North West Playwrights began life in 1982 as North West Playwrights Workshops. It was founded by a group of playwrights from the Manchester branch of the Theatre Writers' Union to promote new plays and playwrights in the north west of England. At that time there was virtually no new work being produced by the region's repertory companies. With a grant of £6000 from North West Arts (including £1000 from the Arts Council), the first North West Playwrights Workshops committee set out to challenge what they saw as the theatre establishment's firmly held view that the perceived risks associated with programming new work were somebody else's responsibility. The committee held the first annual script-reading scheme, selected the six best plays, assigned professional directors, actors and playwrights to work on the scripts, and invited the public to the first script-in-hand performances at Contact Theatre in July 1983. Two of the plays selected that first year, Norman Leach's Life of Einstein and Peter Fieldson's positively the Last Supper went on to receive successful professional productions.
One of the ways in which North West Playwrights broke new ground was their insistence that the writers be paid for their work in developing their scripts, this emphasis no doubt arose from the organization's union roots.
NWP continued to receive a small core grant from North West Arts with support from the Arts Council for several years and then from the Greater Manchester Local Authorities [AGMA]. In 1988 NWP won the Manchester Evening News Horniman Award for their outstanding contribution to new writing for the stage. The project was run entirely by a voluntary committee of playwrights up until November 1989, when a four-fold increase in the AGMA grant enabled them to employ a full-time co-ordinator, Melanie Harris. Also at this time, funding was secured to make a series of annual commission awards and residencies. The organization continued to be run by a committee, elected annually, until 1993 when the organization applied for charitable status as a limited company. In 1997 the formal link with the Theatre Writers' Union, by now merged with the Writers' Guild, was ended.