Tuesday, January 16, 2007


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’ ?

mediacity:uk - what is it ?

mediacity:uk is the proposed 200 acre site on Salford Quays for a new state of the art `city’ housing creative and media industries which is stuff like new technology companies, computer games developers, film makers, production companies etc. The first 36 acres now has planning permission and they’re praying for the BBC to kick off the whole thing by moving some of its operations, like Radio 5, Sport and Children’s, down here from London in 2010, together with shifting its current base from Oxford Road in Manchester. It’s reckoned that 750 BBC staff will move up from London and 750 BBC staff will move from Oxford Road.

No-one’s made their minds up yet because the BBC wants an increase in the tv license fee to pay for the move and the government seems to be telling them to get stuffed. From the current info that the Salford Star has got, we reckon that the move will go ahead but not on the £400 million grand scale that was originally proposed. Our man in the know (‘cos he walks his dog on the field that’s going to be the BBC site) says it’s probably going ahead because he’s already seen them laying huge cables.

mediacity:uk – how much ££££ ?

Peel Holdings (net assets £1.34bn; boss John Whittaker’s est stake £915m) is the main developer for mediacity:uk, and because it is a private company it doesn’t have to divulge anything to the public about the cost of mediacity:uk. There’s a figure of £400 million being banded about but it’s way, way more than that - what we do know is that since Salford became the preferred bidder for the BBC, Central Salford URC has upped its estimate for public and private investment in the city during the next 10 years by well over a billion quid, citing mediacity:uk as the key reason.

The public money going into the project that we know about is £30 million from North West Development Agency and £10 million committed from Salford City Council’s `section 106’ pocket, plus £500,000 to help develop the proposals. Expect a lot more than this coming from the council when the scheme is confirmed. The BBC will be paying leases on the buildings it uses, plus it’s paying for the move which is estimated at just under £400 million. So far, there’s £40.5 million in public money on the table that we know about, but that’s without the URC’s costs etc.

mediacity:uk – what do we get out of it ?

There’s all sorts of figures kicking around and you can believe them or not but all the organisations involved say mediacity:uk will create space for potentially 1,500 businesses and 1,500 `trainee posts’ a year. As far as jobs and financial gain goes, it gets a bit wonky…

Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, said in a speech to the RSA last March…”The NWDA believes that the new centre will create an additional 4,400 jobs in total and add a further £1.5bn to the regional economy over 10 years.”

When Manchester City Council was bidding for the Beeb it commissioned research which showed 6,600 `high order jobs’ directly plus 1,000 jobs across the city and 1,100 jobs around the north west.

The NWDA itself states officially that mediacity:uk has “the potential to create up to 10,000 jobs and add £170m a year to the regional economy…”

mediacity:uk states officially that there will be “employment opportunities for 15,500 people” and the “creation of £225m a year in additional net value added” (whatever that means)…

The Manchester Evening News is getting carried away completely, citing a figure of “30,000 jobs”


The Salford Film Festival was a showcase for the incredible surge of community made and community inspired films in the city. It was unique because it was a free event open to everyone in Salford and was backed by every legend who has ever come out of the city – Sir Ben Kingsley wrote a poem for it…Albert Finney and Harold Riley financially contributed… Coronation Street creator, Tony Warren, was its patron last year…and Christopher Eccleston, Robert Powell, John Cooper Clarke and Russell Watson all sent personal messages of support.

As community films were shown alongside movies from Salford’s rich cinematic heritage – from Love On The Dole, to A Taste of Honey, to East Is East – the Festival drew international attention, the city was dubbed `Sollywood’ and, at a time when the national media were crucifying the city’s `feral youths’, the event promoted a positive image around the globe. 280 million people saw our kids’ films as the Salford Film Festival got featured on BBC’s World TV.

When a Channel 4 property programme anointed Salford the fourth worst place in England to live last year, the Film Festival was the only good thing they could think of to say about the city, other than the Quays. The Salford Film Festival also got lots and lots of media attention, including the front page of a national newspaper, and was featured alongside all the Hollywood blockbusters on Jonathon Ross’s Film Night. In all, around one million pounds worth of positive publicity for the city was generated by the Festival. Its budget last year was £15,000.

mediacity:uk – who is it ?

mediacity:uk is a partnership between Salford City Council and Peel Holdings, which owns the Trafford Centre, Manchester Ship Canal and virtually everything else. It’s being co-ordinated by Central Salford Urban Regeneration Company (URC) and supported by North West Development Agency (NWDA). The URC is already a partnership made up of Salford City Council and the NWDA, plus English Partnerships.

Meanwhile, the Chief Exec of mediacity:uk is Felicity Goodey, who’s also Chair of the Central Salford URC. Felicity Goodey doesn’t get paid for being Chair of the URC but does get paid lots for being Chief Exec of mediacity:uk, although she won’t tell us how much because that’s “commercially sensitive”

Salfordians want this Festival …and deserve this Festival…

By Mike Knowles, co-founder of the Salford Film Festival and director of Made Up North Productions

I am passionate about the Salford Film Festival. It originally grew out of our short film Talking With Angels. Yousaf Ali Khan and I were keen to put something back into the community where we both worked and where he had grown up (and which had inspired his film). With this in mind we put together an initial training programme around the film and, growing a little more ambitious (and with a view to focusing attention on the region), a festival. That first festival’s success, with over 4000 people attending, was phenomenal and moving, and beyond our wildest expectations. This was something unique and special.

Whilst the broad support for the festival was evident from the first (from both the public and the powers that be), our key aim was always that the event would continue, without the founders if necessary, and take its place and develop from within the community. The focus, therefore, for the second year was simple: to have one member of staff in place to scope the filmmaking activity in the region and to plan for a festival which would highlight this work: showcasing Salford as a centre of excellence and also building links with London, Europe and beyond.

Unfortunately despite jumping through numerous hoops, meeting the great and good and having business plans coming out of our ears, this (financial) support was not forthcoming and, once again, we had to call on favours to make the festival happen. Once again, the people of Salford responded in the droves and voted with their feet (over 4000 people in attendance).

We are now in the fourth year of the festival and, to put it simply, have run out of favours to keep this going. (We are also very very tired and have our real jobs to do!). However, personally I would still love to be a part of a festival which expands to reflect the growth of the city and develops to incorporate TV (and digital) in the wake of the BBC’s planned arrival, but keeps the community heart.

I would still like to think this support is out there but after all this time you do begin to lose faith. I am however a born optimist (a City fan you see) and hope that, in true Hollywood fashion there is a fairy god person out there who will help rekindle the festival and harness the goodwill, energy and vision that remain. And give the people of Salford the festival they so clearly want and truly deserve.

It’s great if the BBC come here but what’s happening to get the community involved ?

by Alison Surtees of Creative Industries In Salford (CRiiS), co founders of the Salford Film Festival, which has its base at Web Studio in Little Hulton.

The Salford Film Festival is so important as it brings everyone together, there’s a real open sense of celebration and it’s fantastic press and publicity for the city. It won’t happen this year because we don’t have enough funding on the table.

The tragedy is that community film making is on the up – we’ve just secured Big Lottery Funding which means we can go out working with young people right across the city. Unfortunately we now don’t have our showcase that really trumpets all this brilliant work and that’s a real concern for me. Yes we can organise individual events but it’s so much more powerful to do one massive event each year – this is a really tragic loss for Salford.

We’ve supported the Salford Film Festival for the last three years and we are always the main sponsor but my role is increasingly getting funding for CRiiS as an organisation, so I’ve not been able to give my full input this year and as a result the Festival is on its knees. We need people not just to talk the talk but to actually come on board. For something that’s had so much publicity and verbal support it shouldn’t be this hard to keep it going – it only takes a small amount of effort to see it get off the ground and really develop. It’s not good enough to say `Yes we support it’ and `What a wonderful idea’…they’ve got to put their money where their mouths are or contribute – it’s too late for this year.

If Web Studio disappears and becomes something else completely then we’re going to lose studio facilities too, and by losing that we’re going to lose direct access in terms of placements, apprenticeships and employment opportunities. All this was very much in the ethos of Bob and Ken when they were developing the project and it’s made it so easy for us to put kids though.
If someone else buys Web as studios we don’t have the links with them so we’re back to square one.

It’s fantastic if the BBC are coming here, but in the interim what’s happening to get the community involved and prepped up, ready to take best advantage of those opportunities? That’s my main concern. In terms of production companies, set design, construction and all those periphery industries then Web Studio is all we have at the moment. And in terms of showcasing all the work, the Salford Film Festival is all we have too. It will be very, very sad to see it all go…

What’s twenty grand from their annual budget ? Take it off The Lowry !

Salfordian film maker, Simon Powell of Looking Glass Films, is exactly the sort of creative person who is supposed to benefit from mediacity:uk. A former popcorn seller at the Red Cinema, he was inspired through the Salford Film Festival to follow his dreams. Unfortunately he’s being denied the opportunity to showcase his latest film at this year’s Festival because it’s cancelled. And he ain’t happy…

The council can go on this bandwagon about media city but when it comes to the grass roots level of people looking to get into or be a part of something that’s creative, such as film, it’s not embraced at all – you think `Well, what’s more important ?’ They should be opening their arms across the spectrum of the industry not just `Let’s get this media city’.

Obviously it’s important and a big thing for Salford but let’s be working with individuals and companies who are working within the industry here and now to show the council’s commitment and feed people’s confidence.

It’s a big, big shame that they can’t support the Salford Film Festival, especially given that it fits the council’s cultural strategy about learning and creativity, and that it fits under the umbrella of regenerating the city, empowering people, developing skills, creating opportunities, be that education, training or work. It’s a great shame that they don’t have the vision to see it...

As a PR opportunity as well the Festival raises the profile of the city. They don’t support it but when it’s really successful they are the first ones to come knocking on the door saying `Can we come and have a chat ?’ They just need to pull their fingers out basically and put £20k into the film festival – what’s twenty grand out of their annual budget ? Jesus Christ – can’t they take it from the Lowry or somewhere ?

The Salford Film Festival should be an annual event, that’s on the calendar and supported properly. My frustration is that the council do see the bigger picture but in order to get to this bigger picture with the Media City thing they are just ignoring and not embracing all the hard work that’s going on now within the community to help raise the profile of this city and give opportunities and work placements to local people.

I’m very passionate about this as we work hard to engage with the community and the Salford Film Festival is something we use as a unique selling point to attract young people from across the city. I’m totally disappointed for them too…

A letter to Salford from Sir Ben Kingsley…

Please don’t let this be the last word on Salford’s Film Festival.

Film festivals are important cultural events that by their very nature bring the beauty, energy, wit, excitement and grandeur of cinema together for a concentrated period of time to a fortunate city and its audience.

We get to mix and mingle with actors, writers, directors, producers, designers, directors of photography, in a unique ambience charged with debate and creativity. A gift to all the community. A thrill. Especially to an environment as rich in promise and diversity as Salford.

I would urge the business and civic leaders; Please don’t let this be the last word.

Ben Kingsley
November 2006