Growing Creative Talent

Posted by editor on April 16, 2009 under Business, training and employment

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.

Sue Woodward

Sue Woodward: "In the digital age, this is the next industrial revolution."

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.

Impressive sets built at The Sharp Project for BBC's Casualty 1909

Impressive sets built at the Sharp Project for BBC's Casualty 1909

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.

From start-ups to full-scale TV and film production, the space is available

From start-ups to full-scale TV and film production, there is space available

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.

The Sharp Project in the old Sharp Electronics warehouse

The Sharp Project in the old Sharp Electronics warehouse

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.

Branching Out

Posted by editor on April 1, 2009 under Art, sport and leisure, Community, Environment

Len Grant reports on the fall and rise of an allotment society where there are plans to grow more than just carrots and turnips.

A warm welcome

“My dad had been coming down here for 30 years. It was the only thing he ever did, the only thing left. Then developers decided they wanted the site for houses. A compulsory purchase order was slapped on the allotments and everyone seemed to just give up. Dad told me to sell his tools.”

This is when Patrick Maher decided to get involved and help to save the Edge Lane Allotments Society in Openshaw. He took over one of the derelict plots and began working with the remaining plot-holders to fight for the 4-acre site.

“We had to prove the community wanted to keep the site, which of course they did, and finally, by bringing in new members and working with the council’s allotment staff, we fought off the closure threat. Now, nearly two years on, it’s gone from being a wasteland to a thriving community resource.”

Sharron Comer tried unsuccessfully to find a plot on other sites before taking a look at Edge Lane.

Sharon: "Home grown tastes so much better."

Sharon: "Home grown tastes so much better."

“It was just a patch of barren land, full of weeds when I first saw it,” she recalls. “There was no fencing, no sheds, nothing. That was over two years ago and for the first year I had to weed the plot top to bottom.”

Since then Sharron has laid paths, installed new glass in a derelict greenhouse, planted fruit trees, dug a pond and constructed a summerhouse for her daughter. “It’s great for the kids, they love coming down and helping out. And they will eat all the vegetables because they are the ones who’ve grown them.”Grown from seed

Now Sharron grows all the regular allotment fare: carrots, cabbage, broccoli, turnips swedes, potatoes, parsnips, cucumber, tomatoes, as well as melons, grapes, apples, pears, raspberries, red, black and white currants, blueberries, and gooseberries. Her plot hardly seems large enough to fit it all in. But, not only does she grow enough produce for her own family, but there’s always extra to swap with others.

“Apart from a couple of months in the winter, I never buy anything from the supermarket,” she says. “Home grown tastes so much better. Our carrots are sweeter, our cabbages softer. Supermarket food has travelled for four weeks before it reaches the shelves, so it’s hardly fresh.”

Not since the second world war, when growing you own was pretty much mandatory, has the demand for allotments been so great. Back then there were 1.4 million plots but, through the 60s and 70s, as food became cheaper and the lure of the supermarket stronger, allotment sites were sold off because there was no one to work them.

Edge Lane Allotments

Edge Lane Allotments

Now, with a shift towards environmentally-friendly food, the allotment is popular again. It is estimated that 330,000 people have allotments in the UK with another 100,000 on waiting lists.

“We’ve got 88 plots here,” says Patrick, “and at least another 20 families waiting to get one.”

But Patrick and his green-fingered colleagues are not content with merely reaping the fruits of their labour for themselves. They have their own big plans for development.

“There’s an area by the entrance that needs clearing,” he says enthusiastically. “That can be used for any number of community groups or schools for project work on healthy eating or sustainability. We’ve got a classroom facility too, so there can be a more formal setting if that’s needed.”

The allotment society has already made links with Discus, a youth project in nearby Beswick. “We’re not all bright academics but when you see the sense of achievement on those young people’s faces when they have cleared a site, that’s very rewarding.”

Patrick with his dad, Billy

Patrick with his dad, Billy

Patrick would like to see more disenfranchised young people working the land learning the ropes from older horticulturalists. There’s a funding application pending for a carpentry workshop for young people to make bird boxes and hanging baskets. And, with some of the plots home to donkeys, poultry and even racing pigeons, there’s even potential for husbandry skills to be passed to a younger generation. “If a young person is coming on here every day to look after the animals, then they’re not on the streets getting into trouble.

“This is not the old school allotment,” says Patrick. “This year, we’re going to offer as many different services as possible to as many groups as possible. The more people we can get involved, the better.

Seventy year-old Billy Maher is back on his plot, just as Patrick remembers. “Dad has somewhere to come now. He swears that working on the land has kept him going.”

If your school or community group would like to find out more about the Edge Lane Allotment Society then contact Patrick Maher at