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Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Wednesday, 9 June 2010 16:11 UK
Working in a shipping container in Manchester
Christian Hill and James Coop outside their shipping container office
The Sharp Project says it could help up to 85 businesses in Manchester

Creative firms in Manchester are being urged to think inside the box - and set up shop in a shipping container.

The unusual office space is being offered as a low rent option for start-up businesses in the digital sector.

Eleven companies have now started work inside the 20ft x 8ft containers in a former warehouse in Newton Heath.

It's part of the 200,000 sq ft complex known as the Sharp Project, which is due to be completed in the autumn.

Bright, airy spaces, air-conditioned in winter and summer, walking distance from the shops - the usual requirements for most Manchester office workers.

Artist impression of shipping container offices
It feels like we're part of a community here. There's a lot of chat going on, a lot of ideas and I'm really optimistic about it.
Christian Hill, Project:Simply

Not so Christian Hill from Poynton.

When he was told he could set up shop inside a cold, metal box in East Manchester, his reaction was "brilliant!"

"I really like it because it's so different to anywhere else in Manchester," said the 31-year-old co-owner of Project:Simply.

"Being the first to move in wasn't ideal because there were a few teething problems with the heating and it has been quite cold.

"But I can see our clients pulling up here when it's finished and being really wowed by it."

Cheap

The real appeal, of course, is the rent. It costs Christian and his business partner James Coop £75 a week to work out of a double-sized container.

"It's just really good value and you can grow bigger or smaller as you need," added Christian.

"If you wanted a similar space at Media City or in the Northern Quarter, you would pay three times that, easily."

And he said his new landlords were really trying to find solutions to make it work.

"The bad thing [about working in a shipping container] is it's like a baked bean tin when it comes to getting a mobile phone signal.

"We had a meeting with Sue [Woodward, Project Director] and said we needed a signal amplifier. And she's gone away to see how she can implement that.

"Of course there are teething problems but it's the way they are dealing with them that's so good."

Innovative

Providing affordable business space for small, creative companies is the brainchild of urban regeneration company New East Manchester.

shipping container office space
Containers come in single (20ft x 8ft) or double (20ft x 16ft)

They're in the process of refurbishing the former Sharp warehouse on Oldham Road which, they claim, has the potential to help up to 85 businesses and create 550 jobs.

The project is part of Manchester's vision to drive forward the digital economy.

Deputy chief executive Steve Thorncroft said the combination of cheap office space with superfast 1Gb broadband was really taking off.

"These are new shipping containers where, in very simple terms, we've taken the front of the container off and we've put a glass screen in with glass doors.

"We've fitted them out with carpet and supply power and broadband connectivity and the tenants bring their own furniture - very simple and very affordable."

Steve added that the Sharp project was proving popular with companies involved in film, production, media and animation.

"They like to be housed together," he said.

"There's a lot of collaborative working, they feed off each other, it's quite an exciting place where new companies are attracted and we're making it nice, easy and affordable."

Christian Hill agrees. He said the Sharp Project was the perfect environment for their web development business.

"It feels like we're part of a community here. There's a lot of chat going on, a lot of ideas and I'm really optimistic about it."





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