What is the UK's second city for creatives? (The Spaces) | Katie Treggiden Skip to content

What is the UK’s second city for creatives? (The Spaces)

This article was written 8 years ago.

All copy as provided to the publication.
Photography by Daniel Chapman

With horror stories of rents doubling overnight, creatives are being forced out of London, but where are they going? Katie Treggiden investigates.

According to Zipf’s Law, a capital city is typically twice the size of its second city, three times the size of its third city, and so on – most countries broadly follow this formula. With a population of almost 8.7 million, London dwarfs Birmingham’s 1.2 million, earning Britain its ‘one eyed monster’ reputation. London contributes 47% of the UK’s design economy and employs a fifth of the country’s design workforce. Its reputation as a centre for creative excellence is global – but perhaps not for long. As rising rents push creatives out of town, we investigate five creative contenders for the UK’s second city.


With a population of 0.5 million, Manchester is smaller than Birmingham, Britain’s official second city, but it is growing at a rate of 19% versus Birmingham’s 9% and it beat Birmingham – and Edinburgh – in a YouGov poll for a new second city in 2015. Dubbed “the engine of the powerhouse of the North” by George Osbourne, it has already tempted the BBC away from London in their 2011 relocation to Salford’s Media City (in Greater Manchester), and at 3.8%, the city’s employment growth is predicted to exceed that of Paris, Berlin or Tokyo over next five years. An annual design festival, Design Manchester, attracting 20,000 visitors in 2014, and developments like The Sharp Project – a former electronics factory now home to 60 entrepreneurs specialising in digital media and TV and film production – support that claim.


Coming third in a YouGov survey to find a second city for Britain, ahead of Leeds, Glasgow and Liverpool, Edinburgh is the most visited city in the UK after London, and of course, it’s also the capital of Scotland. The hub of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century, it’s now home to the world’s biggest arts festival and mecca for comedians worldwide – the Edinburgh Festival – which receives 400,000 visitors a year. The festival, together with a year-round programmeof events, generates £200 million for the local economy and supports almost 4,000 jobs. Add to that Edinburgh’s status as the world’s first UNESCO city of literature, and you’ve got a real second city contender for creatives across disciplines.


Arguably Scotland’s second city, Glasgow actually has a higher population than Edinburgh and is home to both BBC Scotland and Scotland’s only public self-governing art school offering university-level programmes in architecture, fine art and design – the Glasgow School of Art. The Charles Rennie Macintosh designed building was extensively damaged by a fire in the summer of 2014 and is currently being restored by Scottish architecture studio, PagePark, at a reported cost of £35 million. The fire hasn’t dampened the city’s spirits though – it tops the UK’s economy recovery list with a value of £19.3 billion in the wake of the recession – and Glasgow’s International Arts Festival, which runs from 08 to 25 April 2016, features 78 exhibitions and over 50 events including work from over 220 artists from 33 countries.


At the other end of the country, Cornwall is undergoing a creative revolution. The South West is the most significant region in the design economy after London and the South East, with total turnover at £2.3bn and design workers contributing an average of £48,200 per head – and Falmouth is leading the charge. It was one of the first towns in the UK to reach 95% superfast broadband coverage, which many creative businesses cite as the reason for the county’s creative upswing. The University College Falmouth, ranked by the Sunday Times as the number one arts university in the UK for the last two years running, produces more than 1,300 graduates per year, 95% of whom are in employment or further study within six months of graduating. Many of them move from the University campus next door to the Tremough Innovation Centre, an incubator for new businesses – in fact four times the national average become self-employed or set up their own business.

The stats:

Population                 Average rent

London:                     8.7 million                  £2,916 pcm

Manchester:               0.5 million                   £929 pcm

Newcastle:                 0.3 million                  £792 pcm

Edinburgh:                  0.5 million                   £1,471 pcm

Glasgow:                   0.8 million                  £664 pcm

Falmouth:                   0.02 million                £781 pcm

You can read this article online here.

Contact Katie


Katie Treggiden is also the founder and director of Making Design Circular — an international membership community and online learning platform for environmentally conscious designers, makers, artists and craftspeople.
Skip to content