I love surprises. Whether it be picking out a special present or planning out a spontaneous trip, you can always expect me to be game. Last weekend I did just that, as we made an unexpected visit back to the UK to surprise my brother for his 18th birthday. We were heading for the end of the M62, the home of the iconic Humber Bridge, towards my hometown; Hull.
For those of you that haven’t heard of Hull, you should know that it has always been the butt of jokes in the UK. Having been once named the worst place to live in the UK, Hull natives such as myself would often find themselves poking fun at the city they called home once they left the Yorkshire region. In the same way that you complain about your siblings, but you come to their defence the second somebody else criticises them, only born-and-bred Hull-dwellers were permitted to get away with such self-deprecation. From the very moment you call Hull your home, a somewhat love-hate relationship with the city is formed.
You should know at this point that Hull was once a thriving port city, peaking in prosperity just before World War I thanks to its importance in trade and fishing businesses. Being situated on the coast, looking out onto the North Sea, Hull was ideally placed to support these growing industries. However, after catastrophic air-raid damage in World War II (Hull being the heaviest bombed city outside of London due to its docklands and factories) and, later in the 20th Century, the deterioration of the fishing trade, resulted in widespread job losses, poverty and general economic decline. Growing up, there was a feeling that Hull, was a forgotten city, its inhabitants abandoned, left to their own devices. As the Hull poet Philip Larkin once said “I like it because its so far from everywhere else. On the way to nowhere, as somebody put it. Its in the middle of the lonely country, and beyond the lonely country there is only the sea.”
Many would agree that the city’s sporting victories began to put Hull back on the national map in the mid-2000s, with Hull’s ascent to the Premier Football League in 2008, as well as the success of the city’s two Rugby League rivals in the Super League. This tied in with several renovation projects, transforming the face of the city centre, brought a breath of fresh air and renewed hope into the once run-down city.
While I had seen these renovations with my own eyes, nothing had prepared me for the surprise of Hull being named as European City of Culture 2017. As we stopped off for some lunch in town on the weekend, we passed through a newly-paved and pedestrianised Queen Victoria Square to the Weeping Window exhibition – a collection of the ceramic poppies previously displayed at the Tower of London in 2014 to commemorate those who lost their lives in World War I. Inspired, I looked into other City of Culture events on offer. If I get a chance to catch a flight back in the upcoming year, I’ve bookmarked a variety of events, depending on the mood:
- If music is your thing: Radio 1’s Big Weekend is being hosted in Hull this year with the likes of Katy Perry, Little Mix and King’s of Leon set to storm the stage. The North Atlantic Flux caught my eye too as during my uni days, I was a fan of Icelandic group Sigur Rós, so this would surely not disappoint.
- If art is your thing: Again I couldn’t decide between these two events. The first, Washed Up Car-go is set to provide hard-hitting truths about pollution and consumerism, by filling cars in an ordinary car park with beach debris. The second is the Hullywood Icons exhibition – recreating famous Hollywood scenes with people and scenery from the Hull area.
- If eating and drinking is your thing: The Yum! Festival of Food and Drink will feature over 50 stalls celebrating Yorkshire, British and World-inspired dishes, entertainment and live music in August. What’s not to love?
- If anything else is your thing: The possibilities are endless. From carnival to ballet performances and opera, there is so much to see. Their website is updated on a regular basis as they add more events to their line-up.
Given Hull’s history, people scoffed when the honour of City of Culture was bestowed to Hull, just a mere decade on from being named the worst place to live in the UK. However, even since my last visit home for Christmas, the city has undergone a radical facelift, with numerous renovations, installations put into place and – dare I say it – a real variety of cultural activities on offer. But these renovations and events go further than just simple aesthetics; there is a sense of rejuvenation, bringing hope and restoring pride to its inhabitants, wearing their badges (or their sports shirts) with their heads held high, shouting at the top of their lungs “We. Are. Hull.”