The Grand Old Duke of Leeds

Duke Studios - Leeds

Long since the dawn of time have creative people suffered with trying to find a space to collaborate, work and concentrate on projects.  It's all well and good doing work in coffee shops and bars or even boring office suites but I've started getting funny looks after sitting in the same public spot for 4-5 hours. Sometimes there are points when you just need the views of someone with creative expertise in an area foreign to you.


This is where the heart of Duke Studios lies.  


Unforced, yet intentional, the design and ethos of the building encourages collaboration.  The studio offices are made of heavy duty cardboard, an almost "temporary" looking structure. It feels like you could take it down at any moment to get to what's on the other side. The office walls don't go all the way to the ceiling, to hear all around you, they have no doors and all the Perspex windows align perfectly so you can see the entire way through each office to the next.  Created and curated by James Abbott-Donnely and Laura Wellington, this simple design has been planned out to entice collaboration and help individuals and companies connect in all forms of the creative sector.


There are a wide range of "creatives" in the building.  In the short time we were there we witnessed web designers, graphic designers, music producers, photographers, interior designers, magazine editors, journalists... this list can go on and I've not even mentioned some of the creative industries that frequently inhabit the space. It's a fresh and inspiring vibe floating around on the first floor in Munro House and we wish it was something we could experience daily.


Sure there are venues similar to Duke Studios dotted around the country but I have never experienced anything exactly like Duke.  I am known for making metaphors and similes, usually uber geeky ones (as seen in our first blog) but with Duke Studios I struggle.  Because Duke Studios is like...well...Duke Studios.  From the company wide motto ‘work hard and be nice to people’, taken from an Anthony Burrell poster hanging in James and Laura's office, to the design of the place, every little detail is so precise. It all just works together, intricately.  


I've not been to a place where I felt compelled to sit and create something for the pure excitement of being in a specific place at a specific time. There are "Wagamama" style long benches for collaborators to sit, socialise and work together on.  There are the aforementioned cardboard studios, giant beanbags, a snug for meetings and chill time. And lets not forget the "Not Bored Room," the most ingenious way of turning the conventional meeting room into the UNconventional meeting room that strays away from the boring and drab.  I have no need to use the meeting rooms in the near future but why do I feel like I need to create a reason to have a meeting here? What is it about Duke that draws you in to this alternative to the beige office block?


James and Laura sat down with us to answer a few of our questions:


LLK: What is the story of Duke studios?

J: Duke Studios was born out of a need, it didn't exist.  Myself and my partner Laura wanted somewhere, like this, to work in Leeds.  We'd seen friends disappear off to London, to Manchester to other places that had more of a draw for the creative industries and we felt that Leeds needed somewhere like that but it just didn't exist so we stuck around and...built it.

L: We decided we'd start it ourselves but then also that we'd bring some people in with us.  Initially it started as quite a small thing where there were only a few of us and now it's turned into a big, massive...thing.


LLK: How many people work at Duke Studios?

J: We look after 45 different creative businesses across the whole myriad of the creative sector.  That represents around 80-90 individuals at any one given time.


LLK: How did the design of the space come about?

L: All of the interior was designed by James and I.  From coming out of working for a big company, we've always thought companies need to look after their staff because those are the people who look after their businesses.  Nothing was designed by accident.  I do the marketing and social media for Duke and we knew building the cardboard studios would be a hit on design blogs.  It wasn't normal it wasn't conventional and then any company coming and working here would be instantly recognised for being associated with Duke.  And then it's about being accessible to lots of different people and lots of ages.  Like the Lego builder area is James' lifelong Lego collection.  It means when little ones come in, there is somewhere for them to go and play.  But we want to be accessible, fun and different.

J: The design of the space is a direct response to what it needs to be, it's not just pretty and interesting for the sake of it.  We took inspiration, at the time, from lots of big corporations finally realising that looking after your staff is number one. People like Google, Pixar and Innocent Smoothies providing really exciting places for their people to go and work and getting great results because of it.  Our response was to provide that sort of a feel to freelancers, small companies, people that just don't have the sorts of budgets to compete with the big corporations.  Everything has been done to remove the barriers so that you can collaborate with somebody else and it's only you that's stopping you from doing it.


James and Laura have done something really special here.  If there is a need, an idea can turn into a solid community of inspirational people and spark a boom in the creative industries in this area then what need is there to move to London, to Manchester to find work?  What if by working together and collaborating the North, Leeds or wherever you are can become a power house for the creative universe?  It's never too late to create a collective where you can work hard and be nice to people (sorry guys, stealing your motto here!) and with the costs of the "Big Smoke" rising to unreachable heights, companies are looking at moving out to new cities across the country. Well I say look right here.  Duke Studios have proved that this can work, that if what you need doesn't exist, build it yourself, bring your friends along for the ride and create together!  

Be passionate, create and collaborate.