In case you missed it, Cornwall has just submitted its bid to be City of Culture 2025.
Yes, I know Cornwall isn’t technically a city, but for the first time the four-yearly competition run by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has invited areas other than cities to bid.
And when it comes to culture and creativity, I’ve often heard Cornwall described as an ‘exploded city’. We may not have large urban centres, but when it comes to creative businesses we have them in numbers that you might expect in a city, and clusters of national significance, for example in Penzance.
In fact there are over 2,000 creative sector businesses in Cornwall, employing close to 6,000 people, and it’s one of the fastest growing parts of our economy. We also have cultural institutions of national and international significance, like the Eden Project, Tate St Ives and Falmouth University.
And we’ve been storytellers for centuries, from the 14th century Ordinalia to BAFTA-winning BAIT, a Cornish film that charts the tensions caused by inequality, using the hyper-local to tackle wider issues.
When you combine that bedrock of creative talent with our experience of handling over four million visitors every year, staging large-scale events like the G7, world-class digital connectivity and centuries of innovation in art and technology, it’s little surprise that Cornwall is one of the eight regions still in the running for the City of Culture 2025 title.
We want to win it of course. We want our bid to accelerate regeneration and investment in our people and places across Cornwall. And we want to explore areas of shared human interest and challenge, including climate change, the environment and social justice, not just with our own communities, but with people around the word.
Our bid has three main themes, with activities focused on People, Place and Planet.
People because we want to create opportunities for all, inspire, promote social inclusion and improve the health and wellbeing of everyone who calls Cornwall home. Cornwall’s creative life will be enriched and transformed.
Place because we have big ambitions for a brighter future, using culture and technology to deepen our relationship with the world, Celtic nations and millions of Cornish diaspora, forging global links and new opportunities.
Planet because we are pioneering positive change, using our natural capital to reduce our impact through geothermal energy, tech metal mining and floating offshore wind power, bound by a sense of commitment to our natural environment.
We’ll explore these themes during a year-long celebration of Cornish culture, with 1,200 events that will involve communities the length and breadth of Cornwall, including every parish and every school. More details of the cultural programme will be unveiled in the coming weeks.
For the Local Enterprise Partnership, which is leading Cornwall’s bid, City of Culture is an opportunity to use culture as a catalyst for more investment to grow our economy and strengthen our communities and businesses.
It’s why the LEP has just committed £1m towards developing our cultural economy. Linked to the City of Culture bid, our investment will deliver jobs, skills and growth across our creative businesses, especially in the cross-over between creativity and technology.
An economic impact assessment of our bid says City of Culture status would generate £119m of direct benefit to Cornwall’s economy and create almost 500 jobs. The long-term economic benefits could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.
The Government has framed the City of Culture competition as part of its ‘levelling up’ agenda, where it wants to close the gap between high performing areas like London and South East, and poorer parts of the country.
Despite Cornwall’s picture-postcard image, we are still one of the poorest places in the UK. Around a third of Cornwall’s workers earn less than the real living wage. Productivity is low. The cost of living continues to rise.
When it comes to wages and productivity, Cornwall is the weakest region out of the eight still left in the competition. And we’re the only part of the UK outside the devolved nations with a ringfenced allocation (as yet unquantified) from the Government’s long-awaited Shared Prosperity Fund.
Winning UK City of Culture 2025 would acknowledge Cornwall’s boundless creativity, and also our deep economic need.
Mark Duddridge is chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership. A City of Culture shortlist will be announced in March, and the winner in May.