All posts tagged 'Ashford'

East Kent's imagined city fails to make the culture cut

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, June 19 2013

Bookmakers had long odds on East Kent being one of those shortlisted to become the UK City of Culture in 2017 and - not for the first or last time - were proved right.

Equally unsurprising is the reaction of those leading the bid,  who stretched credibility (unless they were being ironic, of course) by saying that the spirit of collaboration fostered by the bid would "long outlive our disappointment."

Some have suggested the bid failed because East Kent is not a city. But neither were some of the others in the running, such as the one by Hastings and Bexhill. That failed too but one not dissimilar to East Kent is in the final running - Swansea Bay.

In fact, the team behind the East Kent bid were rather canny in making a virtue of the fact that the area was not a city, building up a campaign based around the concept of an "imagined city" - which was counter-intuitive in a way that undoubtedly had some appeal but just might have been a little too clever.

There is no doubt that the area covered by the bid has become increasingly rich in culture over the years, notably the opening of the Turner gallery in Margate and more recently the redeveloped Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.

But for all its cultural and artistic strengths,  the campaign never seemed to me to get much momentum and capture popular support. The very diverse nature of the towns involved may have been an issue here. People in Ashford don't really have a ready connection with Thanet, and the same could be said of the other areas.

Not many people say they come from "East Kent" - although they often say they come from Kent. Leaders of the bid would argue that was partly the point behind running - to use the bid to forge that sense of identity.

A separate issue is that the bid got off a low key start. The PR strategy was not so much a soft launch as one surrounded by feather-bedded cushions. You might have thought there ought to have been a press conference, for example.

As it was, the local Kent media had no forewarning that a bid was in the offing and on the day the government announced those who were applying, it was difficult to find who was behind it.

This may have have been because at the  time, Kent County Council was in the run-up to elections, constraining what politicians are able to say about any activity that might be construed as effecting support for a particular party.

Which brings me to the minor point that the campaign was being led by a council with its HQ in west Kent - Maidstone. Maybe the bid would have fared better under an east Kent unitary authority whose geographical boundaries covered the relevent area.

The campaign did pick up the pace and secured some celebrity endorsements which seem so vital in these things but with the political agenda being dominated by council elections throughout May, it seemed to me that it was rather overshadowed.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained and given the random nature of how decisions by panels of judges are sometimes reached, East Kent 2017 might have been hoping that if it had made the final cut, anything could have happened.

But as the bid document said  "like many frontier lands, we are yet to be fully explored."

Perhaps the East Kent frontiers just need to be crossed by rather more people before cultural critical mass is reached.




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