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Hull 2017 legacy: Where do we go from here?

In February 2017 we visited an excited city clad in orange barriers, poised for a spectacular season as UK City of Culture. Now, as Hull catches its breath, we re-visit

Hull’s City Hall dramatically lit up for one of many events in 2017

December 2017. Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse in the grand, brand new Doubletree by Hilton in Hull. Tina Mott sighs, smiling. She and Paul Schofield are reposing in their chairs, looking a little exhausted but happy. Their hard work during 2017 to cope with an influx of culture-seeking visitors has paid off – and helped to make Hull one of the most special and unique places to visit in Britain.

From being a destination overlooked by most tourists, Hull has taken just one year as UK City of Culture to turn itself into a highly-sought-after place.

And what’s most remarkable is that among the many special events, restaurant openings and exhibition launches of 2017, a lot of what Hull has to offer – many of its attractions, events and festivals – were always there to be seen. It was just a case of getting people to notice.

Some of the 3,000 volunteers at the Hull Pride festival

Now that we have noticed, expect Hull to remain prominently on the tourism radar for many years to come. It remains official City of Culture until Coventry takes over in 2021, and by no means is the city letting its legacy get away – in fact, funding has already been granted to carry on infrastructure improvements and museum upgrades.

Museums upgrade

Hull’s many impressive museums have just become part of the Arts Council England National Portfolio, which has come with a £3.9m grant over four years.

This will bring improvements to the museums’ digital services and audience engagement, and for an attraction like Hull Maritime Museum – which houses an excellent collection in a beautiful building, but is in need of updating – the funding will make all the difference.

When we visited, the Maritime Museum had an exhibition of ‘Turner and the Whale’, showcasing the famous artist’s stunning impressions of the whaling industry – and this neatly tied in with the Turner Prize being hosted at the Ferens Art Gallery this year, just across the square from the Museum. It’s this joined-up way of thinking in tourism that helps to make Hull such an interesting place to visit.

Also benefiting from the grant will be Arctic Corsair, Hull’s last trawler. Currently moored at the back of the Streetlife Museum and usually open only three days a week, plans are afoot for the ship to be restored and put into a proper dry dock to preserve it for future generations, and opened as a full attraction.

A memorial to trawlermen lost at sea, a big part of Hull’s heritage

We also visited Hull Truck, the smaller of the city’s two theatres, and another fine example of what makes Hull special. With over 400 seats, it’s an intimate venue built in the ‘70s to replace the eponymous truck, and with its own creative team, it produces a great many exciting home-grown plays. One of the latest, The Culture, is a hilarious-looking satire about Hull’s City of Culture status.

The theatre has just had its best ever year, but it always appreciates group bookings and offers discounts for groups, and tours are available of the venue as well. It also has a large café bar, suitable for group bookings. Visit hulltruck.co.uk

Stay in style

Speaking of being suitable for group bookings, the new Doubletree by Hilton, located close to the Paragon Interchange (and just up the road from the Truck Theatre), has been built with groups firmly in mind.

It’s a luxurious 165-bedroom hotel and Hull’s largest conference centre, and its facilities are well geared up to group dining – coaches can drop off right outside, and even check-in for groups has been taken into account when designing the huge conference rooms and bar.

Group dining is also ideal in the hotel’s Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill. We enjoyed a luscious meal in plush surroundings – it really is a high-quality experience.

The rooftop bar is also an appealing spot for evening drinks, with a kind of neo-Art Deco charm. Endearingly, it’s named the Lexington Bar after a popular Hull nightclub, Lexington Avenue, which used to stand on the spot.

The Lexington Bar at the newly-opened Doubletree by Hilton

For details and to book, visit goo.gl/F4xPiM

The groups package

Through all the excitement of this year, Visit Hull & East Yorkshire (VHEY) has not forgotten about groups.

The organisation offers a good groups package of free coach parking, morning coffee, a tour and lunch, if booked in advance. The tour is guided by Paul Schofield, Hull’s best tour guide – a truly lovely man who knows everything about Hull, and who constantly gets cheery waves and hellos from passers-by as he walks around the city.

He can meet groups at the central Princes Quay shopping centre, where the coach parking is, and his first stop is usually the fantastic Mission pub, for morning coffee. Hull has brilliant pubs, and Paul is something of a specialist – his tour usually visits at least two or three, just to see the fantastic architecture or a particular point of interest.

One of the best things about Hull for groups is that it’s easy to walk from place to place, and from the Marina with the striking millennium architecture of The Deep, to the cobbled streets of the Old Town with its handsome Museums Quarter, the tour is utterly fascinating.

The legacy

So what has the City of Culture done for Hull – and what will the legacy be?

The larger of Hull’s theatres, the 1930s New Theatre, has been revamped. It’s been given more seating, and, crucially, bigger stage doors – which means larger productions are more likely to visit, because they don’t have to chop their sets up to get them on the stage. Fat Friends the Musical, Jersey Boys, The Kite Runner and Mamma Mia! are all playing at the New Theatre in the next six months.

The Blade, a temporary public artwork installed in Queen Victoria Square this year

The Ferens gallery has been upgraded with lots of back-of-house improvements, such as new humidity controls, which means it can host major works of art – and its attractive refurbished café is great for groups.

Hull’s mighty Holy Trinity church, formerly the biggest parish church in the country, has been upgraded to a Minster, and will probably attract more visitors as a result. Along with Queen Victoria Square and other public areas, the Minster square has seen massive infrastructure improvements, including attractive and creative lighting. 

Humber Street is a particular success story. Once a traditional fruit market, and very run down in recent years, 2017 has seen a small world of trendy art galleries, independent restaurants and artisan producers move in.

The city has attracted massive stars in 2017, and this will continue – Little Mix are due to play the KCOM Craven Park rugby stadium in July.

A new cruise terminal is in development for 2021, which could bring thousands more visitors to the city.

Groups will benefit directly. Hull has 3,000 City of Culture volunteers, and VHEY has received funding to continue the volunteer programme for the next four years. VHEY is hoping that with these, it will be able to offer a full meet-and-greet service to visiting coaches.

VHEY’s Big Welcome programme has also provided free training to scores of waiters, taxi drivers, retail workers, and other locals in customer-facing roles, to ensure that they can be helpful, welcoming and positive about the city when asked.

The other string to Hull’s legacy is in fact the next City of Culture – Coventry. Hull will be offering the city support for when it takes over the reins in 2021, and there’s no doubt it will benefit from the fantastic example of Hull.

As Paul Schofield points out, a lot of what makes Hull attractive was already there before 2017 – the excellent museums, a full programme of events and festivals through the year, rich heritage, cobbled streets and beautiful, unusual pubs – plus a culture of friendliness and Yorkshire down-to-earthness. What UK City of Culture status has done is to enhance and promote this one-of-a-kind city.

Go there. Take a group.

Group planning

Tina Mott and the team at Visit Hull & East Yorkshire are very keen to welcome groups, with free coach parking available and a welcoming tour package if you pre-book. The website also has a map of coach parking, itinerary ideas, suggested accommodation and events.

visithullandeastyorkshire.com/group