Setting up a creative work space / studio

The guide is divided into four clear areas of an investigation depending on what stage you are at with your project:

  1. Planning a space
  2. Finding a space
  3. Developing a space
  4. Managing a space

There has been significant growth in the provision of studios, design offices and creative workspaces in Scotland.

These communities can have a wider economic and social value, helping to regenerate areas by stimulating local business growth and attracting inward investment as artistic communities occupy previously under-invested areas.

However, this kind of development still often leaves creative workspace communities vulnerable – on short term leases, competing with large scale commercial property developers and unable to access specific financial support. This continues to make the setting-up of sustainable workspaces a real challenge for individuals in the creative sector.

Understanding the needs of your community

Therefore, anyone considering developing creative workspace needs to understand a variety of emergent creative business, funding and income structures to create their own hybrid model – each project should share a common mission to provide space that remains affordable to artists, that encourages and supports innovative working methods and creates an identifiable personal ‘brand’. This outline guide seeks to clarify some of the issues you will experience when first considering the set-up of your studio/workspace. This may be a building with multiple work areas, a single workshop or office, a gallery, or a temporary work/exhibition space.

Test your understanding in a low risk way

Different issues will apply if you are starting a project for the first time (with a need for signposting and accessing skills, new partnerships guidance and initial funding to help maximise opportunities), or if you are an existing group (with a need to strengthen business and financial models, develop a new company structure or expand your current space). You may also wish to connect your project to associated ‘pop-up’ short-term opportunities, mixed creative profiles, studio collaborations and exchange programmes, ownership forms and other business partnerships. With a mix of possibilities to consider you will need to build a clearly defined path for the project to successfully develop.

A guide to the guide

One of the key issues is the ability to act rapidly on property opportunities in the face of difficult competition from commercial developers and other uses. Also, at some point, you may find you are working on several stages at one time and activities may overlap. This outline guide is set out to prepare and enable you to make decisions quickly and to provide a basic check-list to consider so that you can organise future assistance with advisors at the Cultural Enterprise Office, or for you to carry out further research effectively on your own – however, this is not a definitive list. Each project will have its own challenges and specific areas of focus depending on what you specifically want to do – so you will need to organise your own individual approach to ensure you create a plan that fits your creative practice.

N.B. This is a non-legal guide. It relates to finding, renting and buying property in Scotland. Be aware that Scotland is a separate jurisdiction from England and Wales, and has a separate legal system.

Planning a space

There are many reasons why you may be considering setting up a work space: it may be just to create a simple space for you and a friend, you may be growing a new business that requires a larger more visible space, you may wish to set up a networking.

What is your vision?

Clearly decide what you want to do and what you do not want to do. If you are working in partnership, or a group, ensure that you fully understand what your shared objectives are. Have a list of clear objectives (in order of importance) written down at the start of the project that can act as a reference guide as the project progresses.

Who is involved?

If you are developing this project by yourself – consider what skills you will need at all stages. If you are working with a group of people – assess everyone’s individual skills and understand the gaps. Do you need specific training or access to other partners or mentors to assist the process?

Who are your community?

At an early stage you need to consider what the relationship of the project is to a specific creative community that you may wish to directly attract or support, or the wider community that surrounds the building. Seriously consider how important communities are to your overall plan and whether a specific neighbourhood is important in the choice of location.

What is your business model idea?

Explore different scenarios about how your idea can work and what future work you need to do to have a viable working plan of action. Understand key issues: are you renting or buying a property, your desired timespan of project (long or short term), what are the core activities in the space, how will the space generate an income – what is the realistic financial mix, what grant funding or support loans may be needed, what partnerships are essential, who will run the space and overall sustainability.

What research and communication?

There are many examples of other creative spaces and creative business models, so research existing models (nationally and internationally) that you identify with and use this information as a collaged template to start to structure your own vision. Clearly identify and understand the need of your creative space in the location areas you are considering – and understand any possible competition. It is important at this early stage to consider how you will begin to talk to others about your project and increase awareness. Do you need to survey, or set up meetings with particular communities to test your idea? Use different social media to identify possible new audiences and tenants and then understand what forms of future communication/website would be most effective to support your specific project.

Finding a space

Finding the right property to develop your creative idea in any city, town or rural location will always be difficult and will require perseverance and tenacity. The initial steps that you need to consider are:

Area and property searches

Consider the areas that may be good for your project to be located: the current cultural activity and other creative buildings, other amenities, types of community, ease of access – links to public transport and parking, footfall and safety. Explore as many areas and properties as possible so that you acquire a good overview of the market in your chosen region. Link to national and regional commercial property sites and local authorities to see what property is available. Also link with other cultural organisations for existing private landlord opportunities. Remember the cheapest initial rental/buying price is not always the best overall economic option for your project – so understand all associated costs.


When a space has been identified and a site visit has taken place, a building assessment will be required in order to understand the scale of work required to fit-out the space – a schedule of works. Make a preference list that enables you to collect and compare information on potential properties so that you can make an informed decision – understand both what the landlord is offering, and what they are not providing, within the rental cost. Consider all options that the overall building offers: how you and associated partners wish to operate the space, what is an acceptable size, what essential improvements you need to make, what utilities are currently in place, what legal issues you need to address and the overall costs.

Understand Rates Relief options

When you are considering a property and the rental cost, you will also need to consider the cost of specific business rates and water rates. Most property schedules will provide information on business rates – if this is not directly available you will be able to calculate it online through the the local authority website. As an artist you may qualify for rate relief as a small creative business – there are a number of options that you should investigate given your specific situation:

  • Charitable organisation status - to qualify for relief your organisation needs to be registered with the Office of Scottish Charities Regulators (OSCR) and your local council must be satisfied that the work carried out at your new property will be mainly for a charitable purpose
  • Fresh start rate relief - offers 50% rates relief for a period of 12 months on newly occupied properties
  • Small business rates relief - you can get business rates relief through the Small Business Bonus Scheme (SBBS) if the combined rateable value of all your business premises in Scotland is £35,000 or less

Investigate specific current details of each scheme for your own situation on local authority or Scottish Government websites.

Your property agreement

When you have a chosen property that fits your desired plans you will then have to carefully manage the relationship with the owner (your future landlord or the seller). At the earliest point you should meet with the owner personally at the start of the project to build this relationship – ideally this should be both in a professional capacity and also in a friendly/supportive capacity of someone that understands your project and wishes to support the concept of the future venture. At these meetings ensure that your proposal is clearly defined, how it may benefit the landlord and the community, and that all future expectations from all parties are understood. You may find that you will need to gather various contractors and other professionals in developing the space so it is very useful to get full clarification and acceptance of responsibilities at the earliest opportunity. Once full discussions have taken place all agreements should be clearly outlined in writing, so that there are no misunderstandings in future. At this stage legal representation should also be sought to draw up a lease or license for use of the property – this is usually organised by the landlord. Do not feel that you have to accept the first draft – seek advice (i.e CEO advisers, a solicitor etc) and negotiate mutually beneficial terms.

Refine your plan

You will now need to further develop your business plan into the realistic expectations of a live project. You will need to consider how the space will operate, what is your core mission statement and what are your immediate achievable objectives. At this stage you should also consider marketing and development of networks to ensure that you promote and connect to the local and creative community that will support your project.

Developing a space

Fitting-out your space

When you have located and secured access to an appropriate building to adapt into a new creative space, the next initial steps that you need to consider are:

When your lease is agreed and you have finance in place, work can begin on the upgrade of your space. Before commencing work ensure that you have written agreement with the landlord for any structural or layout changes. Also ensure that any change of use or planning permission is granted and signed off with the local authority. The organising and scheduling of this work should be carefully planned, and aligned with the start date of occupation – carefully organise the order in which work should be most effectively carried out and be realistic about timescales – create a complete scheduled programme. Decide at an early stage whether you can phase the works program to allow early access to tenants or to accommodate a limited initial budget – prioritise essential and non-essential work. Consider how you are going to carry out different elements of the work – architect, paid contractors, staff/partner support and volunteers – and organise well in advance. Ensure that all volunteers and discounted aid is clearly defined and that there are genuine incentives, training or in-kind support for these workers. Ensure you receive the appropriate certification for all electrical, gas and structural work at the completion of the project development.

Who will financially assist

Consider all forms of support for the project – financial, materials, grants, sponsorship, professional advice, in-kind services, volunteers – you may need to allocate a pre-development time period to fundraise for specific upgrades. Also consider the potential for exchanges of service with your landlord – in some instances you may be able to negotiate a rent free period in exchange for carrying out an upgrade to the property. Using your business plans aims and objectives will assist in identifying potential financial supporters of the project – identifying the most appropriate creative and local supporters will also assist connectivity and integration of your project into the wider community.

Developing a programme

In alignment with your business plan a programme of activities should now begin to be considered in anticipation of the space opening. You will have your own specific creative focus and you should relate these activities (both in the short and long term) to directly support the long term sustainability of the project, the promotion of the presence of the space and its cultural users and the engagement with the wider community.

Formal support structures and insurance

To ensure that your building and creative programme functions efficiently, safely and within standard legislation, you will have to consider a basic code of practice with associated management procedures. Types and complexity of procedures will vary depending on the size of project, but as standard practice you should begin to organise:

  • An operational structure of how the facility will operate on a day to day basis
  • An organisational structure that puts into place staffing and the management of specific operational responsibilities – including governance issues if you have a formal board of directors
  • An equal opportunities policy
  • A health and safety plan that will include the safe use of materials and equipment, accident/emergency procedures, fire safety, first aid and training
  • A security plan to identify risks regarding materials, tenants and public access.

You will also need to understand overall liability for all aspects of the building operation through appropriate insurance – therefore you need to understand what is your responsibility and what is your landlord’s responsibility. Beyond a standard contents insurance policy, you will also need to consider public liability insurance, indemnity insurance, buildings insurance and employers liability insurance.

Who will use the space

Your business plan will have identified and initiated potential artist tenants for the building and other users/audience that will use the facilities. You should now be making contact with those individuals who have indicated interest to initiate agreements and understand if you need to carry out further investigations to maximise your tenant and activities list when the space opens.

Managing a space

Making your original plan fit 

As the space begins to be used, the actual activity will now inform best ways to proceed – so you now need to be prepared to re-examine your business plan and aligned operational structure to be fit for purpose and to respond to unforeseen challenges. At this stage you will also need to ensure that formal day to day operational structures are put into place and led by specific individuals. These should include: building management, business planning, staff and volunteer management, maintenance and repairs planning, risk assessments and safety planning. To ensure the operation of the building runs smoothly, regular management meetings should be held to review the space’s operation – ensure that there is good communication between all areas of the functioning project.  

Sources of income 

Your business plan should outline your initial financial model for the first 5 years of business – you should now regularly review the first-year plan as you begin to operate to understand and adjust actual running costs. Ensure that you have basic financial training and access to a qualified accountant to ensure that you control the project finances effectively.  

Programme of activity 

Aligned with the other building operations you should also have a staff member who manages the activities programme and a staff member who administers your studio tenants – this may be the same person, depending on the size of the operation. All activities and workshops should be guided through an agreed code of practice and education plan, for both staff and participants – written contracts and specific procedures should be created in all areas. All studio tenants should also have a code of practice and a formal lease agreement, clearly outlining the agreement of responsibilities of all participants. It is vital, at the outset of any activity in the space, that clear supporting communication (both written and verbal) is available for all staff, tenants and visitors. Depending on the type of activities that you are undertaking you may at this stage also need to secure licensing permission from your local authority as set out through the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 – consider Premises Licence, Occasional Licence and Public Entertainments Licence.  

Marketing and communication 

You will now need to formally consider how you will develop your network and communicate to your cultural community. There are many guides available that detail best methodologies – ensure that you consider and cover the 7Ps of marketing: product, place, price, promotion, people, process and physical environment. Aligned with other building operations you should have a staff member who leads the communications strategy, develops the website and manages all social media to create a coherent identity for the project. This strategy should link with clear accreditation to sponsors and supporters in all communication and link with the activity and studio programme through advertising, public relations and online ticketing.  

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