How many Business Link Advisers does it take to change a Light bulb?

Friday 18 December and I’m down to attend Northwest Business Link’s seminar ‘Innovation in Arts And Media’ at ‘The Sandbox – University of Central Lancashire’.

I drive over, road conditions are not good and there is nowhere to park – but because of the snow and the slippery pavements I doubt I’ll get a ticket on a side street nearby.

The ‘Sandbox’ is located on the top floor of UCLAN’s new media building. And what a building it is! I doubt if many of the students will get to work in an environment like this when they graduate (let alone get a job in the media either). It all makes me think. “Is this a vision of the future, or is this what you have to spend in order to attract enough students and enough research grants to Preston in order to pay media staff salaries?”

I arrive a bit late. Not to worry, as it appears to be the case that us ‘arts and media’ people are probably outnumbered by Business Link Advisers. Whilst hanging around drinking coffee waiting to see if any more turn up, I find myself in conversation with Yusuf Musa, who’s the ‘Digital and Creative Adviser’. Now it might be the case that he could advise me as to who might be a decent firm of accountants – and I am not knocking the guy – but he has no idea about the UK film industry.

Actually it’s worse than no idea, he’s just another person who’s part of this enormous chain which stretches from the European Regional Development Fund and central government, to Regional Development Agencies, to ‘Business Links’, to whatever else it is that’s housed in shiny new offices with the resources to go on ‘fact-finding missions’, to hire fancy conference centres, to lay on excellent buffets, to provide ‘networking opportunities’, and to have a head full of  Film Council/New Labour New Speak. Happy shiny people….

Various people made short presentations with no particular common link. Head of the ‘Sandbox’ – a media-lab which uses play-based methods: Lego, an inflatable Wendy house, adult-sized primary school furniture in happy shiny colours – showed off their amazing software a told us about how they sold their creative solutions brain-storming services to some of the country’s biggest clients, and how they were going to be setting up a branch in Singapore. He then quite rightly left the room and went back to his office; I mean, the Sandbox is for people for whom £100,000 fees represents value for money.

I hung around for a while eating a few canapés and left. Fortunately no one had left a ticket on my frosted windscreen.

But I can’t leave it at that. These organisations exist. And at least the business ones have an orientation towards business. What I think needs to happen is for us: the region’s filmmakers, short film night organisers and film festival programmers, to organise a seminar where we invite the Business Link staff to come and tell us what they can do for us. We need somewhere we can afford (i.e. for free); and where people can either bring sandwiches or get food from the bar.

Here’s what I’d have as the theme: Denmark has the same size population as the Northwest of England, but it’s never had anything like Manchester United, Liverpool, the Beatles and so on, and so it doesn’t command the same degree of global awareness. Denmark produces approximately 20 £2million+ budget feature films per year of which most are box-office successes. Why then doesn’t the Northwest? What steps need to be taken and how can Business Link contribute?

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