How City of Culture status can offer Paisley a pattern for success
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THIS week saw the UK Government fire the starting pistol on a competition that will transform the future of one of the country’s communities and Paisley is ready to show why that should be us.
On Thursday, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) officially launched the UK City of Culture 2021 competition. The announcement was made in Hull, which is hosting the title in 2017, and Paisley is one of several places in the UK aiming to follow the city.
The competition sees a year of major UK-wide events in one location aimed at using culture and creativity as a catalyst for change. Bids will be lodged in the spring, and the winner will be announced at the end of the year. To pre-empt an often-asked question, although Paisley isn’t a city, the competition is open to large towns and urban areas. As Scotland’s biggest town, we are well equipped to bid and win. As a born-and-bred Buddie, I would suggest there are few places of our size to have made such a contribution to the world.
Paisley is the one-time centre of the global textile industry and the cradle of the Paisley Pattern, a worldwide brand that still carries the town’s name.That unique history bequeathed a legacy still prominent today, including Scotland’s secondhighest concentration of listed buildings and an internationally significant museum collection.
There’s also a highly-regarded university, an international airport, a thriving grassroots contemporary cultural scene, including PACE – one of the UK’s largest youth theatre groups – and a busy major events programme.
At the same time, Paisley faces major challenges. The town is home to some of the most deprived areas in Scotlandandtheemptyunitsonour High Street tell the story of a town centre hit harder than most by a changing retail environment.
But that’s why we are bidding. UK City of Culture goes to a city that, like Hull and Derry in 2013, has a clear plan to use the accolade to change its fortunes for the better. As the DCMS reminded us this week, UK City of Culture is more than a title: it’s about bringing communities together, building local pride, developing new partnerships and attracting tourists.
In a few months we will submit a bid that will show the judges how we plan to use Paisley’s unique story and assets to deliver all of the above in 2021.
The first week of Hull’s year in the spotlight saw 342,000 visitors, an incredible number that outlines the sheer scale of the possible benefits.
For us, winning would mean an economic boost worth tens of millions of pounds, hundreds of new jobs and the chance to build a new town-centre economy with culture and tourism at its heart.
But the impact it would have on the people of Renfrewshire is just as important. Culture has the power to make people’s lives better.
Culture is proven to have a positive impact on health and wellbeing and we want the bid process to create a lasting legacy of new chances for people young and old to access those benefits.
And the people of Paisley are the ones leading the bid: more than 8,000 have already been part of the conversation around it, while the show of support on social media this week from the local community has been phenomenal.
Perceptions of Paisley are already being confounded. Publicity around the bid has already led to 70 million opportunities to see or hear something positive about the town, with more to come.
The bid doesn’t sit in isolation; it’s part of a wider push to transform the area’s fortunes over the next decade, including a revamped Paisley Museum predicted to attract 125,000 visitors a year.
But while we will deliver major regeneration benefits win or lose, the UK City of Culture title would turbocharge the entire process.
Older Herald readers will remember the negative way Glasgow was perceived before it hosted the European City of Culture title in 1990, and the transformation it has seen since.
It’s time for Paisley to go on its own version of that journey. Our bid for UK City of Culture 2021 will show we needthetitle,wantthetitle,andcan deliver it. No matter what happens, Paisley has turned a corner. Councillor Macmillan is the leader of Renfrewshire Council and chairman of the Paisley 2021 Partnership Board. www.paisley2021.co.uk