City view: Bath

More renowned for long stretches of limestone and sweeping crescents than its creative atmosphere, Bath's entrepreneurial history dates back to about 500 years before the Romans turned up, when the city was little more than a muddy swamp.

Exiled from society and forced to work as a swineherd because of his leprosy, Bladud, mythical king of the Britons, noticed his pigs, who bathed in the mud around Bath, weren't afflicted. Bladud tried the mud out for himself, found it cured him, reinstated himself as king, and built a city on top of the swamp, drawing lepers from far and wide who came to the city to be cured - and paid handsomely for the privilege.

Hot sectors

Bath is best known for its spectacular Georgian architecture which means one thing: tourists - hundreds of thousands of them. In fact, with 1.6 million tourists injecting £281m into the local economy each year, workers in the tourism and retail industries make up just over a fifth of the city's workforce.

Creative industries are also on the rise in the city. Ryan Carson, who set up his business, Carsonified, in 2004, says he has seen an increase in the number of web businesses. "People spin off from Future [Publishing, the Bath-based magazine giant]," he says. "They work there, and then launch web companies off the back of it. I know at least three people who have done that."

Living in Bath

Carson says compared to London, it's much easier to achieve a decent work/life balance in Bath. With the countryside never more than ten minutes away, and a busy cultural programme which includes the annual Bath Festival, it sounds perfect - Carson says the only downside is the inevitable London commute. "The quality of life is much better, but from a networking perspective, if you're not in London, you're just never going to make the connections." The capital is an hour and a half away by train, but Carson says it's worth the travelling.  "It's a kind of trade-off, I think. If you want to work outside London you have to accept it."

Business support

Local government isn't particularly well known for its support of local entrepreneurs - after the introduction in 2001 of the much-despised bus gates which allow only busses and taxis into the city centre, the survival rate of small shops has been steadily declining - not least on Walcot Street, the city's artisan quarter. There's good news, though - backed by the Bath Chambers of Commerce and the regional branch of the FSB, local traders have set up the Bath Independent Group to rally against the council's sky-high parking charges.

The most recent blow to the city's entrepreneurs came in the form of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), which backed out of funding for Sir James Dyson's School of Design and Innovation earlier this year, which wasted £3.5m of the entrepreneur's money. Not one to bite the hand that feeds him, though, Dyson told the  local press the city is a wonderful place to set up shop. "This should not put anyone off Bath," he said.

Where can I...

... take clients for lunch?
Since Jamie Oliver opened the second in what will be a nationwide chain of Italian restaurants in the brand new Milsom Place shopping centre in September 2008, the restaurant has been struggling to keep up with demand. Located in the centre of the city, the restaurant only takes bookings for groups of eight or more, which means there may be a wait - but with an ' utterly delicious' menu on offer, as well as impeccable service, your clients will be glad you came.
Jamie's Italian, 10 Milsom Place, Bath. Tel: 01225 510051

... take a coffee break?
If it's all become too much for you, make like the Georgians and enjoy afternoon tea at the Pump Room near the Abbey. Built in the late 18th century, the lofty room was once the setting for exclusive social functions for Bath's upper classes, but is now more popular with tourists. If you're after something with a bit more of an atmosphere, try the Adventure Café, which serves up coffees, sandwiches and snacks until the late evening.
The Pump Room, The Roman Baths, Stall Street, Bath BA1 1LZ. Tel: 01225 477785
Adventure Café, 5 Princes Building, Bath, BA1 2ED. Tel: 01225 462 038

... meet other entrepreneurs?
The Bath Business Club holds weekly breakfast meetings, as well as arranging local training, seminars and social events for its members. The local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is also very active, lobbying and working with the local council to help ensure business growth in the area.
Bath Business Club, meetings held every Tuesday morning. Contact membership@bathbc.com
FSB Bath branch, contact Mary Mallia on 01249 449 120

... host my launch party?
By far the most impressive place to throw a party near Bath is super-exclusive Babington House, a lavish country hotel and venue set in the gorgeous countryside of the nearby market town of Frome. The venue, part of private members' club group Soho House, includes iconic spa The Cowshed and a 'Little House' crèche. Spaces available for hire include the Orangery restaurant, which can seat up to 80 people, and even a 45-seater cinema.
Babington House, Babington Nr Frome, Somerset, BA11 3RW Tel: 01373 812266

... hold a conference?
Once described as 'the most noble and elegant of any in the Kingdom', The Assembly Rooms are the city's piece de resistance, and formed the heart of life in 18th century Bath. The venue, which regularly hosts conferences for up to 500 delegates, not only contains portraits by Gainsborough, Hoare and Ramsey, but also its original Whitefriars crystal chandeliers - some of the oldest in the country.
The Assembly Rooms, Bennett Street, Bath BA1 2QH Tel 01225 477789

Vital statistics:

  • Number of VAT registered businesses: 8,740
  • Biggest industries: Property and business services, hotels and catering
  • Percentage of businesses surviving three years or more: 75%
  • Percentage of the population who are entrepreneurs: 5%
  • Average hourly earnings for full-time employees: £10 per hour
  • Notable local entrepreneurs: Vacuum magnate James Dyson, entrepreneur, philanthropist and postal reformer Ralph Allen

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