Regeneration through culture: How culture can boost cities’ economic growth

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Stoke-on-Trent has long been a destination for makers, dreamers, and creators. One need only look at our storied history to see that – we changed the world with our ceramics prowess and inspired the works of Berry, Barton and more.

Arts and culture are part of the Stokie DNA, and in 2017, we decided to make it official with a bid for UK City of Culture 2021.

Unfortunately, we lost out to Conventry (fix!), but the impact which the bid – and the additional culture boost – had on the city was undeniable.

It’s clear that for a city on the up, prioritising culture is vital for kick-starting and maintaining economic growth. In this piece, we’ll look at how an industry which has historically been disregarded as having little-to-no economic value is in fact a key driver for regeneration, development, and urban placemaking.


A report – “Together We Make The City: Stoke-on-Trent – Losing The Bid But Winning With Culture” – published in the aftermath of the City of Culture bid, demonstrated just how valuable it was to our city.

According to the report, three of the key benefits across the 2017/18 period were:

  • 60 jobs created
  • 700,000 overnight stays
  • 9m day trips

In addition, Stoke-on-Trent also saw (as per Stoke on Trent City Council’s website):

An improved regional and national profile for Stoke-on-Trent as a result of bidding, as well as a growth in pride locally around the city

  • The key role of the cultural sector and culture in the growth and success of the city and the overall vision for Stoke-on-Trent
  • Lasting partnerships with in-kind contributions that continue to deliver accessible activities and events, with an emphasis on reaching diverse and under-represented groups
  • An increase in skills, capacity and development working in and around the cultural sector
  • a new ten-year culture strategy for the city
  • Capital investment of £6m in The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and improvements in the city’s assets including the city centre and key heritage buildings across the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent
  • Funding bids that have secured hundreds of thousands of pounds’ investment. This includes £210,000 for the restoration of the city’s Mk XVI spitfire from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in conjunction with the Wolfson Foundation – to provide state-of-the-art interpretation of the new gallery at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. In addition, there has been more than £300,000 from Arts Council England to improve tourism and cultural sector links and visitor numbers through the Cultural Destinations programme
  • Delivery of other major cultural events within the city including Poppies: Weeping Window, which attracted 122,000 visitors in six weeks and contributed an estimated visitor spend of £33 per person and £4m overall impact on the local economy

The last point is perhaps the most exciting. The City of Culture bid acted as a catalyst for more major events, bringing more tourism, more jobs, and more magic to Stoke-on-Trent. Poppies: Weeping Window was an incredibly moving installation which showcased the beauty of Middleport Pottery to a national audience.

We also saw this year the first Light Night, which according to the official website, “buil[t] on the energy, momentum and pride generated by Stoke-on-Trent’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2021”

The event, held across a weekend in late January, saw Burslem come alive with musical parades, light installations and performance art, as the town’s buildings were set aglow with light projections.

Additional economic benefits identified through the report show an overall increase of 1.1 per cent from £346m to £349m of the total value contributed in the city through the cultural sector, including £255m spent by tourists in the local area.

There were also 200,000 overnight visits to the city during 2017 – an increase of nine per cent from the year before bidding began. The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery saw a 24 per cent increase in visitor numbers as a result of all the extra publicity that the UK City of Culture bid attracted, putting it in the top ten free visited attractions in the West Midlands.

Culture and house prices

So, culture evidently has a huge impact on a city’s local economy – not to mention its civic pride. However, don’t just take our word for it.

One study found that neighbourhoods in New York and London with “cultural capital” saw a spike in house prices.

The report states: “All of the specific types of cultural capital are associated with housing price increases, though the associations [are] closer across the board in London than New York. “[E]ven though several economic and geographical factors impact house prices—such as property type or size,” the authors write, “cultural capital alone holds a considerable explanatory power.”

As this article explains, ultimately, “the study finds that cultural capital has been a significant factor in the development of urban neighbourhoods in the superstar cities of London and New York, both during and after the recession. Culture is not a mere afterthought or an add-on, but a key contributor to urban economic growth”.

Cultural heritage

However, it can’t all just be about shiny, new art installations. Cultural heritage, which Stoke-on-Trent has in spades, is a major contributor to making cities destinations.

That’s why we must fiercely protect assets such as Trentham Gardens, otherwise known as the “Versailles of the Midlands”. In this article by Paul Williams, who is the Chairman of Stoke-on-Trent’s Cultural Destinations Partnership, he describes how the estate now attracts in excess of 3.2 million paying visitors per year


Sound off

There’s so much more to be said on this topic, and we’re lucky to be home to a number of incredible arts organisations who champion the cause – including Appetite Stoke, Restoke, B arts, and more. We also can’t forget the fantastic work that the Regent Theatre, Victoria Hall, and indeed Stoke-on-Trent City Council do.

What are your thoughts on culture as a vehicle for growth and driver for economic change?

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