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Three years on from the launch of BBC’s Across the UK plan – what has it done for Greater Manchester?

This month marks three years since the BBC launched a plan to level the playing field and move more of its production across the UK. But does the public service broadcaster really serve the public of Greater Manchester? 

I’m standing in a concrete plaza. I’m surrounded by shiny glass buildings. I’m staring into the eyes of Gary Lineker – not the Gary Lineker but an 8ft poster of him. Where am I? 

I’m outside the BBC at MediaCity, of course – and boy is it good to be in Salford.

Since its completion in 2011, the BBC offices in Salford Quays have rapidly become the broadcaster’s second largest site outside of London. 

Prior to the move over 12 years ago less than 7% of the broadcaster’s programming expenditure was being spent in the north. By 2021 it had grown to 17% – which left plenty of room for improvement. Hence the launch of another plan to even further spread the BBC around the country: Across the UK. 

This month marks the three-year anniversary of the launch of that plan, whose aim was to ensure that the BBC is accessible to audiences across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The plan is to take 60% of UK TV production and 50% of UK radio production outside of London by 2027/28. 

It’s almost made it to the 60% TV target already – by March 2023, 58% of television spend was invested outside the M25. 

But more important than the numbers are the work the plan has produced.

BBC One’s supernatural drama Domino Day, set in Manchester, was commissioned as part of the Across the UK plan. 

Percelle Ascott, who plays bartender Leon in Domino Day, said: “It’s important and it’s amazing that BBC are now pushing more dramas out of London and setting them in places like Manchester. 

“I think we’re kind of bored of London, we’ve shot London so many times I don’t think you can make it any more interesting. Whereas I think with Manchester, there is so much more to be discovered.”

PERCELLE ASCOTT: as Leon in Domino Day. Image: BBC, Dancing Ledge Productions, Sophie Mutevelian

During his time filming in the city, Percelle said that a highlight was working with regional crew that are passionate about where they are filming. 

He added: “It is nice to have a crew that represents where we are filming, it just makes the authenticity of the drama come through.

Production designer Sami Khan represents the high calibre of regional talent we have here in Manchester and has been in the industry for 25 years, the first ten of which were spent working in London. 

He said: “It’s much more accessible now, but when I started it wasn’t. It was hard for me to get established in drama production in the North.

“It was always easier to get work in London.” 

SAMI KHAN: Production Designer on Domino Day

Once he’d established his career in London, Sami was in a better position when he returned to his home city ten years later but still had to work hard to make a name for himself and didn’t immediately get the same breaks he did in London – but this was helped by the addition of MediaCityUK. 

He said: “Media City has been like an amazing elixir. Like a shot of super boost for the film and TV industry in Manchester, we are really lucky to have it.” 

Sami also recognised some of development’s criticisms as claims have suggested that Salford residents are not able to access the high-skilled opportunities that the media metropolis has brought to the once derelict docklands. 

He added: “The redevelopment of that part of town has been fantastic and I hope the opportunities filter through to the local population as well.”

One third of the city’s population live in ‘highly deprived’ areas. Despite MediaCityUK’s £567.5m gross asset value, Salford is the 18th most deprived local authority in England (out of 317). 

A scheme that has tried to create a way in for locals to access the industry is Waterloo Road’s Production Trainee programme, which so far has given more than 20 people from Greater Manchester six months of paid production training since it launched in 2022. 

An important part of the Across the UK plan was to invest in the next generation of TV, radio and film makers outside of London. 

BBC Sport Production Management Apprentice Georgia Nash is currently on a fast-track apprenticeship scheme at the BBC in Salford. The 19-month apprenticeship predominantly consists of hands-on work within production management with scheduled week blocks of formal training. 

She said: “It’s great that there are more regional opportunities now because there are talented people up and down the country and unfortunately not everyone can get to London.” 

Georgia said one of the apprenticeship’s biggest advantages was that she could stay in Salford close to her family and friends and progress in her career without having to move away. 

GEORGIA NASH: BBC Sport Production Management Apprentice

Since she started her apprenticeship in October, Georgia has been able to work on several BBC shows including Match of the Day, Children in Need and Comic Relief.

She added: “At one point none of these shows were filmed in the North, they were all filmed down South, so if that was still the case I wouldn’t have had any of these opportunities at all. 

“I think there is still a long way to go but I know more things are coming up north, so it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

The three-year anniversary of the BBC’s plan highlights that progress is evident and there is a keenness from the BBC to recognise and represent every part of the country, and Greater Manchester is paving the way for TV, film and audio production – across the UK. But what are things like across town?

The plan demonstrates a commitment to breaking down geographical barriers that have for decades disadvantaged talent outside the capital, but there remain even greater socio-economic barriers to get a foot in the door to an industry that to many, still feels inaccessible. 

As I walk on with the BBC behind me, Dock 10 and ITV to my left and board the 50 bus heading for town, very quickly I’m surrounded by rows of red bricks and an empty shopping centre, a world far, far away from those shiny glass buildings. Where am I? 

Still in Salford. 

Feature image by JOHNY REBEL

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