At the end of May it was announced that Birmingham and Coventry are still in the running to become the new national headquarters of Channel 4, having made the shortlist alongside other players including Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff. Although I’m still slightly confused as to whether this means that, if successful, the HQ would be split across the two cities, or just go to one but still be an overall win for the West Midlands, this is great news. A show of confidence in a region that, in my opinion, has often been overlooked in recent years and has suffered from the devolution of production hubs to other areas of the UK.
I’ve lived in Birmingham for over a decade and grew up in Worcestershire. My job is closely linked to the film and television industries within the second city. (Sorry Manchester, but it is Birmingham!). Like hundreds of others, including Ozzy Osbourne, of course I would love to see the broadcaster make a move here. So here are my – shamelessly biased but, I believe, valid – reasons as to why Channel 4 should come to Brum.
Location, location, location.
The clue is in the name – Birmingham is in the heart of the Midlands. We’re in the middle of the country. London is only an hour and twenty minutes away by train (and will be even quicker, once HS2 is finished) and the transport links to other major cities including Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol are generally excellent. It’s well connected and Birmingham International Airport is also a bonus – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast and Dublin all have daily flights. This makes it straightforward for commissioners, crews, productions and all manner of meetings and events with people from across the UK to be easily facilitated.
Added to these practicalities, Birmingham is a nice place to be and very affordable. It’s green and leafy, doesn’t feel as enclosed as London, there are heaps of lovely pubs and places to eat, fantastic museums, festivals, independent cinemas, theatres, community centres… oh, and more canals than Venice, if you hadn’t heard. And some great filming locations. I mean, if it’s good enough for Steven Spielberg…
We have so. much. talent.
Once a ‘city of 1000 trades’, still a city of innovation. I consider myself lucky to work with Film and TV students making their first steps in the creative industries, as well as liaising with a huge range of local production companies, and I’m always awed by the creativity and passion of everyone I come into contact with, at all stages of their careers. There are animation studios, social media agencies, freelance filmmakers, indie TV companies, corporate video production houses… I probably don’t even know half of the organisations producing media content here, let alone everyone in this area aspiring to work in TV, but the common denominator is that they all want to be in Birmingham.
It’s a source of great personal pride that year on year, we retain alumni in the West Midlands who build creative careers here, but I’m not just talking about graduates staying on after university. This is a huge area, and Brum has the youngest population of any city in Europe. It would seem a no-brainer, given the ways in which media consumption and production is rapidly evolving, for Channel 4 to embrace the knowledge of those who are growing up alongside the technology. Tie that in with the wealth of start-ups and established companies, and imagine the scope for collaboration and innovation that would be at Channel 4’s fingertips.
It’s our time
I’ve been in Birmingham over ten years now, and I tend to keep a reasonably close eye on the production culture in the city. A few years back it was all doom, gloom and despondency – ‘Why doesn’t anything change? Why is everything in London/Salford/Bristol?’. Well, I believe now is the time to forge that change. There’s a growing buzz and I’ve definitely felt a shift in discourse recently, with more positivity around what we have and how we can build upon it, rather than focus on what’s been lost. BBC Three is slowly making a move to Birmingham (surely a natural sibling to Channel 4, if ever there was one) and Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight has revealed plans for a film studio complex in the area. We’re also hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022 (and did I mention Spielberg filmed here?).
Channel 4 is not a solution to all the West Midlands’ media woes and it would be naïve to suggest this, but to go back to one of my earlier points it would demonstrate confidence in the region. And with confidence comes progress. You would anticipate that more indie companies would set up satellite offices here, more productions film on location here, leading to more local crew being employed here, leading to a boost in the economy… you get my point. We’re due a break and I strongly feel this could be it.
Now, I know the #WMGeneration hashtag, which has on the whole prompted lots of positivity around our city and region on Twitter, has also come in for criticism. It has been noted, and rightly so, that in spite of Birmingham’s inherent diversity – a point raised time and again in the calls to Channel 4 to come here – many of the senior positions within the creative industries in Brum are still occupied by middle class, middle aged white men. This is problematic.
Welcoming Channel 4 here, however, can surely only be a good thing and a force to challenge the status quo. We need more apprenticeships and training programmes for young people that are based outside of London; we need more inclusive representation both on and off our television screens (across ethnicity, sexuality, social class, disability, gender and age), to better reflect the country we live in. Change won’t happen overnight, but maybe Channel 4 can be a catalyst for positive change in this direction, from this city. I’m proud every time I see the Bullring or Cannon Hill Park on the TV, or the name of someone I know in the credits at the end of a programme, and want that to grow.
Rounding off… (Sorry, this turned into a longer blog than anticipated)
Coventry will, I know, have its own merits, but it shares many of them with Brum in being well situated, bursting with talent and having a buzz – hello City of Culture 2021. OK, every city still in the running to be Channel 4’s new HQ or a creative hub has its own plus points, which through lack of personal familiarity I can’t comment on, and clearly I can’t predict which way things will go on October 1st when we find out where the broadcaster will relocate some of its operations. But what I do know is that I believe in this city; Birmingham. The West Midlands would benefit hugely from a relocation here (why else would we be fighting so hard for it?) and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that. But crucially, I can’t think of any good reason why Channel 4 wouldn’t benefit from moving here. I have faith in them to make a real difference here – we just need someone at C4 to have faith in Birmingham.