Oscar winner Rachel Shenton says Stoke-on-Trent’s creative infrastructure and can-do attitude will help the city become a Channel 4 hub.
Rachel, whose Academy Award-winning film The Silent Child was cast, shot and produced in the city, is backing Stoke-on-Trent’s bid to become a creative hub for the national broadcaster. The city has today (Friday) submitted its formal bid to Channel 4.
Rachel said: “I’m thrilled to be supporting this bid. Stoke-on-Trent is creatively going places and people have a can-do attitude to make things work. We have lots of film and production companies that are established, actively creating content in the city, and we have great infrastructure to support creative people to succeed.
“Had we shot our film in London, it would have been impossible to do. There is a willingness to make things happen here, there is ambition. If you have an idea that is outside the box, people say ‘great, how can we help you do it?’.
“We filmed in local parks, had support from the city council, lots of individuals helped as cast members and local businesses backed us. It just happened, and that support from within the city was so important. It is also really cost-efficient to shoot in Stoke-on-Trent, we filmed on a micro budget. We simply couldn’t have achieved what we did if we’d filmed anywhere else.”
The city is bidding to be one of only two creative hubs for the broadcaster, which is also creating a new national headquarters outside of London. The moves are the biggest organisational changes in Channel 4’s 35-year history – measures which it says will boost UK nations and regions by £250m.
Rachel, who calls Stoke-on-Trent her home, and says the city has been instrumental in her journey, added: “I spent three lovely years working on Channel 4’s flagship show Hollyoaks. It was a great experience for me, and Channel 4 produces great programmes. They are strong on diversity, they always tackle difficult subjects and give a voice to under-represented people and the disabled. These are subjects close to my heart as my passion for raising awareness of deafness was the inspiration for my film.
“Stoke-on-Trent is the sweet spot of the country geographically, we are in a beautiful area, surrounded by picturesque countryside. There is so much going on here, so much heart and warmth in the city.”
Channel 4 gave cities a four-week deadline to make a 5,000-word ‘pitch’ to host its new headquarters and two creative hubs. Public leaders, businesses and universities have united to back the bid to have a creative hub in Stoke-on-Trent.
The city’s pitch explains how Stoke-on-Trent has the infrastructure, diversity and economic growth to be the perfect location for Channel 4. It explains that Stoke-on-Trent is:
- A media-friendly city, with around 24,500 people employed in the digital, film, TV and media sector within the wider area.
- Passionate about young people, being home to more than 31,000 students, producing a wide skill set and talent pool of creative young people.
- The third best performing area in economic contribution to the UK and is fourth out of 64 cities for job creation.
- Attracting record numbers of business start-ups, with 92.4 per cent still trading a year later – higher than West Midlands and England averages.
- Home to global brands such as bet365, Michelin, JCB, Steelite International, Wedgwood and Emma Bridgewater, with more than 18,000 other businesses in North Staffordshire.
- Home to the fastest-growing enterprise zone in the UK, creating and securing more than 1,800 new jobs in less than two years.
- To have at least one HS2 train per hour under the new West Coast Mainline running from 2026.
- Investing in its towns and city centre – with two new hotels, a new high-end apartment block and a multi-million pound refurbishment of the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council deputy leader Abi Brown said: “The opportunity to attract Channel 4 to Stoke-on-Trent is too good to miss, and we believe our city has what it takes to deliver a compelling case as an outstanding location for them. Geographically we are perfectly located for access to the whole of the country, whether by road, rail or air, which is a big selling point for us.
“Our offer, including the availability of highly skilled graduates from our local universities as well as their excellent facilities for creative people to grow their talents – plus the number of independent TV and digital companies within easy reach of the city – means we are a very strong candidate. We have already shown that as a city, we are helping to deliver significant regeneration that is transforming Stoke-on-Trent. “We have worked hard over the past three years to change the perception of our city nationally, and Stoke-on-Trent’s profile and aspirations have rightly risen. We are a confident, forward-looking city that is building on its success of being shortlisted for the UK City of Culture 2021, a city that Heathrow airport is considering for one of its national logistics hubs, and a city that has secured HS2 services that will further transform our infrastructure. “Stoke is on the up, and this bids shows our strength and ambition. We’ve a lot of work to do, but we’ve got all the right credentials to make it happen.”
A Channel 4 creative hub would provide a boost to the city, with economic experts estimating it would:
- Double the number of creative companies in the area.
- Improve graduate retention from Staffordshire and Keele universities from a combined total of 25.9 per cent in 2015 to 35 per cent by 2025.
- Lead to an additional 100 apprenticeships in arts, culture, media and film by 2021.
- Lead to a three per cent increase in visitors to the area, from five million in 2017.
- Boost the local economy to the tune of around £60m.
- Create 600 new skilled jobs over the longer term.
- Significantly contribute to raising salaries in Stoke-on-Trent towards the national average weekly wage of £539, from a current £435.
Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for education and economy, said: “We have already been looking in detail at locations that have the potential to meet their requirements because we are proactive in showing our intent and are serious about putting in a strong bid. There is a real will in the city to take this bid forward and we are working with a whole range of partners who are in support. We are an ideal candidate city for the corporation.
“The economic impact of Channel 4’s relocation will be significantly more here than in other cities and regions. This is due to our improving economy, when compared to other cities that have benefited from regeneration funding over a much longer period of time.”
The bid has cross-party support from local MPs.
Stoke-on-Trent South MP Jack Brereton said: “It is extremely encouraging that, following my Private Member’s Bill on relocation, Channel 4 has agreed to move a significant part of its operation out of London.
“Stoke-on-Trent is the ideal city to host a Channel 4 hub – we have the talent, the location, and the facilities, and it would be madness for Channel 4 not to locate a hub here.”
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Ruth Smeeth said: “Stoke-on-Trent is a hotbed of creative talent with a culture all our own. Our energy and outlook are a perfect fit for Channel 4 and to become the home of one of its regional hubs would be a tremendous achievement.
“This hub would be a huge boost for our local economy but it would also show the world just what Stoke-on-Trent can do. Our diversity and our unique nature as a city of six towns is our greatest strength. We have so much potential and I’m proud to be supporting this bid to ensure that potential is realised.”
Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Gareth Snell said: “If Channel 4 choses to base one of its regional hubs in Stoke-on-Trent it would not only be a boost for local jobs and our growing creative sector, but it would be a powerful symbol that our city and our region is getting the recognition it deserves. The residents of Stoke-on-Trent demand a united, competitive and innovative offer from its public bodies and stakeholders.
“Since my first meetings with Channel 4 last year with my colleague Ruth Smeeth MP, and the subsequent meetings, it’s clear we have what they are looking for and I’m eager to get started in bringing the investment and jobs our local residents deserve.”
Industry experts and business leaders are also backing the bid.
Peter Rudge, chair of Platform and associate professor of motion picture industries at Staffordshire University, said: “Platform launched in 2017 as a network to drive the growth of the moving image sector in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. It has really taken off, bringing national organisations like Innovate UK and Creative England to the city, and is already working with 40 companies.
“We’ve been working really hard to be an advocate for the region. Without developing a strong unified voice for our sector, we could easily get lost and overlooked in the space between Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
“Platform also has regular dialogue with national organisations in the sector as well as key companies in London and internationally. It lets the world know that we are a centre for production, talent and innovation.”
Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce chief executive Sara Williams said: “Channel 4 coming to Stoke-on-Trent would be wonderful. It would raise aspirations in young people, put us at the centre of a new creative network (where we should be) and support the brilliant nascent sector we have in digital and creative media businesses. Our location, creativity, history and fabulous people should give Channel 4 the confidence to be brave and come to Stoke-on-Trent. They could make such a difference to all our lives by making us the beating heart of a new and exciting way of creating and delivering content for current and future media platforms that will impact on every single household.”
Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership chairman David Frost CBE said: “Stoke-on-Trent is the ideal location to provide a new home for Channel 4. This is a creative and innovative city that is building on its proud history as a cradle of the industrial revolution and world centre for ceramics and applying those talents in advanced manufacturing and new markets. Its art and design heritage, vibrant culture and can-do attitude, plus its location at the centre of the country and great connectivity, make it a natural fit for the broadcaster.
“This move would provide a real boost for the digital and creative sector across our area and enhance our national and international reputation. This is a wonderful opportunity to get the message across that Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire is a great area in which to live, work and invest.”
Staffordshire University deputy vice-chancellor Professor Martin Jones said: “We’re absolutely committed to this bid. Staffordshire University is an intellectual hotbed of creative industry talent and having a national employer like Channel 4 base itself in our city will be a game-changer – encouraging more students to want to study on our courses and more graduates to stay and start their careers here.
“We currently offer over 20 courses directly related to the moving image sector with a further 40 courses in areas linked to it. These courses engage with approximately 400 students each year which means we have a regular supply of talented graduates with the knowledge, skills and industry experience that employers like Channel 4 are looking for. We also have a rich pedigree of graduate film and media production companies in our area which would benefit from Channel 4’s relocation to the city. As a leading Digital University, we are especially excited by Channel 4’s plans for a digital production unit focused on creating content for young audiences.”
Channel 4 will notify shortlisted cities on May 30, before inviting them to make presentations in June. The broadcaster will make its final decision on October 1.