Channel 4’s decision to house its new regional headquarters in Leeds is a fantastic early Christmas present for Yorkshire. In a three-way bidding race, Birmingham had been seen as favourite to host the iconic broadcaster, with Manchester second and Leeds third. The bookies aren’t often wrong, but a few looked like turkeys when C4 announced that 200 jobs were coming to the Leeds City Region.
It was a highly competitive process and no-one took anything for granted this side of the Pennines. But there was quiet confidence: we knew that the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Screen Yorkshire had assembled an exceptional team and that our offer was ambitious and compelling.
Strong leadership was needed to get everyone’s noses pointed in the same direction. Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe, Chair of the WYCA, pulled together skills, talents and assets from across the region. Roger Marsh, chair of the LEP, led and fronted the bid, bringing his trademark insight and professionalism. The whole team deserves huge praise.
This is game-changing for the media, digital and creative industries in Yorkshire: 200 jobs in Leeds for starters and the WYCA predicts that more than 1,200 jobs could be created in the region, delivering an economic boost of £1bn.
Make no mistake: Leeds wouldn’t have won this without Bradford’s support, history, assets and talent. As chair of Bradford Economic Partnership, I know about the region’s creative heritage and pedigree. My home city is the first UNESCO city of film and the home of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (now the National Media Museum). Our beautiful architecture and stunning countryside has provided a perfect cinematic backdrop. A film of the TV show Downtown Abbey was recently being shot in Bradford’s Little Germany district. Feature films including The Railway Children, East is East and more recently, Bollywood film Gold also bear Yorkshire’s stamp. Fans of Peaky Blinders might recognise locations including Saltaire and the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.
There’s fantastic off-screen and on-screen acting, writing, production and journalistic talent too: look at Suman Hanjf, the British-Pakistani film-maker who studied at Bradford College; Mariaah Hussain, star of TV show Ackley Bridge; and Kamal Khan, the Bradford-based actor and scriptwriter. Nick Ahad, the BBC Radio Leeds presenter, playwright and former YP man also deserves a mention, as does Clio Barnard, a rising star of UK film-making (The Selfish Giant, Dark River, The Arbor) who does much of her work in and around Bradford. I could go on.
C4 has paid tribute to the commitment of the Leeds City Region to bring diverse new talent into the industry and working to harness the diversity of different communities across West Yorkshire, including in Bradford. Let’s face it: the media is a closed shop to some. A report produced by Ofcom found that women, ethnic minorities and disabled people are all under-represented in the UK’s TV industry. It goes further: too many people from less well-off backgrounds are simply not getting a fair a chance to show what they can do.
We are working to address this and to broaden the media and talent pipeline by investing in supporting creative skills in the region. The Industrial Centre of Excellence (ICE) in Creative and Digital Arts in Bradford offers training, apprenticeships, work experience, careers information, mentoring and bursaries for people seeking a career in the sector. Bradford’s Screen Skills Diversity Programme helps a broader segment of society gain skills and jobs in the film and television industry.
C4’s move will only be a true success if more talented people in the region get ahead in the media or creative world, regardless of their background. I want to see local people succeeding and becoming role models for others, raising aspirations and inspiring confidence. Our talented young people will be helped by being able to learn from some of the C4 staff who will move to Yorkshire, bringing know-how and experience. C4 staff will soon realise that Yorkshire has a fantastic quality of life: outstanding properties, beautiful countryside, vibrant culture and great people.
One thing is clear – you don’t need to be in London to have a successful TV career any longer. The BBC is a major employer in Salford and C4 will be in Leeds. Both are close to Bradford, and the ICE. There’s a thriving independent production sector across the North, and Leeds has a fast-growing digital industry. C4 last week noted Leeds’s proximity to the other great cities of the North including Bradford, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield.
These great cities could be closer still: last week’s Budget included £37m for the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR). We are pushing hard for an NPR station in Bradford to better link our region to Leeds, Manchester and beyond. Like C4’s move to Leeds, an NPR station in Bradford would be another game-changing victory worth celebrating.
- Dave Baldwin is chairman of the Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club