Capital of Culture transforms perceptions of Liverpool, researchers find

La machine was one of the highlights of 2008

University researchers have found that Liverpool’s historic stereotypical image, often associated with social deprivation, has been replaced by a renewed emphasis on the city’s contemporary culture and creative assets as a result of its year as European Capital of Culture.

Impacts 08 – the Liverpool Model, is a five-year research programme that has assessed the social, cultural, economic and environmental impact of Liverpool’s status as European Capital of Culture 2008 on the city, its people and its wider effects on the North West.

The programme, commissioned by Liverpool City Council, examined the progress and impact of Capital of Culture from the period of the bid through to the preparation stages, 2008 and beyond.  The final report will be launched and debated at a major international conference at the University of Liverpool on Friday, 12 March.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University found that the combined local and national media coverage of Liverpool’s cultural offering more than doubled since the award was announced in 2003 and, for the first time in decades, in 2008, positive stories on the city’s cultural assets dominated over the traditional, negative emphasis on social issues.

By the end of 2008, 85% of Liverpool residents agreed that the city was a better place to live than before the European Capital of Culture award.  The team also found that 99% of visitors to the city liked the ‘atmosphere’ and ‘welcoming’ feel of the city, well above the response in other UK popular tourist destinations and previous years’ findings for Liverpool.

University of Liverpool social scientist, Dr Beatriz Garcia, who is Director of Impacts 08, said: “The city has undergone a remarkable image renaissance locally, nationally and internationally.  We found that general opinion of Liverpool was informed by very ‘dated’ images of the city, which ranged from positive but fixed associations with the Beatles in the 1960s to more negative views of social deprivation in the 1980s. The European Capital of Culture, however, presented a richer picture of Liverpool as a contemporary, multi-faceted city with a vibrant cultural life that reaches far beyond that of football and music.

“We also found, however, that the levels of enthusiasm generated by the bid led to unrealistic expectations and a feeling of uncertainty in the years preceding 2008.  This resulted in the expectation, by some residents and stakeholders, that Capital of Culture would single-handedly redress acute long-term inequalities between Liverpool and other UK cities, from unemployment to low income and poor health.  These are challenges that go far beyond what a one-off cultural programme alone can meet.”

“A major cultural event can be a powerful driver for social and economic change, but it must be complemented by other long-term developments to ensure sustainable legacies.  In Liverpool, ongoing regeneration programmes, from securing European Objective 1 funding in the 1990s, through to the completion of the Liverpool ONE development and the opening of the new Echo Arena and Convention Centre in 2008, provided an important context to the Capital of Culture initiative, which resulted in mutual benefits.”

The Liverpool 08 programme secured a total income of £130 million over six years – the highest of any European Capital of Culture to date.  Researchers also found the increased number of visits to Liverpool had a significant impact on the region as a whole; there were 9.7 million additional visits specially influenced by Capital of Culture, generating a direct spend of £753.8 million across the North West in 2008 alone.

Councillor Warren Bradley, Leader of Liverpool City Council, said: “Being European Capital of Culture in 2008 redefined Liverpool to many people, not least our residents and visitors but also businesses, the media and opinion formers. The year gave the city a priceless platform to showcase a new, dynamic and creative Liverpool on a global stage and the unqualified success of ’08 has forged a great sense of ambition to set new goals and the confidence to achieve them.

‘’The Impacts 08 programme is a hugely valuable and radical piece of research which many cities are already keen to learn from – not least future European Capital of Culture hosts as well as the London 2012 Olympic Games – and that is just one of the great many legacies which is reshaping Liverpool’s future as a centre of cultural excellence.’’

The impacts 08 programme and recommendations are being used as a national and international framework for longitudinal research on the impacts of culture-led regeneration.  In 2010, the European Commission has provided funding for an international knowledge exchange network, led by Dr Garcia at the University of Liverpool and Culture Liverpool at the City Council, to share the lessons of delivering and researching the European Capital of Culture in Liverpool.

Notes to editors:

1. The full report is available to download Impacts 08 website:

2. The University of Liverpool is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than £93 million annually.

3. Liverpool looking to build on national and international reputation forged in ’08:
“¢ Liverpool is the only UK city exhibiting at Shanghai World Expo 2010 – from May to October.
“¢ Liverpool is a Candidate Host City for England’s World Cup bid 2018 – bid goes to FIFA on May 14.
“¢ Liverpool bidding to be England’s first UNESCO Music City – bid to be submitted in summer.
“¢ Liverpool Boat Show 2011 will be first of its kind outside south coast.

4. Proposals for investment in Culture in Liverpool post ’08:
“¢ New Museum of Liverpool is to open in Autumn 2011 – £72m
“¢ New Central Library is to open at end of 2012 – £50m
“¢ Everyman, Playhouse and Royal Court theatre redevelopment proposals – £55m
“¢ Royal Liverpool Philharmonic redevelopment proposal – £40m

Leave a comment