Matters of faith and community

Tuesday 10 April 2012, 10:27

Peter Salmon Peter Salmon Director, England

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Preston Bus Station was the unlikely venue for the BBC's latest and most innovative live event - The Preston Passion. This sixty-minute live programme on BBC One fused mass-audience participation, compelling drama and music-making to celebrate both Good Friday and the city itself.

Hosted by Fern Britton, featuring actors like Tom Ellis and Samantha Bond in three mini dramas, Jamelia -who agreed to step in at the last moment - and hundreds of locals from across the city who rehearsed for weeks, this reinterpretation of the medieval Passion Play was a searing success. Not only did hundreds of fellow Prestonians turn up to show their support but, true to the times we live in, many watching at home expressed their pride as well as their surprise as they recognised friends and family on national television via Twitter.

For everyone involved as well as those watching across the UK, it showed what the BBC and an entire city can achieve by working together. The Preston Passion was a truly inspiring moment of community spirit as well as a strong and undeniable expression of faith. And it happened because a powerful new BBC North base, with the BBC Religion and Ethics department, Drama Productions and local programmes combined to extraordinary effectiveness.

Its success was a good omen.

Today everyone here at MediaCityUK can be proud that the final milestone in the first phase of the BBC's move to Salford has been reached.

BBC Breakfast team

At 6.00am today Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid presented the first ever BBC Breakfast show from Salford Quays. And later this week their colleagues, Louise Minchin and Charlie Stayt have their first turn on the sofa in the new studio. This talented quartet is joined by Stephanie McGovern for business and Sally Nugent and Mike Bushell for sport. And Carol Kirkwood will continue to present Breakfast's weather reports from London and locations across the UK.

BBC Breakfast is a significant part of people's lives across the UK. Providing three hours of uninterrupted live news, sport and entertainment at the start of every day, it now reaches over 12 million viewers per week. We take its continued success very seriously.

And it also marks a small piece of broadcasting history. BBC Breakfast joins BBC Children's Newsround - now in its fortieth year - as one of only two network television news programmes made outside London.

The BBC Breakfast team is part a thriving community of journalists here on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal. Regional and network news and current affairs have been produced in the North for decades but never in such numbers. From front-line coverage of last summer's riots to this year's Budget coverage and the recent Bradford by-election shock they help make the local national; the national global and the global local.

With over 400 journalists based here - including Radio 5 live and BBC Sports news - BBC North is now home to the biggest concentration of journalists outside the capital. That should effect the way the BBC looks, sounds and is perceived. Over time, I am confident we will see and hear more stories that reflect new communities here and capture a real sense of Northern warmth, humour and grit. That isn't something we need to force - it will happen naturally, carefully and organically.

So as we approach the first anniversary of BBC North this May it really does feel that we are closing the opening chapter of our Northern story.

A great deal of hard work and faith in what we are trying to do by everyone here as well as across the BBC has brought us to where we are now. No one should underestimate what has been achieved despite the challenges we have encountered.

Not only have we successfully completed a 36-week migration of staff from both the South and North but we have recruited and welcomed over 700 new people fresh and full of new ideas into the BBC. We have also started to see increased investment of the Licence Fee with creative companies across the region and begun to develop a generation of new talent in our own backyard that can have long-term benefits for the BBC and other creative industries. All this in just less than one year at our new home.

There has been no bigger single shift in the history of British broadcasting. With the first phase complete and BBC North fully operational, now is the time to focus on the future and start to write the next chapter of our story.

Peter Salmon is Director, BBC North

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