Warrington - The Bid to be a City of Culture 2021

The Bid to be a City of Culture

Warrington together with a host of cities from across the UK including Coventry, Hereford, Paisley, Perth, Portsmouth, St David’s and the Hundred of Dewisland, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Swansea are all fighting to be the third UK City of Culture in 2021. But what can this cultural award do for Warrington and the businesses within it? 

The UK City of Culture Award

Launched in 2009 the initial vision of the event was to establish a British City of Culture prize, the winning city would be able to host events such as the Turner Prize, Brit Awards, Man Booker Prize and the Stirling Prize amongst many other culture based events.  Under the then Labour Culture Secretary Andy Burnham the award was inspired by the success seen in Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture in 2008, were this event showed significant social and economic benefits for the area. The award was a way of building on Liverpool’s legacy, the effect having an overall improvement to the city and its residents with cultural engagement that this type of award achieves. 

The Liverpool Effect

In 2008. Liverpool's year as European capital of culture earned the city bumper visitor numbers and a multimillion-pound boost to its economy. A five-year research programme analysed the social, economic and cultural impact of the 2008 title and found that the festival year saw 9.7m visitors to the city, an increase of 34% generating £753.8m for the economy.

85% of Liverpool residents agreed that it was a better place to live than before and the media coverage of Liverpool's cultural attractions doubled for the first time in decades. The study by Liverpool University academics found that initially, people had mixed views in the build up to the year.  This however changed during 2008 itself, showing a much more optimistic view that was shared by people in late 2008. This indicates that more people felt the benefits as the events happen across the year, leaving a real feel good factor in the city that has carried on. 

The first UK City of Culture Award Derry/Londonderry

After the government set up the UK City of Culture competition it was Derry/Londonderry that won the bid back in 2013. As the first award, Derry happily acknowledge they were "guinea pigs" for the concept but said there was no shortage of enthusiasm in the city! The list of shows, exhibitions and concerts held since January 2013 was impressive and the big events shone a light firmly on the city in terms of visitors and culture.

There were mixed views on the financial benefits of the first award, some saying that it needed to be capitalised on a bit more in the planning stage but Shona McCarthy Chief Executive of the Culture Company 2013 said, "We already know that there have been over 75 nationalities represented in the city over the year.” "From May right through to September we have broken all previous records for hotel occupancy. So that tells me we have got the visitors. That tells me people are coming here.”

Over the course of the year, about £100m was invested in the city through cultural programming and infrastructure. It is estimated that for every £1 spent, there would be a predicted £5 return. All those who have been involved in organising events are now using the word "legacy" and discussing how people can build on what has been achieved. A lot of people have the view that the simple feel-good factor created by Derry's success in becoming the first UK City of Culture was great for the city, having the effect of bringing together people in a sometimes divided city was a real step forward.  

Hull Followed With The 2017 Award

This year the 2017 winners Hull kicked off their UK City of Culture program with the city is expecting to see a significant increase in visitors and events over 2017 generating a positive economic impact. Hull is the second city to host the title and it will be hosting 365 days of cultural events that started with a fireworks event. It is estimated that the UK City of Culture 2017 win will deliver a £60 million boost to Hull’s economy throughout 2017, with a £13.5 million investment into the project. The city has also seen a £1 billion investment since winning the title in 2013. Keep an eye on what Hull is achieving throughout its year here at https://www.hull2017.co.uk

The Benefits to Warrington

Warrington’s initial expression of interest to run for UK City of Culture 2021 has been submitted to the government. There are two further stages with an initial bid submitted in April and the final bid from shortlisted cities by 29th September. The Heritage Lottery Fund has committed £3 million to the holder of the UK City of Culture title from 2021 onwards to boost local heritage, this would have a benefit of bolstering the area and all our cultural attractions. 

It looks to me from the outside that a successful bid brings real benefits to the economy and business. It brings investment in local infrastructure, together with a big uplift in tourism and the local economy. If we then add the feel-good factor into the equation and how the previous awards have had a profound effect on their residents, then I would say this would be a massive benefit to the whole of Warrington! 

A quotation on the http://www.warrington2021.com/our-bid/ website says the award would have "significant economic and social benefits, complementing existing physical regeneration plans as well as highlighting the cultural elements of the current developments as an essential part of the overall growth of the borough." The timing of the 2021 award seems to be perfect for Warrington and complements existing plans and projects to deliver and support:

  • More than £100m of investment in the centre of Warrington before 2020
  • More than 100 unique events across the borough every year in the run up to 2021
  • The 50th anniversary of the new town in 2018 
  • Plans for a brand new heritage hub with a target opening date of 2019
  • Final Thoughts

I feel putting culture at the heart of the transition from a new town to a new city and being highlighted as a “go to” destination for culture would have a long lasting positive effect for us all, in terms of economic growth and people's pride in their city. There seems to be real synergy with the bid, linking it to the growth of Warrington over the next four years. This tells me that it could be an amazing gift to those expansion plans and would give real inertia to the city’s proposed projects. I’m getting right behind this bid and would love to get more businesses involved with spreading the positivity and pushing hard to win a place in the history of British cultural events. As a business community as a whole, let us show our support and help in any way possible.  

Janette Channell
Operations Manager Warrington
01925 419900