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Moving into MediaCity

10 May 2011

It’s the ‘mother of all house moves’ and ‘single biggest staff relocation in the BBC’s history.’

So said BBC North director Peter Salmon today, as he unveiled the corporation’s new base at MediaCity in Salford Quays to the press.

The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra was the first big department to transfer, moving up to its new home – a purpose built sound studio - at MediaCity over the recent bank holiday weekend.

150 employees will move into the new offices this weekend, the first in a wave of 2,300 BBC production staff from departments such as sports, childrens, Radio 5 Live and BBC Breakfast who will relocate to MediaCity progressively over the next 36 weeks.

They will occupy three impressively kitted out buildings on the MediaCity site, which have been designed to encourage flexible, open working.

There are no fixed desks for staff nor are there private offices for senior executives. Instead the seating is flexible, with individuals hot-desking within their departments. There are break out areas with sofas or long benches for group meetings, and specifically designed pods where staff can make private mobile phone calls or conduct small meetings.

The pods were a particular talking point for many of the journalists touring the site. In some cases they resemble giant wheels with soft chairs inside – and have been dubbed ‘thought wheels’ by staff. Other pods, designed after an open competition won by students at Sheffield Hallam University, are high backed chairs that absorb sound to make mobile calls more private.

Helen Berresford of ID:SR, the interior design firm, said that the flexible seating arrangement meant that “more people could use less space” and that it reflected the trend of flexible, multiplatform working in contemporary workplaces.

Right next to the three BBC buildings is a pristine, state of the art new HD studio complex, which houses the largest purpose built single TV studio in the UK and six smaller studios as well as impressive audience facilities, star dressing rooms, editing suites and control rooms. It’s managed by SIS, and is open to productions from the BBC, ITV as well as independent producers. “We want to see ITV in here as much as the BBC,” said head of studios Andy Waters.

The studios are already in use: shows such as Question of Sport, Don’t Scare the Hare and Opinionated have already shot there, while Mastermind begins filming next week. Highlighting the scale of the studio set up, it will also be home to the next BBC Sports Personality of the Year show. Football Focus will be broadcast from the studios from August and Match of the Day from October.

ITV, meanwhile, will move into offices at MediaCity next year and is already building a new set for Coronation Street right next door.

Speaking at the press launch, director general Mark Thompson went out of his way to play down “the negativity” of media coverage about the reluctance of BBC staff to move to Salford.

Thompson said 55% of staff in departments set to move to MediaCity had volunteered to come, significantly higher than in most large office relocations.

He added that 2,500 BBC staff in departments not moving have asked to be considered for jobs at MediaCity, and that tens of thousands from outside the BBC had applied for jobs.

Thompson believes that the flexible set up of MediaCity will set a template for a new way of working at the BBC, which is less hierarchical and where staff can move more easily between departments. “I think 20 years from now the BBC will be run by people who cut their teeth at Salford,” he said.

Thompson also said a major terrestrial channel could move to MediaCity. “We’re looking at it,” he said, adding that there is additional space “if we chose to take it” at MediaCity and it “could be an opportunity to save money.”

The BBC argues that its move to MediaCity will bring four key benefits: economic – strengthening the media talent and production pool in the North; reputational – building up a closer relationship and approval with audiences in the area; creative – increasing quality by using the latest technology; value for money – making BBC North one of the most ‘efficient and cost effective centres.

BBC staff who are moving to MediaCity will enjoy a generous relocation allowance. Their removal services will be paid for and they will receive a taxable relocation payment of £5k.

Staff who are buying and selling a property will have their legal costs, stamp duty and estate agency fees paid, as well as a contribution of up to £3k toward fixtures and fittings.

Staff who rent will be eligible for a maximum monthly payment of £1,900 for up to two years (but not the relocation payment of £5k). The BBC said that the ‘people’ cost of its move – relocation, recruitment, training and redundancy – was £86.5m.

The total cost of the move to BBC North is £189.3m, according to the BBC.

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