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Inverness Creative Academy opens for business, bringing former city school back to life and bringing new opportunities for the north creative sector


By Calum MacLeod


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Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael (centre) raises a toast to the opening of the new building along with the first tenants, Professor Donald Maclean and Kate Hooper of StrategyStory, Wasps chief executive Audrey Carlin and local artist Ian Whyte.
Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael (centre) raises a toast to the opening of the new building along with the first tenants, Professor Donald Maclean and Kate Hooper of StrategyStory, Wasps chief executive Audrey Carlin and local artist Ian Whyte.

After four years of development and a £6 million investment, the final phase of Inverness Creative Academy has welcomed its first tenants – and is now ready to show the public how the former Inverness Royal Academy building has been transformed.

Following the opening of the first phase in 2018, which is already home to 44 artists and business, the new section will provide more accommodation for artists, creative industries, social enterprise and charities, enabling close collaboration between different businesses and sectors.

It will also be open to the public and house a gallery, event spaces and a new café operated by Café de Paulo.

Managed by national creative space provider Wasps, which saw a need for a creative hub in the Highlands, the project has revived the redundant former Inverness Royal Academy buildings on Midmills Road in the city's Crown area by sensitively restoring the Grade B listed Victorian properties.

At the same time it has created a 21st century working environment with up to date office, hotdesking and remote working facilities.

Artist Ian Whyte with some of the work created at the hub.
Artist Ian Whyte with some of the work created at the hub.

Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael, who marked the official opening by joining Wasps chief executive Audrey Carlin and first tenants Kate Hooper and Donald Maclean of StrategyStory in jointly planting a tree in the grounds, called the new hub a powerful and creative asset for the Highlands.

"I think what they have done here is amazing," she said.

"Because I saw it when the restoration work was beginning and after it had been lying empty, to see it open up and be so bright and colourful is fantastic.

"I'm delighted Wasps have worked so well with the local community and got them involved in what they were trying to achieve. It's a real collective effort."

Also impressed was Iain Hamilton, head of creative industries at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, who highlighted the economic benefits.

"One of the best things is that because the tenants can work together, they can take on bigger projects and enable them to work almost like a big company," he said.

"But just having this here encourages people to come in and see what is going on for themselves. It is certainly exciting to see it open, especially in the challenging circumstances of the last couple of years."

Wasps chief executive Audrey Carlin inside the new building.
Wasps chief executive Audrey Carlin inside the new building.

Wasps chief executive Audrey Carlin acknowledged the pandemic had caused issues, with the first lockdown occurring three months into the project, resulting in a 15 week closure and resultant cost and supply issues, which make this week's opening even more satisfying.

"We are delighted with the results and what has been achieved and I think it is a wonderful setting to showcase the talent of the people of the Highlands," she said.

"The key thing for us is that we are giving this building back to the public of the Highlands and getting them engaged with art and creativity – things that were already here but perhaps not so visible.

"It is also about inspiring the next generation into creative careers and to be able to stay in the Highlands with a likeminded community all around them."

The impact of he pandemic has also added to the need for such a facility in the Highlands, she suggested.

"It has allowed people to start their own business and perhaps relocate to the Highlands," she said.

"We have seen a trend across our other buildings where people have to where they wanted to live rather than live where they had to work. This building will allow them to have facilities in a location where pre-pandemic it might not have been possible."

Now that the final element is complete she hopes that organisations operating in the creative, social enterprise and charity fields to visit Inverness Creative Academy and see for themselves the opportunities it can offer.

The new facility will enable Wasps to offer a year-round arts programme, promoting local and visiting artists, as well as events, markets and workshops. Wasps is also expanding its arts outreach programme, involving individuals, local community groups and schools.

This includes Openarts, a five-year programme designed to support wellbeing, promote social inclusion, and increase accessibility to artmaking for disadvantaged groups in the area to help them re-engage with society and perhaps employment.

"We want to be part of the cultural ecosystem of the Highlands," she added.

"It's not really about Wasps, its about the people, the energy and the talent that is here.

"We've got architects, we have podcast producers, photographers and landscape designers, so in the new phase it is people who are more digitally and client focussed. These are people who need office space or hotdesking space where they can base themselves in Inverness."

The first tenants to move into the new building, Professor Donald Maclean and former BBC Producer Kate Hooper of StrategyStory are joined by some of the artists working in the first phase to mark the official opening of Inverness Creative Hub.
The first tenants to move into the new building, Professor Donald Maclean and former BBC Producer Kate Hooper of StrategyStory are joined by some of the artists working in the first phase to mark the official opening of Inverness Creative Hub.

For the first tenants in the new building, Kate Hooper and Donald MacLean, the co-founders of international strategtic development consultancy StrategyStory, being a part of Inverness Creative Hub "ticks loads of boxes".

Ms Hooper said: "It's so important for us that we are working with other folk in the creative industries so we want to be somewhere that is really vibrant with interesting businesses and a creative environment. This is an amazing place for all that.

"We work internationally, but we are a Highlands and Islands business. It is so important for us to contribute to our community."

Professor MacLean added: "It has great access across the region from Argyll up to the Hebrides, but we also work internationally and more and more, the people we work with want to come here. The Highlands has got a great image and vibe and people just sense something about it.We expect to bring more and more people here so having access to the airport is really handy for us."

Stuart MacKeller, a partner with LDN Architects which has worked on the project since its inception, said: “It has been a great privilege to have helped deliver the final and most important piece of the jigsaw by transforming the jewel in the Crown that is the former Inverness Royal Academy.

"Having witnessed first-hand the effects that Wasps’ presence in the city, through the initial phase of development, has had on the Highlands’ creative community, we are convinced that the final phase will serve to amplify what has already been achieved, whilst conserving one of Inverness’s finest architectural pieces.”

Occupancy at Inverness Creative Academy overall has already reached 65 per cent, with the final phase development only recently open for viewings. Those who are interested in applying for creative office space and flexible working accommodation are invited to contact Wasps via the website, www.waspsstudios.org.uk or by calling 01463 572753. Viewing events are scheduled for the evening of Thursday, March 3, and during the day on Friday, March 4. Viewing event placed can be booked by emailing Lettings@waspsstudios.org.ukg


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