Andrew Sheldon, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Leeds based indie, True North, says Channel 4’s announcement that it will move its HQ to Leeds is just the start of a wider process.

“Perception matters. It’s a week since Channel 4 announced that their NHQ would be coming to Yorkshire – and already it feels as though there has been a sea change. 

Here in Leeds, where the NHQ will be sited, a new indie, Wise Owl, has opened for business. Workerbee (the rebranded Shine North) have announced that they’re looking for an office in the city, and UKTV have announced plans to join them with a new digital hub. Meanwhile across the Pennines, Studio Lambert and Big Talk are following suit by establishing permanent bases to supplement their previously ‘pop up’ productions.

Stories abound of more to come, and the talk is of a televisual goldrush across the North of England. The announcement though was really only the first step. The serious work is just beginning.

In ten-years-time, no-one will think twice about why Channel 4 has its NHQ in one of the nation’s great cities, linking with Manchester to make the much vaunted ‘Northern Powerhouse’ actually mean something. 

However, getting to that place will need commitment from all parties involved – Channel 4, their local authority partners, the indigenous indies, the super indies in London, the screen agencies and the universities.

It’s a delicate balancing act which will need people with passion whether homegrown or from elsewhere. It will need a sense of purpose, and an understanding of the importance of the existing eco-structure. 

The commissioners need to have the power to do their job and back ideas pitched by people who have had limited exposure to Horseferry Road. And they need to learn to understand the wider North – as it exists beyond Leeds and Manchester in Newcastle, Sheffield, Liverpool and Preston.

And what of the indies? Many have built and sustained businesses over an extended period of time and have worked hard to grow and nurture the existing talent base. They’re essential to the diversity of supply that’s at the heart of Channel 4’s project, and care needs to be taken to support them as well as encourage ‘lift and shift’ from London.

At True North we’re fully behind the NHQ, but also aware of its potential to destabilise the production community in the North. We have our own thoughts on making it work – but it will need creative thinking from everyone if it’s to really achieve its potential.

For every major prime time series moved from the capital, there should be a closed tender for indigenous indies (with no dropping of the creative bar, obviously) for a daytime or features series – the kind of thing that will allow stability and visibility not just to the bigger companies but to the emerging ones as well. 

The move in the Out of London quota to 50 per cent will mean both indigenous indies and incoming companies will be competing for the same staff, at least in the first instance, and that needs managing and supporting until the skill base has had chance to grow to meet demand.

At entry level, this needs the engagement of the universities – closing the huge gap between those students completing film and TV related degrees and those actually able to find a job – and councils. Beyond that, could Channel 4 partner with selected schools chosen in areas where a lack of social mobility is a part of daily life to offer encouragement and a pathway to pupils who might contemplate a TV career?

Could Channel 4 employ and place top tier execs to work with emerging indies to overcome the subconscious prejudices that exist around Out of London production? The risk will be that once they leave the M25 they might get to like it…

Finally, there’s infrastructure. Having trained additional editors and producers to make the programmes, there will be a need for somewhere for them to work. The market will take care of that to some extent, but it will also demand the buy in of local government to support the capital investment needed to build Post houses and studios.

So, there is much to do, but also much to play for. No doubt there will still be some arguing for a retrenchment in London, but the Channel 4 announcement was the huge first step in a process that will see the realignment of the television industry as we know it – and in a way that might eventually see the whole of the UK having a stake.”

Andrew Sheldon, Co-Founder and Creative Director, True North

Andrew Sheldon

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