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Birmingham Forward

Tommy Nagra

Head of Business Development, BBC Birmingham

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'Forward' has been the motto of the City of Birmingham dating back to 1839. That singular-worded motto and the city’s Coat of Arms has been in the forefront of our thinking as we forge a new plan for our operations in the 'City of a Thousand Trades'.

Since my last blog we've made significant announcements on our plans for our bases in Birmingham and it feels like we are indeed making real and fast progress with our vision.

The last fortnight has seen the BBC Birmingham flag well and truly being waved in the capital. The "Greater Birmingham Showcase" hosted by MP Gisela Stuart to champion the city’s creative industries in the Houses of Parliament was a great opportunity to share the BBC’s plans for the future of the corporation in Birmingham.

Also last week, the city’s Marketing Birmingham team hosted an evening reception, TECHBRUM at Shoreditch Studios where the BBC were invited to join speakers from Google, ASOS and Whisk to share our vision for Birmingham as an innovative hub and destination for new business and growth.

These events have been an opportunity to share our plans following Director-General Tony Hall's announcements in May that the BBC in Birmingham was to become a centre of excellence for people, pkills, talent and digital innovation. This was in addition to the BBC's earlier announcements last year about the formation of a Digital Innovation Unit for Digbeth, The Space digital arts partnership, BBC trainee and apprenticeship schemes.

We've also announced the appointment of a new Creative Director for our Digital Innovation Unit, or Digital Guerrilla Group, to be launched at Fazeley Studios in Digbeth. Will Saunders will be working with us to lead this exciting new venture and we spent a day last week at the Google Campus in Shoreditch to get inspiration for what we hope will become a real game-changer in how we bring new content for our audiences.  

In addition to Will’s appointment, we are also looking to recruit a small team in Birmingham to kick-start our Digital Guerrillas operation and this week have advertised for a Creative Lead - Digital Content Innovation and Digital Creative - Digital Content Innovation.

The setting up of our embryonic new Digital Innovation Unit in the Creative Quarter in Digbeth means that BBC Birmingham will have three bases spread across the city with the Mailbox and Drama Village in Selly Oak. The challenge for us is how we join our three footprints and start working with partners to really kick-start a creative renewal in Birmingham.

The Mailbox remains very much our HQ, with the BBC Academy joining teams from English Regions, Asian Network and Radio Drama. We have The Archers – the longest-running drama serial in the world and we are also about to launch Home Front, a new long-running radio drama serial marking the Great War, which will run for four years.

I think we at BBC Birmingham are sometimes guilty of not shouting loudly enough about the things we continue to produce here, including the amount of drama we make. The Drama Village in Selly Oak is making over 120 hours of BBC One drama every year, from Doctors, WPC 56 and Father Brown to innovative new pilots. It’s a great talent pipeline for writers of the future and something we need to champion and support.

The appetite is clearly there judging by the amount of people who attended our BBC Writersroom pilot workshops held at The Birmingham Rep, Midlands Arts Centre and The Drum. I popped along to see the sessions which were full of aspiring writers of the future. More sessions are planned for Birmingham later this year.

Traditional TV production remains alive and well but digital innovation is very much about looking into the future. The Digital Guerrillas will be working across the BBC, producing experimental new content and sampling cutting edge new technology and the latest production techniques

It will act as a force of digital creativity at the BBC and as a catalyst for innovation in Birmingham.

The unit will work with the BBC’s Research & Development department, BBC Connected Studios plus Radio 1, BBC News to BBC Three and BBC Children’s. It will work with our audiences as well as partnering and collaborating with a range of organisations. They'll be tasked with creating new and ground-breaking ideas to take BBC content to our audiences. At Fazeley Studios in Digbeth we will be among some of the most dynamic and innovative small companies and we want to be part of increasing our presence within that creative community.

The digital landscape is shifting so rapidly it is difficult to predict what the end results will be. We want the Guerrilla Unit to have the creative freedom and license to try new things. Who knows what they might come up with?

Birmingham, with our youthful population, is the perfect place to develop talent on our doorstep and spark digital innovation. The industry is changing at a frenetic pace, with young people consuming media in a myriad of ways. Digital is a huge growth area of business in the UK – the digital sector employs more than 2 million people and the BBC trains more people in digital skills than any other organisation in the country

As an extension of this, the move of the BBC Academy which provides vital skills training for the industry and carries a world- class reputation will make Birmingham the home for skills and talent development for the whole UK.

The BBC Academy will, through a breadth of initiatives, put training and development at the core of our mission. They will also work with the wider industry, equipping people with the vital skills needed in a fast changing media landscape.

As I have said previously, our plans for Birmingham are about a long-term vision than a short term fix, and the recent announcements we have made point to a new direction that will enable us to build something new, long lasting and future facing.

Our aim has always been to create something which is sustainable and has potential to bring new jobs and investment. I believe that our plans will set us on the road to do that and is in step with the direction the city itself is travelling in.

I’ve now been in post for almost six months and am genuinely excited by the potential of this great City. This is very much a start and gives us a strong foundation to build on – for me, it’s not the end but just the beginning. When you put all the elements together, I think we have a compelling plan for Birmingham. I firmly believe a strong BBC can only be good for the creative sector in the region. There is no better time to look forward and get ourselves back in the driving seat - we've been passengers for too long.

Tommy Nagra is Head of Business Development, BBC Birmingham



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