We’re being told that if the BBC ever gets to Salford there’s going to be thousands of jobs, loads of training and the city will live happily ever after in its new Blue Peter garden. If it happens that’s great and no-one’s knocking the idea. Trouble is, that the people really pushing for all this say that it’s for the benefit of Salfordians and are, once again, pouring millions of pounds of public money into it.
Yet, at the same time, and before the BBC even confirms it’s coming, the City’s incredibly successful community-centred creative industry is dying on its feet…starved of financial support from Salford Council and all the other agencies and companies that are using `the community’ to lure the London luvies here…
…And Aunty Beeb’s been a bit naughty too – showing her arse to the city while she flees down South…
Watch the promotional film for Salford’s mediacity:uk . It really is inspiring. No, really. It almost brings tears to your eyes. To a cheesy soundtrack there’s lots of happy Salford kids telling everyone how the massive media project is going to benefit them…with little printed promises popping up on screen…`where tomorrow’s talent has the opportunity to learn and the space to dream’…`anyone can succeed’…
Watch it and you’ll believe…believe that this isn’t about real estate opportunities and London luvvies moving into Urban Splash houses in the freshly flattened Langworthy…It’s about “a creative nurturing space” gushes Paul Abbot, creator of Shameless…”It’s about an investment in people” says executive producer, Cat Lewis…”It’s not just a cluster of businesses, it’s an explosion of creativity” enthuses 13 year old Dylan Buckley…
Dylan is a real wannabe actor from Langworthy and a fantastic young talent who originally starred in a short film called Wishful Thinking, the debut movie made by a community centred Salford production company, Looking Glass Films. The mini feature was premiered at the Salford Film Festival two years ago and received immediate national attention.
The year before, at the very first Salford Film Festival, Talking With Angels was premiered starring Dylan’s brother, Stephen Buckley, who was chosen from open community auditions to appear in the short film shot locally and directed by internationally acclaimed film maker and Langworthy lad, Yousaf Ali Khan.
The premiere of Talking With Angels drew so many people it had to be shown twice, while New Order’s Peter Hook played Love Will Tear Us Apart live on stage with Hanky Park in the cinema foyer. Talking With Angels went on to be BAFTA nominated, won countless film festival awards across the world and Stephen Buckley himself was snapped up by Ewan MacGregor’s agent.
If anything promoted Salford as a centre of creativity and “tomorrow’s talent” it was the Salford Film Festival. And this year’s Festival was to be no exception, its highlight a film called Untitled - shot in Salford Lads Club, and made by another successful Langworthy lad, film actor, Stephen Lord. Untitled stars Stephen Buckley, and his brother Dylan is also in the cast. But the film isn’t going to be shown at this year’s Salford Film Festival. The event has been cancelled due to lack of financial support, particularly from Salford City Council.
As the North West Development Agency promises £30million, and Salford council can find £10.5million (plus god-knows-what-else) for mediacity:uk, a concept which hasn’t even been confirmed yet, the Salford Film Festival doesn’t seem to be worth the pittance of twenty thousand quid it needs to give the whole of the city a free festival and showcase all the creative talent that’s here already…community talent, like the Buckley brothers, who are supposed to be the roots of this fantastic mediacity:uk.
It’s a disgrace. Especially when the community is being used to entice the Beeb to the Quays. Hazel Blears, for instance, told top community film makers, REELmcr, that she had personally sent their Salford-made community films, Gas and Air and Madhouse (premiered at the Festival) to BBC director general, Mark Thompson, to support the bid. The Beeb botherers are not just using young local actors and films brought to prominence by the Festival but are also coming out with all kinds of worthy statements about community inclusion…
“It is seen as an important objective to ensure that local people benefit…through jobs, through links to local schools, to community involvement in events…this will be a major objective of the Salford Quays Media City concept…” (submission by Salford City Council and Central Salford URC to House of Lords Select Committee on BBC Charter Review)
Meanwhile, mediacity:uk chief exec, Felicity Goodey, bigging up the bid, told VIPs, including Thompson…”this is a place which is about unlocking talent. There are huge opportunities…it will be a hotbed of creative activity…”
And Salford Council leader, John Merry, told New Start magazine “For young people looking for something to do with their lives this could be a beacon of hope…”
For three years the Salford Film Festival, which was a major catalyst for all these things, struggled on with almost no support from Salford City Council, even though it attracted nearly a million pounds worth of worldwide positive publicity for the city. So this year, with mediacity:uk in the offing and all the grandiose statements, hopes were high for getting the council to put its money where its mouth is…especially as the Festival fits the council’s strategy to “develop a cultural celebration programme that meets the aspirations of the community and raises the profile of the city”…
The result ? A very kind offer of three thousand quid. Not even a cheque for £3000 towards putting the Festival on, but a sum “that will remain within the Salford City Council Tourism Marketing budget…done under the auspices of our 2006 `Events In Salford’ programme” wrote Director of Marketing, Susan Wildman.
As for real financial support from the council for the Festival ? “My colleagues advise that there are a number of more suitable avenues for funding (along the lines of NWArts Board)…”
With no council funding for the Festival there was nothing to promote so this year’s event has been cancelled. Meanwhile Salford council has managed to find £509,178 to underwrite a prestigious two night event for the Manchester International Festival (see The Great Santa Giveaway page), justified because “it would have great synergy with the proposed mediacity:uk”. You work it out…
And there’s more. Web Studios in Little Hulton, the biggest independent studio in the UK and a training ground for all the Salfordian talent that mediacity:uk is supposed to be employing, is up for sale – after the BBC pulled out of two productions at short notice, leaving a huge income gap.
Firstly, the production, New Street Law (starring John Thompson), originally scheduled to shoot three series, has been scaled back after poor ratings. That’s part of the studio game. But another BBC series, the sci-fi comedy Hyperdrive, which was originally shot in Salford and has been re-commissioned, shifted its production base to Chertsey in Surrey. Hyperdrive is commissioned by BBC Comedy North, based in Manchester, thus being part of the Beeb’s out-of-London remit. Chertsey is literally just outside what’s classed as the London boundary and thus counts as `out-of-London’.
It’s a disgrace. Especially when the community is being used to entice the Beeb to the Quays
A spokesperson for the BBC confirmed that “it was felt that the studio in Chertsey was better suited to the production’s needs”. Perhaps that’s because the makers of the programme all live in the South ? Whatever, it’s a massive fingers up to Salford. And says tons about the attitude of Aunty Beeb when she thinks no-one’s looking...
The continuity of Web Studios is vital for any community involvement in mediacity:uk, as it’s providing training and apprenticeships in the industry now, preparing local people to get jobs in everything from constructing sets to working as extras. If the studio gets sold this will almost certainly end. And the future would also be uncertain for the 13 film-related businesses that have located to the studios. If the BBC does come and there are real jobs for Salfordians there’s going to be a huge practical skills gap if Web is allowed to be sold. We’re only talking five years before the media city site is potentially functioning.
You might have thought that Salford council, as a promoter of `beacons of hope’ for young people, would have been falling over itself to support the studio from the start, especially as Web owners Bob Horsefield and Ken Sykes have sunk millions of pounds of their own money into the project, providing hundreds of jobs and opportunities for the local community…
“Verbally, the council has been fantastic” says Bob “In terms of practical support, almost zilch. They gave us £10,000 towards a feasibility study for a film village concept in 1988 which actually cost £98,000. When we asked them for help with funding to build the place they were prepared to give us a woman for a day to help fill a form out from another funding source. I was dead impressed with that. We did it ourselves and got £96,000 but when we sell the studio we have to pay that back, so in real terms we’ve had nothing. We’ve been here 11 years and we’ve had three security grants worth £1040 each.”
Compare this with Elstree Studios where everything from the Star Wars films to the Big Brother series are filmed. Hertsmere Borough Council owns and supports the studio, recognising both the kudos and glamour associated with the place and the jobs it brings for the community. In Salford, mediacity:uk appears to be actually opening up a rival studio at the old `pie factory’ on the proposed site and is attempting to lure BBC productions there. Ironically, mediacity:uk might never have been on Salford’s agenda had Bob not put the BBC North Project (as it was then known) in touch with the council and vice versa.
“I asked them to consider Salford and they had never even heard of the place” he recalls “They didn’t even realise there was a council in Salford.”
Now Bob is having second thoughts about his deeds.
“I might have done Salford a big disservice by suggesting the BBC goes to Salford Quays” he adds “because for all their bitterness about not getting the bid Manchester City Council is a superb proactive council, whereas Salford is the opposite. They don’t support the Film Festival, they don’t support this studio…they do support media city because there’s an element of success and it’s not their money. They just get in on the back of everything.”
So who stands to gain from mediacity:uk ? Obviously the council itself via taxes and rates, Peel Holdings which owns the site, via rentals, leases and possibly land sales…and, certainly, investors, developers and speculators according to a report last summer by the National Association of Realtors, which specifically named Salford’s media city as one of the places that “will provide value proposition for commercial real estate in 2010 – and beyond”.
Benefiting already is Felicity Goodey herself, chief executive of mediacity:uk, who won’t disclose her salary citing `commercial sensitivity’. Felicity Goodey is also a founder director of Unique Communications which develops and produces…tv shows.
So, everybody is going to do well - or is already doing well - out of mediacity:uk…Where does this leave Salfordians ? With a dead, underfunded community film festival…With the community-linked Web Studios on the verge of being sold, partly a result of the BBC’s shift in production to the South…
The huge mediacity:uk project hasn’t even been confirmed yet and already `tomorrow’s talent’ is being starved of opportunities to `learn’ and `dream’.
`Anyone can succeed’ ?