Strolling on Coronation Street

Penny W-TStarred Page By Penny W-T, 6th Jun 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>Europe>England>The Northwest

Coronation Street, that Soap Opera set in Manchester has chalked up 50 years of airtime now and is seen by viewers all over the world. Why has this show become so iconic? Students study its history and format, even PhDs have been written based on its history and development. So how could this TV programme become an educational beacon? . . . . . . .

Surprise Invitation

I was surprised in the mid 1990s to receive a telephone call, out of the blue so to speak, from the Education officer at the Studios Tour venue in the grounds of which the ‘Street’ set is placed in Manchester, asking if I would be interested in working on a project with them to encourage schools to take students into the venue for educational tours? Where had they had my name? I asked. “Oh you come highly recommended” I was told by the lady on the other end of the phone, who was the Education development officer at the venue. Could I go the next day and spend some time discussing things? Who could resist such an invitation?

Exploring the Set

The next day I was on the M6 heading away from Birmingham at a somewhat unearthly hour. Arriving at Granada Studios I found that a car park space had been reserved for me, and I was directed to the 5th floor of the huge former warehouse that is home to the admin offices at the Tour site. At this time our education system was going through changes (when isn’t it?) and whereas before, schools could take students out on ‘jollys’ at any time during the terms, now, in order to take students off campus there had to be a very solid educational purpose behind the outing. Obviously this new regulation had caused some depletion in the number of school visits going into any visitor attraction, and this very positive thinking lady, who introduced herself as ‘Eileen’, wanted to come up with something that would put the Granada Studios Tour well and truly at the top of educational visits again.

Lunch in 'The Rovers'

At the time I was working on resource materials for the new vocational education courses that were being implemented into our secondary education level, so I am used to thinking ‘outside the box’ and by the time we had strolled up and down Coronation Street, and the rest of the Studio Tour site, I knew that I had an idea that would just knock spots off any other venue. Over coffee I outlined my concept. Further investigation of the various sets for the show that were available for the visiting public to see had my thought processes in overdrive. An impromptu lunch in the visitors’ replica ‘Rover’s Return’ we discussed how my ideas could be put into operation. Notepads began to fill with notes as the educational ideas began to take shape. Back on the 5th floor, a meeting with the CEO for the Studio Tour part of Granada was hastily arranged, because Eileen could see that my ideas had potential, and ‘brownie points’ could be gained all round with the right idea at the right time.

Discussion - discussion - discussion

The discussion stretched on, he could also see the potential in what I was outlining and asked if I was prepared to take on what could conceivably be a very large and time consuming contract with them? I pointed out right at the beginning that this type of time commitment would not come cheaply, to which he said he had a five to six figure budget within which such a project, if I could pull it together ready for the September start of the new educational year, could be easily subsumed. But I would need to work some of my time on site, and a desk would be found for me in the Admin offices – oh and yes, I would have to agree to a non disclosure contract regarding my ideas, so that Granada had exclusive use of them. This was perceived as crucial because it would give them the lead over other attractions who were also looking for ways to regain their school visit numbers.

Working out the numbers

The next few months I spent commuting between my Midlands home and Granada Studios. I was writing a series of student workbooks geared to the new vocational courses that had been launched in 1993. In the first phase of the project I produced workbooks geared to Business Studies and Travel and tourism – we had a Finance one, Marketing, Operating a visitor attraction as a Business, and then specific workbooks to meet the curriculum requirements for the new Key Skills courses – Communication Skills, and Application of Number were the two I concentrated on at this time. I spent hours strolling up and down Coronation Street, pen and pad in hand, working out ways of utilising this unique location as an ‘out of the classroom’ learning tool.
Eileen and I devised a marketing mailshot that went out to all the secondary schools and colleges right across the UK, even the schools in Northern Ireland

Mapping the site to the course materials.

At the time I was also working for one of the Awarding Bodies as an external moderator for the Business Studies and Travel and Tourism GNVQ courses, around whose curriculum I had devised the workbooks. With my contacts there it was possible for me to obtain approval that the workbooks I had designed could be integrated into the work portfolios of students who attended the day events at the Studio. This was just the selling point that Granada Studios Tour required – teachers could bring students on site for a day of lectures and site exploration, making notes into their workbooks, a copy of which would be given to all students when they arrived for their visit. I had very carefully designed the workbooks so that some pre-visit preparation work could be carried out in class prior to coming on site, and post visit material would be built in so that their day of research would develop into weeks of classroom based product. A completed workbook could actually meet most of some of the units within these courses.

Measuring up the site

Four months concentrated work and the mailshot out, everything was in place. Enquiries started to come from schools and I suggested a couple of ‘sample pages’ for the workbooks were sent out, particularly the Application of Number workbook because this one I had designed around Coronation Street itself, and the ‘Baker Street’ set where the Sherlock Holmes series was filmed. Bookings began to flood in. Then Eileen dropped the bombshell – The Studios Tour director wanted me to front the school days that were planned. This would involve me being on site three days every week during term time, because, he perceived that my status as an External Moderator would also carry weight with the teachers and I could be the liaison point for the staff who might have questions when they were on site. They would make it worth my while he said. I hesitated – it would mean a lot of shuffling of my other business interests – and he promptly offered me more! I explained I was not seeking a higher fee, just trying to see how I could fit all my business commitments together. However, long story short, I agreed, and in the September found myself on a stage in front of 400 students and teachers introducing them to our educational day programme. Managers from Granada had been drafted in to give talks on their specialisms, we had the Finance Director, the Marketing Director, Script Writers, Set Designers, Camera and Sound technicians, even some of the younger actors from the show were drafted in occasionally to ‘mingle’ on the set as the students carried out their tasks.

Spreading the word

For four and a half fascinating years I spent half my weeks in Manchester and half at home. Right through to the end of the Millennium. Then, in December 1999 the powers that be decided to close down the Studios Tour site to expand the film set for Coronation Street. This was seen as a temporary measure, but sadly they never re-opened it to the public and the educational events ceased to be. But by then, with their lead in the educational tours market being way in front of any other venue in the country, they had agreed to ‘farm me out’ to other attractions where there was no perceived ‘conflict of interest’ Cadbury World in the Midlands was the first one, but that is a whole new story . . . . .
To this day, no one else has ever tapped into this industry in the same way – it has remained my exclusive operation even now. Perhaps it is time I resurrected it with some other venues in this new millennium ?

Tags

Educational Programmes, Granada Television, Manchester, Tv Drama, Visitor Attractons

Meet the author

author avatar Penny W-T
Published articles on education themes, travel, history and writing techniques. Written a book on WW1 - Gallipoli, and travel books. Run a marketing network for small businesses.

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Comments

author avatar cnwriter..carolina
6th Jun 2013 (#)

how fabulous all the different avenues of life you have wandered along Penny...thank you for sharing them with us so well...

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author avatar Penny W-T
7th Jun 2013 (#)

Thank you CNW. I am very lucky, I have had a series of situations of apparently being in the right place at the right time. This particular four and a half years was great fun.

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author avatar Eileen Ward Birch
7th Jun 2013 (#)

How lucky to get that job.

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author avatar Penny W-T
7th Jun 2013 (#)

I was, and it was fun.

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author avatar Delicia Powers
8th Jun 2013 (#)

Wonderful...thank you Penny...

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author avatar Penny W-T
8th Jun 2013 (#)

Thank you. It is a fascinating place. When it was open to the public, it took all day to see everything.

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author avatar Johnny Knox
8th Jun 2013 (#)

A fascinating article. That was a great job to have, indeed!

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author avatar Penny W-T
8th Jun 2013 (#)

Thank you Johnny for taking the time to read this piece. It was a wonderful job. That job opened the doors for me to then work in the Republic of Ireland with visitor venues there, on similar projects.

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