A leading northern art school has announced plans to boost film and TV production in the north east and create a major industry hub for the region with the development of a commercial sound stage to attract national and international productions to the area.

Cleveland College of Art and Design (CCAD), based on Church Road in Hartlepool, is working closely with Hartlepool Borough Council to develop a 5,000 sq. metre purpose-built dedicated film and TV sound stage studios, one of the largest film studios outside London.

The college, which has strong links with the film and TV industry and illustrious alumni including Hollywood director Sir Ridley Scott, has submitted plans to develop the sound stage by repurposing the former bus depot on Lynn Street in Hartlepool.

The former bus depot on Lynn Street will be turned into a sound stage for film and TV production

The proposal forms part of the wider expansion of the specialist art college, with its £11m new teaching and learning studios opening this year the coastal town – next door to the proposed sound stage. CCAD is keen to build on its strengths and track record in the TV and production industry with its industry-led curriculum featuring specialist degree courses such as costume, production design and creative film and moving image – to create a film and TV hub for the wider region and across the UK.

Following extensive research and consultation with industry professionals, the college has established there are no dedicated sound stages on such a large scale in the north and therefore a real demand for such a facility from an industry that regularly films on location in the town.

Pat Chapman, Head of Employability and External Relations at CCAD is heading up the project

Pat Chapman, Head of Employability and External Relations at CCAD, said: “In order to develop the proposal, we have not just conducted our own research, we have looked at the sector and liaised closely with industry organisations such as Northern Film and Media. We have also had a number of site visits with art directors, production managers and producers to ask them what they want from a sound stage.

“We are keen to further develop our support for the industry in terms of backstage crew so this project is the college directly responding to industry demands. There is currently no similar dedicated facility north of the M62 corridor in the same scale and very little outside of the south of England, that is on a comparable scale. There is a real need to provide a supply of skilled and trained crew and encourage them to stay in the region, so our role is providing the skilled people. This we feel will help anchor productions within the north east region and would bring direct economic benefits to the town.”

The former vehicle depot site will include two sound stages around 20m by 50m plus workshop space of a similar size. The tall building, which is now empty, features wide open spaces for set construction, is ideal for a sound stage with a lattice roof which will easily allow the hanging of lighting rigs and other equipment.

Pat continued: “As film and TV production has moved out of the south and south east of England in recent years, we have seen so much more production happening in the north and north east. Hartlepool is a great centre for location filming, including ITV’s George Gently and BBC’s Vera. With its beaches, countryside, industrial and urban areas and heritage all within a short distance, the idea of developing the empty building as a commercial space makes total sense.

“Whilst this is a commercial project, it can also provide local opportunities for student work experience on set. When commercial operations are not in place, we can use the space across a range of our degree programmes, with curricular collaboration in costume, production design, creative film and moving image courses amongst others.

“This project will be significant for the local area and the wider region and beyond. The creation of the sound stage fits in well with the overall development of our campus and it creates a destination where our graduates can look for employment. The evidence from other areas such as Belfast and the development of the Titanic Studios is that once you develop a facility like this you attract supply chain businesses, small creative industry businesses that are part of the overall film and TV production scene.

“Should the initial pilot period prove successful, we would expect to see the development of industry moving into the newly regenerated Church Street area and perhaps taking up spaces in the new Whitby Street studios, the creative workspace that we are delivering together with the local authority which will be open from Spring 2018.”

The first phase of the project, which requires minimal changes to the building, will start soon. The pilot commercial filming programme will establish the viability of the concept and invaluable learning from the commercial production process, as well as how the facilities can be further developed and enhanced to meet the high industry demands. The college is now in discussion with a number of production companies to get them in place working as commercial operations over the coming months.

Pat added: “Following the first phase and having listened to industry feedback, we would work in partnership with the local authority and Tees Valley Combined Authority for a more developed refurbishment, with the potential for a themed film and TV visitor attraction. This is a very exciting time and we are looking forward to making further announcements into the New Year as we seek commercial production opportunities.”

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