Like Spirit of 2012, UK Cities of Culture is celebrating its 10th birthday this year. Spirit was too late to get in on the action in Derry-Londonderry, but we knew that UK Cities of Culture would be a new major milestone in the UK events calendar, and watched with interest as we were just setting up and devising our first plans. We visited Derry-Londonderry early on and spoke to people that had been involved and were impressed with the quiet but really compelling commitment to using culture and a major designation to bring people together from all over the city. Talking to people in Derry-Londonderry definitely whetted our appetite for what might happen when all eyes turned to Hull for 2017.

Spirit’s investment of £2.85m in Hull, and then £1.1m in Coventry cemented our Board’s commitment to using arts and culture – all 365 days of it during the designation and the period before and after – to transform lives and how people feel about their city. Over the last eight years, from our first development grant to Hull, Spirit’s support for Cities of Culture has enabled:

  • Over 2,500 Hull volunteers to take part in more than 330,000 hours of volunteering leading up to and during their City of Culture year, and a long-term volunteering programme led by HEY Volunteers that continues to attract new volunteers today;
  • A significant increase in cultural participation and cultural confidence across Hull
  • Beautiful and innovative projects like Hull’s Land of Green Ginger delivered in areas of low cultural participation, with 93% of its audience members reporting an appetite to attend more arts and cultural activity in the city, and 70% saying the event had made them prouder of where they lived;
  • Highly respected community organisations in Coventry, who support underserved communities, to work in depth with arts producers and their service users to design creative projects as part of the ‘Caring City’ programme, which reached an audience of 22,000;
  • Increases in wellbeing and reductions in anxiety for Caring City participants;
  • 81% of Caring City audiences stated the event they had engaged with had increased their civic pride.

Having a City of Culture designation can’t change everything for everyone. Its power is in the combination of large-scale, high-profile events that capture the magic that arts and culture can deliver, helping people make lasting memories, and enabling deeper work in communities. On its own it’s not going to solve society’s most intractable issues, but it can shine a spotlight and create space to have conversations, ask questions and challenge conventions.

We are also interested in what happens in the cities and places that bid and don’t win, and last year we committed funding to help three of those places develop their volunteer programmes. Even thinking about bidding can be a powerful convener in cities and help places understand how arts, culture and volunteering, in its broadest sense, is pivotal in their long-term planning and work to help reduce inequalities.

Spirit has been very proud to have played a small part in Hull and Coventry and look forward to seeing how Bradford 2025 and future cities take this forward. Here’s to another 10 years!

Read more on Caring City which Spirit funded as part of Coventry UK City of Culture: Coventry City of Culture

Read more about HEY Volunteers and the legacy from Hull UK City of Culture 2017: Volunteering Cities