#41: Cardiff People - Louise Harris

Profile picture for user Creative Cardiff

Posted by: Creative Cardiff

Date: 9 August 2016

Louise is the founder of Big Learning Company, which delivers training, content and innovation projects in all areas of learning provision across Wales. She is about to open a Cardiff co-working space, Tramshed Tech, and is working in collaboration with London Riverside Studios on the inaugural Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival (EDEF).

Can you tell us a bit about your work? 

My main role is founder and director of Big Learning Company. I started out in 2007 – I’d been a drama teacher up until then and I noticed that technology was increasing in schools but wasn’t really being used to its full potential for teaching and learning. I was experimental and I always used technology as a teaching tool. I saw that there was a gap in the market for a company that would support schools with expertise to roll out technology in the classroom. So I founded Big Learning Company and we went limited in 2012. That has just grown as a business, we have a strong team of employees now who train all across the UK.

Why have you chosen to work in Cardiff? What inspires you about being here?

Our sole aim as a company from day one was to improve education here in Wales and to make a big difference and I knew it was something we could achieve. But I also knew that to do that, we had to bring the best of what the rest of the world had to offer. So, for us, it had to be Cardiff – it had to be the city, it had to be a place that was easily accessible.

The great thing about Cardiff is, it is a very small village in some respects. You can pick up the phone to an expert, you can get the help and support you need – it is a very close knit community. But it is also a thriving, growing community, so to be here in what feels like the early stages of that growth has been really exciting. In Cardiff we’ve been able to pick a great venue and surround ourselves with great people. It just feels like now it is Cardiff’s turn and we’re going to be a part of that.

Big Learning Company are just about to move into your latest venture Tramshed Tech. What is it? What does it aim to do?

Tramshed is a building steeped in history – it was originally the place where trams were kept in Cardiff and it was at the forefront of technology and innovation. Now the trams have gone, the Tramshed has been creatively transformed: into an arts and music venue; into a cultural space, into a digital creative space – once again at the cutting edge of innovation, in what is a transforming this area of the city itself.

One of the main aims of Tramshed Tech is to create an amazing space for co-working and being creative. We believe that gone are the days where companies will want one huge tower block, where teams are isolated, locked in their own offices, where they can't really collaborate with anyone else. If businesses are going to survive and thrive in this really challenging environment that we’re in at the moment – especially here in a growing city like Cardiff - we have to work together creatively, to collaborate.

Now that word ‘collaborate’ is used a lot, but actually what does that mean when you come down to it? It means creating an environment where people want to work together. Tramshed is a private sector-funded project, it is a commercially viable space, and at its core is the aim to get people working together. It's more than just a business venture for us, it's creating a home for Big Learning Company where we can do great things in collaboration with other innovative companies, locally, nationally and internationally.

What challenges have you found in working in Cardiff?

We have a very ambitious growth plan for Big Learning Company that is seeing us move more of our teams and projects into our digital and tech products; and one huge challenge is attracting talent. We need to build up tech products really quickly to beat our competitors to the national and international marketplace with a minimum viable product. There isn't any lack of talent in Wales, the issue that we face in Cardiff is that we’re constantly competing with other cities that, to our home-grown talent, appear to be much more likely to offer them the type of lifestyle they want.

That is really concerning for us, as Cardiff has so much to offer - Cardiff is currently the fastest growing city in the UK - so Tramshed Tech became a really clear vision for us in creating an environment which will help to keep young talent in Wales and also be a space where more experienced experts would want to stay and collaborate.

Which three things need to happen to make Cardiff a more creative city?

  • We need to find a language that all partners can speak – a Rosetta Stone, a glue that will bind together all the people you need around the table to make businesses grow here in Cardiff.
  • We need people who understand the creative industries, technology, digital – who understand the pressures that creative companies are under and the way they need to work. Our economy is changing rapidly so we need processes and mechanisms that match the way we work as a company that aren’t based on other sectors. So sector-specific processes would be really useful.
  • And I think a specialised training offer for the creative industries is lacking across Wales in general. 

What’s next for you? What projects are on the horizon? What new ideas are you working on?

We’re just about to launch Tramshed Tech, where we’ll be opening our doors to 20 businesses – some Cardiff businesses, some inward investment companies which is really exciting. We’ll also have a 5,000 sq ft tech hub that we’ll be inviting members to become a part of.

Alongside that, we’ve opened a new office in Riverside in London and we’ve launched a collaboration with Riverside Studios called Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival (EDEF) which is exploring how digital technology, particularly VR and gaming, can work across the creative sector to produce new products and exciting projects.

From September we’ll be launching the Lego Academy with LEGO Education UK, which is a huge advance for the Big Learning Company. It really brings together the three arms of our business which are: the content we produce, the products we create and the training that we deliver, coming together in one project with LEGO Education. It is an exciting and busy time for us!

Describe your favourite creative place in Cardiff.

I’m going to have to say the Tramshed! That’s really cheeky isn’t it? But as a creative space, Tramshed is only just beginning. It is something Cardiff has needed for a long time. We’ve had really big creative venues which hold thousands of people and small creative spaces, but what we haven’t had is a space that can be versatile across those different numbers. The 1000 capacity we’ve got here in the music venue means we can look to attract new artists to Cardiff but we can also support those smaller artists in Cardiff to do more collaboratively and creatively. So it's gotta be Tramshed. 

What do you think Creative Cardiff should try to achieve?

There has been a lot of mapping of the creative industries and a lot of research that has gone into it. I think it is fantastic to see that Cardiff University is taking that research and turning it into action. I would like to see the university working really closely with the businesses who are at the sharp end of it, to understand how that research could work in action.

What do we need today? Not what we needed in the past or in the future – how do we move forward now? Times are difficult, everybody needs to come together to make it work and I think the role of the HE sector is very much about that Rosetta stone, that language, that calibration so we can all work together around the same table.