Sharp Project receives £6.3m of funding

Michael Hunt

The North West Development Agency and the European Regional Development Fund have invested £6.3m into The Sharp Project, a digital media hub in east Manchester.

The former Sharp European Distribution Centre on Thorp Road will be refurbished into a £16.5m complex which will provide sound stages, office and production space.

New East Manchester, the urban regeneration company, is currently converting the warehouse in Newton Heath. Funding of £3.3m from the NWDA and £3m from ERDF will complete the refurbishment of the building ready for its new use. Completion of works is expected during autumn this year.

Following a visit to the project, Stephen Timms, Minister for Digital Britain, said: "This Government wants to build a world-class digital knowledge economy for the UK and it is projects like Sharp which will make this vision a reality. Through the Digital Economy Bill, we are putting in place the framework to support a digital infrastructure and industry fit for the 21st century. Being digital is vital to growth, jobs and getting on in society and I welcome this investment in the Manchester's digital industry which will bring wide business and economic benefits across the North West."

Steven Broomhead, chief executive of the NWDA, said: "Manchester has long been regarded as the UK's emerging media city, and has developed a global reputation as a creative powerhouse. Retention of this is critical for the future growth of the creative production sector – the Sharp Project is Manchester's response. The Sharp Project will build a critical mass of skills, supply and demand which will strengthen the city's role as the home of creative industries.

"Our intention is to support the establishment of a world class digital and content production centre, complement the development of Media City UK, increase new businesses and contribute to the regeneration of east Manchester."

The funding is in addition to the investment from Manchester City Council in acquiring the building and preparing it for occupiers. The first phase is almost complete and tenants will be moving into a refurbished two-storey office block next month.

The building complex provides approximately 200,000 sq ft of office and production accommodation and is within a short walk of the Central Park transport interchange, which incorporates a Metrolink station, which is due to open in 2011.

Following its completion the digital media hub will offer:

  • A total of 15,000 sq ft of office space for use by digital media companies
  • A studio and design offices block with catering, reception and social facilities, together with approximately 38,000 sq ft of production space available on flexible terms
  • The Central Warehouse, incorporating up to 31,000 sq ft of office/wardrobe/make-up/production space as well as a music studio and a green screen studio suitable for motion capture filming, a key technique for animation
  • A further 56,000 sq ft of set and other storage space, plus additional production/office units in the second warehouse
  • Fast broadband connectivity and high capacity power supply

The ERDF programme is backed by the Programme Monitoring Committee, a group of senior representatives from across the region. The group was formed to monitor, oversee and advise on the delivery of the programme.

Mike Emmerich, chief executive of Commission for the New Economy and Programme Monitoring Committee member, said: "This is a really important project for east Manchester and Greater Manchester as a whole and one New Economy is happy to have supported. The funding will help regenerate the area, whilst creating new business opportunities, jobs and harness talent in the digital and creative industries. This grant will enable the Sharp Project to complement the investment in Media City and maximize the potential of this key industry."

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, added: "The creative and media industries have an exciting role to play in Manchester's economy and the Sharp Project is in forefront of what we're doing to nurture new businesses and allow existing ones to flourish. This funding, on top of the substantial investment which the city council has already made, will enable the project to create hundreds of new jobs and complement the development at Media City UK to underline the city region's status as a creative and media powerhouse."

The NWDA said the hub aims to establish a springboard for start up media companies who can grow within the Sharp Project, creating a talent pool for Media City UK. NWDA said that the main aim is to provide affordable space.

Design plans for The Sharp Project include areas of over 30,000 sq ft aimed specifically for large scale drama sets or single camera shooting space.

Sue Woodward, New East Manchester's project director for The Sharp Project, said: "The Sharp Project is about Manchester playing its role in nurturing the digital entrepreneurs of the future. We are basically providing the right environment for talented start-ups and established professionals in the digital and creative sector to flourish. What we have is very special. Not only are we fortunate to have 200,000 sq ft of space to create purpose-built facilities for digital content production, but we are fortunate to have super-fast broadband connectivity which we can tap into. The level of interest has already been incredible and we're attracting enquiries from companies regionally, nationally and internationally."

The NWDA said that The Sharp Project complements work on Oxford Road being done by Corridor Manchester to pilot next generation broadband to businesses and homes, which it is also funding. Fibre optic lines will increase broadband speeds by up to 100 times.

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