bloc // December 2, 2006

Southern Bloc Pilot Project Report ⁄⁄

Date: 14th June 2006
Venue:Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council
Partner: Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council | http://www.blaenau-gwent.gov.uk
Partner: Welsh Development Agency | http://www.wda.co.uk

The Southern Bloc Pilot Project identified levels of current provision and activity, and the needs of practitioners in Blaenau Gwent and the Heads of the Valleys. The project also developed a network of practitioners and agencies in the area and provided opportunities for professional development and growth for the creative technology sector in the region.

The report contains comprehensive data on the outcomes and findings of the project as well as recommendations for future developments of the sector in the Southern Bloc area.

Outline:

Aims of the Southern Bloc Pilot Project

The aims of the Project were:

* to identify current levels of provision of business development, training, presentation and production opportunities
* to identify the current skill base and level of activity of practitioners
* to identify gaps in provision
* to develop networks of practitioners and providers in order to provide opportunities for professional development and the growth of the creative technology sector across the region
* to establish a Creative Entrepreneur Club in Wales for NESTA

The pilot project initially focused on Blaenau Gwent County, later extending its remit to cover the neighbouring counties in the Heads of the Valleys area (Torfaen, northern Caerphilly, northern Rhondda Cynon Taff and Merthyr Tydfil).

Project Activities

* Mapping Exercise: the Mapping Exercise aimed to identify current provision and sector needs and identify examples of best practice in the region. The exercise was undertaken via a survey for creative technology practitioners and related agencies in Blaenau Gwent and the Heads of the Valleys area.

Meetings were held with 40 practitioners and providers. 30 practitioners and providers completed a questionnaire and 119 new members registered on the online Bloc network;

*Events Programme: the events programme delivered 3 monthly themed seminars during the project period, plus a networking event in March 2006. Events were open to practitioners, small businesses and agencies in the Heads of the Valleys area and South Wales.

The events programme was well attended, with 134 delegates attending a Southern Bloc event;

* Acting as a source of expertise on new media and the visual arts in Wales, advocating and lobbying for resources and profile for the creative technology sector;

* Promoting activity in new media online through Bloc’s e-bulletin and website;

Key findings

Overall, there is a low level of activity in the Heads of the Valleys area in digital media. There are relatively few businesses which employ people and the sector is characterised by sole traders and partnerships. Not all of the businesses contacted are able to generate enough business to work full-time in their chosen field.

There are other businesses working more broadly in the Information Technology sector (Emag Solutions for example) but these do not fall within Bloc’s remit. The businesses which are successful (Arts Magic for example) are often operating in a highly specialised field.

The film and music sectors are more active in the area, but how much revenue these industries generate is unclear. In comparison, web design, software design, programming and visual arts (which incorporate a new media element) are at a relatively low level. Visual arts activity is more prevalent in RCT than elsewhere, largely as a result of a larger population and by the public profile created by projects commissioned by the Digital Media Coordinator.

In all sectors there is considerable activity in the public sector in the forms of community and education projects. Training provision for basic skills in media is good. However, training and community activities are not currently translating into business activity.

Purchasers of creative technology services from both public and private sectors are generally looking outside the area for suppliers.

In contrast to the relatively low level of activity, Blaenau Gwent (and by inference the Heads of the Valleys area as a whole) has a level of broadband usage comparable to other counties in Wales, indicating that use of IT in a domestic setting is not significantly lower than elsewhere in Wales. 14.5 per cent of the population have a broadband connection in Blaenau Gwent as opposed to 14.7 per cent in Cardiff and 13.5 per cent in Newport.

Sponsors:

Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, Welsh Development Agency and NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts)

Area: southern bloc