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Liverpool 08: A lasting legacy and a decade of change

Liverpool 08: A lasting legacy

Visitors to Liverpool are being promised “an incredible time” in 2018 as the city marks a decade since its landmark year as European Capital of Culture (ECoC) with a 12-month celebration of the city’s creative scene. Move Commercial salutes the milestone with a look back at what positive changes the title has brought Liverpool in the last decade and ponders whether it really did alter outside perceptions of the city for the better.

Words by Lawrence Saunders

Almost 10 million visitors and a £754 million boost to the city’s economy. The headline figures from Liverpool’s ECoC year are undeniably impressive.

Whilst the second (and now last) UK city to hold the esteemed title never did get its ‘Fourth Grace’ (Will Alsop’s ‘Cloud’, central to the city’s bid, was scrapped over funding and planning issues), the tangible benefits of 12 months under the world’s spotlight are hard to ignore.

Alongside an increase in tourists and the financial fillip that went hand in hand, Liverpool’s cultural crown was also fundamental to the city’s physical regeneration, helping to push through momentous projects like Liverpool ONE and ACC Liverpool.

Liverpool 08: A lasting legacy

The sprawling Liverpool ONE complex not only helped Liverpool jump 10 places from 15th to fifth on the list of the UK’s biggest shopping cities, it also managed to shelter its leisure and retail sector from the sharp end of 2008’s recession and set the city’s economy on the road to a brighter future.

Meanwhile ACC Liverpool (Echo Arena Liverpool, BT Convention Centre and Exhibition Centre Liverpool), the first phase of which opened in time for the 2008 celebrations, has gone on to have a similarly positive impact having hosted some 3,000 events and generated £1.3 billion for the local economy over the last decade.

Liverpool ONE and ACC Liverpool filled two gaping holes in the city’s visitor offer and allowed it to compete on much leveller playing field with other major northern destinations like Manchester and Leeds.

“The ECoC title provided a platform for Liverpool to showcase to the world its social, economic and cultural renaissance. It helped to redefine the city’s stereotypical image to visitors and the media.”

“Prior to 2008 there wasn’t a conference and entertainment venue on the scale of ACC Liverpool in the city,” says Bob Prattey, chief executive of The ACC Liverpool Group.

“A concert arena and convention centre facility was identified as most likely to make the biggest impact on employment, the local economy and Liverpool’s national and international profile.

“The ECoC title provided a platform for Liverpool to showcase to the world its social, economic and cultural renaissance. It helped to redefine the city’s stereotypical image to visitors and the media.”

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Developments like ACC Liverpool and Liverpool ONE were also integral to both facilitating and prolonging the tourism boom that the events of 2008 brought.

The ECoC year signaled the beginning of a regeneration strategy centred on this flourishing visitor economy and was much more than a 12-month knees-up.

“[ECoC] has played a huge part in renewing our infrastructure,” says Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson. “Whether that be the cruise liner terminal, Liverpool ONE, ACC Liverpool or the many new hotels, retail and leisure facilities that opened before 2008 and have done since.

“Although 2008 was an extraordinary year and widely recognised as the most successful ever ECoC, it was never just about that year – it was always about the legacy that followed.”

“The ‘Liverpool pound’ was revalued in 2003 when we secured the European Capital of Culture title, and was a call to action for the entire city to put on a year-long show that would make the UK proud.

“Although 2008 was an extraordinary year and widely recognised as the most successful ever ECoC, it was never just about that year – it was always about the legacy that followed.

“Culture touches every area of life and we have used it as a golden thread running through everything the city has done since.”

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Mayor Anderson points to the fact that tourism now supports 51,500 jobs in the Liverpool City Region, worth £4.3bn, as ironclad justification of the strategy.

Aside from the physical and economic benefits of 2008 and beyond, Liverpool’s ECoC year also gave the city a chance to address its perpetual image problem.

“For decades, Liverpool had struggled with a chronic image problem, being almost indelibly associated in the national consciousness with issues such as crime, poverty and social deprivation”, says Dr Beatriz Garcia, director of the Institute of Cultural Capital (ICC) – a joint initiative between Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Liverpool.

“National surveys commissioned between 2005 and 2008 showed how positive impressions of Liverpool among the general public increased whilst, at the same time, negative impressions decreased”.

According to Dr Garcia, who headed up a research programme into the impact of Liverpool’s ECoC year and is currently working on a follow-up study into its long-term legacy, media representations and public perceptions of the city changed “discernibly for the better”, even in the lead up to the event year.

“National surveys commissioned between 2005 and 2008 showed how positive impressions of Liverpool among the general public increased whilst, at the same time, negative impressions decreased,” she adds.

“The traditional dominance of negative stories on crime and poverty, on the one hand, and positive stories on The Beatles, football and pop culture, on the other, gave way to a more nuanced portrait of the city in which its contemporary cultural offer and wider image renaissance were given greater prominence.”

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Dr Garcia admits that whilst the ECoC year wasn’t the only factor in this shift, it clearly played a very important role – not merely due to the direct effects of the title but also through indirect developments such as the hosting of the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2008 and the Turner Prize in 2007, which she contends would not have happened otherwise.

Not only did 2008 help to boost Liverpool’s reputation as somewhere that could be trusted to deliver a truly knockout programme of major events, but according to Mayor Anderson it gave the city the “confidence to push on” and “show the world it’s a serious place to come and do business”.

For Mayor Anderson, 2018 represents a chance for Liverpool to recognise that growth in confidence and to once again “roll out the red carpet” for people visiting the city for the first time to discover what he believes to be the “most exciting destination in the UK”.