Wakefield Council, along with other cultural leaders and organisations, has today launched its exciting and ambitious bid to become City of Culture 2025.
The district is already making a significant mark in the culture and creative world. It is home to internationally-acclaimed cultural attractions such as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, The Hepworth Wakefield, and Production Park, an internationally-renowned centre for the live events industry. It celebrates local heritage with The National Coal Mining Museum, Sandal and Pontefract Castles, and offers a variety of arts at the Wakefield Theatre Royal, amongst many more.
This wealth of cultural and creative assets, and reputation in the sector, continues to drive further investment, building on the already ambitious plans to make Wakefield the creative hub for the North. Exciting transformation programmes are taking place to repurpose disused assets into creative spaces, including the development of WX and the transformation of Rutland Mills and Castleford Mill.
The multi-million pound investment of the historical Rutland Mills complex at Wakefield Waterfront alone, will see the creation of a diverse and multi-functional cultural landmark for the North. This will see the culmination of 15 years of regeneration of the waterfront area and the creation of a vibrant central events square.
The bid will also be used to inspire and upskill a new generation of entrepreneurs, sporting heroes, digital dynamos and creative champions who will energise and animate the city and towns.
Backing the bid, Council Leader, Cllr Denise Jeffery, said: “We want to put Wakefield on the map as a lead cultural destination across the country and beyond. We want to share with the public, region and world what Wakefield has to offer.
“Our bid will be a truly collaborative effort, working closely with the cultural businesses and organisations that make our city and district great.
“We know this is an ambitious bid given the Government have only recently changed the criteria which enables places like Wakefield and the wider district to bid. However we fit the new criteria perfectly and we want to use this opportunity to showcase our impressive cultural offer and bring residents and partners together to celebrate all we have to offer.
“This bid will enhance the amazing and dynamic projects and work already taking place and reflected in our future plans.
“We hope this bid will bring long-term benefits to people across the district, from our wonderful city to our many thriving towns such as Pontefract, Horbury, South Elmsall and Ossett. It will help us to attract more visitors and investment into the district, boost jobs, increase skills and business opportunities and creating even more exciting opportunities to take part in arts and cultural activities.
“That is why we are not seeing this as a one-shot opportunity for City of Culture, but rather as a chance to develop a compelling year of culture which we hope to deliver regardless of the outcome of the bid. It’s about the journey, not the destination.”
Cllr Michael Graham, Wakefield Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, said: “We are proud of Wakefield – a place rich in culture and a fascinating heritage – including Roman sites in Castleford, castles dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries and The National Coal Mining Museum celebrating and preserving this important industry. We would love nothing more than for others to join us in experiencing our rich and diverse cultural offer that I, like so many other residents, rightly feel proud of.
“We already have a great sense of pride in our district and this idea has already generated so much energy and excitement – leading to new creative ideas and conversations already taking place across culture, business and communities.
“We want everyone to share in this excitement with us so we can work to create a lasting cultural and creative legacy for Wakefield and all the other major social and economic benefits it may bring.
“Culture and creativity really is everywhere and it is for everyone – to learn, inspire and enjoy.”
Wakefield already has a strong track record of delivering hugely successful cultural events including the world-famous, and quirky, Rhubarb Festival and liquorice festival – both celebrating unique local produce that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the district each year. This success has led to the creation of the popular Festival of the Moon in 2019, which attracted over 30,000 people. More recently, the Council has just delivered its Together & Apart festival to showcase the work of local artists and communities created during the pandemic – where the unique spirit of the people of Wakefield shines through in every artist’s work.
The Wakefield district is also a place to grow new talent and inspire the next generation of cultural curators – with CAPA College and Backstage Academy driving forward these ambitions.
And not forgetting, that the Wakefield district is the home of top-class Rugby league with not one, but two Super League clubs battling it out in the top league – Wakefield Trinity and Castleford Tigers – alongside Featherstone Rovers who are riding high in the Championship.
Simon Wallis, Director of The Hepworth Wakefield, said: “The Wakefield district has an incredible depth and breadth of cultural experiences and activities to build upon. It’s an inspiring combination of a proud city, towns and villages where urban and rural life combine to create our unique identity and spirit of place. It’s the district that formed and influenced Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore as they grew up and went on to become two of the greatest artists of the 20th century.
“We see a new generation of creative young people developing similar ambitions in so many different and unexpected ways in our local schools. We have huge potential for positive and exciting change in Wakefield and this bid to be City of Culture will help us realise that by bringing us all together across the district to be very much more than the sum of our considerable parts. I can’t wait to collaborate and show what we can achieve together.
“Culture connects every aspect of our lives and we want to connect the unique and special things we have to offer with the rest of the UK and the world; just as our local heroes Hepworth and Moore did so successfully. In Wakefield we are local and global, and we understand the huge transformative power of culture for all.”
Lee Brooks, CEO of Production Park, said: “Production Park is incredibly excited to be supporting the City of Culture bid and we can’t wait to collaborate with the region’s other institutions to give Wakefield’s cultural output the recognition it truly deserves.
“As a post-industrial region, Wakefield has come a long way from its decline of big industry and the closure of its factories and mines. Although its ‘rhubarb triangle’ remains, there’s another triangle now underpinning up the region’s cultural identity; one which is home to nationally significant names, The Hepworth, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Production Park. They’re all key institutions in the levelling up agenda – giving the area, its artists, and its people the recognition they deserve.
“Production Park is not only home to one of Europe’s largest purpose-built production rehearsal arenas – which has seen us welcome the likes of Coldplay, Little Mix and Peter Kay – but it also plays host to a community of live events and creative businesses, four studios and a cohort of more than 200 students at Backstage Academy, a higher education provider for the creative industries.
“Like most cultural institutions across the UK, Production Park and the wider live events industry has undoubtedly suffered a real blow this year, but the City of Culture bid fosters a sense of pride in our region and demonstrates the resilience of the cultural sector. It gives cause for optimism and celebration, and we’ve got an awful lot to celebrate!”
Cllr Jeffery added: “We’d like everyone to get involved in backing our bid. Please let us know what culture means to you and what you would like to see happen in Wakefield – join in the conversation online using #Wakefield2025.”
More information about the bid will be released in the coming weeks before it is submitted next month. The winning entry will be announced in May 2022.