Northern England

This section covers Studio 81, Versa Leeds, Peregrine, Church Fenton, Hartlepool and Littlewoods Liverpool. 

 

 

 

Studio 81, Leeds  (2006 – present)

 

Not far from the old Yorkshire TV studios in Kirkstall Road is Studio 81.  This business opened in 2006 and has hosted a number of TV drama productions.  These include Wuthering Heights, Lost in Austen, White Girl, The Chase, Strictly Confidential, Red Riding, 5 Days, South Riding, Sirens, The Damned United, The Syndicate, DCI Banks, Just Henry, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, The Great Train Robbery and the extraordinary Peaky Blinders.

There is one large stage of 230 x 70ft plus workshop facilities and all the usual offices, dressing rooms and wardrobe/makeup rooms.

 

 

 

 

Versa Leeds Studios  (from 2022)

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Converted from a former printworks, this impressively large studio centre was originally due to open in 2020, but this was postponed.  It has 4 sound stages at 16,000 sq ft, 12,000 sq ft, 11,000 sq ft and 30,000 sq ft (this one can be divided.)  All have a useful height of around 28-30 ft.  There is also plenty of space for production offices, workshops, prop stores, wardrobe facilities etc.

£7.5m has been invested in the studios, primarily to upgrade the power supply and to soundproof the stages.

The studios are not far from the new Channel 4 HQ and ITV’s studios on Kirkstall Road, confusingly named The Leeds Studios.  These facilities are a joint venture between Leeds-based Prime Studios and All Studios.  All Studios are trading under the Versa Studios name.  In the autumn of 2020 a new website run by Versa was advertising these facilities, along with Manchester Studios and a new fully equipped TV studio in London.  (This latter one is located in Kendal Avenue, Acton.)  In December 2021 Versa launched a new website where they stated that their London studio was now open and their studios in Manchester and Leeds would be available in 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

Peregrine Studios – aka Northern TV and Film Studios (South Yorkshire)

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The impressively large stage at Peregrine Studios

 

Situated between Barnsley and Doncaster in Goldthorpe, with easy access to the M1 and A1, these converted industrial premises offer a very large stage of 354 x 136ft (48,000 sq ft) plus a workshop area of 7,600 sq ft and prop storage of 23,000 sq ft. There is also a covered area of 140,000 sq ft that can be used to construct scenery or as a shooting space. There are plenty of offices and other areas suitable for dressing rooms, make-up areas etc. The following productions have filmed scenes at these studios –  Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Hope Gap, Official Secrets.

 

 

 

 

Yorkshire Studios, Church Fenton  (between York and Leeds) (2015 – present)

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RAF Church Fenton was created in 1937 when the air force was carrying out a massive expansion, due to the increasing threat from Hitler’s Germany.  It was designed as a fighter base, defending the industrial areas of Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield.  As well as housing normal RAF squadrons it was also the home of the first RAF Eagle squadron of American volunteers.

After the war it remained a fighter base with the new generation of jets such as the Meteor and the Hunter.  In 1959 the base scaled back its operation, becoming used for training on a wide variety of aircraft types over the following decades.  Following the 2010 defence review, training was sadly (some might say unwisely) drastically scaled back in the RAF and the base was no longer required.  It closed in December 2013 and was handed over to property investor Makin Enterprises.

 

In June 2015, Screen Yorkshire announced that it had secured the rights to create a new film studio based here at Church Fenton.  They have 3 stages – stage 1 at 37,500 sq ft, stage 2 at 27,000 sq ft and stage 3 at 34,500 sq ft.  The complex includes office space, workshops and plenty of parking.  There is also a great deal of concreted space near the buildings previously used for aircraft handling as well as grassed over areas with clear vistas where exterior sets can be built.  In April 2019 they secured planning permission to improve and further develop the facilities here.

On top of the UK-wide tax breaks, Screen Yorkshire has available the ‘Yorkshire Content Fund’ which can be used to attract TV dramas and features to the area.  They say that in excess of £1m can be invested in suitable projects.

Productions made here have included ITV’s  Victoria .

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One of the RAF hangars now being used as film stages.

 

 

 

 

The Northern Studios, Hartlepool  (from 2021)

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above – the former bus garage.  Image thanks to Cleveland College of Art and Design
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the new studios

 

In January 2017 Hartlepool Borough Council announced that it was planning to turn an old bus depot into film studios.  At the time, two 11,000 sq ft stages were proposed.  Pat Chapman from Cleveland College of Art and Design is quoted as saying ‘This is the perfect venue to create a film and TV studio in the heart of the town.’  The college was working with the borough council to develop the project, which opened for business in March 2017.

From what I have read, it seems that only blacking out of windows and some basic sound deadening were initially done to the shooting spaces.  In a press report, Mr Chapman explained that a more sophisticated refurbishment of the building would come later, once productions had used the stages and discovered what else needed to be done.

a plan of the studios as shown on the Northern Studios website

 

In April 2019 Hartlepool Borough Council gave planning permission to adapt the bus garage into a 30,000ft stage.  However, there was a long gap before some progress was announced.  This came in December 2020 when a press release revealed that work was underway.  The £3.76m converted facility sits alongside a new teaching building which supports specialist technical training for students.   According to their website, the facilities consist of two stages within the old bus garage – each 164 x 66ft  (10,800 sq ft) and a third stage equipped with green screen of 66 x 66 ft (4,360 sq ft.)  There are also workshop, green room, offices etc.  These studios are intended to be used by film and high-end TV as well as the art school students.  The area around has plenty of exciting and varied locations suitable for shooting many kinds of drama and the idea is that these facilities would form an attractive base where interior sets could be constructed.

 

 

 

 

Littlewoods Studios Liverpool  (from 2024? – temporary stages from 2021)

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Above – the enormous amount of space that this beautiful building offers is clear to see – as is the lovely setting.
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Above – inside one of the halls.

 

Designed by Scottish architect Gerald de Courcey Fraser, this building was constructed in the art deco style in 1938 and was used to process the betting slips from Littlewoods Football Pools.  Its printing presses were used by the government during the War and parts of Halifax bombers were constructed here.  Bomb shelters within the building still have wartime graffiti on the walls.  The building has been empty since 2003 and photographs indicate that it does need a fair bit of refurbishment inside and out.

 

In September 2015 a proposal to turn the building into a TV drama and film studio was announced by developer Capital and Centric.  Liverpool has been used often in recent years as a filming location as some of its architecture can double for cities in the USA.  The idea is that TV dramas and features will use these studios as a production base and film interiors here whilst using the nearby city for exteriors.  The building will also be the new home of Liverpool Theatre School – with its own theatre and studio – and digital and creative companies will be encouraged to take up space here.  It is hoped that 1,500 jobs will be created during the redevelopment phase and once completed it will provide 900 jobs although other figures have been quoted.

75,000 sq ft of education space is also proposed for Liverpool John Moores University, to house an ‘Entertainment Technology Centre’ training young people in the film and TV industry.

The developers referred to ’20-30,000 sq ft sound stages’ in their publicity.  It is pretty clear that a great deal of work would be required to create these within the existing building as it has many windows and skylights in the roof and the irregular roof structure would appear to make a conventional lighting grid tricky to install.  However, it turned out that this was not the intention and new stages will be built on the area alongside.

In April 2017 the studios came closer to reality when the building was sold to Capital and Centric who declared they would turn the site into the ‘Pinewood of the North.’  A 250 year lease was agreed with Liverpool City Council.  They have already redeveloped the bunker next to the building, which is fully let to media and technology companies.  The new owners said that they were hoping to attract companies that would work in collaboration to be part of a hub that can fully capitalise on Liverpool’s world-class offering as a filming location.

 

In June 2018 the announcement came that the company that runs Twickenham Studios in west London would be the partners on this project.  I doubt if many people saw that coming but it does make a great deal of sense.  Twickenham only has 3 relatively small stages but they have many years of experience of dealing with clients from the worlds of film and TV.  Having 2 large stages here will fit nicely into what they can offer.

As mentioned above, the two 20,000 sq ft stages will be constructed alongside the Littlewoods building, with workshops, offices and other supporting facilities taking up part of the old facilities.

There was an announcement in the press in March 2020 that revealed that The Creative District Improvement Company and their subsidiary, Time+Space Studios had acquired Twickenham and these studios.  In fact TCDIC are anchor tenants along with Liverpool John Moores University – Liverpool City Council own the freehold with Capital & Centric owning the long lease.

 

In July 2020 Liverpool City Region announced the release of £11m to enable this project to go ahead.  This money comes via the Government’s ‘Getting Building’ fund. This money is part of an overall package of £17m.  The money has also paid for the construction of two temporary 20,000 sq ft film stages on vacant city-owned land next to the Littlewoods site, known as The Depot.  Planning permission for the two stages was passed in December 2020 and work began later that month.  They opened for business in October 2021 and are intended to last until the main studios are fully up and running. These stages have been built by Morgan Sindall Construction.  They are being managed by Liverpool City Council’s film office and do not appear to be connected with the Twickenham Studios management.

 

So to sum up, the occupancy of the buildings will be as follows – 85,000 sq ft of studio and ancillary space for Twickenham Film Studios, to be operated by Time+Space Studios.  75,000 sq ft of education space proposed for Liverpool John Moores University to deliver a sector-leading Entertainment Technology Centre to ensure local young people develop high-level skills to work in the industry.  A further 95,000 sq ft of flexible employment space for creative industries, which will be advertised to market for expressions of interest.

Progress on the main scheme does unfortunately appear to be snail-like.  Despite the release of funding in July 2020 it was 16 months later in November 2021 that a further announcement was made.  A report requesting permission for plans to invest £70m in redeveloping the Littlewoods Building was due to go before the Liverpool City Council’s cabinet early in December.  If agreed then the development will commence in 2 phases.  The first, beginning early in 2022, will take a year and see site investigations, remediation and main scheme design works carried out.  This will cost £8m, part of the £17m of funding agreed previously.

Phase 2 includes the construction of the stages.  Unfortunately funding for this will have to clear another hurdle – the council and combined authority are committed to investing £12m but a commercial lender has yet to be identified to fund the balance.  It is possible that once given the final go-ahead and a willing investor, construction could commence by the end of 2022 but realistically it is likely to be later, meaning that the earliest we might see these 2 stages being available is 2024.  This must be hugely frustrating for the film-makers who are very keen to work in Liverpool.  It is disappointing that this is all taking so long, when other schemes around the country have cracked on with urgency and efficiency.  Bear in mind that this project was first announced in 2015.  At least they have the two temporary stages to use in the meantime.

 

On 2nd September 2018, fire broke out in the western wing of the building, causing extensive damage (the one on the right in the image below.)  The story was covered on national TV and radio news bulletins.  The roof and upper floor of the wing were lost but following the fire there were no concerns over the building’s structural integrity.  Most importantly, fortunately there were no injuries.  I’m informed that the fire may in fact have helped a little with the redevelopment as the roof was going to be replaced anyway.  In any case, it will not affect the studio development.

 

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Above – an artist’s impression of the completed Littlewoods scheme.  The two new stages are the dark blocks on the left of the old building.  I’m interested to note that on the far left is the corner of another building with ‘stage 3’ proudly displayed on it!  Clearly they are hoping to expand over future years.
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Above – the two temporary stages that opened in October 2021, known as The Depot.  Interesting to see that they appear to be occupying the land where the third stage is indicated on the image above.