Paul Bailey on moving out of London, and the creative industry in Bristol

Miriam Rayman’s piece From Shoreditch to the Shires, which examined the consequences of creatives abandoning London, sparked off a huge debate on CR. We’re following up with a series of interviews with creatives who have left the capital. Here we speak to Paul Bailey, Strategy Director of We Launch

Bristol © Laura Hughes

Creative Review: What’s your typical work week like? 

Paul Bailey: Every week is different, both in practical terms and type of work. However, my weeks are generally split between working in London [where We Launch is based] and in Bristol. For the times I work in Bristol I work from a space in the city centre, which is a 20 minute walk from home. This is certainly one of the big plus points of working outside of London, a less hectic and more scenic commute.

The working practices we have set up at We Launch mean that, although not physically in the same place, I can easily work in the same digital work space as whichever member of the team I’m working with. Using digital collaborative tools like Basecamp, Slack, Skype and even the good old mobile phone means that I can be in constant contact and can have a very open way of working, even when I’m not in the London studio.

For the days that I am in the London studio, it is a similar story. We still use the same collaborative tools to work closely on projects, only on these days I’m sitting next to the person I’m sharing messages with on Basecamp. The only down side to the London days is the pretty long ‘commute’ from Bristol. I certainly wouldn’t advise doing that on a daily basis.

Bailey speaking at Thread © Thread Events

CR: What prompted the move away from the big city? Did you find what you were looking for?

PB: I already knew how simple it was to work and collaborate remotely, as after ten years running the agency I founded (1977 Design) in 2012 we changed the business model to a ‘virtual’ agency [one without a shared physical space, where teams collaborate digitally]. Realising I didn’t need to be in London on a daily basis (and unless house prices dropped rapidly, we wouldn’t find a big house within a short commute), we considered other cities. We decided to take a step back and look at the issue as I would do at work, in a more considered way.

Grabbing a large sheet of paper, we listed everything that we liked about London, from independent cinemas to nice coffee shops to cultural events, etc. We then wrote a second list of things that London didn’t give us, such as quick access to the countryside, beautiful coastline, and of course, affordable housing. Finally we wrote a list of UK cities and then assessed these cities to see which had both what we enjoyed in London and what we wanted additionally from the new city. What we found at the end of this exercise was that we had crossed out every UK city apart from Bristol – decision made.

People have said to me that Bristol is like a mini-London. Whatever you do, don’t say that to people from Bristol!

Two years in, Bristol really has given us everything we were looking for from the move. It has even been voted the best place to live in the UK in 2017. Although there are obviously less options than in London, there are plenty of excellent arts, culture, cinema, coffee, food, events, music (I mean, how many things can you actually go to anyway?)

On top of that, there is also the amazing countryside, coast, scenery, harbourside [and] lifestyle. And finally, from a work perspective, there are very active and connected creative, business and entrepreneurial communities (Bristol is rated the number one area to start a business), who all hold regular events both large and small.

People have said to me that Bristol is like a mini-London. (Whatever you do, don’t say that to people from Bristol!)

Bristol © Laura Hughes

CR: What’s the design/creative scene like in Bristol and how is it different from London? 

PB: Bristol (and Bath) has a very vibrant and active creative community. Not only in design, but also in digital, tech, animation, product … the list goes on. There are some excellent agencies in the area, of varying sizes that are really making waves at the moment, nationally and internationally. The creative agencies here are just as passionate and driven to do well, but there is noticeably more collaboration between agencies than I saw and see in London. I don’t mean collaboration necessarily on projects (although this happens) but more in the [sense] of coming together to create initiatives designed to improve the health and reputation of the creative industries as a whole. A recent example in Bristol is an initiative called Werkhouse , which sees a number of agencies, individuals and organisations come together to give recent design graduates some industry insight and experience.

CR: Are there things about London you miss? Do you find the stimulus and inspiration you need – in terms of having networking events to go to or talks/exhibitions to attend etc.?

PB: I guess working for a London agency, and spending some of the week in London, means that I still get to experience that unique energy that London has. Only being in London part of the week does mean that I will hear about great events or talks but will be unable to attend. Fortunately for me, everyone at We Launch is constantly looking for inspiration and new insight that they can bring to the studio and their work, and so I get all my London inspiration second-hand from them. We have some fantastic internal working practises which encourage the sharing of inspiration with everyone else in the team digitally, which I particularly benefit greatly from when working from Bristol.

As for getting stimulus and inspiration myself, one of Bristol’s distinctive traits is an independent spirit. This spirit is evident in many fast-growing companies and brands I have worked with and who have grown out of Bristol, and is also clearly seen in the creative industries here too. There is a very definite ‘can-do’ attitude here, where people just get up and run with an idea and make it happen. Maybe Bristol offers the flexibility and environment to be able to do that, or maybe it is the peer support people get here that encourages them.

Some great examples of networking and talks here are the excellent West of England Design Forum (whose recent speakers included Michael Johnson and Jack Renwick), the energetic and innovative Thread Events (who just held their first Something Good event, which included Morag Myerscough and Wilfred Wood), and on a strategy and planning note, the Western offshoot of APG (who have great speakers like Merry Baskin and Mark Hancock, but who also facilitate peer-discussion on innovation and specifically where the agency model goes from here).

Paul Bailey

CR: Is the acquisition of new work and new commercial relationships harder when you are outside of London?  

PB: As We Launch is located in central London, I don’t really have this issue with regard to winning work. I guess the thing I need to be aware of and constantly work on is developing the relationships internally, not being in the studio on a daily basis. To be honest though, even when I was working in London daily, I would often be out and about during the week, so there really is little difference.

As for company-partner relationships, having a presence in both London and Bristol simply gives We Launch twice the opportunities and communities within which to have discussions and share insight and expertise. Only last week I was talking to a Bristol agency who specialise in VR and AR about what they are doing, what the next 12 months opportunities are for this tech, and how we might collaborate in helping to shape brands.

CR: Is there anything you miss about London? 

PB: Public transport, specifically the tube. Everyone in London moans about the tube. Trust me, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

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