• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

The challenge now for some of the latecomers will be completing years' worth of planning in weeks.

Chorus by Ray Lee at Feste 2021 in Derby, one of the longlisted places

Graham Whitmore

UK City of Culture 2025 has catapulted culture into the political ambitions of places nationwide, regardless of their chances to win the title.

A longlist of eight places - Bradford, Cornwall, County Durham, Derby, Southampton, Stirling, Wrexham, and a coalition of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon - was announced late last week to the disappointment of 12 other bidders.

But these councils and consortia say the application process achieved exactly what DCMS intended: culture has become a talking point, with some local authorities committing to take their proposals forward anyway.


Medway, for example, has pledged to channel its plans into a collective project that builds on its new culture strategy and transforms the area through creativity. 

"City of Culture was always seen as a catalyst to fulfilling the aims of this strategy, not a goal in itself," the council said.

Wakefield is pursuing a year long cultural showcase for 2024 and hopes to piggyback on the successful bid of neighbouring Bradford.

"We've now got a proper story of where we are and where we would like to go," Wakefield Council's Arts, Culture and Leisure Director Julie Russell said.

The longlisted places will each receive £40,000 to flesh out their applications before a winner is announced in January.

Andrew Dixon, a consultant on nine of the 20 bids, says some have a lot of work to do to develop a full brief.

"Some places put their bids together in days. Now they have got to answer a really complex set of questions."

The springboard

Dixon said the rejected places must now make culture central to their regeneration plans.

Newport Council Leader Jane Mudd said the competition will be a "springboard to further develop our cultural partnerships".

"We haven’t stood still while waiting for this announcement, so we will continue those discussions with the aim of getting many of the exciting projects underway despite not having the added benefits the title would have brought."

For the longlisted places, capacity to deliver on their plans will be key to a winning bid. With groups of towns able to enter this time around, some cover a sizeable geographic area - Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon together are larger than Hong Kong.

Those who entered the race later like Derby and Durham may face a tougher battle to raise enough capital. "Coventry took three years to prepare," Dixon notes.

"Some of the ones that came in last minute were probably politically driven and not ready, and it shows."

DCMS added one more place to its longlist than intended after Dixon called on it to do so.

"Previously it has been a longer journey for people. Now at least everywhere has until January to add on as strong a case as possible," he added.

Flying the flag

Longlisted places in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are mindful of representing not just themselves but their nation.

Stirling is the sole representative for Scotland after a Borderlands bid missed out. Out of five applications arising from Wales, only Wrexham remains in the running.

Powys' Bid Director Myfanwy Alexander said the bidding process had been "incredibly valuable" in highlighting local talent, while Conwy Council appreciated the opportunity to "share our beautiful corner of Wales on a UK platform".

Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Glenn Barr said its bid had imparted "a greater collective drive to lift the region to a new level internationally".

"The wider impact for cultural regeneration associated with it across Northern Ireland will be significant if it is successful."

Dixon said the City of Culture "brand" has grown with Hull and Coventry.

Both cities were "outsiders" to win their years, but that's not to say it couldn't happen again this year.

"The next City of Culture doesn't have to be big - but it does have to be different."