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“A landmark moment”: Manctopia developer Tim Heatley on Sheffield, a new Manchester HQ and Liverpool’s ‘Hollywood of the North’

Littlewoods Capital&Centric

Having starred in BBC’s hit Manctopia documentary on Manchester’s billion pound property boom in 2020, the co-founder of social impact developer Capital&Centric is no stranger to the limelight.

Tim Heatley is back on TV screens for Channel 4’s new interior design series, The Big Interiors Battle, but this time the spotlight will be on Sheffield.

Passionate about social mobility, it seemed fitting for Sheffield to be the focus of the show as budding interior designers battle it out to win a £250,000 apartment in Capital&Centric’s Eyewitness Works building.

“There’s a story to tell about Sheffield,” Heatley told Prolific North. “It’s a bit of an undiscovered, untapped, lesser known city that should be right up there in the spotlight.”

Famed for regeneration projects across the North West – from Kampus in Manchester city centre to Weir Mill in Stockport – he was keen to switch conversations away from Manchester as it’s already a “hot topic city.”

“I was conscious that Capital&Centric aren’t just ever forever to be seen as the Manchester-only company because we’re really not, we do so much elsewhere.”

Although at first there was a bit of hesitation and “humouring” about choosing Sheffield as the location, the production team were “blown away” within minutes of visiting the city and he hopes it’ll be the same for viewers too.

“We can open people’s eyes to what Sheffield is about, the people and the spaces in and amongst it, and what a cool city it is and what an exciting prize it is. The show is a journey of discovery, with Sheffield as part of it.

“We’re here to create demand, that’s if we’re doing a great job. We need to demonstrate we can find new consumers,” he explained. “You can do that, we believe, to a certain extent through social media but being able to harness the power of national media is what we’re good at.”

“Hollywood of the North” 

It’s not just about Sheffield or Manchester. The much-anticipated £70m regeneration project to transform Liverpool’s former Littlewoods building into a ‘Hollywood of the North’ studio for the film, TV and digital industry in Liverpool is progressing too.

Capital&Centric acquired the 260,000 sq ft building in 2017 but despite the buzz around the project, it has been hit by waves of delays and setbacks.

As questions loom over the viability of the project, 2023 is a “real landmark moment” for the project. Construction activity will resume over the coming months, after the developer entered into a partnership with Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Liverpool City Council late last year. 

“For a long time, people just didn’t believe it would ever happen because It’s been so long in the making. It happened during that time when Liverpool as a city was having major challenges,” he explained.

“A lot of the delays at Littlewoods were while we were waiting for the city to get itself organised and overcome the challenges that they had. Now that’s all sorted and seems behind them, things are moving on at a pace across various fronts.”

It would be a pivotal moment for a city that needs more space for booming brands and creative businesses. One of Capital&Centric’s first developments in Liverpool was Tempest, a workspace for creative and digital businesses. The two brothers behind sportswear brand Castore started out renting a number of hotdesks there, but as they scaled Liverpool “didn’t have the growing space for them”.

“We flagged to the city council a few times to say, you need more space for these guys, because we can’t accommodate them,” he explained. “Sadly, for Liverpool, they moved out of the city.”

Littlewoods site
Littlewoods site

As Eurovision fever hits the city, it will help put Liverpool “on the map to propel itself forward.”

“Liverpool has been punching below its weight, but now it’s about to have its big moment,” he said. “The film and TV studios that we’re building there will make a massive difference. Next door, the depot that’s been up and running has been super successful. For a long time, it felt like we were pushing water uphill to tell people why Liverpool needs film and TV studios, whereas now I think it’s very well accepted.”

He hopes it will be completed within two to three years across a number of phases.

“I think we’re going to be submitting some revised tweaks to the plans which were originally envisaged a few years ago now. We’re updating it to make sure it’s in line with feedback from the market as well in terms of occupiers that want that kind of space.”

Although film studio Twickenham has already agreed to take 85,000 sq ft, Liverpool John Moores University was a key tenant that pulled out of the project last year. The developer is now in “advanced talks” with alternative higher education providers.

“At the time the university said, ‘Look, we can’t proceed because there is just too much uncertainty.’ Where things are now, I think that certainty and seeing it happen will make a big difference and help to crystallise interest that has been expressed in the past. I can’t wait for that.

“For us, it’s just making sure that once we make a start and people see diggers and things in progress, I think that that that’ll help a lot to really create the belief in the project because I think for a long time, understandably, it was kind of like, ‘will it ever happen?’”

Manctopia, Manchester HQ and Capital&Centric’s “big marketing machine”

Following his appearance on BBC’s four-part documentary series Manctopia, the offers for TV work came flowing in.

It was only the new Channel 4 series that caught his attention as it’s a “show that has positive social impact” and not another fly-on-the-wall documentary uncovering “warts and all.”

“When you take part in a documentary, it’s gritty. They’re wanting people to go, ‘hang on, is that developer a good guy or a bad guy?’ I think that’s intentional.”

Adam Higgins and Tim Heatley
Adam Higgins and Tim Heatley, co-founders of Capital&Centric

An outspoken character, Heatley doesn’t regret starring in the documentary despite the “noise” on social media and backlash from some housing campaigners. “You don’t get the full pay-off until episode four when they actually clarify who the goodies are and who the bad guys are!”

He asserts he’s one of the goodies, talking at a rapid pace as he reels off all the projects he’s working on. 

“I definitely struggle with focusing on one particular thing!” Launching Regeneration Brainery six years ago, a non-profit aimed at getting disadvantaged young adults into the built environment sector, he’s also the chair of the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity.

Through work supporting homelessness initiatives, he hopes to enlist the support of the digital, creative and tech sectors to create a video about some of the organisations the charity has funded so far.

“What we hear from organisations is, I want to help but I didn’t know how to,” he said. “If we could have the help of videographers or creative content organisations, that could be their gift to the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity.”

Working closely with creative companies is embedded throughout the rest of Capital&Centric’s projects. After acquiring Chapeltown Warehouse in Manchester last year, it will be transformed into workspaces for the creative industry alongside becoming Capital&Centric’s new HQ with 30 staff, home to its “big marketing machine”.

He revealed it’s an “exciting process” as the name will be changing to Neptune Mill after Neptune Street, a road leading out of the city, and is working on a planning application to go to Manchester City Council soon.

The decision to base the new HQ alongside companies in the creative industry was straightforward. “We just get on with them better,” he explained. “We’re a creative bunch. As a development business, we’re unusual in that so much of our team is made up of graphic designers, marketing, web design and so on. That’s a big function of our business.”

Chapeltown Warehouse site that will become Neptune Mill
Chapeltown Warehouse site that will become Neptune Mill

Another “biggie” project on the horizon is in Wigan, after Capital&Centric snapped up the Civic Centre in March to restore and repurpose the building, in partnership with Wigan Council. 

“Our big focus will be on the digital, tech and creative sector in terms of how we design the layout and how we encourage those sectors into the space in and around Wigan central.

“It’s mega. It’s an incredible, mid-century building with cool concrete structures and an interesting design that is a bit like the Barbican in London. They don’t make buildings like that anymore!” 

Bolton has his attention too and it’s another town he hopes will bloom, attracting the wider creative and digital sectors. After agreeing to acquire council-owned sites in the heart of the town centre, the ‘Neighbourhood’ project will not only feature ‘sustainable, design-led’ homes and community areas, but also will offer a workspace scheme to become a “low-cost, business start-up space”.

“We’re creating some cool homes but people are going to want cool offices to base themselves in as well. Some of these people will want to work from home or they want to be able to hop into an office space of some sort. As there’s nowhere here, well, we’ll create it.”

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