Northern England

This section covers Studio81, Versa Leeds, Peregrine, Church Fenton, Hartlepool, Littlewoods Liverpool, The Depot Liverpool, Shipyard Studios Sunderland, Crown Works Studios Sunderland and Northern Films Hull.

 

updated March 2024

 

 

Studio81, Leeds  (2006 – 2022)

 

Studio81 was located not far from the old Yorkshire TV studios in Kirkstall Road.  This business opened in 2006 and hosted a number of TV drama productions.  They included 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 was one large stage of 230 x 70ft plus workshop facilities and all the usual offices, dressing rooms and wardrobe/makeup rooms.

Sadly, in April 2022, Martin Cook posted the following:

‘The independent film and television production centre, Studio81-Leeds, closed its doors at the end of April 2022 to make way for a new housing development by the Clarion Housing Group.  During its 16-year operation, Studio81 has been an integral part of the changing landscape of film and television production in Yorkshire.

Prior to 2006, it was widely believed that drama would only be produced by Yorkshire Television and the remit of the few independent producers in the area would remain news and factual.  A small group of freelancers challenged that belief and brought together a steering group to help create a facility to meet the needs of independent drama producers, and attract them to the area.  Since then, Studio81 has regularly hosted 2 or 3 drama productions each year to a total of 250 screen-hours with budgets totalling £250m and a regional spend of over £125m.

This is my opportunity to offer thanks to the individuals who gave their time, support and encouragement to the idea that became Studio81.’

 

 

 

 

Versa Leeds Studios  (from 2020)

 

image thanks to Screen Yorkshire
image thanks to Versa Leeds

 

 

Converted from a former printworks, this impressively large studio centre officially opened in 2020 but the Covid pandemic delayed bookings for some time.  It has 4 sound stages at 16,000 sq ft, 12,500 sq ft, 10,500 sq ft and 27,000 sq ft.  All have a useful height of around 27 ft.  There is also plenty of space for production offices, workshops, prop stores, wardrobe facilities etc.  £7.5m was invested in the studios, primarily to upgrade the power supply and to soundproof the stages.

The studios became available around the time Studio81 closed, so have enabled the production of TV dramas and independent films to be continued in Leeds.  They 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.  Versa also operate the old Granada Studios in Manchester and a large multicamera studio in west London.

Production credits include Bodies, Boat Story, Platform 7, Dance School, Typist Artist Pirate King, The Confessions of Frannie Langton and Marvel’s Secret Invasion.

 

 

 

 

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

(from 2018?)

peregrine stage 450p
Stage 1 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).   Stage 2 is also impressively large at 30,000 sq ft but with a relatively low minimum ceiling height of 16ft.  There is also a covered area of 140,000 sq ft that can be used to construct scenery or as a shooting space.  According to the British Film Commission website, 7,400 sq ft stage 3 is being converted into a green screen studio.  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 – Hope Gap, Official Secrets, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

 

 

 

 

Yorkshire Studios, Church Fenton  (between York and Leeds)

(from 2015)

church fenton 450p
Stages 1, 2 and 3.  Stage 2 is seen here under construction.

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.  There are 3 buildings to be used for filming – stage 1 at 37,500 sq ft, stage 2 at 27,000 sq ft and stage 3 at 34,500 sq ft.  Stages 1 and 3 are old RAF hangars but stage 2 is a relatively newly-built warehouse.  The complex includes offices, workshops and plenty of parking.  An on-site cafe is also available.  The location offers 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 June 2023 the Makin family, who own the site, secured planning permission to improve and further develop the facilities here.  This will include three purpose-built sound stages, office space and other facilities.

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 series 1, 2 and 3 and Gentleman Jack.

The proposed expansion to the facilities at Church Fenton

 

 

 

 

The Northern Film and TV Studios, Hartlepool  (from 2021)

hartlepool 450p
above – the former bus garage.  Image thanks to Cleveland College of Art and Design

 

 

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 originally shown on the Northern Studios website.  In fact, the green screen stage is called stage 2 and the adjoining long stage is 1.

 

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.  An impressive job has been done.

The £3.76m converted facility sits alongside a new teaching building which supports specialist technical training for students.   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 is also a 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 form an attractive base where interior sets can be constructed.

During 2023, these studios were used to film the action thriller Jackdaw, starring Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jenna Coleman, Thomas Turgoose and Rory McCann.  The production also utilised locations around the north east.  Investment came from The Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority and the North East Production Fund, delivered by regional screen agency North East Screen on behalf of the North East Screen Industries Partnership.

 

 

 

 

Littlewoods Studios Liverpool  (from 2025? – ‘The Depot’ temporary stages from 2021)

littlewoods top view 450p
Above – the enormous amount of space that this beautiful building offers is clear to see, as is the lovely setting.  This photos was taken some years ago and pre-fire damage.
littlewoods inside 450p
Above – inside one of the halls.
The current state of the building
photo thanks to Andrew Teebay, Liverpool Echo

 

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.  Five million parachutes were also made inside the halls – the enormous space enabling them to be laid out and folded.  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 considerable amount of repair and refurbishment inside and out.

 

In September 2015 a proposal to turn the building into a high-end 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 was that TV dramas and features would use these studios as a production base and film interiors here whilst using the nearby city for exteriors.  The building would also be the new home of Liverpool Theatre School – with its own theatre and studio – and digital and creative companies would be encouraged to take up space here.  It was hoped that 1,500 jobs would be created during the redevelopment phase and once completed it would provide 900 jobs although other figures have been quoted.

75,000 sq ft of education space was 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.  So TCDIC became anchor tenants along with Liverpool John Moores University.

In July 2020 Liverpool City Region announced the release of £11m to enable this project to go ahead.  This money came via the Government’s ‘Getting Building’ fund and is part of an overall package of £17m.

 

image thanks to The Depot

The money mentioned above 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.

During its first year, this facility was reportedly used by six commercials and a feature film.  Around eight months after The Depot opened its doors, the eight-part prequel series ‘Sexy Beast’ took over the stages.  It was made for Paramount+ and brought over 100 crew members and talent to the site for nine months.

 

So to sum up, the occupancy of the buildings is, or was, planned to be as follows – 85,000 sq ft of studio and ancillary space for Twickenham Film Studios, to be operated by Time+Space Studios.  A further 95,000 sq ft of flexible employment space for creative industries, which will be advertised to market for expressions of interest.  It was originally intended that 75,000 sq ft of education space would be occupied by Liverpool John Moores University to deliver an ‘Entertainment Technology Centre’.  However, in October 2022 the BBC reported that the university had pulled out of the scheme.  According to the BBC website:

Liverpool City Council, which owns the land, said LJMU’s withdrawal was “regrettable but it makes no material difference to the planned remediation”.  Liverpool City Region is due to approve a payment of £8m to help the first phase in restoring the building.

 

The Liverpool Echo reported the following more positive news on 5th October 2022:

John Moffat, Capital & Centric said: “We’re not doing the deal with LJMU as originally envisaged but we’re still in talks with them about being involved. This doesn’t change the overall vision for the Littlewoods Project, there will still be an education provider whether the University are involved or not and this doesn’t impact on the Combined Authority pressing ahead with funding.

“The legal agreements are almost in place for us to kick start this massive regeneration project that will cement Liverpool’s position at the forefront of the UK’s film and TV industry, generate millions of pounds for the local economy and provide exciting job opportunities for generations to come.”

 

Progress on the main scheme does unfortunately appear to have been slower than 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 of that year.  However, it took a whole year for the decision to be taken and it was eventually agreed in December 2022. 

So, at last, the first phase of the development could proceed.  Or could it?  In March 2024 the Capital and Centric website stated:  ‘We’re about to start work to clean up the existing building and prepare the site for construction in 2024.’  Originally, this work was due to be completed by the end of 2023 and would see site investigations, remediation and main scheme design works carried out.  (As mentioned above, this preliminary phase will cost £8m, part of the £17m of funding agreed previously.) 

Great news!  According to the local press, work on stripping out the buildings and preparing them for restoration and repurposing actually commenced on December 12th 2023.  This is due to be completed by the summer.  Then the serious work can begin.  As of March 2024, the two sound stages are still awaiting planning approval but it looks as though construction of them could commence before reconstruction work is completed on the main building.  So possibly being available by late 2025?

 

Meanwhile, in November 2023 Capital & Centric submitted the detailed plans to redevelop the building.  Further plans were submitted in December.  The following statement on their website explains the proposals as they currently stand:

The existing building features three distinct sections – the east and west wing, which are separated by the Hangar, a 1960s addition. Our proposals incorporate the existing building as well as the neighbouring land, with the Littlewoods Project set to feature:

  • Space in the West Wing for uses such as offices for creative businesses or an education facility, as well as the incorporation of roof terraces with city views.

  • Workspaces in the East Wing, as well as workshops and studio support facilities.

  • Two new build 20,000 sq.ft studios, providing space for indoor sound stages for big budget productions.

  • A screening and performance space – open to the public – with an existing hanger to feature five cinema screens, a performance space and a foodhall.

  • A lush, green courtyard where the community can hang out and spend time.

  • Loads of greenery and new landscaping that will pay homage to local screen stars of the past, as well as a direct public link between the site and Wavertree park.

  • Reinstating of the clock on the iconic tower.

I can’t help noting that whoever drafted that statement doesn’t appear to know the difference between a studio and a sound stage, which is a bit worrying.

Looking at the plans, I note that in the East Wing opposite the sound stages there are three workshops, each approximately 6,000 sq ft.  There are also production offices and other areas.  Half of the West Wing is a large office, with the other half indicating that it could be more offices or used for educational purposes.  Between the wings is the area to be used by the public, containing the ‘Film Box’ with cinemas, cafes etc.  The two sound stages are surrounded by an area intended for the usual unit base vehicles associated with filming.  Between them is a link with toilets and a few other rooms.  The whole area is to be attractively landscaped and planted.

 

Please contact me if you are involved in this scheme and can give me the latest info on progress.  Also, if any of the above is incorrect I would welcome any clarifications.  The whole thing has been a minefield to work out exactly where things stand.

 

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.

 

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.  This appears to be where the ‘Depot’ stages are currently standing.
image thanks to Capital & Centric

 

 

 

 

Shipyard Studios, Sunderland  (from 2024?)

 

The shipyard as it exists today, on the River Wear.
photo thanks to Sunderland Echo

 

In November 2022, Pallion Engineering in Sunderland announced that they were planning to convert some redundant ship-building facilities into a film studio.  The USP of this scheme is that one of the buildings consists of a covered dock – and this will become the largest covered water stage in the world.  Since the water connects to the chilly North Sea, I wouldn’t care to be an actor performing in it – but hey, that’s what they are paid for.   The studios will include 500,000 sq ft of creative space for filming and rehearsing, as well as post-production areas, animation suites and green rooms.  The shipyard has been closed since the 1980s so there is much work to be done in refurbishing the existing structures.

 

The proposed water stage.
image thanks to Pallion Shipyard Studios

 

According to a press release, the plans are being led by production company Metalwork Pictures USA alongside events business Broadwick Live, and aim to also have an educational effort to benefit the local creative community.  Also involved is real estate developer Kajima Partnerships Limited, and an appointed worldwide “Film Advisory Board led by an award-winning producer and artist”.   Northern Film and Media, the University of Sunderland and Sunderland College also have input, and all groups are supported by a professional team consisting of FaulknerBrowns Architects, DPP Planning, Lambert Smith Hampton and Gleeds.

The scheme was put before the local council in 2022 in order to establish whether it met the legal requirements for the use of the building.  The ‘certificate of lawfulness’ was approved by Sunderland City Council in December, 2022.  This means that planning permission is not required for use of the existing buildings but new construction will require the usual process.

This is certainly an unusual development but when open will provide a unique facility to the film and high-end TV industry.  As of March 2024 I can find no info on the progress of this scheme.  I’m wondering if the Crown Works Studios mentioned below have taken the wind out of the sails of this project?  Do contact me with any information if you know.

 

 

 

 

Crown Works Studios, Sunderland  (from 2026?)

 

 

Another film studio in Sunderland was announced in February 2023.  This is on a much larger scale than the Shipyard Studios but one can see that the facilities offered by both could be complementary and useful to some productions.  Fulwell 73 and Cain International are proposing a major development on the banks of the Wear at Pallion to be known as Crown Works Studios.  It is the result of a devolution deal agreed between the government, the North East Mayoral Combined Authority (NEMCA) and Sunderland City Council. 

The studio will have 20 sound stages, making it the largest in northern England.  There will be the usual workshops and offices, a multistorey car park and a large back lot.  They hope to attract major features and international HETV productions. 

 

When announced, the scheme required government support as well as the necessary planning permission.  In the March 2024 Budget, the Chancellor announced £120m of funding, which will enable it to proceed to the next step.  The government grant released £450m of private funding to help the North East become a major hub for big budget productions.  

Further money was also revealed.  As part of the Budget, the Government announced a “trailblazer” deal with the North East Mayoral Combined Authority (NEMCA), which will empower local leaders with funding and tools to deliver local regeneration priorities, building on plans to level up across the north-east.  This includes £37m of flexible funding for the remediation of brownfield sites and acceleration of regional projects.  Subject to the business case, NEMCA intends to use £25m of this funding to remediate the Crown Works Studios site, laying the ground for development of the studio facilities.  The planned 1.7m square foot facility is expected to boost the region’s economy by £336m a year and create around 8,450 jobs.

Planning permission was granted on March 25th 2024.  Work on the first phase could begin in the summer with the construction of the first six stages, so possibly being available from 2026, with the completion of further phases due by 2028.  This is all looking very positive and will be an excellent world-class facility for the region.

 

 

 

 

Studio 9, Northern Films, Hull  (from 2025?)

 

Northern Films is a production company based in Hull.  Their most recent feature film was the drama The Last Trip.  Their HQ contains a small studio (studio 8) but in January 2024 they announced plans to construct a 19,700 sq ft sound stage next to their existing building.  This will be known as studio 9.  A workshop and other facilities will be included.  They already have post-production and grading facilities, sound mastering, visual effects and CGI along with sets, rehearsal space and a hospitality area. 

Their director Andrew Fenton is quoted as saying:

“One of the building’s main functions will be addressing what we believe is a learning shortfall within schools and universities who seem to follow a theory-based approach with students being given very little or no real hands-on experience.  We feel the skills being taught are not the current expectations of the industry so this building and the concept behind it will provide those skills locally.  

“Most soundstage facilities are usually landlord-operated and are just spaces to hire out with  very limited opportunities for local people. However, this building will not be allowed to be hired in full by an out-of-town production unless it agrees to include a certain percentage of local skills. 

“In addition, we will employ local freelancers to oversee the upkeep and management of the building while the ultimate aim is to establish a long-term programme of productions rather than living hand-to-mouth off one-off projects. In that way, it will create regular work for local freelancers.”

Sounds to me like a very good scheme.