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Now is the time for businesses to come together and engage with the City’s bid for UK City of Culture 2025, writes Peter Taylor – managing partner of Paris Smith LLP – chair of the Southampton Chamber of Commerce Leadership Group.
Signs greeting those arriving in Southampton bear the words “Welcome to Southampton – Global Gateway to the world.” The words “Global Gateway” are powerful ones. They identify Southampton rightly as being on the international stage with its network of road, sea, rail and air links – subject to the current restrictions of the pandemic. However, “Gateway” can also leave one with the impression of a place which one passes through rather than as a destination and a place to dwell, enjoy, work, live and thrive. Southampton is building its reputation as a destination.
The city has so much to offer, of which all who live and work in it should be rightly proud. Yes, there are issues to address and as human beings we are hardwired to look for the negatives. It is part of our DNA and has protected us during evolution. That said, the people of Southampton are resilient. The city survived wartime bombings and there is much from which to take pride.
Creativity and innovation are visible across Southampton whether it be at the two universities, the science parks or individual businesses engaging in new ways to deliver their offering. By way of example, Southampton University Hospital has been at the heart of development of a vaccine for Covid-19. Venturefest is an annual show founded on the commercial development of new ideas and designs.
The city boasts two international sports stadia, the Ageas Bowl and St Mary’s stadium, a port of global recognition, strong education establishments for all age groups (including two successful universities) a theatre of national recognition, an art gallery full of some of the finest paintings in the country and a vibrant retail shopping centre. The list goes on.
Southampton is feeling the impact of the pandemic, the uncertainties of Brexit and the fall out of global geo-political issues of China, Russia and the forthcoming US presidential elections. The cruise industry which is an important part of the local economy will take months to recover.
Southampton Chamber of Commerce, part of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, was established in March 2020. Its purpose is to be the voice of business in the city, to help its members connect and grow. The Chamber serves as a conduit of information between business and the stakeholders in the city region. It has welcomed the launch of the Business Task Force by councillor Chris Hammond, leader of Southampton City Council, to bring a collaborative response amongst business groups to the challenges faced during 2020.
It is against this backdrop that Southampton’s bid for UK City of Culture 2025 has particular relevance. The economic and social benefits which other cities have seen as a result of holding such status are clear and compelling. Hull held the award in 2017. It reported over £3.4 billion public and private investment in the four years to its year as a city of culture and the legacy continues. Over £300 million was added to tourism, and there was an increase of 1.3 million in visitors. The impact on Hull’s local economy was between £11m - £17m added gross value. These are significant outcomes.
Claire Whitaker OBE, bid director for Southampton City of Culture has a strong and compelling message to business in the city’s region: “Southampton’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025 provides the perfect context and platform for the whole of the city, its residents, its communities, its visitors and of course its businesses, to come together to create a compelling case to win. The programme we will shape together will transform the profile and the prosperity of Southampton and use the power of culture, as a unifier and a lever, to ensure we reach our full potential. I very much hope you will join us on our journey.”
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Mary D’Arcy, executive director communities, culture and homes for Southampton City Council, adds: “As Southampton, the region and the UK begins to unpick and understand the longer-term impacts of Covid-19, we are learning that some of our communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, such as our black, asian and minority ethnic communities, and many in our business communities. Similarly, Covid-19 has profoundly impacted on our formal and informal cultural activity and the ways in which we come together to create cultural opportunities in our community, business and public spaces. But all is not lost, the drive to create and consume culture is strong, and as a result we have innovated, gone online, created digitally in single spaces and then shared those outputs broadly, we have explored lost archives and discovered new histories – so perhaps we are now more than we were before.”
“The need to focus on recovering to a ‘new normal’ and what the future holds, is therefore critical to driving and building upon this innovation to support the economic and cultural vibrancy of the city of Southampton. As such our bid to be the UK City of Culture 2025 becomes ever more relevant to supporting our collective ambition to live in and build a thriving city, where culture provides the glue that holds us together, and drives the creativity, curiosity and experimentation to support long term aspiration and opportunity for all.”
The bid for the UK City of Culture, the economic and social benefits to be gained in the short and longer term, are akin to a shining light around which businesses of all sizes across all sectors can and should come together to create a thriving city, a destination city, a city of opportunity for generations to come. It will be a jewel in the crown which will have positive outcomes for Southampton, Hampshire and the wider region.
Southampton as a destination city? There is both the desire and the opportunity to make it happen.