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Leeds’ successful bid to house Channel 4’s national HQ has been a catalyst for creativity as new companies move in and opportunities for grassroots talent grow
Ruth Pitt started commuting between Leeds and London in 2004 to further her TV career.
Now chair of the regional production event Creative Cities Convention after running documentary departments at the BBC, Granada Television and Tiger Aspect, as well as her own indie, she hopes that Channel 4’s decision to base its national HQ in Leeds means that future generations of TV talent can flourish in the Leeds city region.
With plans for new production facilities and studios and the launch of talent schemes, there’s no doubt that Leeds winning the C4 bid in October 2018 is already having an impact on the city’s production scene.
Leeds has recently welcomed new Lime Pictures’ non-scripted label Wise Owl and fledgling comedy indie Hell Fire TV, Manchester-based Workerbee and TV trade body Pact, while the National Film and TV School and UKTV have also announced new hubs in the city.
According to Pitt, who acted as a consultant on the C4 bid, the region’s aspirations as an international creativity hub have long gestated. Fashion house Burberry moved from London to Leeds in 2017, while the following year, Leeds City Council transformed its European Capital of Culture bid for 2023 – scuppered by Brexit – into a £35m Celebration of Leeds plan.
In this context, Pitt predicts the C4 move will build momentum for several council-and enterprise-driven endeavours aimed at turning the region into a northern production powerhouse.
“It will act as transformational catalyst for the place that Leeds is already becoming,” she says.
Indigenous indies such as Daisybeck Studios and True North are working with the industry to develop a local skills and talent pipeline and the spirit of collaboration is palpable, says Pitt.
“During the C4 bid, I saw rival chief executives coming together to make it happen and this collaboration continues as incoming indies speak to indigenous companies about what they can do to secure talent for the future.”
New companies can take advantage of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) inward investment fund (#Welcome), and investment and support is available to others trying to create production infrastructure and talent pipelines within the region. True North, for example, is boosting the region’s editing capacity with a major expansion of its post-production facilities.
“Dramas have taken advantage of our amazing locations for years, from Victoria and Gentleman Jack to Last Tango In Halifax. The investment in studios takes this to the next level”
Ruth Pitt, Creative Cities Convention
Elsewhere, Leeds City Council is working with a series of partners on a major TV and film studio complex at the former Polestar Petty print works, just five minutes from C4’s new headquarters.
“Dramas have taken advantage of our amazing locations for years, from Victoria and Gentleman Jack to Last Tango In Halifax,” says Pitt. “The investment in studios takes this to the next level – there’s no reason why a TV drama needs to be shot anywhere else.”
Supporting grassroots talent is another priority and Leeds’ ability to provide young, talented and diverse workers is one of the factors that likely attracted C4, Pitt says. “We have the greatest number of 18-24s outside London – that makes Leeds an ideal stomping ground for change.”
She points to mentoring programmes such as Screen Yorkshire and Bradford Council’s Beyond Brontës, which is supported by LEP and launched last year to nurture talented 18 to 24 year-olds from diverse backgrounds.
Pitt responds to criticisms of a perceived lack of senior C4 execs moving to Leeds by saying “organic” change is more sustainable and points to head of drama Caroline Hollick now working out of the city as an example of change.
News and current affairs, the genre in which Pitt first cut her teeth, is set for a boost, with plans for new offices that include a studio that will provide a regular Yorkshire-based co-host for Channel 4 News. Elsewhere, a tender for a high-volume factual show has gone out, further programme opportunities will emerge and the city’s digital capabilities are booming.
“The hope is that all these measures will create new voices in the region and future generations will be able to start their TV careers in Leeds or move back here to progress,” says Pitt. “It doesn’t’ take a lot of transformation to make big changes.”
If you’re a creative or digital business with expansion plans, find out more about the grants and support Leeds City Region has to offer at: investleedscityregion.com/welcome