Supported by Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership investment, the new School of Digital Arts (SODA) at Manchester Metropolitan University will build on the region’s rich tradition of digital, media, skills, technology and innovation.

On the back of recognition as one of Europe’s largest creative, digital and technology clusters, home to more than 10,000 businesses – from start-ups and SMEs to global brands – the demand for specialist skills and talents has increased sharply across Greater Manchester in recent years.

With a prolific heritage in broadcast and media production that started with Granada TV through to major investment in the likes of MediaCityUK, the Sharp Project, and innovation zones including the Salford Innovation Triangle,  Greater Manchester is a place where creativity and technology are jointly driving the next wave of innovation in the creative and media industries.

Addressing an urgent demand for skills in the sector and building on this reputation, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) is creating a new academic centre, the School of Digital Arts (SODA), which will nurture the future talent of the industry, readying them for the world of work.

The £35m school offers purpose-built facilities allowing students to become qualified in subjects including animation, filmmaking, photography, UX, games design, sound, media production and AI, and expects to produce over 1,000 graduates every year.

The school has received £14.9m in funding from the Local Growth Fund via the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership and Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Together they have jointly committed to investing in Greater Manchester’s digital future to support jobs, skills and economic growth.

Greater Manchester is the UK’s largest tech hub outside of London, and supports 86,000 digital, creative and tech jobs. With demand growing every year SODA aims to develop expert graduates who will spend part of their studies embedded within the region’s £5 billion digital ecosystem through live projects with industry partners in a bid to retain talent after graduation.

The School – which will welcome its first cohort of students in September 2021 – will be shaped and led by some of the world’s leading experts, two of whom have strong ties to Greater Manchester, where they started their successful careers.

Academy award-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting and Shallow Grave), who grew up studying in Bolton will be co-chair of SODA’s industry advisory group alongside Nicola Shindler. Originally from Rochdale, Shindler started her career in television at Granada Studios before founding Red Productions which has produced some of Britain’s most popular series, both filmed and set in Manchester, including Queer as Folk, Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax and international smash hit The Stranger.

Boyle and Shindler will shape the School’s academic learning and provide invaluable industry expertise for students along other members from organisation such as the BBC, Channel Four, Sharp Futures, Universal Music, Apple, HOME arts centre and Sony VR.

Lou Cordwell OBE, Co-Chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, and founder of Manchester’s magneticNorth digital design studio, said: “In partnership with GMCA, the GM LEP is proud to invest £14.9m of the Local Growth Fund into the School Of Digital Arts, a purpose-built facility for one of the UK’s leading modern universities.

“The Greater Manchester Local Industrial Strategy is our plan to deliver an economy fit for the future, with prosperous communities across the city-region and radically increased productivity and earning power. This project showcases one of the ways we can realise that vision: strengthening our creative, digital and media industries by generating the digitally skilled workforce of tomorrow.

“SODA reflects the scale of Greater Manchester’s digital burgeoning digital sector and ambition as well as our ongoing commitment to inclusive growth. As is the Manchester way, the private sector will continue to play an integral role in ensuring that the city region’s creative and digital sector continues to thrive and that drive a growth in opportunities for everyone.”

Professor Toby Heys, Head of SODA, said: 

“Our ambition is to become a world leader in digital arts, producing the next generation of creative talent which will drive regional growth in this rapidly expanding area.

“The involvement of internationally acclaimed media figures on our External Advisory Group is hugely exciting for us and will help to ensure that everything SODA does is attuned to the needs of our creative and digital sector.”

The arrival of SODA will be a landmark moment for Greater Manchester as the sector recovers and rebuilds from the disruption caused by Covid-19. The school will be a powerhouse for digital arts; driving ideas and innovation across all forms of creative content, and in doing so, future proofing a rich and long legacy of creativity.