'Give Leeds a go': Channel 4 staff urged to move up north

TV professionals already in the city are surprised but sympathetic over Londoners’ reluctance to relocate

For London-born Susie Field there was no hesitation when she was offered her dream job in Leeds. Three months ago the 59-year-old moved to West Yorkshire and says she is “shocked” by fellow Londoners’ refusal to do the same.

She is referring to the news that the vast majority of Channel 4 staff in London will leave the company rather than uproot to Leeds. It was also confirmed that no senior Channel 4 executives would move to the city as part of the broadcaster’s relocation.

In Leeds the responses have included astonishment, some sympathy, a little disappointment and even offers of free kebabs to tempt Channel 4 staff.

Field, previously from Streatham in south London, is the head of production at Daisybeck Studios, an independent television production company. She said she was living her dream life in a canal-side converted warehouse apartment in Leeds, and was shocked at fellow Londoners’ reticence to give the north a chance.

Susie Field
Susie Field: ‘There needs to be a cultural shift in the way people think in London.’ Photograph: supplied

“The standard of living and lifestyle here is so wonderful. You can find really good accommodation for not very much money, you still get decent salaries and it is a vibrant, energised city – there is such a buzz,” she said.

“I was born in London and I love London and that’s where my family live, but the change in lifestyle and the way I am able to work up here is radically different, better than the way I was working before. There needs to be a cultural shift in the way people think in London as it is no longer affordable.”

When Channel 4 finishes its redistribution of staff, a relatively small number of the 300 are expected to move from its London HQ in Horseferry Road, Westminster.

The award-winning journalist and film-maker Andrew Sheldon, who is the creative director of the production company True North, helped in the bid to bring Channel 4 to Leeds. He said it was important to shift the industry’s epicentre away from London.

“We always knew that if Channel 4 came to Leeds it would be absolutely transformative. We feel it already, tangibly in the city,” he said.

The 57-year-old, who briefly lived in Tooting Bec in south London in his 20s, said although he was disappointed he sympathised with Channel 4’s employees.

“What Channel 4 set out to do is something very strategic and in the long term it will have a really positive effect. The very real downside of that is it is hard to make a change like this without there being a real human impact,” he said.

“The industry is quite well used to change but that doesn’t devalue the fact that you are saying to people with friends and families and lifestyles that we now want you to move 200 miles away. What’s disappointing is that there is a great deal to offer in this part of the world both professionally and in terms of lifestyle. It’s a shame that more people haven’t taken a look at what is possible.”

Channel 4’s new office in the Majestic building, which once housed a nightclub that inspired the Kaiser Chiefs song I Predict a Riot, is expected to house more than 200 staff. If the proportion of London-based staff seeking redundancy remains at the expected 80% to 90%, then only between 20 and 40 staff will move out of the capital.

Andrew Sheldon of True North
Andrew Sheldon of True North: ‘It is hard to make a change like this without there being a real human impact.’ Photograph: Lorne Campbell/Guzelian

Rachel Reeves, the Labour MP for Leeds West, said she was “astonished”.

She said: “Channel 4 chose our fantastic city over places like Birmingham and Manchester for lots of reasons. There are loads of talented people in Leeds and across Yorkshire who would jump at the chance to work with Channel 4. It will be a great chance to help build a new skills base in our region and draw in further investment and jobs.

“And, to those people working for Channel 4 in London at the moment who are wondering whether to relocate, I’d encourage them to give Leeds a go. It’s a brilliant place to live and work.”

For Sheldon, who began his career on the Yorkshire Post, the opportunities that the broadcaster’s relocation will bring outweigh any negativity. “Why should you – if you are a working-class kid from Hartlepool, Hull, Grimsby and Barnsley – have to go to London?

“When I was a kid there was opportunities and I could get a job at a local paper, but nowadays kids on this side of the Pennines haven’t had that door to knock on and Channel 4 won’t just give them one door to knock on but it’ll give them a lot of doors to knock on. It is an incredibly exciting time.”

Contributor

Nazia Parveen North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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