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Why Channel 4 Should Choose Leeds for Their New National HQ

· Ali Turner · Opinion

Come on Channel 4, choose Leeds.

Leeds Skyline Trinity Leeds

In March, Channel 4 launched their ‘4 All the UK’ campaign to find a new National Hub – and the moment of truth is almost here.

In just a few short weeks, we’ll find out which city will become Channel 4’s new National HQ. It would be a real coup for Leeds, creating a catalyst for growth and helping to raise the city’s profile both nationally and internationally. But with stiff competition from Birmingham and Manchester, why should Channel 4 choose Leeds as their new home?

Yorkshire is the fastest growing region for film & TV

Last year, Screen Yorkshire released eye-opening figures on the film and TV industry in the UK. They revealed that from 2009-2015, Yorkshire’s film & TV industries generated an annual turnover of £424 million across 590 creative businesses – at a growth rate of 247%, that’s more than double the national average.

“These figures clearly demonstrate that the region is punching above its weight when it comes to producing world class film & TV. Furthermore, this growth has been achieved against a backdrop of increasing consolidation and hugely disproportionate investment on a national and local level into creative industries on the west side of England and the UK,” Sally Joynson, Chief Executive at Screen Yorkshire, explained. “We can now demonstrate how much more we can achieve for the region, the wider north and the UK economy as a whole if we can attract the right level of support and investment into the sector in Yorkshire.”

Despite the fact that there’s no other major broadcaster in the North East, Yorkshire’s film and TV industries are thriving, so Channel 4 would be joining a vibrant community with a strong talent pool – and their decision to come to Leeds would have a greater transformational impact than it would in Manchester or Birmingham.

Leeds is a hotbed for independent production companies

At first glance, Leeds may not seem to have the credentials to compete with Manchester, who have ITV, or Birmingham, who have BBC Three. But Channel 4 accounts for 36% of all UK investment in indies by public service broadcasting – and their move to Leeds would put them shoulder to shoulder with some of the North’s finest independent production companies.

They already work with many of their new neighbours. Daisybeck Studios has collaborated with them on documentaries like Virginia McKenna’s Born Free and Beatrix Potter with Patricia Routledge, while True Vision produced their award-winning show Catching a Killer. But there are many more potential opportunities, with companies like Kay Mellor’s Rollem Productions, the studio behind Fat Friends, The Syndicate and Girlfriends. By basing themselves here, Channel 4 will be surrounding themselves with young, independent studios that can help them bring fresh new ideas to their programming.

And they, in turn, will help the city’s independent production companies to thrive – as they always have. Their investment in True North in 2014 helped them to become one of the fastest growing television and media producers in the UK. And it’s a similar story with Duck Soup Films. The female-run production company, known for their work on This is England, also received funding from Channel 4.

Location-wise, Leeds is the perfect fit

New Station Entrance

© Copyright Leeds-List 2018 by Ali Turner

As part of their ‘4 All the UK’, Channel 4 will be opening a new National HQ and two smaller creative hubs outside London. Employees and partners will be travelling between their London HQ and regional hubs, so it’s important that they’re well connected – and Leeds is. Our central location means we’re an equal distance from Glasgow, Bristol and Cardiff, the three cities in the running to be their creative hubs.

The capital is even easier to reach – it’s 2 hours 13 minutes on the train and that time will go down to 1 hour 28 minutes when HS2 completes in 2033. But it’s not just your journey that will be transformed. The new integrated train station will link the existing station with the new HS2 hub, creating an inspirational welcome to the city with a statement design by The Atkins Consortium.

And once in the city, they’ll have an abundance of office spaces to choose from. According to Deloitte’s Leeds Crane Survey, 712,960 square foot of office space completed in Leeds last year, with 460,960 square foot under construction. This year, another 290,690 square foot completed with a massive 771,331 square foot under construction. There are some seriously impressive projects on the way, including CEG: Southbank and Vastint’s new development on the former Tetley Brewery site, but let’s not forget the historic buildings that need to be put to good use or the brownfield sites that offer limitless potential.

Our talent pipeline overfloweth

Leeds Trinity University

Credit: Leeds Trinity University

One of the things that’s high on Channel 4’s agenda is the talent pipeline. Knowing that they’ll have a constant flow of new recruits coming into the business is understandably important – and this is an area where Leeds excels. We have a young, digital-savvy population. In fact, nearly 20% of the region’s residents are under the age of 15, and they’re being coaxed into the industry with initiatives like Studio 12, which invests in the creative talents of disadvantaged young people.

But that’s not all. The Leeds City Region produces 38,900 graduates a year and creates 50% more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) graduates than Birmingham and 10% more than Manchester. We’re basically leaving the competition in the dust. And that means Channel 4 will have a never-ending stream of new talent to fuel their growth – something that will come in mighty handy, considering that they’re planning to increase their spend in the Nations & Regions from 35% to 50%.

And our credentials are set to get even better in the future. Leeds Beckett University has invested £80 million in its new Creative Arts building and Leeds City College is hard at work on its new £33.4 million city centre campus, which once complete, will revolutionise their digital and creative arts courses. So if our talent pipeline is good now, imagine how much better it will be in the years to come.

Leeds has the tech creds it needs to go all the way

Sky Betting & Gaming

Credit: Zoanne Garner

Cutting-edge connectivity and technology? That’s a big tick for Leeds. Superfast broadband is available in 98% of the region and we were one of the first locations to pilot G.fast, a new ultrafast broadband technology that promises download speeds up to 330 megabytes per second.

Beyond the physical tech, there’s the industry itself – Leeds’ tech sector is thriving. It has a turnover of £1 billion and 34,742 tech jobs. Over the last few years, there’s been an influx of investment, with £3.7 million of funding dedicated to helping drive growth in the digital sector. And the community has grown exponentially with events like Glug, Hey! and Leeds Digital Festival bringing people together to collaborate and innovate.

This forward-thinking, tech-centric attitude has attracted some of the biggest names in the business. Both Sky and Sky Betting and Gaming have invested heavily in the city, while DAZN (previously Perform Group) chose Leeds above anywhere else in the world. As Ben Warn, their CEO of New Ventures, explained, “We’re at the pinnacle of digital sports content and media globally, so when it came to the expansion, we looked globally at where we could find the right people, with the right attitude in the right location, and it was then we realised we were already here in Leeds and just needed to expand.”

All these businesses, from the huge global players to the small independents, are behind the #4sparks campaign to bring Channel 4 to Leeds because it’s going to be as good for us as it is for them.

And last but not least – it’s a great place to live and work

Belgrave Music Hall

The cost of living in Leeds is significantly lower than London, which means you can enjoy a lifestyle you couldn’t in the capital, but when it comes to Manchester and Birmingham, we’re all pretty much on a par. So if money isn’t a defining factor, what is? Well, the city itself, of course.

In order for Channel 4’s new to National HQ to succeed, people have to want to live and work here. But who wouldn’t? Leeds is a vibrant city with a lively nightlife, a unique culture and a real can-do attitude. Foodies can choose from a never-ending array of restaurants, culture seekers can visit national galleries like Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and outdoors-types will be spoilt for choice with all the glories of the Yorkshire countryside right on their doorstep.

And it’s only set to get better. Leeds is an ambitious city with big plans. Something that’s best summed up in our reaction to the recent European Capital of Culture fiasco. Despite losing the chance to bid, the city has decided to plough on with its Leeds 2023 plans by committing £35 million to a revised programme of events that include everything from an outdoor theatre production to a huge sculpture festival.

Leeds is a no-brainer

Leeds Skyline John Lewis

© Copyright Leeds-List 2018 by Corvin Pamp

Channel 4 prides itself on offering ‘a distinctive alternative voice in broadcasting, to innovate and inspire change in how people see the world and to champion diversity’ – what better way to prove that than by choosing Leeds and bringing balance to a sector that’s undeniably West-heavy?

“Channel 4 was set up to be unlike any other broadcaster, and we think our attractiveness, apart from having all the ingredients necessary and more, is that it would reinforce their distinctive and different proposition by rebalancing the whole sector and coming to the eastern side. That’s not to say that those others, Birmingham and Manchester, aren’t very worthy contestants in this, but actually, there’s a win-win situation here,” Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Chair and the man leading the charge for our bid, Roger Marsh OBE, explained.

Their final decision is expected in early-to-mid October, but in the meanwhile, let’s show Channel 4 a united front – you can get behind the Leeds bid by tweeting with the #4sparks and #allinleeds hashtag.

Cover image © Copyright Leeds-List 2018 by Corvin Pamp.