Baron Hall of Birkenhead on boosting city region’s culture offer

From historic ferries across the Mersey, Liverpool and the wider city region has always known how to make waves.

From our music, sporting heritage and rich cultural history, Merseyside’s boroughs have been a draw for visitors the world over for decades.

After the universally agreed success of hosting last year’s Eurovision Song Contest and a whole roster of events lined up over the next five years, a former BBC director general feels like it’s time for the entire Liverpool City Region to make an even bigger splash.

Tony Hall, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, has been appointed chair of a 15-strong panel of experts to help shape a five-year plan to boost the region’s credentials as one of Europe’s major event capitals.

Speaking to the LDRS, the former president of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and chair of the Cultural Olympiad, Lord Hall explained why he wanted to be part of helping the City Region take the next step.

He said, “It’s partly through my time at the BBC and the [London] Olympics when I ran the cultural festival for that. I’ve seen how bringing people together to get real impact, to join up, to have conversations that don’t often happen, either across different authorities or backgrounds, can have real power and I think the cultural festival we delivered alongside the Olympics said bring lots of people together, give them direction, let them work out a strategy, advise the executives.

“At the BBC, I believed in the same thing. That was one thing that interested me about this and there’s also the fact I was born in Birkenhead, my dad was born in Birkenhead, my grandad was.

“I took great delight at a BBC sales conference pointing out to a whole load of American buyers about Cammell Laird producing the Sir David Attenborough research vessel, Birkenhead Park being the first urban park – not Central Park in New York.”

Lord Hall has spent a long and storied career at the heart of the UK’s cultural scene. He spent seven years in charge of the BBC, while also taking on roles at the National Gallery and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Despite a national profile, returning to his roots proved a lure for the crossbench peer, who has advised the Wirral borough of culture programme and the Williamson Art Gallery.

He cited the Future Yard venue in Birkenhead as “really, really exceptional” and said this was an example of the work going on outside Liverpool that could be platformed even more. He said, “What I saw through meetings on the Wirral was this sense that, it’s not just Liverpool, it’s all these other parts of the city region that have got a lot of buzz, excitement and a lot of stuff is happening.

“When the CA team came to me it seemed like a total no-brainer.”

As the former head of the organisation behind the Eurovision Song Contest, the former director general was among the hundreds of thousands who flocked to Liverpool for the event last year. He was effusive in his praise for the show the city put on.

He said, “I came for Eurovision last year for the semi finals and I was president of the EBU. I love Eurovision, it’s wonderful, exciting, bonkers.

“No other global city could have pulled that off the way Liverpool did, with Ukraine, it was fantastic. When this came up, I just thought how do we do more of that?

“Liverpool should see itself, not just as a UK city but as a global city. I met someone on my way here from Los Angeles who said since they were a child they wanted to come to Liverpool because of music.”

The crux of the new partnership however, is bringing the city region together. Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram confirmed, as a result, the Combined Authority will double its culture budget to support the development going forward.

He said, “We’ve got all the empirical evidence we need to demonstrate that it’s not giving handouts, it generates a multiplying effect. For every pound, you’re getting back.

“We know this is giving us a return and we’re the first area in the country to dedicate 1% of its budget to culture and we’ve gone way beyond it. Shakespeare North in Prescot was cultural investment.

“We want to demonstrate that culture could have a significant part in economic growth. It’s not just about the visitor economy, it’s about what we do in the future with life sciences, advanced computing, advanced manufacturing.”

This summer, among the major events coming to the City Region is the small matter of Taylor Swift’s world tour at Anfield. It is the start of a huge five years for the area, according to the board’s new chair Lord Hall.

He said, “We’ve got the Euros, we’ve got the golf, then in 2029 the Rainhill trials anniversary which I think could be stunning. The railway age, two centuries ago, was born here, it could be amazing.

“The scope for making a big splash for the city region is there. We’re seventh for international visitors to the UK and we should move up the league, of course we should.

“I hope that together we can really help to build the brand globally, it’s there, it just needs more encouragement and more nudging. There are so many things happening across the City Region, what we’ve got to do is amplify those things.

“We want to say if you come here, it’s not just the city centre, we want to be able to map for people and help people to come here. I think putting something together that’s based on the strength of the boroughs but it’s a Merseyside offering is what we’ve got to do.

“I think we’re well placed to do that.”

Image: Official portrait of Lord Hall of Birkenhead. CC BY 3.0

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