The accolade is only granted to a city every four years, and brings with it a huge boost to local culture and tourism.
Coventry has been confirmed as the UK’s next City of Culture, nabbing the title over rival cities Swansea, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Paisley.
The announcement was made in Hull, the current UK City of Culture, which ends its reign at the end of 2018.
The competition takes place every four years, meaning that Coventry’s year-long celebrations won’t begin until 2021.
Speaking at the announcement in Hull, Emma Harrabin from the Coventry bid team said that they had been buoyed by the support of people from the West Midlands city.
“We really felt on this whole journey that the city was with us,” she told The Independent.
“We’ve been inundated with messages of support on social media. It’s just been such a wonderful way for the city to come together and celebrate what it has to offer.”
Justine Themen, another member of the Coventry team, said that she thought the city was helped by its diversity.
“It’s one of the most diverse cities in the UK and therefore reflective of the diversity of the UK overall,” she said, adding: “There’s nothing more exciting than what culture has to offer communities.”
Coventry was heavily bombed during World War II, and also experienced economic hardship when the British motor manufacturing industry – once the city’s lifeblood – began to decline in the latter half of the 20th century. David Burbidge, chair of the Coventry 2021 bid team, told The Guardian that the city had earned its triumph.
“Coventry is a city which has taken a lot of knocks over the years and this is the time for us to spring back and to show the world what we are made of,” he said.
“We will make the most of this title and make everybody proud of Coventry, it is a great place.”
What does ‘City of Culture’ actually mean?
The accolade was modelled on the European Capital of Culture competition, an honour which has previously been bestowed on cities including Berlin, Madrid, Stockholm and Glasgow. As well as a nice title, being selected as a UK City of Culture offers a significant lift to local economies, tourism and access to the arts.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has already said it will give Coventry £3m for special projects, with the government also expected to chip in. It’s not yet known exactly how much money ‘Cov’ will get from the government ahead of its 2021 celebrations, but Hull received £15m in government funding for being City of Culture 2018 – plus £3m from Arts Council England and £3m from HLF.
Being City of Culture also resulted in significant non-government investment for Hull and Derry-Londonderry, the first UK City of Culture (which took the title in 2013). Derry has said that the accolade boosted its local economy by £47m, while The Guardian reports that Hull has had £1bn of investment since it was announced as the 2017 winner.
More broadly, the honour offers the chance to shine a spotlight on places that might not usually be considered artistic hotspots, bringing a sense of vibrancy, optimism and local pride – plus new visitors – to the UK’s smaller cities. In the first three months of Hull being City of Culture 2018, for example, nine out of 10 residents took part in a cultural activity, while hotel occupancy jumped by 14%.
So what’s Coventry got going for it?
If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey-esque stately homes, the countryside surrounding Coventry has got them in spades. Check out the Jane Austen-connected Stoneleigh Abbey, moated manor house Baddesley Clinton, and the 16th century Packwood House.
Coventry is also the birthplace of poet Philip Larkin, author Lee Child, bands The Specials and The Enemy, and musician Delia Derbyshire, who created the Doctor Who theme tune.
Images: iStock / Rex Features