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The pull of the North

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John Millner | 14:12 UK time, Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A mist-filled valley near Kendal in the Lake District - just north of Manchester

I’m a Londoner. I was born and schooled here, my whole family live here, I know it like my hand. As the song says, I love London town. Its diversity, its cultural richness, its size, speed and buzz, all make it a wonderful place to live.

So why will I be going North when my job relocates to Salford Quays next year?

One answer is precisely that I’ve lived here most of my life, and I’m not sure I want to stay here for the rest of it. I think change is bracing; it makes you stronger and more creative. And as I get older I increasingly find the thing I look forward to most about London is leaving it - for the salt air of the coast or the rough air of the hills.

There’s my job, of course, which I’m not ready to give up just yet. I love working in public service media, I’m fanatical about learning, and am fascinated by the potential for using the BBC’s reach and resources to help millions of people to acquire new knowledge and skills. There’s almost nowhere else I could do this kind of work, so North I shall go.

For me, however, there’s something more important than either of the above:  the magnetic pull of the North.

MediaCityUK at night

Manchester truly has the best of both worlds. It’s a big, stylish city with beautiful buildings, more culture than you could shake a stick at, an efficient modern transport system, and the largest student population in Europe.  But it’s also got better access to wild, high landscapes than probably any other city in England, so that for anyone who loves hills and mountains Manchester is a location to die for. Head out northwards and you’re in the mountains of the English Lakes; north-eastward takes you to the roll and sweep of the Yorkshire Dales; south-eastward are the Derbyshire Peaks, and south-westward, Snowdonia. As the bloke from The Stone Roses remarked, Manchester’s got everything except a beach.

Another part of the pull comes from Manchester’s long history as a font of invention and unconventional thinking. The city was not only the birthplace of industrial manufacturing, canal building and steam railways, but also the cradle of English radicalism. Chartism and the Cooperative movement both began there. Political reformers like John Bright and early socialists Robert Owen and Friedrich Engels lived there. Women’s suffrage campaigners Emmeline and Christabel Pankurst were both Mancunians; women’s reproductive rights campaigner Marie Stopes was Manchester Uni's first woman lecturer. The Shaker messiah Ann Lee was born in Manchester, one of a long line of nonconformist religious leaders. Great Mancunian scientists and inventors include Richard Arkwright, John Dalton, James Joules, JJ Thomson, pioneer photographer Roger Fenton and early aviators Alcock, Brown and AV Roe.

In the arts, Manchester numbers Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Burgess, Alan Garner, Mike Leigh, Norman Foster, LS Lowry, Peter Maxwell Davies, Albert Finney, and Woods Michael and Victoria among its sons and daughters. Massive Manchester bands include The Fall, The Smiths, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, Take That and Oasis. The place fizzes and crackles with creativity.

The MediaCityUK site, where John and his team will be based next year
Getting there, of course, is easier talked about than done. Change can be costly, and in this case the cost includes disruption to the lives of those BBC people who’ve decided not to move North with their jobs. A big part of my job over the next year is helping to move a sizeable production department over 200 miles North and settling into new buildings with a new technical infrastructure and new ways of working, while simultaneously finding places to live and recruiting a hundred or so new staff. Frankly the task feels daunting.

But it also feels like a huge adventure, which is not something everyone is lucky enough to have in their working life. We’ll be restarting the operation almost from scratch, with an influx of new people and new energy, and the challenge of developing new, more effective ways of working while putting down new local and regional roots. It’s scary, yes. But pretty exciting too.

Then again, maybe it’s just that my father was a Manchester lad…

John Millner is the BBC's Learning Executive for 5-19 Learning  


Read Director of the North, Peter Salmon's blog posts for more about the BBC's move to Salford Quays.

Controller of BBC Learning, Saul Nassé, blogs about his new strategy for learning

Find out more about the BBC's strategy for learning on the Press Office website.




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