Cheshire West and Chester’s City of Culture Bid team won its race against the clock to meet Tuesday’s midnight deadline….with minutes to spare.
Staff worked flat out into the evening to put the final touches to the £10.9 million bid aimed at convincing Whitehall that Chester will match all its essential criteria for the UK’s City of Culture, 2017.
The fine detail of Chester’s extensive Borough-wide programme is not revealed in the 48-page bid blueprint passionately supported by the city’s culture, business and commerce communities.
But today (Wednesday) it was revealed that the celebrations would be spread across a wide variety of headings ranging from theatre, music, dance and visual arts to literature, poetry, heritage, green spaces and the built environment.
All supported by The new Theatre’s inaugural season, a packed programme of festivals, events and activities… and the cycle of Mystery Plays specially brought forward a year to back the bid.
And to meet bid directives there will be a strong digital theme running throughout the programme which will reach out from the Chester hub to every part of the Borough, including its rural hinterland.
One of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s main stipulations for the UK 2017 City of Culture ‘will be to deliver a programme that uses culture and creativity to lead to lasting social regeneration’.
Today (Wednesday) current title holders Derry City, revealed that its success had prompted a massive £100m in public and private sector investment.
Introducing the bid document, Council Leader Mike Jones: “This is a unique and historic city, recognised as the jewel In the Crown of the North West… the perfect backdrop for a celebration of cultural activity.
“But Chester isn’t a museum. It is a contemporary, vibrant city facing similar challenges to other around the UK.
“The difference here is that rather than cutting our contribution to culture, we are substantially investing in a sector which we believe will position us as an attractive location for business once the economy improves.”
“We believe that the opportunity for Chester to be UK City of Culture will help us make a step change and provide a focus to regenerate and invest in our infrastructure” says Council Leader Mike Jones.
“It is an opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of the local community through education, engagement and participation.”
The bid document recognises that like many other historic cities in the UK, Chester has been overshadowed in recent year with significant investment and growth in its neighbouring metropolitan areas.
‘It has faced a number of challenges with the decline in its cultural and heritage infrastructure, social deprivation in its hinterland, a stagnant retail offer and now low business investment’.
‘We recognise culture as a key driver for achieving social and economic change’.
Opposition Leader, Councillor Justin Madders said: “If we are successful with the bid, it is my hope that this will focus the Council’s work from now until 2017 on delivering the greatest benefits to all our communities – particularly the most disadvantaged.
“The benefits, both cultural and economic need to be delivered for everyone.”
The bid sets an ambitious six percent uplift in visitor numbers during 2016/2017 – on top of the 15 percent increase target for 2015. The City of Culture programme would encourage more visitors to extend one night stays and significantly raise the amount tourists spend in the city.
There are extensive plans to maximise the benefit for local businesses by integrating culture, retail, food and drink as an essential part of the experience for visitors to stay longer and soak up the festival environment.
Culture as a driver to the city’s economy is already a key element of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s strategy for economic growth and the One City blueprint which says: “Ensure a broad range of activities take place simultaneously, creating a rich mix of culture, arts and creativity.”
The bid outlines the many strengths of the heritage city, one of only five designated an Area of Archaeological Importance in England, including the quality of the museums service. The Lion Salt Works museum and tourist attraction will be completed in 2014, and the National Waterways Museum forms part of the canal network.
Education and young people form an important part of the legacy described in the bid document with proposals to embed culture in schools and community programmes.