How Channel 4's investment plan for Yorkshire could stop the tide of TV talent moving to London

Channel 4 has outlined a strategy to pump investment into Yorkshire and retain the skills of talented youngsters who in the past may have sought opportunities in the capital.

Alex Mahon and Sinead Rocks. Credit: Channel 4.

Chief executive officer, Alex Mahon, announced this week at a celebration for the broadcaster's official launch in Leeds that it would start an Emerging Indie Fund for creators to "spend without recourse to people in London" and set up a talent academy hoping to foster and retain skilled professionals.

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At an event at East 59th in Victoria Gate for staff, partners and producers from the region, she officially marked the opening of the new base, with a large new office opened in the WestGate development this week which will be the temporary home until the move to the permanent base in the Majestic in 2020.

Alex Mahon. Picture by Simon Hulme.

“The launch of our National HQ in Leeds is the start a new era for Channel 4," she said.

"An era in which we will be rooted in and more connected to the lives of the communities that make up the UK.

“Channel 4 will not just look and feel different but will think and behave differently. We’ll be more accessible to our partners in the industry and more visible to those that may one daywork in it. It’s the biggest change in our 37-year history and I’m so proud that we’re now here.”

She said: "So [there will be] a complete focus on areas we know there are challenges in terms of scaling up.

"We very much want to support and grow indies, but we want to also do that while we're ambitious about the kind of shows we commission across the UK.

"So...we're increasing our investment in development in Nations and Regions and to further empower the creative decision-makers in Channel 4 to find the best and the freshest ideas, we'll devolve more development spend to the commissioning teams that are based in Leeds and Glasgow and Bristol, which means that the regional commissioning editors will have their own development money so that they can spend without recourse to people in London, which I know will be very popular with indies in the room."

Ms Mahon added: "There is amazing talent, of course, in this region as in others. But given the gravitational pull of London in the industry, keeping that talent is not always easy. And so as the sector grows, the local talent pools are becoming stretched very thin.

"So tonight I can announce that Channel 4 will launch a new academy. It will be working in partnership with producers and the academy will very much respond to the talent needs at any particular time in the industry.

"It will bring together all our existing initiatives such as the brilliant work of 4Talent at the grassroots levels and also from 2020 we will commit to 50 per cent of our apprenticeships, and 75 per cent of our production training scheme placements being made in the Nations and Regions."

The Emerging Indie Fund will provide bespoke support for independent production companies to develop and grow their business, succeeding the current Alpha Fund. The new fund will sit alongside Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund, which will be based in Leeds and has been "re-focused to prioritise investment in Nations and Regions, BAME-led and digital companies".

In addition, Channel 4 will help stimulate new ideas from producers outside London by devolving dedicated development fund to Nations and Regions commissioners from 2020.

To support the development of talent across these areas, the public-owned, privately-funded broadcaster will launch a new academy in 2020 with the aim of attracting people into broadcasting and production from diverse backgrounds, address skills gaps and support the development of talent at more senior levels.

It will bring together existing 4Talent schemes at a grassroots level, alongside existing training partnerships with the National Film and Television School and Screen Skills - opening in Leeds in the future - in addition to new senior level talent projects.

Ms Mahon said: "The academy will very much be based on partnership and will act as a catalyst on a local level and it will provide tailored and targeted support that meets the changing needs of the industry."

Leeds is the first of the three new Channel 4 bases to launch for business, with the new Creative Hubs in Bristol’s Finzels Reach development and Glasgow’s Garment Factory bothopening in November – joining the organisation’s London HQ at Horseferry Road and Nations and Regions advertising sales base in Manchester.

Sinead Rocks, Channel 4’s Managing Director of Nations and Regions said: “This is a really exciting moment for everyone at Channel 4 but particularly for all the staff at our National HQin Leeds where there’s a real buzz of enthusiasm and anticipation.

“The opening of our National HQ marks the start of something very special as it’ll give Channel 4 the opportunity to work more closely with regional organisations, businesses andindies and seek out new, untapped talent.”