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Hull fountains

Destination guide: Hull

I first visited Hull in 2008 and found then a city with plenty of character and heritage, as well as enthusiasm and grit, but a place that was thirsty for inftrastructural investment to realise its potential for meetings and events.

The heritage has always been there, whether it was the maritime history and industrial reputation, or the literary gifts of poet laureate Philip Larkin and the anti-Slavery legacy of Wilberforce. Of course, an independent streak has always been evident, with the white phone boxes and Hull Trains service proudly serving Kings Cross direct.

Albemarle

Now the city is looking to the future, and the events of 2017’s City of Culture campaign have proved that this is a destination on the move for meetings, too.

Hull is renaissant as a gateway to Europe and Nordic countries as well as a key player in the Northern Powerhouse economic alliance.

Although 2017 was the Culture year, the campaign runs until 2021 when Coventry takes up the baton.

The City Plan for Hull has provided a visionary template since its launch in 2013. All strategy, of course, needs funding properly and Hull has delivered developments in the city totalling £1bn so far under the plan.

A £100m Destination Hull programme began to transform the city centre's streets, public spaces and cultural venues, setting the stage for the full cultural programme.

The emergent Cultural Quarter is one legacy that a year in the cultural spotlight has generated. Importantly there has been increased local participation in the arts.

Hull’s employment rate has increased faster than the national average and the FT has said it had recorded the fourth highest job growth in the UK.

The City Plan is also creating jobs, new cruise terminals and green and renewable energy hubs.

The feeling I got during my visit, meeting council leaders responsible for planning, events and investment as well as venue staff, was that the public response has exceeded expectations. From the quality of the art, to the volunteers and levels of pride and participation in the city, 2017 was clearly a successful year for Hull on many levels.

Culture Company

Culture Company, which was set up to deliver the Hull 2017 programme, oversaw 365 days of arts and culture across four seasons, with more than 2,800 cultural events and activities, including 465 new commissions, at more than 300 venues and public spaces.

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Led by creative director Katy Fuller (interviewed on p.47) and executive director Emma Morris, and with cultural specialist Lee Corner as the new chair, it will continue to contribute to wider legacy plans initiated by Hull City Council.

The City Plan is being overseen by a private sector-led leadership board and involves a range of partners from the public and voluntary sectors too.

Venues advance

First venue stop for me was Larkin’s alma mater, the University of Hull, where conference and sales manager Chris Stocks and his team have a bright new ‘beyond events’ branding. Meeting facilities have been completely refurbished and there’s a new accommodation block and £28m library and art gallery. Expert speakers are easy to plug in to events. 

Over by the port, Hull Venue is a £36m conference and concert centre due to open in summer 2018. 

It will be operated by SMG Europe and the evidence from my hard hat tour was impressive, with ultra modern fittings and a commanding view. It is sure to be big on the concert circuit, but is also equipped for specialist conference needs for up to 3,500 people, with 1,400sqm of exhibition space. Naming rights have not yet been secured, but a futuristic yellow shard shining as an events beacon is already a prominent city landmark.

doubletree

Meanwhile, Hull’s first branded four-star hotel in the city centre, DoubleTree by Hilton, is already open and doing big events business, for up to 1,000 in its purpose-built meetings spaces. There is a state-of-the-art pillar-free ballroom.

And, the Tigers’ roar may be a little more muted than when Hull City AFC were in the Premier League, but the team (and local Super League rugby club Hull FC who share the KCOM Stadium) have a facility to be proud of, which includes 10 meeting rooms, the largest capacity being 450 theatre style.

kcom

Or how about the largest parish church in England? Now rededicated as Hull Minister. Following a £4.5m refurbishment it has since hosted the Turner Prize Awards and Cockney Rebel Steve Harley of late. And, if you fancy a boutique stay nearby, try the Hideout Aparthotel in the Old Town, just opposite the Minster.

For those hot deskers and keen office sharers, K2 will hit the spot. This new multi-space complex comprises residential, office, bars, restaurants, gym and conference facilities. Some of the floors are still works in progress, but a glorious rooftop bar and terrace are due for completion this summer.

With all the investment and construction work running ahead at pace it is easy to overlook some classic fixtures. The Hull Truck Theatre may have moved, but the spirit is rooted in old Hull and its modern building of today offers a 440-seater theatre for events.

And with a remodelled bus station and central train station with direct links to London, Hull's connections are better than ever.

In a decade, Hull has gone from not having a four-star hotel, to a city proud to show off its unique heritage, but now overlaid with 21st century infrastructure fit for all our conference kings and queens.

Do look out for Larkin’s Toads scattered about the city and the ‘Dead Bod’ art installation in the Cultural Quarter. There is plenty to surprise and delight during  a post-plenary passeggiata for all discerning delegates.

University theatre

Private sector investments include:

• A £310m investment from Siemens and Associated British Ports in Green Port Hull. A vision to establish Hull and East Yorkshire as a world-class centre for renewable energy

• C4Di: An £11m investment, supported by  ERDF, to deliver a new Centre for Digital Innovation.

• Spencers’ Green Energy Works: a £200m investment on former industrial land to convert 250,000 tonnes of waste material per annum into energy.

• The University of Hull: A £28m investment in new library faciltiies; £30m in residential buildings and £9.5m in a new cultural venue. There will also be a £24m Health Hub for the Hull-York Medical School.

• A £350m biorefinery, the UK’s largest bio-
ethanol producer.

• An £11.7m investment in Hull New Theatre and £4.5m in Ferens Art Gallery.

90 seconds with Hull’s Culture Company creative director, Katy Fuller

What were the event highlights of the City of Culture for you and what were the biggest challenges involved?

“There were so many highlights which were special in so many different ways. I loved the arc of the first week, where we had three projects taking us from spectacle (‘In with a Bang’ fireworks) and Hull’s heritage writ large (‘Made in Hull’ projections across the city centre) to Hull’s future and a debate about what constitutes an artwork (‘Blade’).   

“I loved closing down the city centre so that 30,000 people could come out to play with the giants, shape-shifters and mischief-makers, of Macnas’ glorious ‘Land of Green Ginger Unleashed’ procession, which was the culmination of a year of Acts of Wanton Wonder in the neighbourhoods of the city. And then seeing the city’s long-standing cultural institutions collaborate and create with some of the leading national organisations, be that Turner Prize at the Ferens Gallery, the Royal Ballet at the New Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company at Hull Truck. 

“Every event had its own unique challenges. I had to find 4,653sqm of empty building which we could take over for eight months for dreamthinkspeak’s astonishing site-specific piece ‘One Day, Maybe’ and I had to get a bank to agree to let us install a load of pyro on their roof and be comfortable it wasn’t an elaborate ruse for a heist. Overall, though, we found an incredible can-do attitude with a whole range of people who were willing to bend over backwards to help make things work and work as well as they possibly could.” 

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How would you describe the impact of the programme of events during the year on the city and its people?

“Life-changing and place-changing!  

“Luckily the recently published preliminary evaluation findings from the University of Hull also back up this view. 

“More than nine in 10 residents engaged in cultural activity, there were increases in pride and confidence, 800 new jobs, and a change in perceptions of Hull.  

“The anecdotal reports from people who participated in projects, or in the volunteering programme are immensely moving and those personal stories of the impact of the year will stay with me forever.”  

What is the events legacy from the  City of Culture and investment involved?

“Our company is continuing as a permanent arts organisation with a core purpose to create ambitious and surprising artistic work that brings people together. We will do fewer things than in 2017, but the projects will still be of a scale and ambition which can satisfy the audience appetite that we know is out there.  

“We’ve got events planned for August, September and the dark nights of late November. Equally, there are numerous other events happening across Hull, from festivals which existed long before the City of Culture year, such as Freedom Festival and Humber Street Sesh, to new initiatives like the 53 degrees North outdoor concerts.”