Why Derby has a strong case to win UK City of Culture 2025
- Credit: Bonbon Photography
Is Derby on the path to win the coveted prize of City of Culture 2025? Nigel Powlson talks to Adam Buss about the city's ambitious bid.
Being named City of Culture 2025 could fundamentally change the perception of Derby and create a sense of lasting pride for residents.
That’s the view of the man tasked with spearheading Derby’s ambitious attempt to land the much-coveted prize.
Adam Buss, interim director of Derby’s City of Culture bid, is delighted Derby has got through the first round of the bid process, which has seen 20 applicants whittled down to eight.
Now it’s about putting the strongest case forward for Derby, with the final outcome decided in the spring.
Adam, who has taken a secondment from the QUAD arts centre to work full-time on the bid, knows how transformational this could be.
‘It would raise the collective profile and the collective love of our city tenfold or more,’ suggests Adam. ‘With arts and culture, we are driving our ambitions and saying amazing things can happen in Derby.
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‘City of Culture gives us that opportunity to make a step change in how we perceive our city ourselves and how people see it from the outside and there will be tangible benefits for the people living, working and visiting the city.’
Hull is widely regarded as having made the most of its time in the spotlight as 2017 City of Culture, so there is evidence of the way it changes perceptions of a place and gives it a fresh confidence.
Which is in part why Derby wanted to join the process.
‘Our first thought was ‘why not?’’, says Adam. ‘Ultimately it’s such a big prize that any city would want it.
‘We have done a lot of work in recent years not only about positioning arts and culture in terms of the entertainment the city offers but also as a crucial part of health and wellbeing agendas. The fact we had done that groundwork was probably the catalyst for universal support for mounting a bid.’
Adam is now working on submitting an eye-catching bid that will hopefully propel Derby into the next stage, a final shortlist of possibly three or four candidates.
‘We have to say what difference it would make to Derby,’ explains Adam. ‘We need to have a lot of conversations with different groups and communities to find out what the challenges are and where arts and culture can play a key role in that and how we can work with them to move forward.
‘The second part is about having the capacity to deliver it and if we were to become City of Culture would we make a good job of it?
‘We will be looking at the themes identified as part of our bid, what activities might come from those, what sponsorship we can generate, what capital projects are on the horizon that will fit into the bid and what difference all this would make to the people of Derby.’
If successful, the city would see seed funding arrive from Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund. This would stimulate other funding sources, sponsorships and ticket sales with an anticipated boost to the local economy of £20-£30m.
‘Once you get the moniker, the conversation you can have with funders is completely different as they are already geared up to support City of Culture,’ he says.
‘Coventry (current City of Culture) has been hampered by the pandemic in terms of output and what it wants to deliver and I think they have done an amazing job given the circumstances.
‘But Hull gives a really good example of what the impact can be – the creation of new venues, new organisations delivering programmes and a more regular programme of arts activities that has continued after that.
‘Hull also benefited from a perception change and that’s one of the key things we are interested in. It’s not that Derby has a bad reputation, but we have this kind of brand neutrality where people don’t necessarily know where we are, what we do and why it’s a great place. Being City of Culture could completely change that.
‘We have been to Coventry quite a lot and the physical change to the city centre and the way it feels different is very evident. A lot of public work activity has been delivered, there are more green spaces, and it feels a different place physically.’
Adam believes Derby has a lot of strengths to take into the bid process.
‘The centre partnership in Derby is stronger than many other places, the size of the city means you can get different kinds of public and private sector organisations around a table discussing common themes and issues.
‘The quality of the arts organisations in the city is a strength. Derby is one of the few places in the UK outside London to have representation from most of the major art forms within its organisations.
‘That means we have expertise in things like classical music alongside hip hop, digital media, theatre etc. One of our big themes is building from within and giving a voice to those artists.
‘We also have a diverse population – 143 nationalities represented within Derby. Southampton has just over 50 nationalities and is a city of similar size.
‘The challenges Derby has are stark. The wage disparity is one of the biggest outside London. We have some of the most deprived communities in the UK and some of the wealthiest sitting alongside each other, which is unusual in a city of this size.
‘You have public health disparity with 11-14 years less life expectancy compared with other wards.
‘I also think that however many successes we have with things like the Format Festival, The Folk Festival or sporting achievement no-one seems to pin that back on a regular basis to Derby.
‘Historically we have such huge heritage – the industrial revolution, the Enlightenment, Florence Nightingale – huge figures in socio-political culture which for some reason aren’t re-associated with Derby. They exist but we haven’t established ownership over them.
‘All these stories are there and being City of Culture would enable us to highlight and celebrate them.’
Creating a lasting legacy is something Adam and the bid team have been talking about from the start.
‘This can’t be just about one year of activity, this has to be about the longer term. There’s lots of evidence that if you have a deeper sense of pride in the place you live, it thrives and people become more civically engaged.
‘The City of Culture bid should be about our place but we want to create and do things that influence the world as well, which Derby has done in the past. We are very ambitious in the things we want to work on.’
The other bidders will be extolling their own virtues so will Adam be looking at the competition or concentrating on his own bid?
‘If you are in a competition you can’t ignore that there are other people in it but fundamentally you have to do the best for your city.
‘What makes this competition so hard is there are lots of different types of places on that list. How does a judging committee compare Derby with a population of 250,000 and Armagh with 15,000 people, smaller than Matlock, and then how do you compare that with Cornwall?’
‘City of Culture is an amazing prize and we are doing everything to win it. But it shouldn’t define us doing good work in the city, we should do good work anyway so if this raises ambitions, changes the way we think and do things, even if we don’t win that surely is a success as well.’
THE PATH TO CITY OF CULTURE 2025
A record 20 cities, counties and regions expressed interest in becoming UK City of Culture 2025.
Derby is one of eight places to go forward to the next stage. The remaining bidders to host the year-long cultural festival are:
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Northern Ireland; Bradford; Cornwall; Derby; Southampton; County Durham; Stirling, Scotland; Wrexham, Wales.