How a Leeds businesswoman took her UK Locations agency out of debt to become a magnet for TV producers

Lauren York worked for Sir Bruce Forsyth and gained experience behind-the-scenes at Emmerdale and Kay Mellor's Fat Friends on her way to becoming head of the north's largest locations agency.

Lauren York, centre, and her team. Picture: UK Locations

But she had to pull her business - UK Locations, which offers filming spots and services to television and film producers, advertisers and photography firms - out of debt when she took over seven years ago after a family tragedy.

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Now her firm has just opened up a new base and filming site at Byron Street Mills near Mabgate, a multi-purpose space which comes after years of growth, and boasts a bright future as a host of film and TV networks move to the city.

Lauren York, centre, and her team. Picture: UK Locations

Managing director Mrs York, 38, said: "I'd always wanted to be in TV since I was really young.

"I went to school in York and I remember going to the careers advisor and saying to her that I wanted to work in TV and she said, 'Oh you'll never do that'. So she kind of quashed it really but I just always still wanted to do it."

Following A-levels she attended what is now Leeds Trinity University to study a media course, which led to her gaining practical experience on ITV soap Emmerdale.

"I just loved it so much, I loved working at Yorkshire TV so much," she said.

UK Locations' new studio. Credit: UK Locations/James York Photography

A campaign of letter-writing to industry figures ensued, and she was eventually taken on as a PA to the late Sir Bruce Forsyth during The Price Is Right years.

She said: "It was amazing. He was so lovely and kind. He was just an absolute gent."

Mrs York went on to work in the location department for Kay Mellor's Leeds-based Fat Friends, a show which aired between 2000 and 2005 and followed a woman's struggle to lose weight at a weekly slimming club.

But she fancied a change and began working in marketing for banks such as Aviva in York and Bradford and Bingley.

Meanwhile, she had set up a blind date between her former Yorkshire Television boss, Nick Jones, and her sister, Sallie Smith, who got together and had children.

It was he who set up UK Locations, the first northern location agency in a market saturated by London firms, in 2006.

"Then sadly he died in a car crash," said Mrs York.

She added: "So he was obviously with my sister and they had two children. The children were three and four at the time.

"My sister took over the business but she's a nurse and she was grieving and she didn't want to do it and it was the start of the recession, and I didn't love my job anymore, that I was doing in marketing.

"So I just thought, do you know what I'm just going to give it a go. And when I took over the business it was actually in debt at that point. Because obviously Nick was the business - he was such a character and he was everything, basically.

"I took it over and I'd never run a business before, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. No idea at all. And it was the recession, so it was just really tough and I think for the first year I didn't get paid 1p. And that was the beginning of it really, and that was seven years ago."

Although Mr Jones, who died at the age of just 38, had thousands of locations on his books, Mrs York whittled this down to just 250 and the business has grown year-on-year.

She said: "We only have a small library but the thing about that is, we have a really strict interview process with location owners. So we only take on locations where we know we can definitely sell and that our clients definitely need."

In addition to the location library, the company offers location managers and scouts and has this year launched a production "bolt-ons" service, helping productions by servicing them with crew, catering and filming spots.

Since taking over, Mrs York has put a small team in place and also works with her photographer husband James York, with whom she has two children, three-year-old Wilf and nine-month-old Winnie.

The firm has dealt with thousands of productions over the years and gets around 70 queries a month, booking about 20 to 25 in that time frame for photography, advert, drama and film shoots.

Initially working mostly with advertisers, the region's profile for film and television production has boosted the company's prospects.

It has worked on the BBC's Dark Money, Netflix's The Stranger, ITV's Bancroft, the recent remake of Cold Feet, The Feed on Amazon Prime.

Mrs York said: "It's better for us to be honest with you because with dramas and films, they're always managed by a location team who are very professional, know what they're doing and so we work really well with them because we know they'll look after the location.

"Dramas and films tend to do a longer stint so they'll do a longer hire period, whereas TV commercials, because they try and cut costs as much as possible they don't tend to have a location team on the shoot and they're normally a one-day shoot. So the change has been brilliant for us."

She added: "What's happening with Brexit is having no effect on TV and film. Not at all. Because it's not affected the 25 per cent tax rebait that they get, so it hasn't affected at all how much filming's going on. In fact that's just increased.

"It's because more people are just watching more content all the time."

With Channel 4 opening a national headquarters in Leeds and the National Film and Television School creating a hub in the city, the business is well-placed to capitalise on future projects.

"At the moment it's growing year-on-year from a location point of view," said Mrs York.

"What we're doing at the moment is looking where the next kind of move's going to be for us.

"Whether that's actually doing production ourselves for clients or whether we could expand across the country from a location point of view.

"But at the moment we're putting that on hold because of how much is happening here. There's just such a buzz about the place now, with so much happening, so many new people here, so many kind of things starting."

Mrs York is also the northern representative for Women in Film and Television, having noticed after joining that there was no real spokeswomen for the non-profit network in the region.

She said: "It's more about allowing people to be able to share knowledge and information and network among each other in an environment where they feel comfortable to do that.

"That's why I joined it, because I hadn't seen anything like that here before and so it's about offering that to people and them being able to progress in their careers - and now is the right time for this organisation to be in this area, just as the wave starts rising."

To young people hoping to get in to the industry, Mrs York says that continued hard work is the key.

"It's having resilience, and just keep going with it.

"When I did that Bruce's The Price Is Right, the thing is that I wrote like hundreds of letters to different production companies asking if I could do free work.

"And so many people don't get back to you, but one person did.

"So it's just kind of keeping going with it, because it is a hard industry to to get in to but once you're in, that's it really, you're there, you can do it."