Northern Heart Films co-founder Natasha Hawthornthwaite explains how Female Founders transformed her business

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Northern Heart Films has a history of harnessing Creative UK’s support to help refine its offering and catalyse its success. Founded in 2017 by filmmakers Natasha Hawthornthwaite and Scott Bradley as an outlet to showcase projects with empathy – and as their name suggests – plenty of heart, their output has championed intimate and personal stories, won prestigious awards and attracted the eyes of big-name brands eager to collaborate. However, according to Hawthornthwaite, this valuable core ethos comes quite naturally to everyone on their team.

“We felt that there just wasn’t anyone else around that was offering what we were offering,” she tells us. “There was no heart. Everything was a quick turnaround and not made with much love – and that didn’t sit right with us. We’re filmmakers so we set up [Northern Heart Films] to make films and apply for funding for our own projects but also to offer high-quality, story-driven heartwarming content to businesses and brands.” Heart was built-in as part of this initial company conception: “Empathy is a big one [for us],” adds Natasha. “We’re all about community and collaboration. That’s a part of us and how we built the company.”

Their Northern roots also played a part – and while they didn’t always feel like a string to their bow, they’ve quickly emerged as one of their most valuable assets. “We’re really proud to be Northern but when [Scott and I] first started out, we had a lot of insecurities about being working class and feeling like we’d not be taken seriously because we’re not from the South,” says Natasha, remembering how they’d often be the only pair at pitch meetings with strong Northern accents. “I’d always feel like a bit of an imposter and try to hide my accent a little but as we’ve grown, we’ve owned it. It’s our strength,” she says. “We work all over but bring that Northern strength and our working-class roots into all our projects.”

Combined, these attributes have seen Northern Heart Films hit some career highs. In 2023, their film The Ones Who Care, which told the touching story of unpaid carers, won a Smiley Charity Film Awards, beating projects by director Steve McQueen. Shortly afterwards, another of their films, Finding ‘Appiness, following the culturally rich life of pensioner Allan Bradbury, screened at the BAFTA-qualifying Bolton Film Festival. What’s more, the word-of-mouth success of their film Joy Uncensored, about a retired school teacher embracing spoken word poetry, grabbed the attention of the New York Times and outlets as far-flung as Australia.

This journey to realising their value was catalysed by Creative UK support in various forms. “The first Creative UK project I got involved with was Female Founders,” says Natasha of our Creative Enterprise-led programme designed to help female entrepreneurs with screen-based businesses level-up. “We were stuck. We were making all this great content and winning great clients but felt like we needed support, connections, advice and guidance to take us to the next level. It was exactly what we needed.”

Spearheaded by business innovation and growth expert Erica Wolfe-Murray, the scheme provided just what Natasha and her company needed. “Honestly, it was pretty life-changing. I’d never been part of a community of storytellers and having somebody like Erica and the rest of the team supporting and believing in you… it just transformed everything I do – and the business itself,” says the Northern Heart co-founder. “I’d always had ambitious ideas but lacked the confidence – but having a mentor that really believes in you has transformed that. I don’t feel like an imposter anymore. I can go into meetings and feel like ‘Yes. I’m worthy of this.’”

After finding success with Female Founders, Natasha applied for our Creative Enterprise Business Builder grant which allowed Northern Heart Films to progress further. “We realised that to grow our company, we needed to re-do our business plan and come up with a new vision going forward. [Creative UK] kept us in the loop and when we heard about the grant, we applied for it,” she explains. “We used that money to hire a brand consultant to help us develop a new business plan. We split the company into three sections – our original work, a commercial arm and a doc fund to support new filmmakers. It’s been essential in our growth and helped us streamline what we do.”

Thanks to the mentor-led guidance from Female Founders and the financial space to give their business a swift MOT provided via their planning grant, the future is bright for this already award-winning team. In fact, their continued success is already apparent. In early 2024, Northern Heart received the backing of the BBC’s Small Indie Fund which will provide mentor and grant support to help them develop new projects for BBC Children’s. Accordion to Natasha and Scott, this milestone wouldn’t have been possible without Creative UK’s guidance.

“The whole process has changed me loads,” says Natasha. “If it wasn’t for Creative UK and Female Founders, I don’t think we would’ve set up our scheme to support new filmmakers. It just gave us that confidence.” With this new mindset in-tow, their team plans to take things even further. “We’re building our doc fund, more partners and we’re in the process of setting up a CIC to create a collaborative hub for the North where everyone helps each other,” she says. “There’s some really exciting stuff going on.”

Find out more about Creative Enterprise Female Founders.

Words and interview by Simon Bland

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