Northern Digitals, a casual meetup for digital-creatives in Manchester

by Robert Ruggiero, Wilson Sherwin, Linus Vanhellemont
and contributions from Lotte Agten

A brief history

Toward the end of 2008, Matt Booth had had enough. Tired of comparisons to London, Booth seized the opportunity to create what Manchester was desperately missing: a casual meetup for digital-creatives in Manchester.

Using twitter and Meetup, it took all of fifteen minutes to sow the seeds of what would become Northern Digitals. With no expectations, agendas, or even nametags, the first meeting consisted of about 40 designers, developers and freelancers gathering at a quiet pub in the Northern Quarter.

The same people continued to meet every first Thursday of the month for the following year. However, the vibe was stagnating, and risked dying without new energy and so Booth, with the help of his colleague and friend Gavin Burnett, and the work of Fudge by Design, branded and designed the first Northern Digitals’ speaker night, BLAB. They attracted a wider audience and grew rapidly.

The inspirational BLAB nights had a beneficial impact on the more unstructured and informal Northern Digitals, which count today about 100 people average a month. On the 3rd of March 2011 we mingled with the Northern Digitals.

Meetup time in the Northern Quarter!

Arriving early to the Northern Digitals gathering is a bit like showing up to a blind date, you’re not quite sure who you’re going to meet or how you’ll recognize them. Fortunately, in the recently renovated, spacious bar “The Northern” a handful of people are sitting somewhat timidly with their drinks in one hand and their C++ books in the other. A good way to know you’ve come to the right place. By 7 pm the bar is packed with chatty technophiles. Maybe sitting alone behind their computers all day has made them extra talkative, because the bar is practically buzzing and stays that way until late.

Who?

About 110 digital creatives show up on average. What binds them is their fairly young age, mostly between mid-20s and mid-30s and their professional ambitions or background intertwined with digital tools and innovation: software-developers, webhosts and designers, software-engineers, digital-strategists, communication specialists.

Among the crowd there is even a realestate PR manager, but he too is strongly dependent on innovative digital tools. Another remarkable similarity is the casual dress code: these people don’t strike you as businessmen. No suits allowed, or so it appears. The people we talk to are mainly freelancers and creatives in junior positions. They all agree upon one thing, the Northern Quarter in Manchester is “the place to be.” It equals digital creativity in the North of Britain.

Although they do not all work in this area or even in Manchester City, they all come down because this is where it happens. “Nowhere in the North is there such a concentration of web-designers and developers as here.” To them the Northern Digitals meetup appears as the most informal gathering alongside more formal ones, such as the Social Media Cafe and other official network events, no requirements, no subscription needed, no name tags. Only custom compels them to buy a beer. But they don’t seem to need much forcing on that front.

Why?

Not all digitals have the same purpose in participating in the meet-up. Whereas some regard it as a social event, others see it as a social networking event with possible job opportunities. One interviewee even avowed that thanks to Northern Digitals no other intermediaries were necessary in finding freelance work. But even this person would agree : Northern Digitals is surely the most casual meetup in Manchester.

√ Feel free to comment in a constructive way

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