Channel 4 needs to fight the fear of moving from London and embrace Sheffield’s talented workforce, its ideal location and spirit of innovation – leading figures in culture, technology and design have urged.
The calls come following the broadcaster’s response to a Government consultation on how to boost its regional impact. Sheffield has submitted an ambitious bid to move the group’s headquarters here to a site beside the railway station.
Channel 4 claims that, while there are benefits to being based outside the capital, it could face difficulties attracting the right staff and winning advertising, losing out to its rivals in the process.
However, members of Sheffield’s creative community say the time has come to change such perceptions about life outside London.
Nick Bax, founder of the Human design studio based at Park Hill, which has worked on projects for MTV and watchmaker Swatch, said the city had to ‘trade on its genuine assets’.
“There are things about Sheffield that are different to other places – it’s a great place to live and work. They are things to really emphasise.”
He disagreed with any suggestion that Channel 4 would be unable to recruit staff with suitable skills.
In its response, the broadcaster said relocation would likely lead to a ‘high degree of staff turnover’, with the lost employees going on to ‘strengthen competitors’.
“Such talent could be replaced, but from a considerably smaller and less experienced pool of talent,” said Channel 4.
But Nick argued: “We have two great universities here. That’s one thing big organisations around the city really like – a supply of good-quality graduates on tap. We’re only an hour from other major cities from where people would quite happily commute, and have a much more stress-free day-to-day working life than if they were based in London.”
Nick said he thought it would be ‘fantastic’ for the broadcaster to move to Sheffield.
“I think it would be good for Channel 4 as well. They send a team here for the Doc/Fest and they love it, they know what a great city it is.”
Less than a month ago a major report, commissioned by Sheffield University, was published highlighting the strength of the city’s creative digital sector, ranging from video games to computer design.
More than 21,000 people are employed in the industry across the city region, said the report, which was written by consultant Laura Bennett, an enthusiastic backer of Sheffield’s Channel 4 bid.
“It would be amazing,” said Laura, who used to work for Tech North, a Government-backed initiative.
“There’s no reason why it should not be here, especially in this day and age of remote working. It’s entirely feasible for a company to be based anywhere. We just need to bring people to Sheffield to convince them of all the multiple benefits of living here.”
Laura said rents would be much cheaper in Sheffield, and recouped costs could be ploughed back into programming.
“They are essentially a public service broadcaster. If they do get money from the Government, why are they spending it on rents in London? Their money would go further in Sheffield.”
Others think Channel 4 would boost fellow businesses and encourage younger generations to pursue a media career.
Cameron Spilman, the founder of research and design studio Paper, on Penistone Road, said: “There is a diverse community of people who will thrive around a media hub like Channel 4. It will build on our cultural capital and help inspire children to believe they can be part of something they’ve only ever thought was locked away on TV sets and in London.
“The business community is equally diverse, particularly the digital sector, which is on the verge of become a major digital hub. To me it feels like the right time, and the right place.”
Nick said ‘fear of the unknown’ could lie at the root of any unease, adding: “Maybe it’s the fact it’s not their decision – that they’re being told they have to do this. The success of the BBC moving to Salford, and how it’s flourished there and helped the economy and creative industries, is definitely proof that it can work.
“It’s a bit like saying to young people or students: ‘If you want to do anything in the media, or creative, you have to move to London.’ That’s just not the case any more. And I’d hope Channel 4 would be advocates for that.”
And Laura concluded: “We have all the talent here and it’s a commutable distance to Leeds and Manchester. It feels very antiquated that everything needs to be in London.”