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Despite an unsuccessful bid for UK City of Culture 2025, Southampton is determined to build on lessons learned during the process. Satvir Kaur says culture remains critical to the future.

Southampton skyline in the evening. The buildings are reflected on body of water.
Southampton skyline

We are very proud that Southampton was the first city on the south coast to reach the finals of the UK City of Culture competition. We went into the competition eyes-wide open. We knew we might not win the title, but we also knew we would win in so many other ways, simply by taking part. 

We won because the day after we didn’t win this major national competition, the local press who often highlight what isn’t going well in our city, instead ran with the headline proclaiming us as still “SO Proud!”. 

We won because there was an outpouring of grief about the result, alongside elation about how much we had achieved together despite the result – building the bid; bringing communities, partners and businesses together like never before; developing a comprehensive cultural programme; creating a most memorable judges visit and putting Southampton on the map in a way never achieved before.
We won because we learnt more about ourselves than we knew at the beginning - our strengths and weakness, our hopes and ambitions, our sense of identity and pride. And we learnt what is possible when you place culture at the heart of your vision and ambition for the future – to change how we now feel about ourselves, how others perceive us and the investment it levers. 

Placing our trust in culture

Culture is part of our DNA in Southampton and as the Leader of Southampton City Council, culture will remain critical to our future. Despite the huge financial challenges we face, we invest in culture because it can change the fortunes of a place and its people. 

We want to create a city where people want to live, work, study, visit and enjoy. Culture is the crux to ensuring we succeed, from growing our local and regional economy at a time when businesses need support, to using culture to address social needs at a time when local authorities are struggling to keep up with demand. 

But most of all, to bring communities together and pride back into our neighbourhoods. Culture enriches lives, which transforms communities and makes places like Southampton the great, modern, dynamic, creative and future-focused place it is. 

Part of the reason we bid for UK City of Culture was to draw in more external investment into our city, so I am thrilled that our work during the bidding process has resulted in an uplift in regular Arts Council England (ACE) investment into our city. First with £11.5m secured for NPOs and now a further £1.57m to support our Culture Trust to deliver a strategic place partnership.

Place leadership

Through the place-leadership of the Culture Trust, all of this will help to support the city to grow local talent, increase capacity, deliver great initiatives around mental health and social isolation, to support economic growth and the development and regeneration of our destination. 

The Southampton Culture Trust which will have the brief on culture, tourism, festivals and events will launch in April 2023 and is hosting a free conference* to bring our city and region back together. 

As the LGA’s Culture Commission report Cornerstones of Culture highlighted, while local authorities are the major investor in culture nationally, we cannot do this alone. Together we are all responsible for investing in our communities to deliver transformational change, and culture is one of the critical tools in making that happen. 

So, thank you to Arts Council England for your faith in Southampton, and thank you to our other co-investors – universities, businesses, entrepreneurs, communities and individuals – who share our ambition to put Southampton on the map as a city of great opportunity. 

Councillor Satvir Kaur is Leader of Southampton City Council.
@LabourSatvir | @SouthamptonCC

*Councillor Satvir Kaur will be a keynote speaker at the Southampton Forward conference on Thursday 9 February 2023.

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Satvir Kaur is smiling at the camera. She is wearing a red blazer and a white vest.