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Leeds: Why Channel 4 chose our city region for its HQ

4sparks creative champions
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Leeds and the wider city region offer a warm, welcoming home in the heart of the UK and the north. We have strong links to screen, and a constantly evolving creative sector with huge ambitions to be even greater in the next few years and beyond. For this reason it made perfect sense to bid for the new Channel 4 national headquarters.

  • Project: 4 All the UK –Leeds City Region bid
  • Objectives: Make the case for the Channel 4 National HQ to be in Leeds, supported by the diverse, vibrant towns and cities across Leeds City Region
  • Timescale: 18 months
  • Number of staff working on project: Staff from all partner organisations were involved, including local authorities, and the film and creative sectors
  • Outcomes: Leeds secured the new location of the Channel 4 National headquarters including a new Channel 4 digital creative unit and a new major Channel 4 news hub with the ability to co-anchor the national Channel 4 news. It is a major boost for Leeds and the City Region in terms of profile and inward investment, and future investment for those already working in the city in the film and creative sectors.
  • Officer contact details: communicationsteam@leeds.gov.uk

The real motivation was due to there being no major broadcaster based and commissioning out Yorkshire. We wanted to change this. Our strong creative sector, with key players such as True North, Screen Yorkshire and Daisybeck Studios, as well as a fast-growing tech sector offered a unique proposition.

The bid was made on behalf of the Leeds City Region, with the focus on Leeds for the physical location for the headquarters. We galvanised a diverse group behind a focused bid, playing to our strengths as a region rather than choosing to bid as individual local authorities.

The bidding team consisted of cross-party support from Bradford, York and other local authority partners, the creative and digital sectors, Screen Yorkshire and True North.

We focused discussion around the opportunities and strengths of all our partner towns and cities, and the great assets we have as a region. The fantastic links between Leeds and Bradford and the combination of the cultural strengths and young demographics, alongside York with its digital strengths, science city and quality of life, was clearly a winning combination.

Through the Be the Spark campaign, the region invited Channel 4 to bring opportunity to our young, creative and digitally-savvy population, rebalancing the UK broadcasting sector and better representing the north and east of England in the national conversation.

On 31 October, Channel 4 announced that Leeds would be the new location of their national headquarters, featuring a new digital creative unit and a news hub with the ability to co-anchor national Channel 4 news.

This was a breakthrough moment for the city and city region, and the start of a formidable partnership. Following on from the news, a steering group is due to be set up with representation from the key bidding organisations to ensure momentum continues and that funding and success resonates across the region within the creative and film sectors.

The decision will ultimately provide 300 Channel 4 jobs across the nations and regions, with up to 250 jobs being based in the Leeds national headquarters. Channel 4’s spending on shows made by TV production companies based outside London will rise by up to £250m by 2023, which it is anticipated will support over 3,000 production jobs.

Early estimates from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority are that the decision will contribute to over 1,200 new jobs in the next ten years, with a cumulative impact of £1.2bn to the Leeds City Region economy. Across the region, almost 53,000 people work in our creative industries, with film and TV companies in Yorkshire having an annual turnover of £242m, and the sector growing at a faster rate than the national average.

So why did Leeds win? From the start of the process we listened to what Channel 4 wanted and responded. The broadcaster was intent on opening opportunities to a more diverse group, with the opportunity to boost a strong existing sector with the potential to grow.

We were highly collaborative, and not just within the core bidding team, as our creative sector jumped aboard too. The unprecedented collaboration between over 90 creative agencies to form All in. Leeds. was sparked from an initial meeting at Civic Hall – with Yorkshire fish and chips – where we introduced them to our bid. What came next was a love letter to Channel 4.

As a leading tech city supported by fantastic digital and creative capacity from the region, we positioned our bid as allowing Channel 4 to achieve significant competitive advantage by locating here. The feedback we have had from the major broadcaster echoes this sentiment.

The letter we received from the broadcaster on the day of the announcement stated that in “a highly competitive field, Leeds was best able to deliver against Channel 4’s visions and objectives” for a new national headquarters. Our “comprehensive, compelling and ambitious strategy” to partner with them, support growth in the production and creative industries, and nurture talent from diverse backgrounds clearly impressed.

The bid focused on the benefits and unique capabilities of the powerhouse partnership which makes up the Leeds City Region, and the strength in numbers within it. The final decision saw the culmination of two years of hard work focusing on understanding Channel 4 and its hopes and ambitions for this move then setting out how we could exceed those expectations.

To make the most of this landmark decision we are working closely with the broadcaster to ensure we use the momentum as a catalyst for wider transformation of the TV, film and creative sectors across the city region. It is also a chance to boost our economy, create more local jobs and opportunities for young people to further enhance the diversity of the sector.

Already four new TV offices have been announced and there has been a surge in positivity in the city, with good wishes from tenants’ meetings, schools and care homes. There is a real feeling of civic pride across the city.

New initiatives in the coming months to capitalise on the decision will include developing new skills and training initiatives within the TV and film sectors, and working with schools and education providers, with the aim to expand the TV, film and production capacity in Leeds. Our partners in Bradford will be leading on the talent, skills and diversity agenda for the partnership, and we look forward to seeing all our ideas take shape.

There are exciting times ahead, and we look forward to the huge impact this will have.

Tom Riordan, chief executive, Leeds City Council

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