Urban regeneration specialist The Creative District Improvement Company (TCDI Co.) is teaming up with property developer Quinn Estates for a £250 million (€271m) investment in Kent’s TV and film studios, part of TCDI Co’s £500 million plans to revolutionise the industry with a network of studios up and down the country, delivering 3,000 jobs for Ashford in the east of the county.
Ashford’s Eurostar stop connects Kent with Netflix’s European hub in Amsterdam and France’s most popular network TF1 linking the UK with Europe in a post-Brexit world, serving as the country’s creative linchpin and capitalising on the studio boom created by US streaming giants.
This multi-million-pound restoration project will restore five at-risk Grade II listed-buildings, and convert them into 80,000 sq. ft of world class TV and film studios, 80,000 sq. ft of ancillary production space, 50,000 sq. ft of mill store and 30,000 sq. ft of media village which also includes the Future Media Centre; an educational hub that will be developed in partnership with a cluster of Kent based educational institutions. The plans also include a 120-room hotel, 68 serviced apartments, a creative industries conference centre and a 10,000 sq. ft gym, restaurant and leisure space.
TCDI Co. and Quinn Estate are collaborating with architects Guy Holloway to deliver the project scheduled for 2021.
Ashford Studios is the latest announcement by TCDI Co., spearheaded by Piers Read and Jeremy Rainbird which plans to address the UK’s 2.5m sq. ft deficit in studio space, despite the creative industries contributing 11 per cent of UK GDP, with an estimated worth of £111.7 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK – £35 billion more than the automotive, life sciences, aerospace and oil and gas industries combined.
TCDI Co will also fund the largest film school in the country, partnering with the University of Kent and Kent’s three other universities in its Future Media Centre. They will also work closely with the publicly funded Thames Estuary Production Corridor; an ambitious long-term project that aims to create the world’s largest creative corridor, unleashing Kent’s creative potential and transforming North Kent and South Essex to establish the region as a creative hub connected to London, the UK, Europe and other global markets.
It is estimated that longer term investment in Estuary’s creative industries could deliver 50,000 new jobs, adding an extra £3.1 billion to the UK economy.
Ashford’s contribution to the creative industries in the UK stretches back to the 19th Century when Charles Dickens performed A Christmas Carol there for the staff as a gift from the management on site, now experiencing a contemporary boom focused on the television and film industries.
Alongside the new-build and restoration of Ashford Studios various streaming giants have planned three years ahead and scheduled a plethora of film and television projects for production in Ashford. The heritage site has a history of delivering blockbusters, from Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em to Killing Eve, Julian Fellowes’ latest offering Belgravia and films that include James Bond, Mary Queen of Scots and The Favourite, which was entirely shot in Kent. The 15-acre site, once a locomotive manufacturing company (1847-early 1980s) was the biggest employer in the town and will now be repurposed to create thousands of jobs for creative industries.
Rt Hon Damian Green MP for Ashford said: “Creating a new centre of excellence in the film and creative industries in Ashford would be one of the most exciting prospects that the town could have. This could transform the employment prospects of thousands of people in Kent in a way that we’ve never seen before.”
Rt Hon Damian Collins MP for Folkestone and Hythe said: “This is the next big step in the creative industries-led regeneration of South-East Kent. I’m incredibly enthusiastic about TCDI Co. and Quinn Estates’ plans for Ashford Studios, they’ve got the potential to really strengthen the local economy creating new jobs and attracting more businesses to our area. As a former Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee I know how important the film and television industries are to our economy. Creating these new studios in Ashford would be a welcome boost at a very difficult time for us all.”
Adrian Wootton OBE, Chief Executive, British Film Commission and Film London, said: “The UK screen industries have been experiencing an exceptional boom time and we look forward to building on this by continuing as an industry to invest in skills and develop our world-class infrastructure. We are of course operating in unprecedented times and the impact of COVID-19 will undoubtedly be felt deeply by screen industries as we work through this ever-evolving situation. Today’s announcement highlights the industry’s commitment to an ongoing strategy to ensure its sustainability, building on the UK’s rich history of attracting filmmakers, nurturing talent and creating world class content.”
Jo Nolan MD at Screen South said: “Given the demand for studio space in the UK, the Newtown Ashford Studios will be an excellent chance for Kent to offer High End Industry solutions which will be a game changer for the county’s Film and TV industry. There is significant skills and talent in the County and surrounding areas, but we must continue to work closely with partners to ensure that appropriate industry level training is in place locally to underpin this very welcome opportunity.”
Piers Read and Jeremy Rainbird, Founders of The Creative District Improvement Co. said: “It is a dream come true to regenerate an area that we have a close personal connection to and to provide such exciting employment opportunities. As we emerge from Covid-19 there will continue to be unprecedented demands for stage space and a demand for skilled workers which will continue to grow. With AI constantly encroaching into the UK employment sector, the creative industry is one of the only industries that robustly defends itself from mass unemployment. British TV and film making is the best in the world thanks to facilities like Ashford International Studios. This is set to remain the case for decades to come.”
TCDI Co. has previously announced plans to extend the current success of Twickenham Studios in a £50 million development that will include film stages, flexible workspace for creative industries with new event and hospitality space.