Larkin’s award-winning toads spawn new sculpture project

Visitors pose for photographs around one of the Larkin toads in Hull.
Visitors pose for photographs around one of the Larkin toads in Hull.
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THEY stopped people in their tracks, delivered a healthy return on their investment, and hopped off into the sunset clutching a string of awards.

And now plans are being unveiled to build on the success of the toad sculptures which were placed around Hull for its Larkin With Toads project by creating an ambitious cultural tourism scheme for all of East Yorkshire.

The project, in a further nod to Philip Larkin, will be called Swerving East – the opening words of his poem Here, which describes the train journey to Hull through a landscape that remains strikingly familiar today, nearly half a century after it was published.

Detailed planning is under way to create a series of permanent and temporary sculptures across Hull and the East Riding, backed up by artistic and cultural events and including contributions from experts who have delivered highly successful arts projects elsewhere.

It is hoped it will pick up where the toads left off by altering perceptions of the city, and add a new dimension to the area’s platform for economic success.

Elaine Burke, who was specialist adviser to Larkin25, the team behind the toads, said economic development and a strong cultural and artistic infrastructure go hand in hand.

Describing the thinking behind the project and its title, she said: “We want to stand on the shoulders of Larkin and his toads.

“The poem describes the train journey up to the city from London and the moment when the train swerves east. People don’t normally swerve east and when they do they discover it’s actually a fantastic place and a hidden gem. We want to attract people here to come and get excited about it.”

She added: “When you visit Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow, their economies have been massively influenced by a brilliant arts offer.

“We want to deliver a really ambitious cultural tourism project in Hull and the East Riding that does two things – it is fun, family-friendly and artistically excellent; and strengthens and expands the artistic and cultural offer.”

However, Ms Burke, who announced the plans in a presentation to the Hull and East Yorkshire Bondholders business group 
yesterday, said the scheme 
was dependent on securing funding.

The precedent set by the toads will provide a strong selling point. The toads – which attracted about 120,000 people to the “toad trail” – cost £258,000 to create and generated about £1m for the local economy, which Ms Burke called the “arts multiplier”. They were later auctioned off, raising £50,000 for good causes and supporting other arts projects in the region.

“The toads are the gift that keeps on giving,” added Ms Burke.

Larkin With Toads won the Remarkable Experience category in the Remarkable East Yorkshire Tourism Awards, Tourism Event of the Year at the White Rose awards, and Silver in the Best Tourism Event of the Year category at the Visit England Awards for Excellence 2012.

Ms Burke has formed a new company, Three Ways East, to deliver the new project and works as partnerships and creative director alongside operations director Clare Huby who is the former toads project manager, and business development director Emma Cheshire.