CN Deputy Editor Martin Fullard travelled to Hull and back for the launch of the UK City of Culture.
Did you know that Kingston-upon-Hull (to use its full name) sits on the banks of the rivers Humber and Hull, and not on the coast of the North Sea? I didn’t, because I’ve never looked for it on a map before.
With an open mind and empty notebook, last month I went up on a fact-finding mission to see what else I didn’t know.
Hull is a city off the beaten track yet, remarkably, is the same distance in time from Central London as Guildford in Surrey during rush hour.
It even has its own rail operator – Hull Trains – with several daily services running between the city and London Kings Cross in little over two and a half hours.
Once you pass the leviathan that is the Humber Bridge you arrive at Hull station where you are greeted by a statue of Philip Larkin, the famed poet and author. His immortalisation is merely the tip of the iceberg as far as the city’s celebrity portfolio is concerned. Anti-slaving campaigner William Wilberforce, former deputy Prime Minister John “two Jags” Prescott and Norman Cook, aka Fatboy-Slim, offer just a morsel of what is a seemingly endless list of celebrity Hullensians.
You soon realise that Hull likes to do things its own way. It has its own communications provider, KCOM. BT has no business here, and traditional British phone boxes are painted cream rather than red.
Nor is the city a stranger to standing up for itself, as it was here in 1642 where the Siege of Hull took place. King Charles I was refused entry through the city gates, essentially beginning the English Civil War.
I could ramble on about the history of Hull for page after page, but the main reason for my visit was to attend the launch of the 2017 UK City of Culture, a year long festival of many things beyond this writer’s expertise. Cultural stuff, mainly.
After an address by Tony Hall, director general of the BBC who, to rapturous applause, confirmed that Hull would appear on all national BBC weather maps in 2017, and an a capella recital of The Housemartin’s Caravan of Love, it was time to step out and see what this noticeably proud city has to offer.
Like Coventry, Hull was all but turned to rubble during the Second World War. The replacement buildings of the 1950s represent another layer of time, a portfolio stretching back to Grade I listed Trinity Church, which sits in the heart of the city and dates back to 1300.
As I walked around the streets, hopping from century to century, I began to realise just why Hull was going all out for the City of Culture programme: legacy.
For a city as self-sufficient as Hull, it is almost unbelievable that it doesn’t have full-on MICE facilities. With the nearest large convention centre being in Harrogate, some two hours away, it is an undiscovered diamond, just waiting to be polished.
The polishing is already underway, with big beasts like Siemen’s and BP already operating large sites in the area.
I asked Liz Neal, who is part of the UK City of Culture delivery team, what impact the event means for the city. She said that since the announcement the interest from event organisers wanting to hold their conference in Hull has been “phenomenal”.
And you can see why, especially with a new dedicated facility opening in 2018. In March, Hull City Council approved plans for a 3,500-seater music and events centre that also includes an 800-seat conference auditorium. The council says the venue, which also boasts 2,000sqm of exhibition space, can expect 240,000 visitors a year.
But where will the delegates stay? At the moment Hull has a Holiday Inn, Mercure and Express. A Doubletree by Hilton is planned to open mid-2017. At the moment this totals 800 bedrooms, conveniently matching the capacity of the new conference centre. A further 1,000 rooms can be found within a 30-minute drive of the city.
You don’t have to wait until 2018 to take your delegates up to Hull, as smaller venues such as City Hall, the outdoor Stage @TheDock – which is literally a stage built in a disused dry dock – and the event rooms at The Deep, Hull’s aquarium, offer ample options.
Beyond the meeting rooms there is no shortage of activities, such as the Fruit Market, craft beer pubs, the Fish Trail, or even just a walk through history.
As a MICE destination Hull offers pretty much everything, from England’s smallest window to its biggest parish church. And if you can’t find it on a map, just tune into BBC Weather.