies setting up their own base camps within the town.

Website designers, digital publishers and games producers are rife amongst the therapeutic spa parlours and traditional English restaurants of Leamington which has led to the area being coined Silicon Spa, much to the bemusement of the local tea and crumpet brigade.

With well over one thousand workers employed within the digital media industry, Leamington Spa has become one of Britain’s most important creative clusters and from low-cost office space to specially designed digital incubators, there’s plenty to get excited if you’re heading north of London.

How Coventry and Warwickshire are linked when it comes to digital media

Once part of Warwickshire and still responsible for driving much of the area’s digital talent, Coventry is second only to Birmingham in size and boasts two universities as well as one of the West Midlands’ highest proportions of startups.

With a strong sense of creativity and invention running through Coventry’s core, there’s plenty for the city’s students to take inspiration from and both Warwick and Coventry universities offer a solid choice of digital media courses and collaborative business projects.

One particular area where Coventry University is certainly taking charge when it comes to digital media innovation is SGI also known as the Serious Games Institute.

From apps and animation to high-level research and cutting edge tech, SGI is leading the way when it comes to combining quality education with digital achievements, and thanks to the abundance of local employment opportunities, the list of applicants stretches all the way to Clerkenwell.

Of course, Warwick University is no slouch when it comes to attracting students away from the capital either, and there’s no better example of cutting-edge coursework other than what’s on offer at the International Institute for Product and Service Innovation.

With an established reputation which enables small and medium sized local businesses to benefit from a wide range of interactive student projects, including: UX, social media, web design and cloud tech, IIPSI is just another reason why Warwickshire and the digital generation are so intrinsically linked.

Why the bond between Birmingham and Warwickshire will never be broken

Buzzing with creativity and possessing one of Europe’s youngest populations, Birmingham is located just 40 minutes from Silicon Spa and as such is definitely a key contributor to Warwickshire’s rising reputation as the UK’s digital hub.

With over 6,000 digital tech firms, employing some 40,000 gamers, designers and creative types, it’s no wonder that the city consistently gains recognition for being one of the hottest startup centres north of Watford, as well as an extremely attractive prospect for foreign investment.

Several innovation initiatives have seen Birmingham slapped onto the digital map with the likes of The Custard Factory, Innovation Birmingham Campus and the BBC’s Guerrilla Group all aiming to research new and exciting ways of communicating to the digital generation.

Although now part of the West Midlands region, much of Birmingham used to belong to Warwickshire and thanks to the powerful pull of digital and creative talent, the ties between both areas are just as strong as ever.

Final thoughts on what drives digital creativity in Warwickshire

It’s often the proximity to London that helps to create a powerful package when it comes to start up businesses and digital design companies, however, in Warwickshire the appeal appears to be much more than jumping onboard a train and plugging in for the daily commute.

Low-cost office space, cutting edge courses and an already established community are all responsible for attracting young entrepreneurs to the area with around a quarter of the UK’s gaming and digital technology workforce based in and around Warwickshire.

From today’s website designers to yesterday’s ZX Spectrum gamers, Warwickshire is showing no signs of stopping, and if you’re much more inclined towards silicone as opposed to Shakespeare then isn’t it about time you got your white fluffy towel out and joined the spa revolution?