Sunday, 18 December 2011

SKINN, a new network of businesses and organisations in Sheffield, proves that Cameron’s ‘big society’ is already here

SKINN- Shalesmoor, Kelham Island and Neepsend Network, officially launched on the weekend of the 29th of October with a mini-festival and ‘art crawl’. The event featured two free days of art exhibitions, crafts stalls, fashion shows, improve theatre, pop-up bars and live music.

CADS entrance at Shalesmoor
Set up to “share resources, information and skills”, SKINN is a non-for-profit network of businesses and organisations whose aim is to improve the local area and its community.

Studio complexes, including The Nichols Building in Shalesmoor, CADS in Smithfield and Pebble Dash Studios in Burton Road, welcomed visitors throughout the weekend. An industrial area in the past, the SKIN area now comprises of award-winning restaurants, real ale pubs, studios, galleries, vintage stores and designer workshops.

SKINN aims to encourage local people to get more involved in events and workshops held in the studios and galleries, linked into mini-festivals and events held with the restaurants and local pubs.

Creative collaboration

It is one of the many new projects supported by CADS, a multi-purpose arts complex in Shalesmoor, who rent out studios for “all forms of creativity”. Ivan Rabodzeenko, development officer for CADS, explained that SKINN originated from the ‘Ideas Bazaar’ event hosted by Sheffield University in September, for Sheffield’s creative community.

Working with local breweries like Kelham Island and Five Rivers
Ivan said that they realised there was a lack of communication between the different creative and other industries in the SKIN area. So a meeting was organised between the industries and the idea of holding an ‘art crawl’ and other similar events transpired.

“The Nichols building, which only opened in July, is a good example,” said Katja Porohina, communications and development officer at CADS. The building is an antiques, arts and crafts centre, run by an interior designer. “They are really keen to promote their building so they offered us the use of their upstairs space for free. We said, ok we have experience of running events and music nights, so lets do it together.”

Katja believes that the lack of communication between industries is due to a culture of competitiveness rather than one of collaboration. “But if you collaborate you end up with something better, this is the way we want SKINN to work,” said Katja.

A policy of inclusiveness

CADS gallery space
CADS was born from director Steve Rimmer’s frustration with the exclusiveness of artistic communities. Mr Rimmer, aged 25, said that research and general experience taught him that “many creative art spaces don’t accept you if you are not doing contemporary art or fulfil their criteria, but there is so much more to creativity.”

Mr Rimmer acquired his first studio space whilst hot-desking at Stag Works (a building of significant industrial heritage). He then discovered he could hire three studios for the same price as one if he moved to the Shalesmoor area. Mr Rimmer decided to rent out the two extra studios to cover costs, which meant he could take on a larger studio to do more events. CADS soon consisted of eight studios and continued to expand from there. “It just organically evolved as we needed more resources and space for studios, by filling the studios, we were able to re-invest in our own expansion or other projects we were supporting.”

Mr Rimmer explained that CADS works within a mutually beneficial management mode, “everything we set up links into and benefits everything else.” SKINN has mapped out a network of businesses and organisations within the area. During the ‘art crawl’ on the weekend, this map, marked with the various businesses and organisations, was presented for people to look at.

“We’re asking people what they think of the area, and for ideas of how it can be developed,” said Katja. She explained that they want to be inclusive to all businesses, organisations and residents in the area when deciding how existing resources and spaces can be used.

Utilising empty spaces

“We are also looking into what can be done with the empty buildings in the area, trying to link up with property owners of vacant buildings to find a way of making positive use of those spaces,” said Mr Rimmer. CADS aims to utilise waste materials from these properties, which can be recycled and used on projects such as the urban garden at Pebble Dash studios. CADS is working with volunteers from Sheffield University to build seating and flowerbeds in the studio yard, out of waste material from local building firms.

Mr Rimmer explained how this is an example of drawing on the resources of the network system; he explained that when people are aware of other businesses and what resources they have or spaces that are vacant, others are able to utilise these resources until they are needed again.

“I’ve always said it is better to have collaboration rather than competition,” said Mr Rimmer.

You can find out more about SKINN at

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