Setting the stage to create city's first university

A production cluster for the live events industry is aiming to become the equivalent of Pinewood Studios and hopes to establish the first university in Wakefield.

Coldplay. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Production Park, based in South Kirkby, designs and builds stages for some of the biggest names in the music industry.

The family-run business also has an arena-sized rehearsal studio where the leading lights of live events come to perfect their shows before going on tour.

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Adrian Brooks, chairman of Production Park, told The Yorkshire Post: “The live events industry hasn’t got a place where it can cluster.

Adrian Brooks

“Pinewood began when film and TV started a long time ago. Then in the relatively recent history live events have become enormous.”

Mr Brooks started the business in 1981 manufacturing lightweight aluminium scaffolding. This then transformed into aluminium staging and a firm called Brilliant Stages was founded.

The business moved to the current site in 1997 and today Production Park is the umbrella company. The park also features other firms.

Mr Brooks is calling on Wakefield to back Production Park’s plans to become the city’s first university.

Currently, it runs the Backstage Academy, which delivers degree level programmes at the site in South Kirkby.

He said: “Wakefield is one of the only cities in the UK that doesn’t have a university. That’s a challenge for Wakefield. That’s a challenge for the skill levels that are here.

“Low level skills are good here in Wakefield but high-level skills are appalling.

“There are some great schools. All the children who get through their A-levels go off to university and they don’t come back.

“There’s no quid pro quo for Wakefield. Everybody leaves but there’s nobody coming in except for the 200 Backstage Academy students. What we’ve got to do is create a university.

“Everybody seems to be in agreement in principle at least although we need more support.”

Backstage Academy is in its seventh year and was set up after Mr Brooks realised that the arena-sized rehearsal studio was taking staff away from the business.

Mr Brooks said: “The first client to use the studio was a band called Coldplay in 2005 for their X & Y album.

“What would happen is the band would come in with all the touring crew. All our people were here, they were trained over 20 years putting the things together, and the tour manager, or singer Chris Martin, might say I like him or her or they’re good.

“They would say things like I’m sure you like working in South Kirkby but how do you fancy a world tour with us. All these skilled people were leaving. I thought this is not sustainable. I’m spending 20 years or five years or a year training them and off they go so I’m going to have to do this.”

As well as becoming a university, the company has plans to expand its current site. It is looking into acquiring more neighbouring land and will be building a new innovation centre.

However, Brexit is likely to impact the business “enormously”, says Mr Brooks, as the firm transports stages abroad.

He added: “You need free movement of people and the free movement of goods. That is an absolute imperative. If we can’t do that, this whole plan is scuppered.

“We’re not daft. We’ve made sure we’ve insured our risk. We’ve got a place in Holland. We will find a way to make sure we remain in the EU.

“If Brexit was to have a major impact then all bets at South Kirkby would be off. We’d have to go somewhere else. It’s as simple as that.

“Coldplay don’t stop when they get to Dover. I can’t think of any tour that we have recently been involved in that hasn’t been into Europe.”

Production Park employs 150 staff.

Faithful to Wakefield

Production Park has been courted by other cities and countries but has remained in Wakefield.

Adrian Brooks says the reason for this is because the family is from the city.

Some big names in music have used the rehearsal space in South Kirkby, most recently it hosted the Arctic Monkeys.

The business took on its first non-family shareholder in the form of property entrepreneur Manni Hussain.

That will be the only equity release in Production Park, says Mr Brooks, with the rest of its growth coming through debt.

The rationale behind Mr Hussain’s being brought on is to develop more student accommodation in Wakefield to facilitate demand from Backstage Academy students.

The site in South Kirkby has a hotel band crews to stay in overnight. Rockpool Tour Catering also has a cafe on the park.