It’s safe to say that Peaky Blinders is up there as one of my favourite TV shows of all time! So, how could I miss it when Victoria Baths, one of many iconic filming locations for the show, came to my attention as an organisation taking part in our Heritage Compass Programme?
I looked into it further, and found out just how common it is for cultural and heritage organisations to be used as locations for film and television shoots. But what can be gained from using your organisation in this way? And who really benefits when the filming is over, the show is aired and the cast have moved on?
First things first, how on earth does a heritage organisation from our programme show up in my favourite TV show?Following the closure of Manchester’s historic Water Palace in 1993, The Manchester Victoria Baths Trust was formed by determined members of the public who continued to fight for its future as a major asset to the community. September 2003 was a monumental turning point as the Baths won the BBC’s Restoration series with 282,018 public votes and went on to receive a £3,000,000 investment from the National Lottery Heritage Fund aiding its restoration. At the time of its closure, the location was already being used to film Cracker and Prime Suspect. Since its reopening, the site has continued to build a great reputation in the production world for how well they facilitate filming!
So, what are the benefits to renting out your organisation as filming site? Undoubtedly, in the case of Victoria Baths, becoming an established filming location has benefitted them in more ways than one! Exposure through popular television (including not only the 2.18 million viewers tuning into the second series of Peaky Blinders; but also, Life on Mars and Sherlock Holmes) has led to increased public awareness and visitor numbers. It’s also created an important source of funding to facilitate the preservation of the Grade II* listed property. I gathered the thoughts of Elizabeth Sibbering, Operations Manager at Victoria Baths who said:
“People do visit because they know something has been filmed in a location. We all love the excitement generated by the filming at Victoria Baths and appreciate the way production teams showcase the building.”
Elizabeth and her team have a new addition to their regular tour programme – “Behind the Screens”. This TV drama inspired tour will explore areas where some of most memorable moments in TV have taken place. Not only will ticket costs contribute to funding efforts, but the tour would allow another opportunity for the Trust to actively encourage donations.
“Victoria Baths has fuelled the imagination of wonderfully creative and talented individuals and we want to share these stories and moments with visitors”
Peaky Blinders screen tourism has also been demonstrated by The Black Country Living Museum, which has featured throughout the show’s six seasons. The practically ready-made film set has managed to capture the cinematic experience that fans love and they have since cashed in on tours, exhibitions and merchandise, as tourists have become ever motivated to visit the site after its appearance on screen.
With every step forward, naturally, there will be setbacks. Film and television production comes hand in hand with a high risk to historic properties with the potential to cause irreparable physical damage when equipment is misused, or stunts don’t quite go as planned. Elizabeth offers a crucial piece of advice when making the leap to becoming a filming location:
“It is vital to keep an eye on the set build and takedown process. Sadly, we’ve had some damage over the years.”
The risk of damage is not the only setback of course. For many locations, some issues present themselves at very short notice – perhaps things which wouldn’t initially cross your mind. The impact of filming on the local community can sometimes be overlooked with unexpected road closures and the prevalent issue surrounding COVID-19 and how the activity will be received by locals. Is it safe to bring large groups of people into one space just for the sake of filming? In addition, the insurance process, agency commission and loss of income and tourism whilst being closed for filming are all factors to consider before making the leap.
One final piece of advice from Elizabeth is:
“Always check what the script is as it can be really important for your reputation!”
As with every income stream, using your site as a filming location has its positives and negatives. So, it’s important to consider exactly what’s the most important to you, and how it fits into your wider income generation plan. Which nicely completes the success story of the Victoria Baths, which has featured in some of the most popular TV dramas of recent years acting as a hospital, prison, morgue, market, auction house and most obviously, a swimming pool. The building is now fully licenced and provides a unique setting to host everything from wedding receptions to art exhibitions. All, which would have once seemed impossible after its 1993 closure.