'Wakefield has really got the wow factor' - Wakefield Council confirms plans to bid for City of Culture 2025 title

Thousands of visitors, millions of pounds in investment and an international audience could be on the cards for Wakefield, as the city launches its official bid to be named City of Culture 2025.

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 2:24 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 2:28 pm

Wakefield Council has this week confirmed plans to enter the city - and surrounding district - into the competition, which is designed to fund cultural development and growth in areas outside of London.

As well as celebrating the district’s cultural attractions, annual events and historic achievements, it is hoped that the title would attract additional investment and visitors.

In an exclusive interview with the Express ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, council leader Denise Jeffery said that the idea to bid for the title was first floated by Coun Michael Graham, who serves as the council’s cabinet member for Culture, Leisure and Sport.

Thousands of visitors, millions of pounds in investment and an international audience could be on the cards for Wakefield, as the city launches its official bid to be named City of Culture 2025. Wakefield city centre is seen from above. Photo: Scott Merrylees

Coun Jeffery said: “He was so enthusiastic I said let’s go for it. We looked into it and realised that we could.

“We kept thinking about what we’ve got. The more we talked about it the more we realised that Wakefield had really got the wow factor.”

Coun Jeffery says the council’s bid will focus on a whole host of cultural attractions - from recognisable spots such as the Hepworth and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, to quieter achievements, such as the ongoing redevelopment of Rutland Mills and the city’s Civic Quarter.

Coun Graham points to the success of events in the city, such as 2019’s Festival of the Moon, which drew 30,000 visitors, and recent Together & Apart exhibition, as evidence of how Wakefield would thrive with the City of Culture crown.

An aerial view of Pontefract Castle, with Ferrybridge Power Station visible on the horizon. Coun Jeffery says she is determined to make sure that the entire Wakefield district will be represented in the City of Culture bid. Photo: Scott Merrylees

He said: “Coming from Liverpool, we saw how much the European Capital of Culture boosted the city.

“It really brought investment there and attracted millions of people. You look at what we’ve got all across Wakefield, we’ve got so much not only to celebrate but really to show off.

“Everything we’ve got sort of a lot of key projects coming along at the moment, and it feels like the perfect year for all these projects to come together as one.

“We’ve got that returnability factor as well. We’ve got the Hepworth and YSP are constantly changing, and offering new exhibitions. People are definitely going to come back and do it time and time again.”

Live events hub Production Park, in South Kirkby, is one of many local businesses and initiatives to back the City of Culture application. The park provides expertise in the live events industry, and has previously worked with big names including Take That, Little Mix, the Spice Girls, Coldplay and Beyonce.

The council has already begun working with a host of local businesses to prepare its application for the City of Culture.

Among its partners are Wakefield Theatre Royal, the National Coal Mining Museum and South Kirkby’s Production Park, which has worked with some of the biggest musical stars in the world, including Hugh Jackman, Take That and the Spice Girls.

And for Coun Jeffery, the bid is serious: this is not a competition she is prepared to lose.

“I do feel that a lot of cities that are going for it are going for the publicity and don’t want to win,” she said. “When we had the discussion we said we don’t want that. We want to win.”

Wakefield Council launches its bid to be named City of Culture 2025. From far left: Claire Beaumont, carer and community volunteer, Bob Clayden, community artist, Councillor Michael Graham, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, artist Tony Wade, Councillor Denise Jeffery, leader of Wakefield Council, Kevin Trickett MBE, president of Wakefield Civic Society, Simon Wallace, director of the Hepworth Wakefield, Rebecca Williams of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, artist Ellie Way and Claire Alizon Hills, artistic director of Topsy Turvy Theatre. Photo: John Clifton

Coun Graham said: “Forget the ‘it’s the taking part that counts’; we want the grand prize.

“We’ve got such a great reputation in the Merrie city.

“Even going drinking on Westgate and going to the Pie Shop is part of the culture.

“That’s what we want to celebrate, there’s something for everyone.”

'City of culture will benefit our whole district'

From the Rhubarb Festival to excavations at Pontefract Castle, famous faces at Production Park to days out at the Hepworth, there is no end to the incredible sights, sounds and attractions in the Wakefield district.

And while there is no doubt that being named City of Culture 2025 would only boost the investment and interest in the district as it looks forward, a cornerstone of Wakefield’s entry will be representing art, culture and heritage from all corners of the district.

City of Culture 2025 will mark the first time that towns and cities are allowed to band together for a joint entry to the competition.

It means that Wakefield’s bid for recognition will reflect the cultural potential and historic successes of not only the city, but towns and villages across the district.

This team spirit is at the front of the council’s mind as they prepare their application.

Coun Jeffery said: “It is the city of culture, but we’re going to include the rest of the district as well. Because we do feel that we’re all part of the community.

“Yes we’re a city and it always looks when investment comes that it comes to the city, but what we’ve insisted on is that a share of investment goes across the district.

“We’re one city but we’re nine towns and we feel that we’re all communities and we all pull together.

“It’s not just the Sculpture Park and the Hepworth, it’s everything else, the pieces and stories that make this district what it is.”