Celebrating the city

Paul Hamlyn Foundation are major partners of Hull UK City of Culture 2017. As well as making a grant of £350,000 directly to the City of Culture programme, they are also backing key community engagement projects across the city. They are supporting Hull Truck Theatre to provide local, free and family friendly activities to reach people who think they don’t belong in theatres, and they are also funding the New Music Biennial 2017 to offer composer residencies and a tailor made listening scheme to local communities and schools. Here Moira Sinclair, Chief Executive of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, reflects on the emerging partnership.

The value of the arts was central to Paul Hamlyn’s world view. He believed in a fair society in which access to the arts was one way in which people could achieve their potential. One of his first acts on setting up the Foundation in 1987 was to create the Paul Hamlyn Performances at the Royal Opera House. Over the next 20 years, nearly 200,000 people enjoyed their first experience of opera and ballet at minimal cost, people who might otherwise never have thought that opera and ballet were ‘for them’. At its time, it was a radical choice and we have continued to place community engagement and access to the arts at our core.

Our new strategy, launched in 2015, reinforced our belief that arts and culture can be a force for change, enriching people’s lives and communities. We wanted our funding to not only reflect this principle, but to remain as radical and relevant to today’s challenges, as the Paul Hamlyn performances were nearly 30 years ago. As part of our new strategy, we want to support organisations, particularly those outside London, that have ambitious plans to widen access to and participation in the arts. We are also particularly interested in opportunities for young people and in reaching communities that don’t always get the same chances as others. For us, it is a matter of social justice.

I had been involved in the City of Culture programme in my previous role at Arts Council England. So we understood that being part of it could be transformational: that celebrating the city, its people, history and geography would allow people to reflect on the past and reimagine the future. And when the Hull UK City of Culture 2017 team got in touch, we were immediately interested. Having worked closely with some members of the team previously on the Cultural Olympiad, we also knew that they would bring ambition and ferocious hard work to the task.

We knew that being part of City of Culture could be transformational: that celebrating the city, its people, history and geography would allow people to reflect on the past and reimagine the future.

Our first discussions in London were all about how to utilise Hull’s many assets: the city’s independence; the people who have shaped it; the port and its connection to Europe and the world. We were one of many of the ‘suited and booted’ who visited the city and met with youth leaders, arts organisations and stakeholders from both the city centre and the surrounding estates. We were encouraged to hear about plans to put young people at the heart of the programme and how this investment might make Hull more attractive to visitors and residents.

As a result, we were confident in making a recommendation to trustees for substantial support and we knew what we wanted that to be for. We didn’t need to be attached a particular project; we wanted our funding to be used to make sure that everyone in Hull had the chance to be involved. We may call it ‘community engagement’ today – Paul would have recognised it as plain-old fairness. 

Paul Hamlyn Foundation are a major partner of Hull UK City of Culture 2017. Find out more about their work here.