Hull prepares to be UK’s City of Culture

Interview with Fran Hegyi, Executive Director and Director of Partnerships and Development at Hull UK City of Culture 2017

Why did you join the Northern Powerhouse Partner Programme?

We’re an organisation that specialises in arts and culture but also has a focus on regeneration and changing perceptions about Hull. We feel strongly that culture and creativity has a critical role to play as part of the Northern Powerhouse conversation and the opportunity the partner programme presented to be able to make that case nationally was very attractive to us.

What benefits does the Northern Powerhouse bring to your organisation?

Part of what we’re doing is encouraging and stimulating debate throughout the year, using culture as the means to do this.  Being able to do this with a broader network of individuals and organisations across the North that care about the same things that we do is really important in contributing to our legacy goals. The Northern Powerhouse helps to position Hull as a major city in the North; a city where important and exciting things are happening. Practically, we can keep up to date with policy developments and make sure that arts, culture and Hull are in the conversation.

What impact has the Northern Powerhouse had on the region and the UK as a whole?

The Northern Powerhouse has made people sit up and take notice of the wealth of talent that’s in the North and promoted the huge potential for expansion and growth on offer. People are now more aware of the notion of the North, its diversity and strength and depth. It has also provided a unified movement through which a whole range of organisations can work together. A collective voice is always stronger.

What benefits does being part of a Northern Powerhouse partner network provide?

The network facilitates the exchange of ideas and peer challenge. These ideas need to be tested amongst a range of people and being part of a network of like-minded individuals strengthens our work by allowing us to test and refine how projects like UK City of Culture can contribute to a stronger region.

What do you think we need to focus on over the next 12 months to keep building the Northern Powerhouse?

Developing more opportunities to look at issues in the North East is of particular interest to us and we would love to host events and bring people over to see what’s happening in Hull.

More fundamentally, the conversation, which is currently heavily influenced by economic issues, needs to broaden out to include more people-focused themes, including the role that culture plays in shaping the future. It’s about bringing to the fore a human element to the Northern Powerhouse. You can have investment in a city, but unless you can attract people to live, work and bring their families there; it’s not going to work. What we bring to the party is the ability to change cities and places by making them interesting, vibrant and cultural which, in turn, attracts talent and, as a result, additional investment.

The Northern Powerhouse economy grew by 3.3% in 2015, faster than the UK average of 2.6%. We are making good progress, but what more do you think needs to be done to keep up the momentum?

We need to get people to come and see the North first hand. To do this, we need to tell the story of success – showing people that the North is a brilliant place to live, work and invest in. Momentum will happen once people come up here and see what the North has to offer. Since 2017 began we have seen an increase on 11% in traffic over the Humber Bridge and Hull Trains are reporting a 17% increase year on year. It was Larkin who said of Hull, “People are slow to leave  and quick to return”.

Hull UK City of Culture 2017 events are underway. What else is in store as part of the celebrations for the year ahead?

Hull UK City of Culture 2017 is a quarter of the way through the year and there are lots of events still to come. We’ve got Radio 1 Big Weekend in May, which will see 50,000 young people from Hull and the surrounding region converge at Burton Constable. We also have a new spoken word festival with the BBC called Contains Strong Language and we are reopening the New Theatre in September with a performance by the Royal Ballet. A multi-season cross-platform project called Flood is taking place online, live and broadcast and the Turner Prize is coming in October.

It’s not just about events in 2017 though. We are working to develop the programme for 2018, 2019 and 2020, making sure there is a real legacy coming out of Hull UK City of Culture 2017.