You may have already heard the exciting news that Coventry has been chosen as the UK City of Culture 2021, following a bid which saw #CovSafari elephants placed over the city, the Cathedral made home for the Moon, and a celebration of Ira Aldridge. The bid focused on youth and diversity in Coventry, and highlighted the triumph over adversity for which the city has become renowned.
(Photo source: https://warwick.ac.uk/about/cityofculture/whatson/)
Coventry beat competitors Paisley, Sunderland, Swansea, and Stoke-on-Trent to take the title, becoming the third UK City of Culture since the programme was launched in 2013. This is an award bestowed every four years on a city which demonstrates a commitment to culture and development, and I’m so proud that Coventry has been chosen.
See the moment when the news was revealed on The One Show here:
Coventry is a diverse, welcoming city, that's absolutely buzzing with culture. There's Warwick Arts Centre, the Belgrade, two universities, the Two Tone movement, Godiva Festival, a thriving independent art offering, tech and video games, and more. Of course, there are also the residents, including many of our students, whose contributions to the city, and to the City of Culture bid, have made Coventry what it is today.
Coventry’s status as a City of Sanctuary is not insignificant here. Already, Coventry has an ongoing commitment to providing a safe haven to refugees and asylum seekers, and challenging discrimination against them. As an accredited University of Sanctuary, Warwick already provides scholarships to allow refugee and asylum-seeking students access to Higher Education, and in 2018-19 will offer a number of scholarships at Undergraduate, Postgraduate Taught and Postgraduate Research level. In 2018, Warwick will see the arrival of Sue Jollans-designed garden The Refuge and a campus-wide Sanctuary week.
From its grassroots inception in the 1960s, Warwick Students’ Union has a long history of organising in support of liberation campaigns. Liberation and empowerment of marginalised groups is at the heart of our activity; our students rally behind causes which aim to empower and emancipate people on campus and across the globe. To be situated within a community context which is home to so many active efforts to dissolve the borders and welcome marginalised groups feels important to our identity as a Union.
There’s also a narrative running through Coventry’s history, and its UK City of Culture bid, of supporting displaced communities and individuals, of creating seats at the table. My hope, now that Coventry has secured its place as UK City of Culture 2021, is that the “voices of diversity” championed in the bid are empowered to express themselves throughout the festivities of the year and embedded in the foundations of the city.
In Hull, the UK City of Culture has had a huge impact on citizens’ wellbeing (70% of residents agree that UK City of Culture has had a positive impact on local people’s lives), access to cultural activities (9/10 residents have experienced a cultural event as part of Hull UK City of Culture), pride in the city (up to 74% in March 2017), and the local economy (550 new jobs created).
Looking forward to Coventry’s tenure as UK City of Culture, then, the potential for this to have a transformative effect on the lives of citizens and place-making within the city is significant. Though many of you will have graduated by the time the year comes around, the next few years will be critical, not just for preparatory events, but for engagement with Coventry’s cultural activity and growth. So, with that in mind, take in the city during the remainder of your time here. Explore the rhythms of the city streets; engage in the banal and the extraordinary; and remember that it’s not just the physicality of the space but the welcome and the atmosphere that makes a city what it is – you’re part of Coventry too.
Coventry, UK City of Culture 2021.