A New Creative Hub for the Highlands

The Highlands’ first creative hub opens its doors to the north of Scotland’s cultural and business communities following a four year, £6m conversion of two historically significant properties.

Inverness Creative Academy is Wasps’ city-based complex that provides working accommodation for visual and applied artists as well as office space for the creative industries, social enterprise and charity sectors.

Managed by Wasps, the project has revived the redundant former Inverness Royal Academy buildings on Midmills Road in the heart of the city, and over the past four years has sensitively restored the Grade B listed Victorian properties whilst simultaneously giving a new life as a centre for creative practice, exhibition and collaboration.

The development was conducted over two phases. Phase one focused on converting the first of two buildings, which now houses 44 visual and applied artists and has been fully occupied since reopening towards the end of 2018. The second and final phase, completed this month, features state-of-the-art office, hot-desking and remote working facilities, and will also offer spaces open to the public, including the refurbished former Assembly Hall, gallery and event spaces, plus a new café, operated by Café de Paulo.

In addition to the facilities offered by Inverness Creative Academy, Wasps will be presenting a year-round arts programme, exploiting the new public spaces for exhibitions, promoting local and visiting artists, as well as events, markets and workshops. Wasps is also expanding its arts outreach programme, involving individuals, local community groups and schools. This includes Openarts, a programme designed to support wellbeing, promote social inclusion, and increase accessibility to artmaking for disadvantaged groups in the area.

The Inverness Creative Academy project began in 2014 with a public consultation that identified a need for creative studios in The Highlands and fulfilling the development was made possible thanks to the partnership between Wasps, LDN Architects and contractors Robertson Construction (for Phase One) and Bancon Construction (Phase Two).

The project has been generously supported by Wasps’ Foundation Partners Highlands & Islands Enterprise, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation, Inverness Common Good Fund, Creative Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, The Highland Council, The Scottish Government, Inverness City Heritage Trust, Foyle Foundation and many more organisations and individuals who have recognised the value such a facility will bring to the city and the region. Of the individuals who have supported the development many are former pupils of Inverness Royal Academy, keen to see their alma mater preserved and repurposed.

Wasps Chief Executive Officer Audrey Carlin: “It is with immense pride that we deliver Inverness Creative Academy to the community, and I would like to thank all the supporters for their time and generosity, without which we would not have been able to deliver this stunning facility for Inverness and the surrounding area.

“Wasps has a proven track record of providing affordable and well-appointed spaces for the creative sector, and we understood from early on that this would bring substantial benefits to The Highlands, not only in terms of cultural value but also for employment opportunities. Now that the final element is complete we would like to invite organisations who operate in the creative, social enterprise and charity fields to visit Inverness Creative Academy, to see for themselves the attractive opportunities being based in this community can offer.”

Former BBC Senior Producer Kate Hooper and Professor Donald MacLean of StrategyStory, the first tenants to move into the newly completed building alongside artists who have been resident in Phase 1 since 2018 © Martin Shields

The first tenants to move into the newly completed building are StrategyStory, an organisation dedicated to supporting local, national and international businesses with strategic development, established by former BBC Senior Producer Kate Hooper and Professor Donald MacLean.

StrategyStory co-founder Kate Hooper: “We’re a Highlands and Islands business with both a local and international client base. We needed somewhere with the ‘wow factor’ that is also easily accessible to our international guests, and still gives us easy access to the communities and businesses that we work with across the region. The building is phenomenal and offers us a really impressive place to host our StrategyStory training and events.”

StrategyStory co-founder Professor Donald MacLean: “We have been looking for new headquarters and wanted to find a really vibrant, creative and stimulating environment that produces opportunities for collaboration. We can’t wait for the journey to begin.”

Professor Donald MacLean and former BBC Senior Producer Kate Hooper of StrategyStory with artist Jenny Hepburn (centre) © Martin Shields

Throughout the development Wasps received the support of The Highland Council, and received full endorsement from the City’s Provost, Councillor Helen Carmichael. 

Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael: “When plans for this facility were originally developed in 2015 they were met with great excitement. Now that we approach the conclusion of the development and begin to welcome new enterprises to our city we start to reap the fruits of our labours. Inverness Creative Academy will be a powerful and colourful asset for The Highlands and, in doing so, reignites the purpose of two of the city’s most important and historic buildings.”

Award-winning Scottish practice LDN Architects were integral to the development from its inception.

Stuart MacKeller, partner from LDN Architects: “It has been a great privilege to have helped deliver the final and most important piece of the jigsaw by transforming the jewel in the Crown that is the former Inverness Royal Academy. Having witnessed first-hand the effects that Wasps’ presence in the city, through the initial phase of development, has had on the Highlands’ creative community, we are convinced that the final phase will serve to amplify what has already been achieved, whilst conserving one of Inverness’s finest architectural pieces. Taken together, the redevelopment of the Midmills Campus has reinvigorated a key city block in the heart of Inverness beyond recognition. As a community focused regeneration project, Inverness Creative Academy is the cornerstone of that transformation.”

Professor Chris O’Neil, Principal and Chief Executive of Inverness College UHI: “Congratulations to Wasps on reaching this exciting stage in the restoration of Inverness Creative Academy. We’re delighted to have been one of the very first tenants to move into this creative complex, which provides our art degree students with access to professional artist and exhibition space as well as the opportunity to practice and emerge themselves with other creatives. We look forward to building on our partnership with WASPS and its new tenants as Inverness Creative Academy develops.”

Inverness College UHI has been a tenant of Inverness Creative Academy since October 2019. The outreach space is used by staff and students on the University of the Highlands and Islands’ BA (Hons) Art and Contemporary Practices programme.

Inverness Royal Academy from 1900. Picture from Inverness Royal Academy Archive

Occupancy at Inverness Creative Academy overall has already reached 65%, with the final phase development only recently open for viewings. Those who are interested in applying for creative office space and flexible working accommodation are invited to contact Wasps via the website, www.waspsstudios.org.uk or by calling 01463 572753. Viewing events are scheduled for the evening of Thursday 3 March and during the day on Friday 4 March. To register for a Viewing Event at Inverness Creative Academy please email Lettings@waspsstudios.org.uk.

The inaugural exhibition in the newly opened Assembly Hall of Inverness Creative Academy will be IV5, a diverse exhibition from five contemporary artists based in the Inverness Creative Academy studios. IV5 opens on Monday 21 February featuring work from Jenny Hepburn, Martin Irish, Robbie Mackintosh, Izzy Thomson, Yelena Visemirska, with a celebratory opening evening on Friday 25 February. Find out all information here.

For further information relating to Inverness Creative Academy visit the projects page here.