The wonders of social media – I was reminded on Facebook this morning that Screen Northants is a year old today – it’s a year since we renamed as Screen Northants and moved into the Grosvenor Centre. And what a year it has been!
BBC Children in Need support to the tune of £105,000 and the announcement of our first feature film Macbeth going into production. Another award – Lottery-funded Talent Match’s Small Employer of the Year away 2016/17. The epic feature film teaser shoot for our musical Veto’d https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03Qh7cSS550 and another amazing Holocaust Memorial Day short film shoot with the Northampton community https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VySmibwuTQ&t=13s. We’ve worked with hundreds of young people and community members, and through their own testimonials have seen some of the huge impact our work can have.
But as anyone who has set up a social enterprise knows, there’s so much work that goes in before Day 1. Screen Northants was originally Reelscape Community, it’s intention to build up skills, confidence and local pride in young people through the Film Industry. That operated for a year officially from Weston Favell Shopping Centre with the support of the likes of the Big Lottery and East Northampton’s Growing Together. We worked with well over a hundred young people in that first year and just as the Fortune Cookies set-building workshops were over, Paul Mills was walking innocently through Weston Favell Shopping Centre with his children and saw The Movie Hub. Joining forces, Screen Northants was born and our ambitions grew: not only do we intend to use the film industry to build skills in young people, we want to make sure young people, Northants residents and businesses can experience and benefit from the Film Industry, we want to build a thriving film industry here and celebrate Northamptonshire on an international stage, help raise aspirations, confidence, skill levels and pride in Northants where needed, and produce some exceptional films.
And there was a hell of a lot of work even before that – actually, I was also reminded on Facebook today that it is 8 years since I shot my first short film as Producer and my first one in Northants. I grew up in the county but after University in York I of course moved to London to work in film. But who wants to live there?! And it’s actually, in many ways, an awful place to film! So a short film called The Caterpillar and Fly brought me back to Northants – and brought me back to my old school, Southfield in Kettering. I worked with a group of Sixth Form students as well as a professional crew to produce a short over 6 months. I’d hoped it’d give them an insight into the Film Industry, but I hadn’t imagined the kind of impact it might have on the young people involved and also on the end result. Young people said it’d helped them think more creatively and broadly about the world of work, it’d shown them places in Northants they didn’t know existed, it’d helped their confidence, being trusted on a film set where there clearly was lots at stake. And the idea for the film came from the young people themselves and I thought it was utterly astounding! Discussing issues of growing up, innocence and experience, and William Blake. And it was that moment that I thought, if I can benefit young people so profoundly through something I do every day AND make a better film because of it, why am I (and everyone else) not making films in this social enterprise way?
So between 2009 and 2013/4 when I started to put proposals together for Reelscape Community’s first project at Weston Favell, you find yourself playing with ideas of the structure this could take (‘social enterprise’ was a very new term then), what impact it could have, what causes are at the heart of what you do. I had some fantastic support (Hannah Fearnley and Karen Betty are two teachers who really helped me in the early days – kids, remember teachers can be a great help even when you leave school!), went to some inspiring events and met people doing amazing things to change people’s lives. I’m glad it has taken this much time to find the right social enterprise to do the work I want to do.
In fact, I think this was always what I was meant to do. My sister and I have a phrase we say to each other when things get tough – “remember, we were born for this” – because things do get tough, when you are freelance, setting up your own business, putting your heart (and own cash!) on the line. But we have a belief that we were meant to do this. And it’s that belief, that fire in your belly, that (relatively!) unfaltering belief in yourself that Screen Northants hopes, through our work in Film, we can build up in the young people we work with, the future workforce of Northants and the Northamptonshire community. We have an amazing county full of amazing people – let’s celebrate that. When I was in school here I thought if you wanted to do anything big with your life you needed to leave Northants. I now know that isn’t true and I want to make sure no young person here ever feels like that again.