Coventry looks back on successful year as UK City of Culture


Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture officially comes to an end on 31 May 2022, but will leave a lasting impact on the city, with interim figures showing that live and online audiences of just over one million experienced more than 700 events.

Coventry was awarded the status of UK City of Culture 2021 back in December 2017 but saw its start delayed to May 2021 due to the pandemic.

Early analysis reveals Coventry’s packed programme saw 389,705 tickets issued for live events with a further estimated audience of 136,916 attending unticketed live events across the city. The online audience, so important for the events affected by lockdown, is still growing and is currently estimated at over 516,000 for events created by the Trust and its partners. There were a further 333,676 unique views of the Trust’s online promotions.

The results released today exclude the Public Art programme, participation and workshop activity figures, and the creative programme funded by the Trust but delivered by partner organisations, which will be reported in the final evaluation.

Coventry has secured more than £172m of direct investment to support the programme of events, the activities of the Trust, and the major upgrade programme of the city’s public realm and cultural assets.

With activity in every city ward, a total of 709 events took place featuring professional artists and creatives alongside community participants. The Coventry City of Culture Trust invested directly into projects led by local artists or run by local cultural organisations including the Belgrade Theatre, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry Cathedral, Compton Verney, the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Historic Coventry Trust, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Projects were delivered by city arts partners including Ego, Imagineer, Talking Birds, Highly Sprung, Underground Lights, Maokwo, The Starfish Collaborative, Team Sahyadri, Ludic Rooms, Fab Lab, Media Mania, Arts Space, Curious Club, and many others.

Major achievements through the year included: The Turner Prize at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum; two summers of performances at Assembly Festival Garden; the establishment of the UK’s first permanent immersive digital gallery, The Reel Store; the UK’s longest drone show, Our Wilder Family for a free audience of over 27,000; and the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend for 88,000 people.

Coventry – the third holder of the UK City of Culture title – adopted a unique approach of putting ‘co-creation’ at the centre of its programme, valuing local stories and the latent creativity across the city. This deeply rooted way of working, recently presented as ‘The Coventry Model’, delivered a range of both intimate events and high impact activities to deliver long-lasting social value. Embedding engagement at a hyper-local level, the ‘co-creation’ approach has seen city communities including faith groups, community centres, libraries, schools, community radio stations, the police, and local arts organisations all helping to shape and design the creative programme.

One of the most successful initiatives, City Hosts, saw 1,515 local people trained as volunteers to give the biggest Coventry welcome to visitors, assisting with queries and wayfinding over a combined 35,913 volunteering hours. The Hosts have become familiar figures on the city’s streets with most survey respondents agreeing they positively improved the experience of visiting the city.

Coventry City of Culture Trust will continue operating at about 20 per cent of its current scale primarily as a commissioning body and running The Reel Store. Chief Executive Martin Sutherland will remain in post until March 2023 and the Trust is currently recruiting for an Associate Chief Executive to succeed him. It has already been announced that Chenine Bhathena, City of Culture Creative Director, will be moving on to new projects this summer but will continue to build on the successful broadcast programme with partners including the BBC and Sky Arts.

Coventry City of Culture Trust has appointed independent evaluation agencies including Amion Consulting, MB Associates and Indigo-Ltd, led by the University of Warwick and Coventry University, to plan and deliver a full research programme. The evaluation is overseen by a national Technical Reference Group of leading independent experts. Through the year, interim reports and bulletins have been updated regularly and there will be several stages of reporting with the final evaluation due in 2024. The final report will also take into account audience and impact analysis for the City of Culture affiliate programme developed and delivered with partner organisations.

For the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Arts Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:

"The UK City of Culture scheme is known for breaking new ground, inspiring people, and proving what can happen when a community comes together. 

"That's exactly what we've seen in Coventry over the past twelve months – and what I know we'll continue to see in the years to come thanks to the incredible legacy it will leave. I was delighted to come and get a flavour of the wonderful events which have been taking place, and to chat to some of the people whose lives it has changed. Coventry City of Culture Trust and everyone involved in making it happen should be very proud, especially for overcoming all the additional challenges of the pandemic."

Councillor George Duggins, Leader of Coventry City Council, said:

“Our year as UK City of Culture has been exciting and unforgettable, and one that has meant so much to our city. It was a year when we were able to share our incredible arts and culture with everyone. Importantly, it was a year that not only entertained, but one that has changed lives. We were able to attract investment, improve the city centre and welcome new venues and businesses. That was always our aim.

“As well as bringing people together, we wanted something to build a legacy from, and we have done that. The people, firms and organisations of Coventry will be feeling the benefits of our year as UK City of Culture for a long time to come – through improved prosperity, greater access to the arts, and a better quality of life. Our thanks to Coventry City of Culture Trust and everyone behind the year, to the organisations and artists who entertained us, and most importantly to the people of the city who got involved and made it a time to remember.”

Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England said: 

“We are incredibly proud of what has been achieved during Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture. To have registered such success during the pandemic has been an astonishing achievement, and the year has been a transformative one for Coventry and its residents.

Over the past 12 months, creativity has been given time and space to flourish and change lives across the city: in its cultural buildings, its streets and squares, in its community centres, parks, in shop windows and on what were previously bare brick walls.  For that and much more we want to thank the whole team at Coventry City of Culture Trust and everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen, and for the lasting legacy that will remain.”

Eilish McGuiness, Chief Executive, National Lottery Heritage Fund said:

“Congratulations to Coventry on a successful year. Thanks to National Lottery players, we’ve been able to fund large-scale projects at past City of Culture award holders. We have witnessed first-hand the transformational effects that this title can bring, creating a deeper sense of place, pride and identity.”

David Knott, Chief Executive, The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “We're delighted to have been able to support the ‘Love Coventry’ programme and see the positive impact it has made on communities across the city. In what has been a challenging year for all parts of the UK, Coventry City of Culture Trust has worked to deliver activities and events to bring residents together, build a sense of community and civic pride and help the city's neighbourhoods prosper and thrive.”

Ruth Hollis, Chief Executive, Spirit of 2012 said:

“What a year for Coventry. The Coventry City of Culture Trust’s Caring City project has well and truly lived up to its name, working with those people in the city who are often marginalised, sparking their creativity, making connections, telling their stories in incredibly innovative ways to a city that listened.

“From the HOME festival to Little Amal, from Reform the Norm to the CVX Festival, I’d like to pay tribute to the hard work and commitment of the producers and the four Caring City organisations: Central England Law Centre, Positive Youth Foundation, Grapevine and Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, for delivering such a vibrant, ground-breaking and inclusive programme. Coventry, we salute you!”

David Burbidge CBE DL, Chair of Coventry City of Culture Trust said:

“As Chair of Coventry City of Culture Trust, I want to thank the Trust’s partners and funders, and the generous donors from the business community that enabled such a success. A huge amount has been achieved from the bidding process through to delivery, and from the very outset we’ve pursued strong community engagement ideals to secure long-term, lasting change for our city.

“A full evaluation is now underway as the Trust continues its commitment to Coventry with a refreshed ‘Green Futures’ focus. I also offer my sincerest thanks to the Trust team and the very best of luck to whichever of the candidate cities wins the City of Culture title for 2025.” 

Main image: FiveSix Photography. Above: Dylan Parrin.

Main image: FiveSix Photography. Above: Dylan Parrin.