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Multi-million pound project to turn Hull into ‘Yorkshire’s Maritime City’

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 September 2017

A new visitor centre will be built at the North End Shipyard

A new visitor centre will be built at the North End Shipyard

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Hull is to become Yorkshire’s Maritime City. But what is this exactly and what will it do for Hull? Tony Greenway finds out more.

There will be space to exhibit maritime collections There will be space to exhibit maritime collections

Last year, I asked some friends and family in London what they knew about Hull. They didn’t know much. One knew that it was the place that The Housemartins and The Beautiful South came from. Someone else mentioned Philip Larkin, Maureen Lipman and John Prescott and someone else again mentioned the Humber Bridge and white telephone boxes. That was pretty much it. They probably wouldn’t know a huge amount about, say, Liverpool or Glasgow, either.

Closer to home, I put the same question to some non-Hull residents in Yorkshire. It was gratifying to discover that they did, at least, know about The Deep, The Ferens Art Gallery and Hull Truck Theatre; otherwise they gave the impression that the city had been a victim of its geography. In other words, it’s a long way away at the wrong end of the M62.

But that was last year. Thanks to its status as UK City of Culture 2017, Hull has spent the best part of 2016 increasing its national profile, while proving itself to be a hotbed of creative talent – a place that’s full-to-bursting with must-see cultural events and fascinating history. It’s been quite a show: one that’s attracted people from across the UK, Europe, America, Japan and beyond who have seen Hull in a new light. ‘You can’t get a hotel for love or money,’ said Garry Taylor, City Manager for Major Projects at Hull City Council, when I spoke to him in July. ‘This year has been huge. All the analysis we’ve done thus far has surpassed our expectations.’ Quite. In the first three months of City of Culture Year, there were more than 1.4million visits to cultural events, exhibitions or activities in Hull while 70 per cent of residents agreed or strongly agreed that being UK City of Culture was having a positive impact on their lives.

And it’s not over yet. Chances are that even if people from outside the city haven’t been to a city of culture event, they now know a bit more about Hull and what it has to offer. They’ll have read about it in a newspaper, magazine or on the internet, seen it on TV or heard about it on the radio. It’s been good PR.

There are plans to improve the exhibition space in  the Maritime Museum There are plans to improve the exhibition space in the Maritime Museum

And more is on the way. In June, it was announced that the Heritage Lottery Fund had awarded Hull £15million – alongside £12.5million from the council (£10million guaranteed, with a £2.5million fundraising target) – to turn it into ‘Yorkshire’s Maritime City’.

What this means in practice is that Hull’s nautical heritage is going to be ramped up with the development of three key sites in the city centre and Old Town, including the Hull Maritime Museum (which will have its visitor space improved and extended), the Dock Office Chambers (which will be converted into a state-of-the-art home for the maritime collection) and the North End Shipyard. Plus, Hull’s two historic vessels, the Arctic Corsair and Spurn Lightship, will be fully restored and ‘connected by a renewed and interactive streetscape through Queens Gardens, to create an exciting new visitor attraction’. The Arctic Corsair will be relocated in permanent dry berth.

Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, thinks all of this will be another boost to Hull’s reputation as a major UK tourist destination. ‘This is fantastic news for Hull, and will put the city firmly on the map for visitors from across the world,’ he says. It’s estimated that it will deliver 74 jobs along with hundreds of volunteer roles; 10,000 outreach activities for secondary school students, 600 arts and craft courses and boost the city’s coffers by £1.44million annually. The council also believes it will draw 302,000 visitors to Hull in its first year.

Make no mistake: this is going to be a vast project. ‘It is,’ says Taylor. ‘But we’re very good at moving very quickly. We need to make sure everything’s absolutely right before we start; and the heritage and listed buildings aspect of the area does mean that it will take some time. The Arctic Corsair itself, while structurally sound as a ship, needs significant work. We need to get that to a dry dock to see what the actuals are. So it’s going to be two years of planning and, following that, we’ll be on-site delivering.’ Taylor expects the whole project to be finished in six or seven years, but chunks of it will become apparent as work progresses.

You might be forgiven for thinking that there’s a sense of urgency about all this. And you’d be right. After popping the cork on its city of culture champagne, Hull is determined not to let its fizz go flat. So will the Yorkshire Maritime City funding keep that energy and momentum going? The short answer is yes, but Taylor takes a longer view.

‘We’re incredibly excited and passionate about this,’ he says. ‘Hull has a really rich heritage which is lost in terms of perception; but when you get here it’s immediately obvious. You can feel the buzz now. We’re in a unique position because it’s not just about the city of culture – it’s about ‘perception change’. The cities that thrive are the ones that constantly change, and this is just the next phase of an improvement to ensure that change keeps happening to Hull.’

For example, the city is now the focus of the biggest housing regeneration programme it’s seen for more than half a century while, next year, a 3,500-capacity music and events complex will open next to Princes Quay shopping centre. ‘So this was always part of a bigger picture,’ says Taylor. ‘When people come here, we want to make sure there’s a “wow factor” in terms of place, investment and public realm. Other cities have lost some of their momentum. We’re determined – and our leadership is determined – that we won’t.’ This is, presumably why Hull’s city plan calls the maritime city development a ‘heritage-driven, transformational project (which) draws on Hull’s unique spirit and sense of place, and will be a central part of the legacy of the City of Culture 2017’.

Taylor thinks he knows what’s behind Hull’s new-found success as a visitor destination. Well, yes, OK, the city of culture, obviously but he also puts his finger on something else. ‘Before, Hull was trying to be like every other city,’ he says. ‘It spent a lot of time yo-yoing with different regeneration companies trying to copy everywhere else. I think what’s different this time is that Hull is being Hull.’

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