Column: 'Developing our cultural offer will help to create new jobs', says council leader Peter Box
As many of you may already be aware the Festival of the Moon has been a huge success.
With over 31,000 visitors taking part in just two weeks, the number who came along to the arts and science event in the city’s former Market Hall have exceeded all our expectations.
The magnificent replica of the moon and the many science, dance, music and art events that we held were all winners, creating a buzzing atmosphere, with talks from experts such as Helen Sharman, Britain’s first astronaut, were a huge inspiration.
Some of the people that I met and talked to had never been to an event like this before. I was struck by visitors’ enthusiasm for Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon and its impact on people of all ages, from those of us who watched the first moon landing on TV 50 years ago, to young children, excited and eager to learn more.
Cultural events, like Festival of the Moon, create memorable experiences with opportunities to learn and equally importantly for people to have a great time.
But there’s even more to it than this, because developing our cultural offer is an important part of our plan to create new jobs and business opportunities in our district.
We are very fortunate to have a range of strong attractions such as Pontefract Castle, Sandal Castle, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Hepworth Wakefield, stunning country parks and great museums that are enjoyed by residents and attract many visitors.
Our established events such as the Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb, the Pontefract Liquorice Festival and our popular seaside events in Castleford and Wakefield draw thousands of people into our city centre and town centres.
The Festival of the Moon has sparked a real boost in people coming into the city centre, with Trinity Walk reporting a 19% increase in people entering the centre compared to this time last year, as well as car park usage going up, while The Ridings has seen visitor numbers of double the national average for the month.
Like other parts of the country we are facing the challenge of working with partners to revitalise our city and town centres, as trends have changed with many people using online services they find quick and convenient. People need more than retail to bring them into towns and cities – they want an experience.
I fully recognise that times are changing and a different approach is needed. We, and that means everyone, not just the Council, are trying to identify future focussed solutions. We are working closely with businesses and residents to look at fresh ideas, and see how we can move forward to support our district’s economy to grow and prosper.
This is also why we are working with the Wakefield Express who are campaigning hard to support our city centre revitalisation and why the High Street Taskforce was out and about a couple of weeks ago getting people’s view on what they want to see happen.
Our vision is to grow and develop our cultural offer as part of our economic strategy.
The former Market Hall, which so successfully hosted the Festival is going to be permanently transformed into the location for the district’s new creative hub, as a home for established entrepreneurs and new businesses, providing skills training for students and space for artists. The Festival of the Moon was just a taster of what we can achieve as we drive our cultural and creative ambition forward.
As well as making culture more accessible to all, it is a key part of supporting a strong local economy and creating jobs and opportunities.
We have secured £4.4m of government funding to help us develop our plans, which is a vote of confidence in our ability to deliver projects. We will continue to source additional funds where possible to further grow ambition and match the Council’s resource, which includes a £1.5m investment fund.
We want to give opportunities to people who would like to work in the creative industries, but until now have lacked opportunities to develop their talents and careers right here in the district. This will also strengthen by broadening the range of jobs available and I believe our district’s future is bright.
I believe that the success of the Festival of the Moon was a significant step forward for our district as we move forward with our cultural plans and work with partners to secure our shared long term goals.
As always, I welcome your views. You can reach me at [email protected]