In the decade since Liverpool celebrated its year as European Capital of Culture, the city has changed dramatically. Liverpool ONE, redevelopments of cultural gems including Everyman Theatre, Royal Court and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall have transformed the city’s cultural scene, and reflect the continued investment by both the public and private sector in Liverpool’s tourism offer.
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Gathered at Hilton Liverpool ONE, which also celebrates its tenth birthday this year, 100 people from cultural organisations, developers, architects, funders, and civic leaders from across the North, joined the morning event to reflect on major cultural regeneration projects, to hear insights into the sector and discuss how developers and the cultural industry can work together. The event was sponsored by Kier and Turley and hosted by Place North West.
Speakers included Chris Melia, partner director at Amion Consulting; Claire McColgan, director of Culture Liverpool; Dean Paton, managing director of Big Heritage; Martin Green, the former chief executive of Hull City of Culture 2017; Fiona Gasper, executive director of Manchester International Festival; Dane Harrop, senior design manager at Kier Construction; Ian Tabbron, interim chief executive at Shakespeare North; Mark Worcester, director of Turley; John Moffat, developer at Capital & Centric; and Cllr Sean Fielding, leader of Oldham Council.
The first panel, chaired by Place North West publisher Paul Unger, featured Claire McColgan, Dean Paton, Martin Green and Fiona Gasper to discuss the legacy of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture, and the importance of culture in regeneration.
- McColgan said it was easy to forget how far Liverpool had come in a short period of time. The physical regeneration of Liverpool was important, but equally important was the city’s “emotional regeneration” in the past decade
- Green agreed, saying confident cities can do anything they want. Reflecting on Hull’s City of Culture year in 2017, he added regeneration and legacy are a collective act. Hull has announced its programme for 2018/19 and committed to its cultural budget
- Politically, Green added, it’s important people continue to see culture as a driver for change. Hull has seen a growth in city centre living and the government has worked with developers. The major issue for the city is transport and infrastructure and a new link connecting the north from east to west
- Gasper and McColgan agreed on the importance of political support for culture. Manchester has, she said, remained steadfast in its support. As a cultural centre, it’s vital to engage with the local community as well as internationally. “If you haven’t got a strong and independent arts scene” she said, “it’s unlikely to happen at an international level. Culture relies on a strong ecosystem to support it”. In Liverpool, McColgan said, to continue to compete internationally you have to continue to tell a fresh story of the city
- Patton reflected on technology’s role in culture, demonstrated in Big Heritage’s Pokemon Go! Festival in 2017, which enticed people to see historic sites. Chester is the second best city to play the game in the world, after San Francisco, where the game is made. The summer 2017 festival saw 16,000 people come to the city and the city’s hotels were at 100% capacity
- McColgan and Green agreed on the importance of good design and developments to cater for culture and attract visitors. “You’re not going to make a fast buck” said Green, but if developers partner with the city they will win.
- Liverpool and Manchester have both benefited from inspirational leadership, which can drive regeneration projects like Grosvenor’s Liverpool ONE and Manchester’s The Factory, without that, the public and private sector have to collaborate
Story of Shakespeare North Playhouse
Dane Harrop of Kier Construction and Ian Tabbron, on secondment from Arts Council England, delivered a joint presentation on the development of Shakespeare North in Prescot.
- Tabbron said the development works with a “visionary council, that aren’t interested in ‘managed decline’” and is rooted in Prescot’s potential in regeneration terms
- The town’s heritage assets are being developed through public funding and there has been substantial investment, not just in the town but also in the public realm and in public art
- Trading on the Shakespeare brand, the new theatre will attract inward and private investment for Prescot
- Around 100 jobs will be created directly through the theatre, but there will also be new opportunities along the supply chain and within new businesses clustering around the new theatre, including a new restaurant by Gary Usher and hotel for which planning consent was granted late last year
- Harrop also worked on Storyhouse theatre and library in Chester which had attracted one million visitors since it opened last year
Tabbron and Harrop joined Turley’s Mark Worcester, John Moffat of Capital & Centric and Oldham’s Cllr Sean Fielding for a panel discussing culture and the built environment.
- Cities operate in a global marketplace, said Worcester, so it’s vital people recognise the importance of culture. The cultural offer is critical for attracting investment. Along the HS2 route, for example, he said towns and cities will have to think more about culture to attract both inward investment and talent
- Fielding agreed that town centres cannot rely purely on retail anymore. Developing Oldham’s cultural offer will encourage people to the town centre, increasing the footfall and attracting business
- Asked about the development of a new production studio and facility at Liverpool’s Littlewoods building on Edge Lane, Moffat reflected on the difference between a cultural project compared to a conventional commercial one
- The two don’t compare favourably, he said, while the film studio scheme will create potentially 2,500 jobs for the city region – Liverpool had 1,300 film shooting days in 2017 – the number of jobs on site would be much smaller. “The numbers are phenomenal for the city region, but are not necessarily benefitting us on site”. Culturally led schemes need public intervention as they are not be commercially viable
- Tabbron said cities need to reflect on the benefits culture brings. Culture helps to attract big business as executives can have “busy and happy cultural lives” but it also helps communities and fosters “an ownership of pride”. Culture is a real driver in terms of health
- Panellists discussed the reduction in capital funding, as lottery funding has reduced. This means towns and cities are thinking carefully about how they invest their money.
- For cultural organisations, this means they have to be more welcoming, attracting a range of people and having a diversity of purpose. This is important for developers as well, says Worcester, as they need to consider the public places they build as being backdrops for cultural activity, citing Media City as an example
- Gentrification is inevitable but councils have a role to play to ensure the creative sector is not completely squeezed out. Worcester said cheap and flexible spaces are important for both the creative sector and early adopters of areas. Councils need to look beyond the buildings developers are proposing and consider how well they fit with the surrounding Tabbron adds that good models in London, Manchester and Salford show innovative ways in protecting artist space, in some instances through the use of land trusts
- There is no shortage of ambition for capital projects, the panel believed. Design and architecture is vital to attract and inspire visitors and architects have to come up with “really great design”, according to Moffat said a development had to be “award-winning from a design perspective”, which is often at odds with the approach in the residential development market.
- Tabbron noted that three cultural buildings were on this year’s RIBA international excellence awards including Museum Voorlinden in the Netherlands, Musee d’Arts de Nantes and Audain Art Museum in Canada. Great design is important, says Harrop, but buildings also have to be usable
A vision for Chester
Chris Melia from Amion Consulting gave a presentation of her work on a heritage and visual arts strategy for Chester.
- Chester, she said, “always had its place in the world” but it had been “overshadowed by growth in Liverpool and Manchester”. This was the starting point for the city’s research into how to market itself as a cultural destination more successfully
- Historically, and compared with Manchester and Liverpool, Chester performed well in the 80s as a destination. It is only in more recent years it has struggled to compete. Between 1997 and 23017, Chester’s GVA tracked Liverpool and Manchester favourably until the recession hit and it began to underperform
- In terms of workforce, Manchester’s economy has grown strongly, and Liverpool continues to perform above the UK average. Chester has struggled to keep pace while having lower levels of deprivation compared with the two nearby cities. This suggests an underperformance of the economy
- Chester always had a strong visitor economy but the growth has come from domestic visitors, and not international. International guests can help build a tourism economy, staying in hotels and planning longer visits
- Building on the momentum of the launch of Storyhouse, the new theatre and performing arts venue that opened in 2017, Amion conducted research exploring how Chester is viewed and what attracts its visitors
- Two thousand people were polled, living within a 90-minute drive from Chester. Many cited history and heritage as both being appealing for a day out, and contemporary arts (which motivates younger audiences) was seen as a gap in Chester’s offer
- Visits to Chester’s Rows and Roman Walls account for a quarter of all its visits. One in five visited primarily for Chester Zoo. Heritage is the city’s standout feature, according to its visitors
- Telling stories, tying together every partner in Chester’s tourism and social offering is vital to help build a narrative around the city’s heritage offer and attract visitors from a range of different segments. Using the public realm, engaging with the social environment, like last summer’s Pokemon Go! Festival, allows visitors to explore the city’s heritage, building on its strong reputation for outdoor performance
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