The new BBC drama Casualty 1909 is set in a Victorian East End hospital. But that ‘hospital’ was actually built from scratch in a disused warehouse just off the Oldham Road. Sue Woodward of the Sharp Project explains all.
East: What is the Sharp Project all about?
Sue Woodward: The Sharp Project is Manchester’s answer to the demand from the creative industries sector to create a new home for digital businesses. This warehouse, once home to Sharp Electronics, has 1/4 million square feet of space which we are going to convert into affordable, easy-in, easy-out space for these businesses.
East: Why do we need that sort of facility?
SW: Manchester City Council has asked the creative services sector what they need to develop in what is becoming one of the biggest growth areas for the economy. And this is the outcome. We will provide flexibility for new and existing companies to use our facilities and space to suit their needs. In film-making in particular, sometimes you have 20 people working for you but the next week you might only have 250. We will accommodate the requirements of the companies that use us.
East: So, will there be more programmes like Casualty 1909 made here?
SW: Absolutely. We’re going to combine traditional drama with brand new digital skills in a very original, modern way. Not only will there be more programmes like Casualty 1909, where we can offer an unrivaled amount of space to create sets, but we’ll have opportunities for new companies to come to the project. The conversion includes bringing in shipping containers with glazed fronts that will act as ‘pods’ for new start-ups. Studios and high tec facilities for animation and computer-generated imagery will be on hand and all of this will benefit from ultra high speed connectivity to the rest of the world.
East: What do you mean by ‘connectivity’?
SW: There are three ‘big pipes’ that connect the UK to North America. These literally run under the Atlantic Ocean and can transmit huge amounts of data quickly and cheaply. Two of them go to London and the South East and, luckily for us, the third is linked to Manchester Science Park. So we are a hop, skip and a jump away from something that can give 100mb/sec – and eventually unlimited bandwidth – connectivity to global markets. If you think about it, Manchester built its fortunes on the ship canal – it brought the beach to the city – so that we could reach global markets. In the digital age, this is the next industrial revolution.
East: What’s in it for the people of east Manchester?
SW: It’s not just about the building, it’s about how we interact with further education colleges and the academies programme. Close by is One Central Park with Manchester College and the University of Manchester and from next year there will be a brand new academy for east Manchester. We’ll forge close links with schools and colleges and make sure young people take advantage of the opportunities we’ll have here.
East: Isn’t the Sharp Project just going to end up competing with Media City?
SW: There’s an arc of opportunity for Manchester. Media City will be the high end, high profile, centre of excellence. But what it will need is a skilled pool of labour in the locality and that is what the Sharp Project will provide. We are the ‘growbag’ that will supply the digital labour market with talent. We will allow young people to come here, to start up, to fail, to start again, to prosper. Media City is at one end of that arc and the Sharp Project – the ‘growbag’ – is at the other.
Sue Woodward is regarded as one of the most influential figures in North West media circles. She was managing director of ITV Granada between 2004-08 and wrote the creative bid for Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture. For the Commonwealth Games in 2002 she was creative director, responsible for the opening and closing ceremonies, and in 2003 was awarded the OBE for services to broadcasting and the Commonwealth Games.