How Channel 4's move has cemented Leeds as a key media and creative hub

Josh Peachey's picture
by Josh Peachey

Sometimes referred to as the digital capital of the North, people in Leeds know the city is overflowing with creative potential. The decision by Channel 4 to move their national HQ there brings with it opportunities for workers and challenges for the council. 

At the heart of the successful bid was a collaborative effort, both in the official #4Sparks campaign by the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), and the supporting All In campaign by over 50 creative agencies from across the city. 

According to the LEP, almost 52,000 people from across the Leeds city region work in creative industries. 

“It goes to show the amount of creative talent we have here that over 50 agencies got together and said to Channel 4 that we’re ‘all in’,” Lisa Wisniowski, Brand Communications Director at Stickyeyes Agency, said. 

Lisa Wisniowski, Brand Communications Director at Stickyeyes

“The aim of the group was to collaborate, not just for Channel 4, but to say that we're going to work as a big group, we're going to support both the digital community and the educational community. We want to really push the skill set in the area.”

Last year, Stickyeyes recruited 30 people and the agency is looking to do the same again this year. The company pre-dates Google - pretty impressive for a digital agency. 

She continued: “From a creative perspective, if you look at Prolific North's Top 50 agencies, there are about 15 or so in Leeds. They've kind of always been here. We have this Yorkshire trait to not talk ourselves up as much as we should do. When I joined Stickyeyes, I always used to say we're a bit of a well-kept secret.”

Operating at a digital agency, Lisa believes that location doesn’t restrict who they can work with - the company was behind a huge campaign for Hertz across the whole of Europe that produces “seriously good monetary results”.

The All In campaign post after the Channel 4 move annoucement

“We get the best of both worlds here. We get all the amazing restaurants and cultural aspects, the Hepworth, Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We get all the benefits of the city but then we get to go home to the countryside and enjoy the Yorkshire Dales.”

The agency, along with others involved in the All In Leeds campaign, regularly visits the Leeds universities to provide a greater understanding of the opportunities available on their doorstep in the sector.

“There are more opportunities than ever for people to get experience. With Channel 4 raising Leeds above the parapet again, hopefully, that's going to continue,” Wisniowski added. 

This view is echoed by Dr David Lee, Associate Professor of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds, who believes that the city is definitely in the process of transforming itself into a key media and creative hub in the North of England.

Dr David Lee, Associate Professor of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds

The university’s School of Media and Communication is already in conversation with Channel 4, hoping to establish a partnership to work with them and provide students with potential placement work. 

“Leeds is definitely in the process of transforming itself into a key media and creative hub in the North of England,” Dr Lee said. “You've got the Channel 4 move, the Sky Digital and Technology down at Leeds Dock, Leeds Digital Festival, the growth of the Round Foundry, Hulbeck Open Village, and the South Bank Leeds development. The Channel 4 move cements all of that and pushes Leeds' profile.” 

Leeds Digital Festival saw 20,000 attendees last year across 170 events

“It's an opportunity for a much greater diversity of voices, both on-screen and off-screen. Access to TV production, across the media generally, is mitigated through class and race. There's a real opportunity for some change there if Channel 4 and the broader visual sector in Leeds can find new ways of providing access to the professions.”

With the projected 1,000 new jobs being created in the city, the Channel 4 move brings with it challenges that the Council must consider, Dr Lee stresses.

“Leeds Council needs to capitalise on the Channel 4 announcement to ensure affordable working space within the city - something that is a real challenge at the moment. Edit suites and studios are needed. The council could help with change of use designations to revitalise the city's empty spaces. 

Leeds beat Birmingham and Manchester to become the new National HQ

“Given the competitive nature of urban regional growth, there are questions about what Leeds' success means for the balance of the national creative economy. Hopefully something of a shift from London to the regions. 

“It is also crucial that those towns and cities in the North, such as Huddersfield, Wakefield, Dewsbury and Bradford also benefit from Leeds' success.”

Aside from the Channel 4 move, Leeds has also become a hugely popular destination for university students, drawing in students from across the world. Martin Jones, Managing Director of Leeds’ Brawl Agency, highlights the importance of this: “We want the best and the brightest of those students to stay in Leeds once they have graduated, so services and infrastructure need to be constantly improved to accommodate those needs.”

Leeds University are exploring potential partnerships with Channel 4

The ambition of Leeds’ creatives appears to know no end, especially with the city’s marketing agency HOME curating adverts aired across America during the Superbowl at the start of this month. 

The move confirms what those working in Leeds already knew. The area has always been creatively talented, but it’s no longer a well-kept secret. With the whole city coming together saying they’re ‘All In’, is it really any surprise that Channel 4 chose Leeds? 



This story is a part of our Prolific+ February series on Jobs. Each month, we'll be diving deeper into a specific topic. You can find our January Prolific + series on Digital Healthcare here