Screen Yorkshire - Why We Believe Leeds City Region can become Channel 4’s Happy Valley
Sally Joynson, the chief executive of Screen Yorkshire has written a commentary piece on why she believes Channel 4 should relocate to the county.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been only a month since we crossed the last ‘t’ and dotted the last ‘i’ on our bid to relocate Channel 4 to the Leeds City Region. Since then, there’s been no shortage of ink spent debating the subject, with some misinformed contributors suggesting that the Northern regions lack the talent, ambition and infrastructure to secure the continued success of a national broadcaster like Channel 4. Some even believe that this will be a contest to see who can throw the most money at Government in order to win the prize. Nonsense! The Leeds City Region bid was put together with pride and passion, and the belief that it could make a fundamental difference the DNA of Channel 4 - and here’s why.
In a country as diverse as the UK, a national public service broadcaster needs to have a greater plurality of voices. Audiences feel valued and part of the country when they see themselves and their communities portrayed on screen. The Leeds City Region, comprising some 3 million people across Leeds, Bradford, York, Harrogate, Calderdale, Kirklees, Barnsley Craven, Wakefield and their hinterlands, is rich in ethnic and cultural diversity with distinctive voices and disparate communities. A move to this region would allow Channel 4 to pool talent and voices from this under-represented group; would deliver a far stronger regional voice and help it better reflect many underserved audiences, many of whom feel that their culture, politics, diversity and economics are not fully valued.
If infrastructure is as crucial as many commentators have suggested, then Leeds City Region is better placed than any other area in contention. Leeds’ geographically central position in England means that the city has excellent transport links and the widest reach across the wider North and East of England. That makes it easier to travel between the English regions; much more so than Salford, Liverpool or Birmingham, which are much further west. This level of connectivity means the North West would still benefit from the accessibility of the city, but so too would many more millions of people living on the Eastern side of the Pennines – some 18.2 million, who have hitherto largely been ignored.
Some have argued that there’s a shortage of necessary talent outside the Capital, but I would challenge that assumption; at best as misguided, and at worst as plain ignorant. Thanks to its many years at the heart of ITV’s Yorkshire Television, the area has a strong media legacy, with much top-level talent - across drama, factual, entertainment news, editing, camera skills and technical support - still residing here. And let’s not forget the recently issued research showing that Yorkshire and Humber’s screen industries have grown faster in the last five years than anywhere else in the UK, including London and the South East.
In addition to traditional television skills, the area also has a well-established digital ecosystem and an exciting new school for creative and digital media skills (Leeds City College) opening in 2018, offering fertile ground for Channel 4 to enrich its skills base in response to the changes in audience consumption.
And for anyone concerned that we may not be high-brow enough for media luvvies, need you be reminded that Leeds City Region has a rich cultural heritage, which includes the UNESCO City of Media Art York and UNESCO City of Film Bradford? It also has a ground-breaking creative and performing arts communities, from which Channel 4 could find a remarkable pool of acting, direction, theatre-making and performance talent.
Channel 4 argues why it shouldn’t relocateHow can I say this with such confidence, I hear you ask? Because I, along with Screen Yorkshire’s bid partners - Leeds City Council and the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership – expended a huge amount of sweat (although thankfully no blood or tears!) in research so that we could get the best possible understanding of Channel 4 and its ambitions. We met with the region’s independent production companies, industry suppliers, universities, schools and Local Authorities to galvanise how we can all play a part in building a sustainable partnership with Channel 4 and to put together what we believed was the strongest possible argument to move the national broadcaster to the Leeds City Region.
We know that this a significant step for Channel 4 and we hear their concerns. However, we passionately believe that this should be a bold, risky and innovative move, based on what’s right for Channel 4 (not how much money is thrown in the ring to attract it) and entirely in keeping with Channel 4’s ethos of “fostering the new and experimental in television.” We feel that the long-term strategic benefits of moving here, which will see Channel 4 reinvigorated and in a better position to engage and reflect the country’s under-represented audiences, will far outweigh the short-term pain.