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September 8, 2017 —

Creative women in the north

Hannah Clugston chats to five women who've based their businesses in creative hubs across the north of England
Hannah Clugston
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Traditionally, London has been the go-to location for creatives in the UK. After all, there is an endless supply of inspiration found on the walls of the world-class galleries or echoing across the many music venues – not to mention the connections, buyers, journalists and influential folk that swarm the streets on a daily basis. However, with house prices booming and the cost of rent reaching eye-watering heights, makers are heading further north. Hannah Clugston chats to five business women taking their creativity that little bit closer to the North Pole.


Karen Mabon, illustrator, Edinburgh

How did you find yourself living up north? I grew up in the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands and gradually moved south (I did my undergraduate degree in Edinburgh and then my masters in London). When I was in London I always felt a bit homesick and missed the space and time I felt were more readily available in the north. After a few years in London, I moved up to York and now I live in Edinburgh.

What are the advantages of running a creative business in the north of the country? I found anxiety over paying my bills in London was getting in the way of my creativity. My work is quite playful and fun and I find it hard to design anything when I feel stressed. I also feel more able to develop a personal aesthetic in Edinburgh. In London, I always felt very aware of trends and what was fashionable, but it’s different in the north because trends take a little longer to reach us, so it’s possible to be more selective in your inspiration and reference material. Of course London has so many wonderful and obvious advantages, but for me personally, access to the countryside and quality of life are more important.

Is there a strong creative community? It’s definitely growing as people realise it is possible to live in the north and build a business here. I think you have to put a bit more effort into finding like-minded individuals, but when you do, they are brilliant. The community is so supportive here; there is a sense of comradery as opposed to competition. I met a few amazing designers last year through the design curator Dr Stacey Hunter who is doing a lot to promote contemporary design in Scotland and we have remained in touch, sharing tips and contacts and generally helping each other muddle through the creative industry, which can be a bit of a minefield.

Name one thing you love about living in the north… Summer nights stay light for longer!

Image: Kirsten Johnson Photography
Image: Kirsten Johnson Photography

lemongrass and yellow plant.jpg

Nat Bond, skincare creator at Nathalie Bond Organics, Sheffield

How did you find yourself living up north? I ended up moving to Sheffield when I met my husband Andy. We dated and had our engagement long-distance for a year and then got married, at which point London or Sheffield were the options. Sheffield won.

What are the advantages of running a creative business in the north of the country? The first thing that comes to mind is cost. In the north the overheads of running a business are smaller. But above all, I would say there is a growing hub of innovation and creativity bubbling up in the north and it’s exciting to be a part of that.

Is there a strong creative community? There definitely is. We don’t get the chance to network much because we have young kids, but I love meeting lots of interesting and creative people at trade shows. One of my best friends runs the Sheffield Creative Guild which is an amazing community representing all creative fields. It’s nice to see vibrant new businesses springing up, but also see old businesses like scissor manufacturer Ernest Wright thriving because people appreciate the wonderful craftsmanship of their products.

Name one thing you love about living in the north… Nature. Sheffield is full of trees and we live minutes away from the Peak District National Park, which is stunning.

Geo Fleur.jpg

Sophie Lee, plant curator at Geo-Fleur, York

How did you find yourself living up north? My parents are from the north and I grew up here. I went to university in London, but it felt like the right thing to move back up here again.

What are the advantages of running a creative business in the north of the country? Everything! I ran my business in London for two years, but the main benefit to the north is cost; rent is 75% cheaper and the cost of living is 60% cheaper. The thing that really wins me over though, is that everyone is much friendlier. I’m currently searching for more craft markets and events. The London market scene is totally saturated, but there are only a select few up north, which my friend Sean Mort is changing with his Northern Craft Market – @northerncraft.

Is there a strong creative community? There is. Sean set up some community meet-ups for northern craft makers, which is great! As I live in a rural village on the edge of York, it is difficult to meet like-minded makers, but the more northern events I participate in, the more people I meet!

Name one thing you love about living in the North… Everything, the countryside, the space and the fresh air!

Idaho Manchester
Idaho shop in Manchester

Amy Bartlett, shopkeeper and buyer at IDAHO, Manchester

How did you find yourself living up north? I grew up in Staffordshire but came to university in Manchester nine years ago to study Textiles. I studied Interior Styling on a summer course at Central St Martins and even though I really enjoyed my time in London, I remember feeling that people were too busy to acknowledge you. In Manchester, life tends to be a bit more relaxed and I’ve found it easy to be able to make contacts to develop my business.

What are the advantages of running a creative business in the north of the country? Despite the fact Manchester has always been a bustling, busy city, it is such a privilege to be part of a movement in the north where there are new start-ups emerging across the region. Altrincham is the perfect example of growth in the north and I’m very happy to be part of it.

Is there a strong creative community? With us being located next to Altrincham Market, it’s difficult to not feel inspired by our creative neighbourhood. We’ve had the chance to meet creatives in a variety of forms such as the skilled boys from Sugo Pasta Kitchen who never fail to deliver, the artists in the studios around the corner, the best coffee from our new neighbours at Common Ground and our other fellow indies such as Edit & Oak and Rose & Grey.

Name one thing you love about living in the north… Probably the accessibility of visiting neighbouring towns and cities. I love how we’re never too far from an exhibition or gig in Manchester or Liverpool, or from a walk in the Cheshire countryside. We’ve truly got it all on our doorstep!

Image: Ohladedah Ltd
Image: Ohladedah Ltd

Image: Sian Hallam-Davies
Image: Sian Hallam-Davies

Marianne Slater, florist at Frances & Rose, Derbyshire

How did you find yourself living up north? I was born in Derbyshire in a little village outside of Bakewell. I also studied at Leeds College of Art – I’ve been a northerner through thick and thin!

What are the advantages of running a creative business in the north of the country? One advantage is the amazing community I have found here. I also find the incredible beauty of the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales gives my business some stunning backdrops and venues to work with. We are so lucky to live with so much green space and breathing in the fresh air of the Peak District hills means so much for my mind and soul. I work best here, I feel at home.

Is there a strong creative community? I find the community in the north so supportive. The network of like-minded creatives is amazing, not to mention the incredible female community that is booming right now. I have been lucky to be part of a number of different groups based in Sheffield, Derby and Chesterfield, as well as co-working and collaborating with some of the best in my industry. I know a lot of other creative business owners and feel lucky to be part of this network of talented individuals. I have made friends for life, all through my business!

Name one thing you love about living in the north… How friendly everyone is! I also love the countryside and the beauty all around me. As I source my flowers locally, the northern countryside offers opportunities for my business that I might not get in a built-up city. It’s also great for my wellbeing, I feel I can escape and find peace and quiet so easily!

Thanks for the insight ladies and to Hannah for conducting the interviews. It’s truly wonderful to see creativity and independent businesses thriving in all areas of our country and that we can all connect through the wonderful world wide web!

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