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Idea Exchange: City of Culture status attracted £3.3bn to Hull over four years

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In November 2013, when Hull won its bid to host UK City of Culture 2017, the sense of excitement was palpable.


  • Project: UK City of Culture 2017
  • Timescale: January 2013 – December 2017 (Readiness/Delivery) 2018 – 2037 (Legacy)
  • Cost to authority: £4m (initial investment in bidding and establishing independent company); £1m for legacy programme; £100m capital investment in cultural and visitor infrastructure
  • Number of staff working on project: Eight
  • Outcomes: £3.3bn public and private investment in Hull since 2013
  • Officer contact details: Jon Pywell

More than half way through 2017, it’s clear hosting the cultural festival has had a wide ranging and profound impact on our city, exceeding all of our expectations.

Hull’s reason for bidding was an economic one. Our ten-year city plan, launched in 2013, unashamedly focused on creating opportunity for local people. One of the plan’s key ambitions was for Hull to become a world-class visitor destination. City of Culture was a key milestone on that journey. Hosting City of Culture has been a catalyst that is at the forefront of a new era of economic growth, confidence, civic pride and participation in the arts.

matt jukes

matt jukes

Matt Jukes

How we did it

After a four-year rollercoaster of preparations and planning for legacy, which was exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, we now have time to reflect on the key decisions, moments of inspiration and challenges made City of Culture a success.

In 2013 the council took a bold decision to bid for City of Culture against a backdrop of austerity and, initially, a sceptical community. Hull had been unsuccessful with a previous bid to be the City of Culture in 2009, so we had to look very closely at what we needed to do to improve our chances of success.

Hull’s second entry was developed in a collaborative way with a host of independent arts and culture organisations, the University of Hull and local businesses. We attracted community support for the bid through a debate about the value of arts and culture and a clear articulation of the benefits to the whole city. After engaging the public through the local media, events, film and digital channels, the bid team eventually presented its final plans to the judges in Derry, with 85% of local people in support.

At the heart of the bid was a promise that being City of Culture would mean more to Hull than any other place and deliver more for the city, the North and the UK. It was a big ambition.

After winning, we established a framework for the city’s preparations and delivery and, crucially, made legacy planning an integral part of this. The leader of the council, Stephen Brady (Lab), along with his cabinet, was determined to make Hull one of the best cities of culture there had ever been. For us, it was not simply about staging a spectacular year of events; it was about changing the city forever.

The work to meet those huge expectations started immediately. We established an independent company to deliver the cultural programme and were fortunate to secure broadcaster Rosie Millard as its chair and Martin Green, formerly head of ceremonies for London 2012, as its chief executive. Charged with fundraising to deliver a world-class cultural programme, they turned an initial £4m in sponsorship from the council into a £33m budget for 365 days of arts and culture designed to reach every corner of the city and with national and international appeal.

Working with the Culture Company and many other dedicated partners, the council led the city’s preparations with projects that would radically change the face of the city. The resulting £100m cultural capital investment programme, ‘Destination Hull’, was to prove the most challenging part of the city’s preparations for 2017 and its legacy.

Some projects were already in the planning but needed to accelerate; others were at an earlier stage and, from the outset, were about legacy. Alongside a spectacular cultural programme, the city’s objective was to provide a stunning stage for 2017, whilst creating the conditions for Hull to become a world-class visitor destination for decades to come.

We delivered what would have been a three-year public realm programme, complete with fountains, trees and poetry etched into the pavements, in 18 months. A refurbished Ferens Art Gallery opened its doors in January 2017 and in November will host the Turner Prize; a rebuilt Hull New Theatre will open in September with a performance by the Royal Ballet; a regenerated fruit market, where investment had stalled during the financial downturn, is a thriving destination thanks to a public-private partnership with local developers; and the city’s historic spaces have been given a stunning makeover.

The impact

Independent research will, in time, reveal the full impact, but interim findings already show a huge step change.

Since 2013, 6,500 jobs have been created, more than £3.3bn in public and private investment has flowed into Hull’s economy and the city has seen the fastest fall in jobseekers’ allowance claimants of any English city. Whilst not all of that investment is directly attributable, many investors say our City of Culture status is a key factor in their decision to choose Hull.

Four years ago our city centre was struggling but now 89 new businesses have opened or changed use, creating more than 500 jobs. This year, we have seen an 83% upturn in the evening economy, over one million visits to the city’s museums and cultural venues and nine out of ten residents taking part in culture and the arts. As we look forward to a thrilling final season of events, we are confident we will achieve our bid goal of a £60m economic boost in 2017 alone.


With legacy built in from the start, the plans to build on the success of 2017 are now at an advanced stage. The Culture Company is to provide the impetus for a refreshed cultural ecosystem that will focus on maintaining the ambition and reach of 2017, steering the delivery of the city’s cultural strategy and creating flagship events that will continue to put Hull on the map. Alongside the council’s commitment to £1m for cultural programming in 2018 and beyond, a host of partners are lined up invest in Hull’s cultural legacy.

The council’s commitment to investing in culture and in our visitor infrastructure continues as part of a refresh of our city plan, which over the next 20 years will focus on ensuring that every part of our city and community benefits from Hull’s renaissance alongside a major drive to strengthen Hull’s connectivity with the North and the rest of the UK and the world.

In 2018, the new 3,500-seat Hull Venue will open its doors for music, events, exhibitions and conferences. In the longer term, we can look forward to an iconic bridge connecting the city centre to its waterfront; the development of a cruise terminal that will strengthen our strategic position and influence in the North and the UK; and the regeneration of our maritime museum, two historic ships and our oldest docks to create a new attraction.

By choosing to invest in the future rather than manage decline, the council, supported by the public and the hundreds of partners involved, has seen Hull reassert its role as a great Northern and European city. City of Culture 2017 has repositioned Hull as a place to invest and has opened the door to regional, national and international conversations and partnerships that will benefit the city long after 2020.

Matt Jukes, chief executive, Hull City Council


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