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What we can learn from Liverpool

PUBLISHED: 12:00 18 May 2010 | UPDATED: 16:36 01 July 2010

The entrance to the Beatles Story in Liverpool

The entrance to the Beatles Story in Liverpool

As Norwich prepares to hand in its bid to become UK City of Culture in 2013, Liverpool is still reaping the rewards of being European City of Culture in 2008.

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As Norwich prepares to hand in its bid to become UK City of Culture in 2013, Liverpool is still reaping the rewards of being European City of Culture in 2008. In the second part of a two-day special STACIA BRIGGS finds out what lessons Norwich can learn from Liverpool.

It's a tale of two cities that, on the face of it, seem very different indeed.

With their hugely different populations, geography and social demographics, Liverpool and Norwich seem poles apart, but both have sought to place themselves firmly on the cultural map of Great Britain.

In 2003, Liverpool was named as the European Capital of Culture for 2008, beating a hotly-tipped joint bid from Newcastle and Gateshead and others from Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford.

In 2010, Norwich will discover if it has beaten rivals Derry, Sheffield and Birmingham to be crowned the first ever UK Capital of Culture for 2013, a title inspired by the success of Liverpool's year in the spotlight.

An expert panel, chaired by former Royal Opera House chief Sir Jeremy Isaacs, weighed up the rival merits of the 2008 shortlist and said: “If one had to say one thing that swung it for Liverpool, it would have to be there was a greater sense there that the whole city is involved in the bid and behind the bid.

“It's difficult to unpick which parts of Liverpool's current success have to do with the regeneration schemes that were already in place before the ECoC title, and which are due to the title itself,” said Pam Wilsher, head of tourism development for The Mersey Partnership, Liverpool's tourism agency.

“The title did, however, encourage a huge number of people to visit the city for the first time, and the regeneration schemes helped them to realise that Liverpool is a city on the up and somewhere that they'd like to return to.

“In some cases, visitors told us that they'd initially come to Liverpool because of the ECoC and then, when they'd arrived, found they'd pretty much abandoned the programme of events and just looked around the city instead.”

Liverpool won the ECoC title on June 4, 2003. It's a day that Ms Wilsher is unlikely to forget: it was her 50th birthday.

“I'd taken the day off and we laughed that I was the only person involved in the bid who was drinking Champagne before the winner was announced!” she laughed.

“Liverpool had got used to being kicked back when it tried to move forward, and so when we found out we'd won, it felt as if we'd turned a real corner. It was amazing. You knew right then that you were involved in something very special.

“Before, when people thought of Liverpool, they thought of football and the Beatles, and it gave the city another string to its bow.”

Liverpool has continued to benefit from the legacy of the ECoC with tourism figures barely registering a downturn since the beginning of 2009. Despite more hotel rooms available than in 2008, last year, only two per cent fewer rooms were booked in Liverpool than during its fanfare year of cultural events.

Theatres, concert venues and museums have continued to keep their larger audiences, despite the fact they no longer command the same international acts and exhibitions as they did during ECoC year.

“What 2008 did for us was to create a habit of cultural participation that has continued in following years, particularly with local residents and those in the North West,” said Ms Wilsher.

“It has changed the city, for the better, and I am sure that any city that wins the UK Capital of Culture will feel that change too.”

She added that Liverpool's bid for the 2008 title had been enthusiastic, but some had felt that it had little chance against some of the bigger cities vying for the title, such as Newcastle and Gateshead and Birmingham.

“When Liverpool put together its bid, it was never seen as one of the big hitters that was likely to win. Personally, I had my doubts that we could win, if you looked at the other cities trying to gain the title,” said Ms Wilsher.

“I'd been involved in previous bids for other similar titles where we'd get quite close to winning but then be pipped at the post by another city. We always had hope, but we were realistic about what would happen, so when we won, it was incredible.

“I think Norwich should concentrate on what it already has and what it can offer, rather than worrying about what it hasn't got. It's about what you do with the title, how you'll use it.

“If you make a tally of all the things you haven't got, it can seem as if you haven't got a chance of winning, but instead, you can think about all the ways you can engage people in cultural pursuits and encourage more people to visit.

“You've got to be in it to win it and there's a benefit to simply bidding for the title, because partnerships will be forged that mean projects can go ahead with or without the title. I wish Norwich the very best of luck.”

Clare McColagan is director of Culture Liverpool, the team charged with developing the cultural programme for the city post 2008.

“We are in a different financial climate now than when Liverpool was building up in 2008,” she said.

“We put everything into the bid and although we did have outside funding the council spent a huge amount of money on the year.

“City of Culture is a smaller competition but also the money situation for everyone is different, for both big sponsors and for the council.

“But it is possible to make big changes if you have the ambition, and it is certainly possible to leave an amazing legacy from something so exciting.

“If Norwich win, it will be a completely different journey for the city than the one we experienced, with different triumphs and different problems, but still with an amazing outcome.

“I think the passion that's there in the city and in the people working for the city is definitely very exciting and at the end of the day, it's all about the people.”

Liverpool Echo editor Alistair Machray said that, like the Evening News, Liverpool's newspaper had wholeheartedly supported the bid to win a cultural city title.

“We always say it was the people of Liverpool who won the bid. The bid went to the city that demonstrated the greatest potential for change as a result of winning, not just to the most cultural city,” he said.

“We came from a low point in many areas - we had world-class museums, sporting history, music, galleries, heritage and all sorts, but in many areas of the city we were way behind comparable cities on economic regeneration.

“We used the Capital of Culture title to turn the whole city around - we built a new arena that bears the Echo's name, we built high-rise apartments on the waterside, we did a huge amount in the five years between getting the title in 2003 and putting on the events in 2008.

“It has transformed the city in five years instead of in a generation, which I believe it would have taken without the win. The night before the opening ceremony at the Waterfront arena they were still putting the floor down - it was very tight but we got it done because we had to.”

And Alistair offered those behind the Norwich bid the following advice: “Don't think about the funding, think about what you are able to generate yourselves, whether that's huge investors coming into the city and bringing hundreds of jobs or amateur drama groups putting on a week-long show

“It's not what your city can do for you, it's what you can do for your city. The UK City of Culture is a smaller event but that doesn't mean the ambition has to be small if people get behind it.

“It will be a fantastic party for the city of Norwich and the people who work and play there. Think of it as the launch of a 20-year programme to develop the city's culture - you have to continue it beyond the year itself.

“The things you are left with will make the city great for generations to come. The whole country could spend a year talking about Norwich, thinking about Norwich, visiting Norwich and coming to know much more about Norwich.

“The benefits of that are immeasurable.”

Additional reporting by Mary Hamilton.

To read Day One of this report log on to www.eveningnews24.co.uk

UK City of Culture:

The success of Liverpool's year as ECoC inspired the Government to design its own scheme, the UK City of Culture initiative, which will operate on a four-yearly cycle with the first UK CoC being awarded in 2013.

“What we want from the winning city is a high quality, cultural programme that reaches a wide variety of audiences and that is a fitting follow-on, not only from Liverpool but also the Cultural Olympiad taking place in the run up to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games,” said Michael Elliot, of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

Four British cities, Norwich, Sheffield, Derry and Birmingham, have been shortlisted from a long-list of somewhat eclectic candidates including 'the countryside' and the entire county of Cornwall.

Since the shortlist announcement, the candidates have had three months to hone their bids in order to secure the honour, which is predicted to bring investment and tourism, but no direct governmental funding.

Bids are due to be submitted on Friday, and the winner will be announced in the summer.

The winning city will be able to offer temporary residence to landmark events on the cultural calendar, including the Turner prize, the Brits, the BBC sports personality of the year award and the Stirling architecture prize.

How you can help:

The people behind Norwich's bid to be City of Culture in 2013 say it's vital for everyone in the city to get involved - whether it's by showing your support online, volunteering your time or talents, bringing attention to groups you already work with, or simply by spreading the word about our fine city and all it has to offer.

Here are some ways to get started:

* Send your ideas or volunteer to contribute by emailing cityofculture@norwich.gov.uk.

* Tell us about events, projects or groups you're involved with by calling 01603 772418 or emailing mary.hamilton@archant.co.uk.

* Tell us why you're backing the bid by emailing mary.hamilton@archant.co.uk or calling 01603 772418.

* Show your support and let us know about events happening where you are by joining the Norwich 2013 Facebook group at tinyurl.com/Norwich-2013, the Evening News Back the Bid campaign on Twitter at twitter.com/norwichculture or en24.co.uk/culture.

* You can also get involved at the official website at norwichcityofculture.co.uk.

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