Channel 4's decision to move their headquarters to Leeds is encouraging. But the UK needs a bigger infrastructure overhaul—one which eradicates the notion that London is where real success happensby Grace Holliday / November 1, 2018 / Leave a comment
Channel 4 announced this week that Leeds has won the bid to become the forthcoming location of their new headquarters. The city fought off competition from well-connected Birmingham and the media explosion that is Manchester. The decision, which is said to have been unanimous by the board, came to the surprise of many.
Aside from, that is, those of us already situated up here in Leeds. We’ve known for a very long time how much potential our city has. We’ve just been waiting for someone to take notice.
“Success” and “London” were synonymic in my mind as a Yorkshire teenager. At 18, moving to London to begin my adult life seemed like an absolute necessity. While I’m Rotherham-born and Doncaster-bred, my mum is from Leeds; her Windrush generation Jamaican father settled here.
As such, I’ve always had a connection to the city, and always felt a strong affinity for it. Yet I didn’t even entertain the idea of applying to red bricks anywhere in my home county. I believed that a British writer and journalist’s career began in the capital or it didn’t begin at all.
In the end, Royal Holloway pleased both my own ambitions and my parents’ sensibilities, being part of the University of London yet in Surrey, some 40 minutes from Waterloo. I enjoyed the warm Septembers, the theatres and the access to internships. I hated the dirty tube, the cost of living and a tendency to become a harder version of myself within minutes of arriving into Kings Cross after weekend visits home.
By my early twenties, after a brief stint in the capital itself, I was totally disillusioned with what I had experienced. The city, for all of its wonders, was not affordable to me, and it wasn’t going to be in the forseeable future.
I accepted a job in Leeds, and I’ve been here since 2014. This is aside from a brief 12-month fling with Sheffield, where my husband and I moved temporarily while I did a Journalism Masters (fully funded, I didn’t get to choose where I studied.) The day I handed in my dissertation, we fled back to Leeds like anxious new parents returning to their baby after a first night out.
Leeds is a city I truly adore. It’s well proportioned; spacious without being expansive, logically laid out with ample options for shopping, cafes, restaurants and bars. Our nightlife is decidedly lacking these days and the one-way road system that loops the centre still baffles everyone save for about four taxi drivers. But we make up for it with gorgeous parks, fairly reliable weather and affordable houses. We pay £800 per month for a three-bedroom, two parking space end-of-terrace house with front and back gardens just a 20-minute walk from the centre.
Leeds also has a gentleness I could never find in London. Groups of teenagers stop walking to let you take a photo of the river with a smile. Bus drivers call you love. This isn’t a fallacy; both have happened to me in the last week alone.
However, to stay here I had to become self-employed, which I did three years ago now. Aside from the Yorkshire Evening Post, there are no major newspapers, magazine or publishing houses in the city (the BBC outpost is appreciated, but only offers opportunities for broadcast journalists, and a very small handful at that).
I’m very aware that my career would be far further ahead had I stayed in London, and my earnings much higher. I would be able to do in-house shifts, to network, to make friends in the industry and say yes to coffees with editors without spending £60 on train fares. It’s perhaps for reasons like these that over 100,000 people aged 20-29 move to London from other parts of the UK each year.
That’s why, although Channel 4’s move is a huge win for the region, it is merely a first step. The real end goal here isn’t the HQ, or the increase in jobs, or the influx of cash. It’s not even more organisations following in its footsteps and heading here too—which is surely an exciting inevitability now.
The real end goal in all of this is creating a county where young people want to stay and thrive. A place where they can begin their careers without fear of imposing a glass ceiling on their own potential and earnings. Where these careers aren’t then stalled for a reason as mundane as geography.
The UK should be constructing an entire infrastructure, and not just a media, that incorporates and reflects the country it serves. It must eradicate the notion that London is where real success happens. It should be training and hiring talent from Yorkshire and providing these individuals illustrious careers matching those offered in London.
Ten years ago, you couldn’t have paid me to live here. In ten years time, I want to meet 18-year-olds who believe that success and Yorkshire can also be synonymic. Most of all, I want them to be right.