City of Culture title 'would give every Wakefield resident something they can get behind'

As the deadline for Wakefield's City of Culture 2025 bid draws nearer, the leader of one of the district's most exciting creative hubs explains why he is backing the city in the competition.

Friday, 9th July 2021, 4:45 pm

Tucked away in a quiet corner of South Kirkby, Production Park has quickly become one of the world’s most creative centres.

The 30 acre site plays host to specialists from across the live events industry, with more than 20 companies on site offering expertise in everything from staging and audio to custom musical instruments and pyrotechnics.

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With its enviable connections, it is no surprise that the park is set to play an important role in the Wakefield district’s upcoming bid for City of Culture status. CEO Lee Brooks believes that the combination of Production Park and Backstage Academy gives the Wakefield district a unique offering.

Since being founded more than 20 years ago, Production Park has grown from strength to strength, and has developed staging for some of the biggest names in music - including The Spice Girls, Take That, Kylie Minogue and Michael Bublé.

It also plays host to Backstage Academy, a world-class training facility offering specialist degrees in live events production, stage management and much more to more than 200 students.

With its enviable connections, it is no surprise that the park is set to play an important role in the Wakefield district’s upcoming bid for City of Culture status.

CEO Lee Brooks believes that the combined offerings of Production Park and Backstage Academy gives the Wakefield district a unique offering.

Students at Backstage Academy, which is based at Production Park in South Kirkby. a world-class training facility offering specialist degrees in live events production, stage management and much more to more than 200 students. Photo: Backstage Academy

He said: “We moved here more than 20 years ago, and South Kirkby has been great. “The community is proud of us.

“In live events we’ve been a real success story. And the majority of our teams are Wakefield born and bred.

“I think we’ve got really strong assets across the district and what we’ve been lacking is industry.

“Hopefully City of Culture would mean your normal Wakefield resident having something that they can get behind, that means something to them, from theatre to art to sculpture.”

Lee says demand for live events staff has only grown since Production Park was founded, with specialist industries in the area continuing to develop and expand.

He is determined that this will continue in the coming years, and believes the continued development of the site, coupled with the investment the City of Culture title would bring, could transform the south east of the Wakefield district.

He said: “We see South Kirkby and Moorthorpe changing over the next five to 10 years.

“If you look at this part of the region it’s one of the lowest in Wakefield and the UK for income and employability.

“We see that changing.

“Years ago everybody talked about the mining industry and you’d earn good money pending your life in the mines. But that’s the last success story here.

“There’s a lack of ambition because there’s a lack of role models.

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Rad more: City of Culture 2025 bid: The lessons Wakefield can learn from Hull's 2017 successWith its enviable connections, Lee says the park is perfectly placed to develop new industry to the south east of the Wakefield district.

And he believes that securing the City of Culture 2025 title could trigger an unparalleled development in the South Kirkby area - to the benefit of people across the district.

“I think the way to think about that is from Manchester to Media City it takes 25 minutes to get to Media City,” he said.

“But that has still been very much adopted by Manchester as part of the industry.

“Moorthorpe railway station is almost exactly 25 minutes from Leeds and Sheffield.

“My vision is we draw people from both of those cities and they come the other way down the lines.

“It’s like MediaCity. It takes a while to grow, but the investment is here.”

From engineering to stage management, makeup artists to performers, there is no end to the jobs available within the creative industry.

Lee hopes that Wakefield will soon become the epicentre of creative training in the UK - and with the plethora of creative training now available in the district, the dream seems a little closer to reality each day.

As well as specialist degrees at Backstage Academy, the Wakefield district is home to CAPA College, which offers full time creative, performance, design and technical training for 16-18 year olds.

The college is expected to move into a new, purpose-built facility in Wakefield city centre next year, shortly after postgraduate training centre Tileyard Education opens in the city.

With these facilities, and the help of the publicity and investment which would accompany the City of Culture title, Lee hopes to inspire a whole new generation of creatives to join the live events industry.

He said: “There is a downward spirit in Wakefield where people just move away when they’re 18 and don’t come back. “But I think it’s better than that.

“I’m an engineer by background, but I love the intersection between the art and creative and the technical.

“You don’t have to be a highly academic to get into this. Live Event production is a highly vocational course.

“In 10 years if you go to a show in Tokyo or Jakarta, you’ll go backstage and meet some people that are made in Wakefield, who built their knowledge in South Kirkby and now tour the world with the top productions and top shows.”