Look across the water for inspiration

Peace Bridge, Derry
Peace Bridge, Derry

IF the organisers of the bid for Hastings and Bexhill need any inspiration they should look across to Northern Ireland.

In 2010, Londonderry became the inaugural winners of the UK City of Culture title and are now reaping its massive rewards.

The walled city on the banks of the River Foyle was up against major competition in the form of Sheffield, Birmingham and Norwich.

But it overcame all the odds to win the title and secure one of the richest cultural shows in modern times.

The bid transformed Derry from a town that was known for the troubles of the past to a modern, forward-thinking city and a major draw for tourists from across the UK, Europe and beyond.

Already in January and February, room bookings across the city are up by 20 per cent.

Oonagh McGillion led the team that secured the bid in 2010 and is now working as the city council’s City of Culture legacy director.

Mrs McGillion is now responsible for shaping up the city in the wake of the festivities and making sure there is a lasting legacy for future generations.

And she believes there could be several similarities between Derry and Hastings.

Hastings has high levels of youth unemployment and is need of investment in its infrastructure.

“The most important thing is that it’s a defined geographic area,” said Mrs McGillion.

“We had a lot of need and could show how the title would address them.

“We could see how it would address issues in the city.

“One of the issues was an opportunity to tell the world about us. Our culture was something that could be packaged and we believed we had a strong package to sell.”

A pyrotechnics display marked the beginning of the year of celebration on New Year’s Eve.

Derry was due to host 140 events during the year including the Turner Prize and the Royal Ballet’s first visit to Northern Ireland for 20 years.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is reported to have said the award was ‘a precious gift for the peacemakers’ in Northern Ireland.

Some of the best artists and performers from around the world are descending on the city to take part in the cultural extravaganza which has something to offer everyone, from every age to every background.

The Hairy Bikers and fellow long-haired entertainers Status Quo have also booked to take part in the party.

The city won £10 million of capital infrastructure from the Government. The Department of Environment gave £500,000 towards renovating derelict sites and the

refurbishment of the historic Guild Hall.

The total amount of investment could be as high as £120 million with 1.3 million tourists expected to visit the city this year.

Mrs McGillion added: “We had very strong links with the council and strategic investment board. We also got the Taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland on board and the UK Government.

“We opened an office in the city centre and asked the public to come in and tell us their stories on special postcards.

“We have already seen a 20 per cent rise is room sales in January and February. We have been approached by bidders for the 2017 title who want to know just how we did it. And we welcome visits from anyone who wants to learn more about our wonderful city about.”

For more information visit: www.cityofculture2013.com.

By Sol Buckner