Celebrating Northern Screen Talent

Our recent Writing for TV Awards celebration – which happened at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle, hosted with our partners, Channel 4, and supported by North East Screen – was a very special occasion for me.

The event captured so much of what we do and demonstrated the depth of partnerships that enable us to do it. It was an evening to celebrate and showcase the extraordinary talent of Northern TV writers who’ve been developed through our talent programmes. Writers who’ve done, or often go on to do, amazing things.

It’s one of our ways of bringing new talent and projects to the attention of producers and broadcasters – and an example of our core mission at New Writing North. That is, to identify and nurture writing talent in people across society. We create life-changing opportunities. And we help excellent writing find regional, national, and global audiences. We’re good at it. We’ve been at it for over 25 years.

With the help of Channel 4 and our award-winning independent production company partners – Bonafide Films (London), Lime Pictures (Liverpool), Rollem Productions (Leeds) – we’ve the track record needed to make it all happen.

In 2015 we launched our annual Channel 4 Writing for Television Awards as part of the Northumbria University supported Northern Writers’ Awards programme. Since then, we’ve supported more than 20 writers. Sharma Walfall was one of our first winners. She received a placement on Hollyoaks and went on to write for them. (In fact, she was supposed to join us at the awards ceremony – but couldn’t make it because she’d been drafted into a writers’ room. One of the best excuses I’ve heard!). She now has multiple credits to her name, including Sky’s Dreamland featuring Lily Allen and Freema Agyeman.

Jayshree Patel is another previous winner. Now with the BBC, she also wrote for Hollyoaks. Three of her episodes were submitted for a BAFTA. Adam Bennett-Lea won in 2019. His script, developed with Bonafide, led to him signing with Independent Talent. Since winning, he’s worked on the writers’ team for Waterloo Road and written a short film, funded by the British Film Institute.

The 2023 Channel 4 Writing for Television Award winners, with Channel 4 Commissioning Exec Ben Wadey. L-R: Liz Redwood, Harriet Ghost, Ben Wadey, Joe McNally. Photo: Amelia Read.

With the support of Channel 4 we’ve set up a ‘Northern Talent Network’. This continues to grow and is open to any new partners who share our vision of diversifying and enhancing the screen sector by creating opportunities for Northern talent. As part of this, we’re working with ten writers who are developing content through our Script Development Group. We’re also working with Hannah Rose to deliver workshops and roadshow events for writers across the North.

Just as we create opportunities so we’re decent at spotting them too. Production companies are growing in the North East. At New Writing North, we’ve got plans to expand our work in screen and audio sectors. There’s been a real flow of talent from the North for a long time now. We want to help broaden it and to find ways to bring more investment into early-stage talent development.

Much of that starts with providing expert training and development. So, with the help of Creative UK and the North of Tyne Combined Authority, we recently appointed an Audio Development Producer, Lucie McNeil. She’s been working on an investment initiative supporting ten start-up podcasters and has created a sold-out podcasting course. She’s integral to our plans to expand audio development and production here.

We’re also very excited to have just appointed Roxy McKenna who will join us as our new Screen Development Producer. With Roxy’s experience and expertise, we’ll be offering even more training and talent programmes and will be building up a production slate for New Writing North. It’ll be our way of ensuring that Northern talent seizes the attention its due. That shows produced in the North have Northern writers behind them. And that great novels by Northern authors find great adaptation opportunities. It’s ambitious. But we love a challenge.

Looking around that evening, the room hummed with a sense of celebration and possibility. Of exciting things – all around and still to come. The North is awash with talent. And it’s not going away any time soon. Neither are we.

After all, we have a job to do.