How much did UK City of Culture boost Hull's economy?

UK City of Culture was supposed to be a boon for Hull's artisans, creatives and entrepeneurs. As the year draws to a close, Alex Wood finds out whether it delivered on its promise.

Humber Street chocolatier Jon Collins. Picture Bruce Rollinson.

This time last year Jon Collins had £28 left in the bank and admits he “was putting all his eggs in one basket”. The chocolatier was about to risk it all by opening a new venture on Humber Street and the workmen were still drilling away outside.

Formerly home to one of the oldest street-based fruit, veg and flower markets in the country, this corner of Hull had just undergone a multi-million pound regeneration. Still to come was UK City of Culture, but no one was certain either would take off.

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“It was me and one part-timer,” recalls Jon. “We now have four supervisors, a head barista and three part-time staff. We have managed to put in new equipment and create new jobs - and that was planned for year three.”

Artist William Vinegrad, working in his part of the studio at the Ground Gallery, Beverley Road, Hull.

Because of the rapid expansion, Cocoa Chocolatier is now looking to move production of chocolates - they have around 30 different types as well as patisserie - elsewhere in the city, to Sutton Fields or the Boulevard. They are also looking at taking on one of the bigger new buildings on Humber Street, named last month one of the country’s trendiest thoroughfares by the Academy of Urbanism.

After the last three months, working seven days a week, Jon feels he has given his best shot at embracing the golden opportunity City of Culture has presented.

“The whole idea of City of Culture is that you have to put your best foot forward. If it means killing yourself for a year that’s what we have done to try and get myself established and so people know about us.”

As for actually seeing any events, apart from the 75m turbine blade when it was in Queen Victoria Square, he has had no time. When the amazing Land of Green Ginger procession was wending its way down Humber Street last month, he was upstairs beavering away at the end of a 17-hour day. “I’ve not really had time to see my partner, bless her,” he adds.

Artist William Vinegrad, working in his part of the studio at the Ground Gallery, Beverley Road, Hull.

As for 2018, he says it’s now the responsibility of everybody in the city to try to keep Hull in the spotlight.

“It means even harder work has to be done to show it wasn’t just for the year.”

For animator and filmmaker Alex Twiston-Davies, 30, one of the highlights of 2017 was seeing the crowd standing around a piece he made in Whitefriargate called The Heart of Rugby, about the city’s two rugby clubs.It was one of the installations shown during the phenomenally successful Made In Hull, which opened the year.

“I felt like I was part of something that was so grand,” recalls Alex, who is from Norfolk originally. “People weren’t necessarily going to get behind it (City of Culture) unless they could see it was grand. Made In Hull really showed it, it gave it scale. The year has showed the rest of the country the pride Hull has in itself.”

Alex, a member of Hull Film, has had a busy year, working both on City of Culture projects and others that have come about because of it. He filmed from onboard the barge Syntan as part of an experimental 22-minute long film Open Bridges, which made history earlier this year when for the first time all 13 bridges over the River Hull raised, swung or closed simultaneously.

Most recently he did a shoot in Hull for B-Negative, a vampire comedy, written and directed by Phil Codd, of Mollusc Films and he thinks City of Culture has lured creatives into the open.

“Meeting the people I have has been really useful. Once you find a team you can think bigger. It’s very early days but I am thinking of starting a new business venture.”

Eventually he can see himself moving somewhere bigger like Leeds, where there are “more opportunities for collaboration”, adding “Sometimes you just want a bigger pool”.

Another artist who will be heading to Leeds next year is William Vinegrad, who is busy setting up an installation in Trinity Market, when we speak. Called Practice for the Future, it is a Hull 2017 commission for his art collective Ground and three other local art groups.

The final theme of City of Culture year is Where Do We Go From Here? Ground’s installation, which involves paddling pools and fish tanks, poses questions about Hull’s future - and whether it will be underwater as some have predicted in 50 years time.

William, who will be doing a performance piece on January 7 says City of Culture has bought a lot more opportunities than he thought.

He adds: “I’ve been pretty busy all year, doing different performances. It feels Ground, set up by six arts graduates in 2015, has a name for itself as a result of the year - people know who we are now.”

William, who is planning to do an MA in Performance in Leeds next year, particularly liked the way Hull 2017 bought art to unassuming places, from a 90s rave by Jesse Kanda in the Myton Bridge underpass to the circus in Spring Bank graveyard.

Unlike William, landlady Chrissy Fleming is staying in Hull. She and her partner Alan Murphy have three pubs and a brewery just yards from each other in the Old Town, the Lion and Key, Walters, Wm Hawkes as well as Cathead Brewery in one of the oldest buildings on High Street. A fourth pub, Fretwells, just across from the Lion and Key, will be opening next year.

The rush started on New Year’s Day. They don’t normally open, but thought they would try, as the Made In Hull installation was underway.

“We didn’t know how it was going to be but it was absolutely jammed,” she says. “There was a sea of people coming in and we were just trying to keep up. Since then each quarter has been better and better.”

The Lion and Key is on the west side of the River Hull and gets all the foot traffic coming over the Scale Lane bridge from the car park on the east side and the Premier Inn, which has also been busy.

“We have had our best year ever - business has doubled,” she said. “There are lots of empty buildings up and down Scale Lane, they have all been bought up and turned into flats. We have extended our food times to keep up with the hotel just across the river.There’s lots more places to eat now and a lot more people living in the city centre.”

It’s also good for business, but for staff, who have had more hours and been able to take on a mortgage. She said: “It is nice to get people on their way to something better.

“It has bought so many people to the area. There’s been countless times when I’ve had tourists coming and saying it was their second time because they loved it so much.

“They didn’t have great expectations because Hull’s had a bit of bad press but when they get here they like the architecture, events like the Freedom Festival, and say the people are very friendly.

“The events bring the kind of customer you want - people out for bit to eat, few ales. We are just in the right place, at the right time, riding the wave.”