Manchester International Festival’s Factory will help young people transform the city’s art scene

Manchester International Festival (MIF) has occupied the city for 18 days every other summer since 2007. In seeking out Manchester’s creatives and hidden spaces, it has premiered up-and-coming artists and given them a global platform. MIF’s pieces are not limited to a specific art form and include theatre, dance, fine art and music. The Festival not only focuses on newly commissioned artists, but also on the undiscovered talent of Manchester’s youth through the development of the new Factory Academy.

The Factory is a cutting-edge arts space with a capacity of just over 7,000. Designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, an internationally-renowned architecture practice, it is set to be one of the UK’s most innovative cultural institutions.

Visualisations by Manchester International Festival

Manchester City Council is managing the construction of The Factory in partnership with MIF and it will be located on the site of the former Granada Studios in central Manchester. The Factory will enable MIF to run a year-round programme in addition to the biennial festival, extending its economic and cultural influence. MIF has contributed £50m to Manchester since its inception, and The Factory is forecasted to bring £1.1bn to the city.

Whilst the economic impact of The Factory is impressive, its cultural impact is immeasurable because of the potential impact it could have on the next generation of artists. The Factory Academy is vital to ensuring that MIF stays connected with local young people in Greater Manchester.

The Academy has initially delivered three training programmes: The Creative Training Academy, The Creative Traineeship scheme and The Creative Venue Technicians. These programmes seek to access the undiscovered talent of young people in Manchester to diversify the arts sector which has previously been criticised for its lack of diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, educational background and experience.

Trainees will study wellness and anxiety and learn how to deal with professional pressure and stress

Offering entry-level training opportunities is more crucial than ever for MIF given that an additional 600,000 18-24 year olds risk being unemployed this year.

The cultural sector has been criticised for a chronic lack of training opportunities which creates barriers for young people without qualifications in Greater Manchester to enter the creative industries.

The Factory’s training programmes are designed for different levels of entry, based on experience, to provide a clear pathway for young aspiring creatives. The three core elements trainees will learn are personal development, digital experience and exposure to the international arts scene.

All aspects of the programmes are developed by experts from neuroscientists and psychologists to digital arts experts and creatives. Trainees will study wellness and anxiety and learn how to deal with professional pressure and stress.

Watch MIF’s Factory Academy

Jocelyne Underwood, Director of Cultural Skills and Training at MIF said: “At The Factory Academy, our Skills and Training curriculum’s top focus is the personal and cultural confidence of our trainees. The programmes are being created by experts in these fields, giving Manchester’s young people the opportunity to be trained by the best. We believe that the Factory Academy curriculum is nurturing as well as cutting-edge, hence its success so far”.

Activity to date has included a two-week Creative Training Academy for 30 local job seekers who are on universal credit, have no qualifications or experience, and are between the ages of 19 and 24. In 2019, seven of these trainees progressed onto the Creative Traineeship scheme. This scheme offers paid positions that run for six months in a diverse range of departments: Development, ICT, Visitor Experience, Creative Engagement and Digital.

Previously, the scheme had been developed and hosted by 15 arts and cultural institutions in Greater Manchester. MIF seeks to formalise these creative training opportunities by embedding them in The Factory.

Creative Venue Technicians Apprentices with Jocelyne Underwood in 2020
Creative Trainees in 2019 photographed by Chris Foster

The highest skill level traineeship is Creative Venue Technicians, which lasts 12 months and qualifies as a Level 3 apprenticeship. MIF’s tailored training programmes have already shown signs of success with 80 per cent of former trainees beginning paid work in the creative sector.

Michael Appouh, who was a Ticketing Assistant Trainee in 2019 said: “When I first joined, I knew it would be exciting and a little intimidating as it’s a large international organisation and I had never worked in that environment before”.

“I definitely expected to be challenged but it was made easier by working alongside a really welcoming team and with a bunch of other trainees across the organisation that really helped me”.

“The fast-paced environment was the hardest, especially at the beginning, as the change of pace can be a bit disorientating, but I really appreciated getting a good long run into the festival by starting in January, and helped me build confidence and organise myself once the festival came in full”.

“The skills working at MIF helped me to develop my own organisation and gave me the leg up to see what jobs are available in arts organisations, which helped me loads once I went on to taking on freelance work after my traineeship was over”.

The Factory under construction photographed by Pawel Paniczko

Fostering young people’s creative ambitions is particularly crucial in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Underwood recognises that: “the grave impact of coronavirus will arguably be the biggest challenge that the sector will ever have to overcome. Nevertheless, there is opportunity for The Factory Academy also, it will be able to take advantage of the downtime in the production of the arts, by making use of the opening up of space and human resources that are more available”.

To ensure that MIF can deliver its promises to Greater Manchester’s most disadvantaged young people, The Academy will aim to capitalise on the Kickstarter Scheme which grants £1,000 to the institution for every traineeship offered.

This scheme also offers to pay 100 per cent of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions. MIF will top up this wage to reach Manchester’s recognised Real Living Wage. Their commitment to young people and resilient attitude offers hope to young undiscovered talent. 

MIF has recently launched a new scheme to help unemployed young people. Check out Factory Futures at: https://mif.co.uk/factory-futures/


Olivia Nono is a Politics and Spanish student who recognises the power of culture and community in making change. She runs her own website and blog to help the student community to save the planet.