Government plan could be boon for Yorkshire’s creatives

Richard Stuart-Turner
Monday, August 12, 2019

With an economy worth an estimated £110bn per year, it is perhaps unsurprising that Yorkshire is not shy in shouting proudly about its successes, and it is against this backdrop that Yorkshire Day is celebrated on 1 August each year.

Beginning in 1975 as part of a protest movement against local government reforms that came into force the previous year, the day continues to provide residents of the UK’s biggest county with an opportunity to come together to celebrate its history, heritage and huge contribution to the UK economy.

In print the day is marked annually at an event held in Leeds organised by the BPIF and its Yorkshire special interest group CDI as well as The Stationers’ Company and Boss.

CDI president Robert McClements says: “Yorkshire Day is important for the county because it’s an opportunity to reflect and celebrate the achievements that we’ve made.

“And this event really provides a meeting place for all of the different overlapping circles, organisations and individuals that collaborate around this amazing industry.”

While CDI’s members come from across the full spectrum of the region’s creative industries, print remains at its core. 

“I believe that the printing industry has to understand its competitors and to work with them. We create a forum for that discussion and exchange of ideas that strengthens the sector in its widest definition, and recognises the progress that’s being made in this area,” adds McClements, acknowledging the region’s rich print history.

“Leeds was a classic cluster around print. It started off with heavy engineering; that built big printing machines which supported the printing companies, and they spawned all of the advertising agencies around it. Now that’s merging into television and digital – it’s part of that communications journey.”

Northwolds Print Works managing director Gurdev Singh adds: “Print has been such an integral part of the overall industry up here and there’s been a lot of innovation and investment in print, particularly throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

“I think where it started was with the number of direct mail printers up here. In the late 1980s electoral rolls became open for direct mail and a lot of printers up here were doing work for the banks and building societies because they had secure sites, which not everybody across the UK had.

“So they were producing cheques and statements that then helped them to move progressively into direct mail. More and more that then helped to produce people with the skills to do variable data onto paper, and then that variable data was done across multiple channels and it moved into digital print and then into digital and online communications.”

He says Leeds in particular is now “competing heavily with Manchester and London”, especially when it comes to start-ups and the digital economy.

“The Manchester and Leeds universities are also really strong and in Leeds a very large proportion of graduates stay in the area, which really helps us.”

One of the major topics of conversation at the BPIF event was new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s vow to “turbo-charge the North’s economy as we leave the European Union” by announcing plans to create high-speed connections across the area’s rail network and pledging to narrow the north-south divide and “unleash the power of our great regions”.

But for many a major frustration is not the speed of the rail connection between major cities, rather the lack of facilities on existing connections that make it difficult to achieve maximum productivity while travelling.

“I don’t care if I can get to London half an hour quicker or not, the frustration at grass roots is that I can be on LNER [London North Eastern Railway] and the wifi is a joke,” says PMG Print Management managing director Mike Roberts.

“I think moves to reduce the north-south divide are getting there, but Yorkshire itself needs to take the lead. As a Yorkshire person of a certain age, you’ve been brought up with a north-south divide and that stubbornness or grittiness – we want to prove that we’re as good as the South East or the South West.”

Many Northern creatives that work both in print and the connected industries have spoken of their keenness to support one another, including Yorkshire designer and painter William Watson-West, who was displaying printed versions of his artwork at the BPIF event.

“Often everything is so London-centric that I think it’s important to make sure that somewhere like Leeds stays on the map and is at the forefront of technology,” he says.

“Supporting local printers is an important factor for me, it does mean that my costs are higher, but it’s great to be able to drive for an hour or so and meet the people who are going to be doing it.”

The Printing Charity extended its judging for the Print Futures Awards to Leeds for the first time in June, interviewing 40 young people across two days.

Chief executive Neil Lovell says: “We had a lot of applications from within and around [Yorkshire] and we felt that the sensible thing to do was to interview in the area.

“Leeds was fantastic; we had two really strong, great inspiring judging days. The current generation of talent that’s in the sector in these organisations are really hungry to grow and learn, are enthusiastic and are doing some really interesting things. They don’t necessarily describe themselves as being in print – they’re in communications, technical and customer-facing businesses.”

More than half of those interviewed by the charity in Leeds – who predominantly hailed from the city and the wider South Yorkshire area – were ultimately presented with one of this year’s record 93 Print Futures Awards.

Lovell concludes: “There needs to be more recognition of the creative talent that’s not just in London. We need a strong economy – and a strong economy isn’t just for the South.” 


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