An Innovative State of Mind

by Ben Macpherson. Published September 18th 2018

Leith has always had its own vibe – something different and dynamic. Something naturally energetic and engaging. Something distinctive from the more traditional feeling of Edinburgh city centre. As another Leither columnist, Sandy Campbell, puts it so well: “Leith is a state of mind.”

And when it comes to business and innovation, Leith’s distinctive energy is galvanising all sorts of entrepreneurs. Leith is becoming more and more of an attractive place to share and develop new ideas. This is particularly true when it comes to the creative industries, engineering and hospitality – and on top of this, Leith is also becoming an increasingly important hub for Scotland’s growing technology sector, social enterprise movement and food and drink boom.

‘Tech’ is defined as information and communications technology. This was Scotland’s second most important business sector for office space take-up last year, only four percentage points behind public services and health. The highly successful digital company Skyscanner, acquired last year by a Chinese company for 1.75 billion dollars, had its beginnings in Leith.

Continuing this successful trend are Seed Haus, FutureX, Geared App, Pixey, BlackBX, Amiqus, DIGIT, amongst others, and the Campfire agency, an independent creative studio and production company – all based in Leith.

Edinburgh as a whole has the fastest growing tech hub in the UK, with software engineers now counting for 7 percent of the total labour force. Nearly 70 percent of last year’s digital tech investment was in regional clusters outside London, one of which was Edinburgh. Indeed, Edinburgh attracted £159m of investment, ahead of Cambridge, Oxford and Manchester. And this is good for employment too – digital jobs in the capital number more than 25,000, many of which are in Leith.

Alongside high level technology, Leith also has many smaller companies, which help to create our vibrant communities. I am always particularly pleased to visit new local social enterprises, to learn more about the big difference they’re making. Social enterprises are not charities – instead, they are businesses that reinvest their profits into causes and communities, rather than passing them on to shareholders or owners. In other words, a social enterprise is a proper business that makes its money in a socially responsible way, and for a social, charitable or environmental purpose.

In Leith we are surrounded by social enterprises. For example, there is Projekt 42, a not-for-profit-gym and wellness centre based in Leith. They have won a number of awards recently and have also secured £90,000 from the Big Lottery Fund Scotland to build on the big difference they’re already making. This money will be used to support their work, running group classes to address both physical fitness and good mental health. The money will enable the group to provide a free after school fitness club for under-18s and run courses targeted at young men who are experiencing poor mental health.

There are lots of other local social enterprises too, that you may well already know. For instance, Punjabi Junction is a great place for a bite to eat and does important employability work. The Remakery is a local leader in upcycling. Crops in Pots is going from strength to strength on Leith Links and the Upmo YoYo café in Victoria Swim Centre is worth checking out next time you’re there. The new branch of Castle Community Bank, recently opened by Hollywood actor Michael Sheen, provides affordable access to loans and other financial services. Quay Community Improvements, the social enterprise arm of Port of Leith Housing Association, created 11 new Living Wage jobs in its first year, and all its profits go back into physical, social and economic regeneration opportunities in Leith. The list goes on…

And of course, this all builds on the fact that Leith has been an attractive place for small, innovative, creative business activity for some time – and this is helping to grow our local food and drink sector too. Several local distilleries have emerged, like the Campervan Brewery. The Pitt Street Food Market has now been successfully running most Saturdays from 12-10pm since 2015. It is one of several local food outlets and cultural hubs that have sprung up in Leith over the last few years and is an increasingly popular place to be at the weekends.

Not only is The Pitt a platform for local businesses, local produce and local artists, it also brings local business and residents together in an accessible shared space. Nearly all the traders use local, ethically sourced ingredients in their dishes, and there’s local craft beer on tap. So the money you spend goes directly back into the local economy. Impressively, The Pitt also hosted the British Street Food Awards earlier this month.

At a national level, the Scottish Government is working to support small businesses, the social enterprise movement and our growing strength in tech. The Small Business Bonus Scheme helps around 100,000 premises all across Scotland, the Scottish Government’s 2016-2026 10-Year Social Enterprise Strategy has already delivered over £7 million of assistance and there is support for our tech growth through FinTech Scotland. There is also strong support for food and drink producers and exporters too.

In Leith, my team and I regularly chat with local businesses and social enterprises about any concerns, how to access agency support and any issues we can help with.

This is an exciting time for Leith’s local economy and its contribution to Scotland’s prosperity. As Leith’s MSP I am committed to playing my part to support that – whether that’s spending locally when I can, raising awareness of new local initiatives or taking matters forward with government.

Leith is full of innovative energy – so, together, let’s celebrate that, build on it and grow that successful state of mind.

Originally published in Issue 124 of the Leither.

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