Sharing a spirit of creative unity with Europe’s finest at Sheffield hub

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Brexit notwithstanding, the spirit of European integration is still alive at the Roco arts centre on Glossop Road.

The ‘creative co-op’, housed in a row of seven Grade II listed terraced houses near Sheffield University’s students’ union and offering studios, a café, gallery and more, has officially joined a continent-wide group of venues that provide innovative spaces for new ideas.

And to kick off its membership of the European Creative Hubs Network, the Roco is set to host a special forum that will bring the consortium’s five other partners – from Serbia, Greece, Germany, Spain and Scotland – together in Sheffield.

Andrea Burns, who launched the £1.2 million co-op with business partner Chris Hill, said she was ‘hugely excited’ about the latest developments, and that Roco was about to reach its next phase.

Nearly 30 new studios will open this autumn on Glossop Road, and We Make Works – a tools, technology and education facility geared towards manufacturing – is about to launch too.

The latter part of the expansion is happening across the street and involves the renovation of a large former university building that harbours a ‘maker’s shed’ in the back yard, complete with laser-cutting equipment, a kiln and CAD design machines.

As of June, £120,000 had been raised for the next stage from supporters the Key Fund, Co-op Community Finance and Big Issue Invest, with £20,000 collected through a share offer.

The studios are home to a broad mix – architects, product designers, fashion designers, a branding agency, and games designers have all moved in.

Ground rules were laid down to govern who could rent spaces, drawing a distinction between creative industries – enterprises that are required to generate their own income – and the arts sector.

The aim is for Roco to offer an end-to-end solution – workspaces, equipment for making and a ‘route to market’ in the shop.

A deal is also being lined up with Sheffield Hallam University on a scheme to offer studios to design students as a ‘stepping stone’ to life post-graduation.

Earlier this summer the gallery held its first exhibition, The Body Electric, a show that explored how people design and engineer their own bodies – from false limbs to novel reflections on what it means to be human.

In addition, the venue’s food credentials have been bolstered – the café, called Brood, now has an evening menu and the rooftop bar is packed on sunny days.

The ECHN is a €1.2 million project, co-funded by the EU’s Creative Europe programme.

It is led by the British Council in partnership with six creative hubs – the others are Bios in Athens; Berlin’s betahaus; Creative Edinburgh; Kulturni Kod/Nova Iskra in Belgrade; Factoria Cultural, Madrid.

Research suggests that the cultural and creative industries provide more than 12 million full-time jobs in Europe – 7.5 per cent of the continent’s workforce.

Roco is considered a unique model in its field as it is a community benefit company, owned by its shareholder members, with all profits put back into the business.

The third European Creative Hubs Forum will happen from November 29 to December 1, after events in Belgrade and Athens.

“As demonstrated through our partner research there is a clear social and economic need for the role of creative, innovative and proactive community hubs in our local regions and our international networks,” said Andrea.

Visit www.theroco.org for more information.