Wasps (Workshop & Artists Studio Provision Scotland Ltd) is a registered charity that provides affordable studios to support artists, makers and creative industries. They currently house approximately 1000 artists and 33 organisations at 20 buildings across the country.

Wasps was established over 40 years ago and was created by former art school students looking to secure working space as they entered the beginning of their independent practice. Over the years the organisation has developed to include facility provision for the creative industries, social enterprises and cultural charities.

Audrey Carlin, Wasps Chief Executive Officer, in Inverness’s Creative Academy to launch the Shine A Light campaign.

Audrey Carlin has led Wasps for the past 7 years, through its growth into the Highlands and to becoming a financially self-sustaining social enterprise.  Audrey is a Chartered Town Planner with over 25 years’ experience in regeneration. As Chief Executive Officer at Wasps she has overseen redevelopment projects valued at £13m and is keen to support creative people to have the space they need, in a location they want to stay in, and develop their career. Audrey is also a Trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland and a Board Member of the UK’s Architectural Heritage Fund.

We spoke with Audrey about Wasps and their recent projects:

“An element of Wasps’ business plan is to rescue redundant yet historically significant buildings, and we have been recognised as a leader in the field. In recent years we have responded to demand from creative people across the Highlands and Islands by converting vacant properties into creative space in Nairn, Skye, Orkney and most recently in the heart of Inverness – Inverness Creative Academy.

“Built over two Phases, Phase 1 opened at the end of 2018 and is already home to a thriving artist and maker community of over 40 people and has hosted over 100 events, exhibitions and classes. Phase 2 is now complete and open for creative businesses seeking office space, complete with café and gallery. We believe this new facility will be a great asset to the city. Created from the transformation of the beautiful B Listed former school Midmills buildings on the old Inverness Royal Academy site in the Crown area of the city, this facility could prove to be the next home for those members in the creative industries, social enterprise and cultural charity sector looking to relocate to a contemporary facility, ideally located, which is part of a greater Highland creative.

“The latest Phase of Inverness Creative Academy offers flexible office space, good digital connectivity, 24 hour access for businesses and a staffed reception. In addition to this, Inverness Creative Academy also offers hotdesking and remote working spaces for those who do not want to commit to an office but might need access to a desk with good Wi-Fi on occasion, when working in the city. We also have a public café in the stunningly refurbished former assembly hall operated by local business Café de Paulo. We would like to invite visitors, some of whom may have been former pupils when it was Inverness Royal Academy, to witness for themselves what Wasps has achieved in rescuing these historic important buildings, experience art and look at what we can offer creative businesses. Over the next 12 months we plan to work closely with the local community through events and activities, including our OpenArts Outreach project. On top of this we plan to support local creative businesses to incubate, and to develop a thriving cultural hub that complements and bolsters Inverness’ economic and cultural infrastructure.

“Wasps is a national concern, and we are looking at opportunities to support our existing network with business support and development opportunities as well as to expand our studio network. The demand for artist studios throughout the country is high, and Wasps operates a waiting list.

“Regarding the pandemic, our priority is to support our tenants in any way we can. At the beginning there was a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety. Our community’s principal concerns were related to studio/office access, and for a short while we were forced to close, like the rest of the country. We quickly reopened our spaces to enable our artists to get back to work and have remained so, whilst heightening safety measures to protect the tenants, visitors and staff.

“We took the opportunity to develop our digital capacity during the pandemic, in terms of communications and presentation. For instance, Wasps benefitted from being the recipient of a Digital Enablement Grant, awarded by Highlands & Islands Enterprise. This allowed us to develop our website to an extent that improved communications across the network, while offering an e-commerce facility to artists, many of whom were losing opportunities to sell due to the scarcity of physical markets and exhibitions. In the absence of the latter, Wasps rolled out its first online exhibitions, which proved to be a great success. We are now rolling out a Digital Transformation Project across all our studio buildings to enhance digital connectivity infrastructure and ensure our creative people can grow by working, selling and teaching online in an increasing digital economy.

Wasps are the recipient of numerous awards, recently winning the Regeneration Project of the Year at the 2021 Scottish Property Awards, for their development of the former St John’s School in Perth, converting it into Perth Creative Exchange. Wasps have also received the Social Enterprise of the Year Award in Scotland, the Special Award for Scotland from the Civic Trust Awards and the Doolan Award for Architecture for their development of South Block in Glasgow. Furthermore, Wasps was also shortlisted in the Glasgow Business of the Year Awards 2021. Inverness Creative Academy will no doubt add to their list of rewards in the upcoming months.

We asked Audrey what she found most valuable about their Chamber membership and what ‘top tips’ she would advise other members, this is what she told us: “Being a Chamber member brings opportunities to connect with a wider audience, network with other businesses, have access to training and development opportunities and of course take part in the events the Chamber organises for members. I would advise fellow members to take part in Chamber events, especially the Highland Business Awards, as it provides access to further business visibility and opportunities.  

Wasps COO Chris Cowie giving a tour to guests

Inverness Creative Academy are hosting two open events this week, the evening of Thursday 3rd March and the morning of Friday 4th March, for those who may be interested in the new building’s facilities. To register for a tour contact the team via lettings@waspsstudios.org.uk or call 01463 572753.

Inverness Creative Academy Website

Courier columnist, and former old Inverness Royal Academy student, Charles Bannerman shares his memories and thoughts on the Inverness Creative Academy development here.

Inverness Chamber Visit

Claire English, Funding and Partnerships Manager at Wasps, invited the Inverness Chamber team for a tour of both phase 1 and 2 of Inverness Creative Academy and we were lucky enough to visit some of the artist’s studios, see their work and even meet a couple of them.

The high ceilings, huge windows, restored original features and simple yet playful décor make Inverness Creative Academy a real showstopper. Drop in for coffee and cake then head up the beautiful imperial staircase to experience some of the artists’ creations.

The studios all have an abundance of natural light with lovely views and there is a number of office spaces available for creative industries including permanent desks, hot desks and a meeting room. The varying spaces available mean that there is something to suit all circumstances and budgets.

To find out more about the spaces available for rent contact;

Claire English
Funding and Partnerships Manager
07384 116 381

Catherine MacNeil
Property Manager
01463 572 753

Thank you to the artists who were kind enough to let us into their creative space and to photograph their work;
Jacqueline Biggs
Cecilia Mann
Yelena Visemirska
Martin Irish

Connecting Supporting Representing