It’s now five years since Perth led a successful battle to reclaim its city status.
Scotland’s ancient capital fought off tough competition from 26 towns up and down the country to secure official recognition from the Queen, as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Since then, the Fair City’s confidence has grown from strength to strength thanks to a series of extraordinary events including the Ryder Cup and the burgeoning Winter Festival.
Now Perth is ready for a new fight — to become the first Scottish UK City of Culture in 2021.
Perth may already have proved it is more than capable of hosting large-scale events, bringing in thousands upon thousands of people from across the world.
But the real challenge for the team behind the Perth2021 campaign is proving that the region also needs the City of Culture crown. The judging panel must be satisfied that Perth can use its status not just to throw a great, year-long party, but also to bring in huge, lasting benefits to the area and its people.
Today, The Courier is throwing its weight behind Perth’s campaign and over the coming days, we will explore the bid in detail and look at how it could shape the region’s future.
Council bosses say it will cost at least £15 million to host the 2021 programme. The local authority has pledged £3 million of public money, with the rest expected to come from partners, businesses and other funding avenues.
In comparison, 2017 City of Culture Hull set a target of £18 million, but ended up making about £32 million from private firms and donations.
Perth’s £15 million investment may sound like a lot, but a successful 2021 programme would easily make that money back — and then some.
Experts say that for every £1 invested in culture, there will be a £4 return.
Hull has estimated its 2017 line-up will bring in about £60 million, and — if successful — Perth stands to make a similar splash.
Fiona Robertson, who is leading the 2021 bid, said: “If we win, we would expect the programme to attract just over a million additional visitors.
“We are looking at “stop the city” and once-in-a-lifetime events.”
As part of its application, the team of about six people had to face up to some uncomfortable truths and shine a light on areas where the bid could make real, life-changing improvements.
The bid talks about a “quiet crisis” where many people in the region feel alienated, where areas of rural beauty masks pockets of poverty and social isolation.
The big challenges facing the area include a dependency on tourism, hospitality and agriculture which means low wages, some 9% below the Scottish average.
Ms Robertson said: “One of the most important things that Perth and Kinross could achieve is a sense of collective identity and belonging.
“One of the issues we uncovered as part of our bid is that people who live outside the city, don’t really feel connected to Perth.
“We know from our research that nearly half the people living in the wider hinterland don’t really come to the city at night. They don’t really come to take advantage of some of the amazing things that are going on here.
“To create that sense of being part of something really big, something unique to Perth and Kinross, that would be one of the biggest benefits that winning would deliver for us.”
She said that one of the main aims was to support local creative industries and stop them moving outside the area, to the central belt or further afield.
“These challenges are no less urgent than those faced by big cities, but they are less recognised. Yet the UK has been built around places like Perth.”
Ancient stone could launch 2021 programme
The Stone of Destiny could become the centrepiece of 2021’s launch party.
As Perth waits to hear if it has made the City of Culture shortlist — an announcement will be made next month — the campaign team is also expecting to hear back about its bid for the ancient stone of Scone.
In their formal 2021 bid, coordinators reveal they want the treasure to be the focus on their City of Culture opening ceremony.
Bid leader Fiona Robertson said: “Obviously, at this stage we still don’t know for certain if we will get the Stone of Destiny. But we have done a fair amount of planning around the possibility that we will get it, and the planning we have done for the opening event will include the stone.
“However, even if we don’t secure it, the stone is such an important object for local people that we expect our opening event to focus on the theme that this was the first capital of Scotland.”
She added: “I’m not the artistic director who would deliver all of this, but there is something really exciting about being the first capital of Scotland and then being the first Scottish UK City of Culture and all that that means.
“We have aspirations to do a show on the same scale as Hull did at the start of 2017.”
The three themes of the bid
The Perth2021 bid is separated into three main themes:
Heart – focusing on Perth’s ancient history, including a mass celebration to welcome back the Stone of Destiny.
Wild – Taking outstanding creative work into the region’s famous landscapes, while giving a voice to up-and-coming local talent.
Beyond – Placing Perth as the beating heart of Scotland, with its city centre vennels and alleyways as its ancient but clogged arteries.