Lancashire loses out in UK City of Culture 2025 bid

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Lancashire has fallen at the first hurdle in its bid to be crowned UK City of Culture 2025.

The county signalled its intention to make what was then a unique pitch for the accolade almost three years ago, since when the competition has evolved to actively encourage title attempts from groups of towns and sub-regions.

By the time of the deadline for expressions of interest back in July, a record 20 bids had been received.

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Lancashire sets out City of Culture bid - but which bits of the county should be...
Lancashire had put forward a county-wide bid for the UK City of Culture title for 2025Lancashire had put forward a county-wide bid for the UK City of Culture title for 2025
Lancashire had put forward a county-wide bid for the UK City of Culture title for 2025

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has now published a longlist of eight areas that will progress to the next stage of the process – but Lancashire does not appear on it.

However, the man who led the county’s efforts to secure the crown says that they have “already left a legacy” for arts and culture in Lancashire, which can be built upon even though the coveted title is now out of reach.

Tony Attard, chair of Lancashire 2025 and Marketing Lancashire said: “We are naturally disappointed at not making it to the final stage, but to have got the bid this far is testament to the hard work and vision of all those involved.

“The process of bidding has [brought] regional and national media attention to the county – and we intend to build on that profile.

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“We are so grateful to all the stakeholders that have supported us on this journey. The connections made will not go to waste and the enthusiasm harnessed will bring other opportunities moving forward.

“Lancashire is a richly diverse community and deserves recognition to promote its amazing array of arts and culture. We have new partnerships in place to increase collaboration and drive greater engagement, and we have an online community platform ready to launch to help take the conversation forwards.

“This is the beginning, not the end. We have begun a significant journey and now we need to see where that takes us,” Mr. Attard added.

The longlisted areas - Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Bradford, Cornwall, County Durham, Derby, Southampton, Stirling and Wrexham County Borough - include three county bidders. Tony Attard said he believed that Lancashire’s early move had been instrumental in encouraging the DCMS to broaden the range of areas that could enter the competition.

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The Lancashire bid was based on the concept of a “virtual city” of the future. It would have seen the county split into four areas reflecting the “cultural personalities” of the area, as well as a unified view of Lancashire as a whole.

However, in spite of being years in the making, the project was almost derailed at the eleventh hour after Lancashire County Council withdrew the financial support that would have been required had the county come out on top in the competition.

The authority had already put £770,000 into preparation of the bid, but declared in June that the bill for delivering a year-long programme of events would have been too big for it to bear if other anticipated funding did not materialise.

With hours to spare before expressions of interest had to be submitted, it emerged that Preston City Council, Blackpool Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council had pledged their backing for the bid – which was also supported by the University of Central Lancashire and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership.

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Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown said at the time that a successful pitch would have provided the city with a high-profile platform to refocus its offering to visitors.

Responding to the news that Lancashire has lost out, he said he was disappointed that the county’s “innovative” bid would not be progressing any further.

“[It] demonstrated our longstanding commitment and ambition for culture and the growth of creativity in the city and region. We believe it set a marker in the ground for a partnership approach to progressing this incredibly important agenda.

“As an authority we are resilient and we’ll continue to work with partners to ensure culture has a rich and diverse future in Preston for everyone to enjoy and benefit from,” Cllr Brown said.

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Sir Phil Redmond, chair of the City of Culture Expert Advisory Panel, said of the longlist announcement: "The expressions of interest stage was introduced as an opportunity to encourage many more places to experience the benefit of coming together to define and share a cultural vision for their areas, and what the longlist demonstrates is the range and depth of cultural ambition across the whole of the UK.

"Also for the first time, each longlisted city will receive financial support to help them develop their vision. Each is different. Each has its own story to tell. All share a common aim: to demonstrate how culture can act as the creative catalyst for change. I am really looking forward to seeing how each story develops.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries added: "Winning the UK City of Culture competition has a hugely positive impact on an area, driving investment, creating jobs, and highlighting that culture is for everyone, regardless of their background.

"This year’s focus is on levelling up access to culture across the country and making sure there is a legacy that continues for generations to come. I look forward to seeing what this brilliant longlist has in store as they continue in the competition.

A shortlist of bidders will be drawn up early next year, with the winner expected to be announced in May.