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#RADFEST10: You up for Salford?

October 20, 2010

A small group of Radio Festival attendees convened in the Compass Room on the third day of the Radio Festival to hear BBC North director Peter Salmon speak in a session about the Corporation’s big move to Salford Quays.

Aside from the inevitable questions which arose in light of the story surround the BBC’s licence fee freeze, the session may have helped secure some of those who may still be scoffing at the idea of transferring departments up to Salford Quays.

I say ‘might’ deliberately. It is impossible to reflect all the individual views. It’s impossible and unfair to arrive at a consensus view. Ridiculous and pointless to polarise the points as well. Peter Salmon touched on one area of concern with a certain degree of sensitivity:

“It’s disruptive … People are going to have change their lives. Some people are going to have to give up their jobs.”

It’s that which feels difficult to swallow. It’s happened to some people I know and – who knows – could happen to me. But in battling one’s own negative and potentially self-destructive internal dialogue – something which could easily become a whole bigger challenge because of the licence fee agreement – there was another angle which Peter Salmon’s session highlighted.

The BBC is an organisation funded by the licence fee, paid by everyone all over the country. And that level of funding should be reflected in different areas of the country. It’s right that the creative opportunities should be made available in Manchester and Cardiff and Glasgow. It feels rather odd – almost too ‘on-message’ – to say it here, but it is right. This isn’t about – as my gut instinct has sometimes led me to think and say – about London and everyone there suddenly being the B-story.

Because as Salmon pointed out – it was the first time I’d heard it explained in this way – the establishing of this new centre is “titlting the BBC on its axis a bit”. More interestingly:

“The BBC is traditionally organised into vertical silos. BBC North is a horizontal slice of those silos.”

But, I found it difficult not to let my personal feelings creep in (although I did fortunately resist the temptation to put my hand in the air and ask a question).

Media City UK, Salford Quays

I came to Salford Quays for the first time a couple of days ago to attend the Radio Festival. It was a two hour and a half hour train journey from London. When I got to the Lowry (it happened to be raining quite hard on the first morning) I couldn’t help wondering whether I might be having to make this journey to work in future years. And if that was to happen – or if I had to make the decision tomorrow – how would I feel about the prospect?

Instead of taking the Central Line to White City would I be taking the tram to Media City? As I walked the unfamiliar and at this time stark path to the Lowry, could I foresee a time when I would have been happy to force change on my own situation, uproot me and my partner’s life from London to set up all over again in a new city?

It’s important to be clear at this point. I like the Manchester experience (I stayed in Manchester during my visit not in Salford). But, home is London for me. The enthusiasm I had for moving around the country has long gone. It disappeared when I settle down with my partner in 1998. He lived in London. I moved in and insodoing I abandoned my plan to sail around the world. Twelve years on, could that eagerness to relocate return? Would I be prepared to consider it if I found myself having to entertain a role which demanded me going to Salford Quays?

The Media City complex is impressive. But, the area isn’t finished off yet. The vista new BBC staff will see isn’t populated enough quite yet. Yes, the building is shiny and new. It gleams in the sunlight and it will undoubtedly be a vast and necessary improvement on present conditions in Manchester Oxford Road. The tram goes from Manchester Piccadilly to the Media City. There are shops. There’s a fantastic theatre. There’s football nearby. It is a brilliantly served area.

Media City UK, Salford Quays

But it’s also a little soulless for me at the present time. That is possibly because the area shares the same characteristics the Isle of Dogs did shortly after the Docklands Light Railway started chugging around Canary Wharf in London. Salford Quays is a new community full of hope. It will grow. It will mature. When it has, it will become that iconic home just as Broadcasting House is or Television Centre was (or is, depending on how you look at it).

But there’s time to go yet and if I’m going to uproot my ‘family’ (small in comparison to most others), then I need more creatively to greet me when I trot to the office and swipe my card on the barrier. Yes, I know it’s superficial and relatively unimportant but hey … go figure.  If I don’t get that, am I prepared to invest myself in it and that building’s formative years in order to get that buzz I reckon I crave?

Media City UK, Salford Quays

Some people have already have already had to face that choice. Some others may have to. This post in no way seeks to compare my thoughts with their experiences.

But it will also enable many people younger than me and as enthusiastic about the BBC as I am to work for the corporation. I can’t overlook that. I can’t be selfish about that. Why should they have to come to London to work for the BBC? The answer? They absolutely shouldn’t.

And for those in the area who get that opportunity they could if Salmon is at the helm have a man with a careful eye on what’s vital for BBC North’s success. Drawing on his experience as Director of Programmes at Granada, he offered his hope for the contribution BBC North will make:

You have to foster a sense of bravery and confidence and risk-taking….people at Granada weren’t respecters of boundaries…[we need to] hold on to the spirit of the old Granada and inject it into this place …

You see Mr Salmon. If you force me to look at things through a pair of rose-tinted spectacles then you will – of course – pull me in. I’ll get on the first train to Salford and sit next to people from the area in the hope that their enthusiasm and passion rubs off on me. I’m being sincere there. But really, is that kind of inspiration all I need?

The reality is that the myriad of different views – some of which a product of the organisation I work for – are all tied up with that new building, it’s location and the surrounding areas. It’s a new build in a community for new creatives. And that’s great. The problem is that I still love my 100 year old house, it’s garden, underground and the creaky White City building I work in.

You get my point. There are many other points to consider. Many angles to look on the whole thing. Little wonder I kept looking at the building at various points over the past couple of days, trying to imagine myself there, trying to determine whether I might learn to love it. It’s going to take time.

Between now and that point in time, no-one should read this post as me unravelling my flag on the flagpole. I am merely imagining, reflecting and discussing. If it turns out it’s a reality I need to confront, I would like to think about it if I need to.

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