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How Events Turned A City Around: The Legacy of Hull (Case Study)

By EventMB Team

This is a case study from IMEX Group. More information about Event Manager Blog’s sponsored case studies.

How Events Turned A City Around: The Legacy of Hull [Case Study]

Credit: Thomas Arran

Can events transform a city? This is the story of how the power of events elevated Hull, a working-class city in the UK, into a celebrated cultural hotspot and changed perceptions to make it a destination to be proud of.

If you are looking to learn how to let your imagination run wild, unite communities with a diverse programme and get inspired by amazing events, keep reading to discover how events can act as a catalyst to revive a city.

Hull has consistently been voted the worst place to live in Britain and when the announcement came that it would be the UK City of Culture in 2017, there was plenty of surprise, incredulity, and ridicule in response. The announcement kicked off four years of planning to execute a 12-month programme of events, with the aim to put Hull on the map for the right reasons.

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THE OBJECTIVES OF THE HULL 2017 EVENTS PROGRAMME

The UK City of Culture draws upon the power of events to create longer-lasting, more meaningful impacts and legacy for the destination. The UK title was established following the success of Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture 2008 and the investment and proven legacy it brought to Merseyside. Every five years a different UK city takes the crown for a year in the spotlight.

Early in the event planning process, Hull identified some very ambitious aims. They wanted to use events as the catalyst to:

keyboard_arrow_right transform attitudes and perceptions of Hull
keyboard_arrow_right raise aspirations and skills through increased participation in arts and culture
keyboard_arrow_right grow the size and strength of the cultural and visitor economy

To do this, they knew that they needed to offer a varied programme of events to appeal to all residents of the city, local area and beyond.

We look at the impact and learnings from individual events and the cumulative results of the 12-months of event programming.

All statistics and measures referred to in this case study are fully attributed and referenced at the very end.

 

How Events Turned A City Around: The Legacy of Hull

Credit: Patrick Mateer

 

THE EVENTS THAT HELPED TO TRANSFORM A CITY

During 2017, Hull’s UK City of Culture year attracted a total audience of 5.3 million attending over 2,800 events, cultural activities, installations, and exhibitions. Here are some of the coolest events which really stood out.

 

MADE IN HULL: MULTIMEDIA SOUND AND LIGHT INSTALLATIONS TO LAUNCH WITH A BANG

The first three months of the year were focused on Made in Hull: the contribution of the city to art, industry, and ideas. 1 January 2017 kicked off with a fireworks display and large-scale projection mappings onto eight landmark buildings across the city. The projections told the story of Hull over the last 100 years and celebrated some local residents as if they were ‘Hullywood’ stars. One of the installations allowed visitors to take part and see themselves projected large scale. By the end of the first week, it was reported that 342,000 people had participated in the opening events.

 

IMPACT:

  • Greater Recognition and Appreciation of Local History

    1 in 2 of the events were inspired by Hull’s history or heritage and this really had an impact on raising esteem and appreciation for their city. Over 3 in 4 residents (77.5%) felt their knowledge of Hull’s history and heritage had increased as a result and 70% of audiences said Hull 2017 made them think about Hull’s contribution to the world.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR EVENTS:

  • Kick Off with an Impressive Initial Event to Generate Greater Buy-in

    Rosie Millard, former Chair of the organising committee revealed that an engaging initial event is essential to build up people’s confidence that other events would be worth attending and not to be missed. If you are running a one or multi-day conference the same principle applies. Start off with a strong session that grabs attention and interest right from the start for greater buy-in throughout.

Credit: Thomas Arran

 

 

THE LAND OF GREEN GINGER: USE EVENT STORYTELLING TO CAPTURE IMAGINATIONS

Seven different “acts” or family-friendly events celebrated the Land of Green Ginger - a narrow Hull street with the smallest window in the world. Storytelling transformed various communities across the city into places of wonder, delight, magic, and possibility throughout the year with workshops, activations, and events.

A visual, multisensory voice park was created. The Hull accent is distinctive and voices from across the city were extracted, gathered and distilled. Visitors could charge a cloud of vapour with their voice and play with interactive voice pods.

The flagship event was a street procession and puppet parade throughout the city centre. The story unleashed a universe peppered with wise beasts, giants, shapeshifters and mischief makers.

The different events could be consumed as standalone snapshots that contributed to the overarching story created. The arts organisation behind the concept took specific facts and weaved them into a fantastic fairytale.

 

IMPACT:

  • Imaginative Events Demonstrated A Different Side Of The City

    Events can transport participants to a different world, far away from their everyday reality. 8 in 10 stated the cultural programme provided them with a different experience of Hull and almost half stated that it showed them that there was more to the city than they had expected.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR EVENTS:

  • Weave Participation into Different Elements of the Event Programme

    These events were interlinked but worked as standalone snapshots and were used to weave in different types of event formats, from participatory workshops and small group interactions to major street parades.
  • Use Themes and Clever Programming to Build on the Event Purpose

    Whether you are planning a one-day event or a 12-month event programme the themes and topics need to inspire your audience. The year-long events programme for Hull 2017 was developed with four central themes and divided into three-month ‘seasons’ which directly related to some of the overall objectives for Hull 2017.

Credit: Thomas Arran

 

 

LIVE PUBLIC ARTWORK: BOOST CAMARADERIE AND CREATE INTRIGUE

3,200 residents of Hull, got naked, painted each other with blue body paint, and posed as living art for photographs on the streets. This was part of a public artwork created by international artist Spencer Tunick to celebrate the maritime heritage of the city.

 

IMPACT:

  • A Shared Experience Created Deeper Connections

    Accounts from those that took part highlighted their understandable nervousness about taking their clothes off, outside, in front of strangers. However, once they had pushed through the awkwardness some admitted that it was the most brilliant experience of their life, they connected with new people during this bizarre occasion and got to be captured as a part of history. The photographic artwork will live on forever in the Ferens Art Gallery.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR EVENTS:

  • Experiment with Attention-grabbing Moments to Get People Talking

    Event planners often have crazy ideas but all too often these are perceived as too risky and they fall by the wayside. This example proves that having the courage to grab attention in an unusual way can pay off.

Hats-off though, could you encourage hundreds of people to get naked, paint themselves blue and be photographed on the streets?

 

Credit: James Mulkeen

 

 

 

THE FREEDOM FESTIVAL: EXPLORE DIFFICULT ISSUES IN AN ACCESSIBLE WAY USING EVENTS

This wasn’t a new festival, it has been running for 10 years, however, the meaning behind the Freedom Festival came firmly back in focus during the City of Culture year. Hull resident, William Wilberforce, was the leader in the movement to abolish slavery and the inspiration for the event concept. Different themes of freedom (or lack of freedom) were back at the heart of the festival, with 200 free street performances, debates, and discussions.

 

 

 

IMPACT:


  • An Established Event Reached New and Loyal Audiences

    The Freedom Festival had the opportunity to grow and reach new attendees during the City of Culture year and build loyalty with new attendees.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR EVENTS:


  • Refocus Event Objectives for a Renewed Focus

    The Freedom Festival was a long-running festival but refreshing the core focus of the event helped to give a new lease of life and focus on the important theme and messaging at the centre.

 

 

 

PRIDE: CELEBRATE DIVERSITY AND CREATE RICHER COMMUNITY EVENTS

The City of Culture established the first ever Pride festival in Hull to celebrate the LGBT+ community. As well as the colourful carnival atmosphere there were workshops, performances, and an exhibition to celebrate the 50 biggest LGBT+ icons. A play tackled coming out as a young person. Anecdotally, LGBT50 and Pride in Hull was widely cited by volunteers as being one of their favourite events.

 

IMPACT:


  • Establishing An Annual Community Event To Bring Diverse Groups Together

    Events can be a powerful way to bring together different and diverse audiences for a shared celebration and experience which can bridge differences, break down barriers and stereotypes, and forge understanding and cohesion. Pride is now an annual event in the calendar for Hull.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR EVENTS:


  • Demand Diversity and Inclusivity in your Events

    Work hard to ensure that your event is welcoming to all, from the initial messaging right through to the live event and post-event follow-up. The presenters, performers, and everyone involved in the event should also be representative of the variety and diversity of your audience. Differences should be embraced and encouraged and it will make your events all the richer for it.
  • Value and Reward Your Event Volunteers

    Many large events rely on volunteers and the importance of their contribution and what they get out of the experience is significant. Millard recommends taking a local approach, as if you see that someone from your street has signed up to be a volunteer, you are more likely to consider it too. Events can be a very rewarding experience for volunteers but look after them so they can give their best on long event days.

Credit: Thomas Arran

 

 

THE FLUX FESTIVAL: BRIDGE DIFFICULT HISTORIES AND MOVE FORWARD POSITIVELY

The North Atlantic Flux Festival was part of the ‘Roots and Routes’ season and focused on Hull as a gateway, a place of movement to and through, a celebration of migration and flux. This festival took a partnership approach and brought together eclectic musicians from Hull and Reykjavik to explore their shared Nordic history. The four-day event told the story of the influence migration has on port cities and how art grows and is richer from cultures mixing. The relationship across the North Sea hasn’t always been harmonious but the positive message from the event was that once warring cities can let bygones be bygones and form new relationships, particularly through music.

 

IMPACT:


  • Using Music Events to Bring People Together and Improve Wellbeing

    For this festival, music was at the centre. Music is proven to elevate your mood and increase well being by releasing dopamine (the feel-good chemical in your brain). Music has been used for centuries as a form of self-expression and to forge social connections.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR EVENTS:


  • Be Brave Enough to Push Boundaries through Events

    Hull didn’t shy away from political messages around freedoms (with the Freedom Festival) and addressing the troubled relationship of the past with Iceland (with this Festival). By being open and honest it can ensure that the same mistakes are understood and, hopefully, aren’t made again.
  • Joint Working and Partnerships to Achieve More from your Events

    Get partners on board and involved to expand what you can offer. Think about fringe events, new partnerships, combining resources and different ways of working.

Credit: Chris Pepper

 

 

 

THE TURNER PRIZE: OPEN ART UP TO THE MASSES

The Turner Prize, one of the world’s most renowned and controversial art prizes, is awarded to an artist who has exhibited outstanding work in the previous year. In 2017, it came to Hull. The four shortlisted artists exhibited their work at Ferens Art Gallery in the city, with the overall winner announced at a glittering awards ceremony at Hull Minster.

 

IMPACT:


  • Sending a Clear Message that the Arts Are For Everyone

    Attracting the Turner Prize to Hull was a coup for Hull as anyone with an interest in the arts couldn’t escape hearing about the city where the artwork was on show and the winner was announced. Who would believe that Hull and the Turner Prize would ever be uttered in the same sentence? The arts are not just the property or right of the rich and privileged, bringing it to a working-class city removes the elitism and opens it up to everyone in society.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR EVENTS:


  • Challenge and Change Perceptions through Events

    Stereotypes can take hold and be difficult to shake off but actions speak louder than words. Ensure that positive news floods out from your event. Visual, eye-catching reports in the media, such as the Turner Prize generated, can change perceptions and make people take notice. As well as social media, consider issuing a press release with a well thought out hook that will interest the media.

 


Credit: Chris Pepper

 

 

 

EDINBURGH FRINGE: TAKE YOUR EVENT OUTSIDE OF THE DESTINATION

The focus wasn’t only within the city boundary, the city went on tour too to spread the message. Uniformed volunteers ventured North, up to Scotland, to take over the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and promote Hull as UK City of Culture with a flash mob and photo opportunity. This included presenting performances from five local Hull theatre companies within the Fringe. By taking Hull outside of East Yorkshire they reached new audiences that would never otherwise have taken note of the city and its cultural output.

 

IMPACT:


  • Reaching New Audiences and Fans from Outside the Destination

    Across events for Hull 2017, 27.5% of audiences were from East Yorkshire and there was an increase in the proportion of audiences from elsewhere in the UK, in comparison to 2016 events, with over 1 in 5 audience members (20.7%) visiting from elsewhere in the UK.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR EVENTS:


  • Consider Activations and Roadshows for Event Promotion in the Lead-up

    Consider creating fringe events and promotions in different cities and locations to create a buzz about your forthcoming event and reach out to new potential attendees. This touchpoint could influence them to travel to the main event.

 

 

 

TAKE FLIGHT: GRASSROOTS AND PROFESSIONALS UNITE FOR GREATER REWARDS

The Royal Ballet officially opened the newly refurbished Hull New Theatre with a performance specially curated by Hull-born Director Kevin O’Hare and featuring talented dancers born and trained in the city. This was the first performance by the Royal Ballet in Hull for over 30 years. A sell-out live screening also took place in Queen’s Gardens, watched by 3,000 people braving the bad weather. The public broadcast had a longer interval which allowed the cast to make a surprise and unexpected appearance at the end to take a bow.

There was also a community dance project inspired by flying, choreographed by members of The Royal Ballet and five local dance groups. Take Flight culminated in 100 performers and members of the community presenting a re-imagined version of the famous cygnet pas de quatre from Swan Lake throughout the city.

 

IMPACT:


  • Use Positive Role Models People Can Identify With

    The Director and several of the dancers were from Hull. The aspiration and positive messages this sent out to young people hammered home that they can and should follow their dreams - maybe one day it could be them in the spotlight.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR EVENTS:


  • Mix Up Event Design and Delivery

    The public performance inspired the community dance project and meant that for many a passive experience was turned into an active participatory one which they will never forget.

 

 

 

HULL 2097: PERFORMANCE TO SPARK IMAGINATIONS

Instead of the standard red phone boxes, Hull has unique cream phone boxes. During a specific Sunday random phone boxes rang and, if answered, the call transported the person to spend 15 minutes in the future, in the year 2097. Furthermore, some phone boxes were selected to collect anyone that answered and take them on a 15-minute mystery tour in a futuristic vehicle, with actors, discussing what the future holds. This was perhaps the oddest activation of the City of Culture year but it left participants with the message that the future is in their hands and they can change the future.

 

IMPACT:


  • Increased Pride and Hope for the Future Following the Event

    The city of culture events programme cleverly incorporated the past, present, and future to share the importance of Hull and cemented some of the reasons that local residents should be proud of their city. The evaluation reported an increase in residents’ pride. 75% of residents are proud to live in Hull.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR EVENTS:


  • The Bizarre Can Trigger Deeper Thinking and Discussions at Your Events

    Meeting design strives to change behaviours and thinking outside the box can pay off. Get inventive with unconventional concepts, using actors to reinforce messaging and experiential ideas is something that event planners should consider using more.

Credit: Chris Pepper

 

The Overall 
Results from
Hull 2017

The Overall

Results from

Hull 2017

The City of Culture title unlocked major investment and funding via public funding (£32m) and private business initiatives. Research from the University of Hull demonstrated some powerful outcomes from 2017 in terms of ROI and legacy. Here is a snapshot of some of the biggest wins event planners will appreciate:

MAJOR INVESTMENT IN CULTURAL AND VISITOR INFRASTRUCTURE, INCLUDING EVENT SPACES

Excitingly, new venues opened and there were a number of derelict spaces and buildings which were brought back into use, such as Stage @TheDock and the Humber Street Gallery. Widening the choice and variety of venues and offering quirky and modern options with plenty of character will be welcomed by eventprofs considering hosting events in the city and offer a platform for community events to continue.

It is reported that nearly 800 new jobs have been created in the visitor economy and cultural sector since 2013, a direct result of investments totalling £219.5m in the cultural and visitor economy, which are fully or partly attributable to Hull being awarded UK City of Culture status.

A new 3,500-capacity music and events space, Hull Venue, is nearing completion and will allow Hull to attract large corporate conferences, exhibitions, concerts, and events.

 

A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN VISITOR NUMBERS AND ROOM NIGHTS

From a national and international perspective, Hull was not a well-known destination or was mainly recognisable as an icon for ridicule and criticism. Visitors that made it this far North, three hours by train outside of London, would overlook the city completely and choose to go to York, Leeds or Manchester instead. In the lead up to, and following 2017, this changed.

The total number of annual visitors in 2017 was 1.3m greater than in 2013, when Hull bid for the UK City of Culture title and 4.7 million people visited the city. The value of tourism from 2017 is on track to contribute in excess of £300m to the economy which is a significant boost for the city. The events and activities from Hull 2017 are estimated to have contributed £11 million to the local economy.

 

MEDIA PROFILE ACHIEVED FOR THE CITY (FOR POSITIVE REASONS)

The city generated over 20,200 pieces of media coverage across print, online and broadcast media outlets. To have purchased this media exposure as advertising would have cost an estimated £450m.

An agreement with the BBC even meant that Hull was shown on the national weather map during all weather forecasts broadcast, instead of Leeds or Manchester. Consistent coverage from local and national media gave the city more status.

 

A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN PARTICIPATION (IN A CITY WITH LOW UPTAKE IN ARTS AND CULTURE)

Traditionally Hull had always had low participation from residents in terms of arts and culture, willingness to volunteer and visits to galleries, museums, theatres, and performance venues. They worked hard to inspire changes in behaviour and activity from those within the local area and this really paid off.

Over half of the audiences at events were from Hull with nearly all residents (over 95%) attending at least one cultural activity during the year.

Record audience figures, exceeding 1.4 million, were seen by the city’s galleries and museums. Major theatres, halls and performance venues across Hull experienced an increase in ticket sales of more than 30%.

 

NEW PERSONAL SKILLS AND DEVELOPMENT THROUGH VOLUNTEERING OPPORTUNITIES

A total of 4,000 individual volunteers were signed up from four recruitment drives. Nearly 50% of volunteers were aged over 55. There were lots of heartwarming stories of how this opportunity developed new skills and confidence for volunteers and brought people out of their shell.

The evaluation evidenced a new confidence in local people, with significant increases (+9%) in residents’ willingness to take part in a range of cultural and non-cultural activities, including volunteering and sport.

The most popular skills development courses among 2017 volunteers were Diversity (which 37% took part in) and LGBTQ Awareness (with 28% of volunteers taking part).

Credit: Thomas Arran

 

THE MULTIPLIER EFFECT FROM EVENTS IS RECOGNISED BY LOCAL BUSINESSES

There was an increase in employment and business revenues across the city as a whole. 1 in 4 businesses surveyed in Hull and East Riding took on new staff in 2017 and 1 in 5 businesses extended their opening hours. Over half of businesses surveyed felt that 2017 had contributed to increased turnover.

Credit: Thomas Arran

 

A 20-YEAR PLAN IS ANNOUNCED TO CONTINUE EVENT LEGACY

2017 was only the start for Hull and the work continues. Absolutely Cultured, a permanent national arts company based in the city has been established to take forward the learning and vision for the next 20 years. Hull has confirmed that it is committed to continuing to commission world-class arts programming aimed at residents and visitors and to cement Hull’s reputation as a centre for culture and creativity.

 

 

FINAL TAKEAWAYS FOR EVENT PLANNERS

Whatever the type, size, and scale of events you produce there are plenty of overall learnings and takeaways from Hull 2017:

Look Closely at Event Demographics and Identify Gaps and Surprises

The age profile of audiences at City of Culture events confirmed high representation of people aged 55-64, and an under-representation of audiences aged 16-34 years old. It would be interesting to analyse why the younger demographic was under-represented and what events they would have liked to have seen instead. Always ask ‘What could have been done differently?’

Always Think About the Next Steps and Long-term Plan

Well before 2017 drew to a close, Hull was planning ahead to secure the longer term legacy from this opportunity. They now have a 20-year plan for Hull and a permanent team to build on progress made in the city of culture year. The next event is a 3.5km domino run using 12,000 giant blocks throughout the city.

Invest in Stats and Research to Demonstrate the Importance of Events

You might not have a university and academic research team available to you but you should still be using technology, tools, and qualitative feedback to measure the effectiveness and impact of your events. Event planners should boast more about their wins and achievements.

Share Evidence and Best Practice to Further Professionalise the Events Industry

Event planners need to be more vocal about the power of their events, achievements, and legacy. In an economic downturn, it is often events and marketing that are the first to be scaled back but it shouldn’t be. Only by working together to professionalise the industry can we keep building the body of evidence and prove that events are not only necessary but also essential and aspirational on multiple levels. This includes learning points too, instead of being protective, it would be powerful if event planners could share how they will do things differently in the future.

 

IN CONCLUSION

Event planners know the power of events to transform from a personal, collective and large-scale perspective and the impact that can be achieved in both the short and long term. Initiatives such as the UK City of Culture are valuable because they can harness the power of academic researchers to scientifically track and measure the outputs. The legacy being created by those crowned UK City of Culture and indeed European Capital of Culture is fascinating reading for anyone involved in the events industry.

It is exciting to hear that Hull's journey doesn’t end here and the story of the city will continue to grow. The people, places, and spaces are hungry and eager for more. We will look forward to finding out what the next 20-years will achieve and how events, arts, and culture will continue to build and transform a city.

Access the summary research report from the University of Hull here.

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