SIGN: industry perspectives

The Screen Industries Growth Network (SIGN) builds on the Yorkshire Screen Industries Growth plan. It was conceived, along with sister project, XR Stories, at a time of growth for TV, film and games across the board and year-on-year. SIGN has very much been born in lockdown, in a time of challenge and change. Although that potential for growth still very much underpins our work, in these few extraordinary months we have seen how vital the overused but underplayed concepts of partnership, challenge and change will be to our sectors in Yorkshire and the Humber.

The UK has established itself as a successful global screen production hub, with production spend doubling in the past five years to reach more than £3.6bn in 2019. We are also the second biggest exporter of audio-visual content in the world (approx £5bn a year).

During the coronavirus pandemic this picture has inevitably changed, been disrupted, and in some instances been halted altogether. That said, in a way that I have never witnessed previously, we have seen industry-wide bodies across the UK pulling together. They have worked to develop new filming protocols, secured quarantine exemptions for front-of-camera talent, lobbied for flexible insurance cover, developed new formats and promoted sectors like games and animation where production has been able to continue. Our industries are still very much “open for business”. SIGN is entering this context to offer a regional platform for partnership. Alongside our partners, Screen Yorkshire, some of the best universities in the UK, and a team of experts and champions, we will provide that ongoing signposting of developments and opportunities. We will add our voice and sit around the right tables to represent the sector.

More than representing the voices of Yorkshire and the Humber though, it is the interlocking strands of work and funding programmes that we are convinced will make the difference. SIGN is not just about economic growth but also about change and challenge.

Our research will interrogate and analyse workforce issues, and audience needs will provide much-lacking insight into key areas impacting our screen industries. Our research will be independent and credible, regionally focussed but linked to UK-wide efforts and drawing on global trends.

The skills and training programme within SIGN will be designed to support new areas of need uncovered by the ongoing restrictions and challenges (new skills, new crew levels, new formats). We will identify and provide targeted development for individuals and businesses. We will focus on new skills and new ways of training, providing expertise when and where it is needed. Above all, we will work with the network of expert providers and universities across Yorkshire.

The business support strand of SIGN will provide networking opportunities and support for starts-ups. It will help to scale up our regional companies so there is opportunity for more productions, innovation and employment. We will work with partners both within the region and beyond and I am delighted that we are partnering with C21Media for a series of talks and views from TV industry leaders.

As a separate strand of work, but underpinning everything we do, will be the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion. We see diversity not as an issue to be solved, but the solution to creative problems. If people from different backgrounds come to be seen as key talent, crucial to production because of their unrivalled skills, unique voice, specific insights and differing experiences, this becomes not a “good thing to do” but a vital element for growth and change. In addressing that head-on we will challenge systemic views and barriers as well as give support, provide advice and identify development opportunities that have not typically been afforded to all.

We are truly living in extraordinary times. In business terms, we are arguably facing up to the most serious of challenges but also the most significant of opportunities we’ve ever seen.

The Screen Industries Growth Network, led by the University of York, is exciting, innovative and vital to the continued success of business in the region. Having spent the last few months gearing up to the new challenges and changes, I am delighted to be involved and, as a co-director of this fantastic opportunity, to further build on the successes of the Yorkshire Screen sectors.

Kate O’Connor
SIGN Industry Partnerships Co-Director