case: Incubating success


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Above: Julie Kouamo, Designer-maker at Cockpit Arts (Image credit: © All rights reserved by Cockpit Arts)

The UK’s only creative-business incubator for designer-makers has supported studio-holders through the process of taking on their first employee and growing their microbusinesses.

Cockpit Arts applied for funding to the Creative Employment Programme (CEP), an Arts Council England fund to support young unemployed people interested in the arts, on behalf of a consortium of 22 studio-holders. It aimed to create 11 paid internships and three apprenticeships for unemployed young people.

The group produces an annual research report into the growth of the 170 microbusinesses housed within their incubators.The reports show that designer-makers that take on additional employees demonstrate higher growth rates than their counterparts.

Participants received in-house business coaching to identify specific skills or growth-gaps within their businesses. This enabled the businesses involved to create job opportunities in areas where there was a genuine need for support, such as greater making capacity, marketing and social media.

Accessing the Creative Employment Programme funding as a ‘consortium’ enabled the designer-makers to share employees across two or more of their microbusinesses, drastically reducing the risk both financially and in HR terms. By sharing employees there is greater potential that one of the participants will be able to generate enough growth to take on the young person as full time employee.

The intern or apprentice also benefits from the opportunity to expand their professional network across more than one business and learn a wider range of skills.

A series of three workshops looking at Team Insights, Performance Management and Coaching & Feedback skills have been developed specifically for Cockpit Arts by the Learning and Development Corporate Banking Division at Royal Bank Scotland (RBS).

Imogen Gray, the Business Information Manager at Cockpit Arts, says: “The Creative Employment Programme has already had a big impact at Cockpit Arts. It has allowed many of our studio-holders to take the leap into being an employer for the first time with reduced risk. We hope it will demonstrate that taking on employees has real benefits long term and help to change the legacy of unpaid work experience in the arts.

“Although it’s been greatly rewarding watching the programme unfold it hasn’t been without its challenges. Many of our studio-holders have never written a job description or interviewed someone before,let alone set up a PAYE system or written a contract. Obviously as an incubator we are set up to deal with these challenges, but I can imagine that it might be more challenging for designer-makers without this network of support."

The Creative Employment Programme is a £15m fund provided by Arts Council England to support the creation of traineeships, formal apprenticeship and paid internship opportunities in England for young unemployed people aged 16-24 wishing to pursue a career in the arts and cultural sector.

Visit for more information on the programme.