Leicester. Most people, especially from abroad, can’t even pronounce it (get an American or Australian to pronounce it and you will have your %RDA of daily laughs covered) – and even in our own country it’s one of those easily overlooked cities that has always been there, sitting in the shadows of its bigger and louder neighbours. But perhaps Leicester’s star is on the rise. Leicester is entering the bidding race/process/contest/war to become the UK’s City of Culture for 2017. (check out our overview of Leicester’s competition here)
So, the big question is… What’s it got to offer to become ‘Leicester City of Culture 2017’?
Turn back the clock some years and Leicester was just another Roman town, albeit a relatively well developed one. We had the obligatory baths and markets and good river routes of trade, thanks to it being built slap-bang on top of the River Soar. All in all, not a bad start but nothing too special. Fast forward a big chunk of years into the end of the 15th century (1485AD to be exact) and Leicester becomes the final resting place for the much maligned and recently rediscovered and suddenly un-maligned King Richard III. It’s more a testament to Leicester’s average standing at the time that he managed to be completely overlooked, buried and forgotten for the best part of 600 years than anything else; he wouldn’t have been ‘misplaced’ in a bigger city or town. From there it’s a leap of almost 300 years before the next notable character put the city back on the map and into the public consciousness, the larger than life Daniel Lambert. Famed for his good nature, his 50 stone weight and his ability to beat a bear in a fight, a larger than life celebrity and came and went in a short 39 years – helped to the grave by 20 pall bearers. So up until the 1800’s things were pretty slow. A work-a-day town that had the odd moment of glory – mostly weird glory – drizzled, rather than heaped upon it.
The industrial revolution! Happened near Leicester. Ish. Down the road in Derbyshire. We had a Queen of England in Lady Jane Grey. It lasted for 6 days. We had one of the late 70’s / early 80’s most recognisable bands in Showaddywaddy but we’d rather try our best to forget about them. We had one of the country’s most loved and respected football players in Gary Lineker but we now all know him as the face of a local crisp company that sold out to Pepsi Corp and presents sports on the TV. In short there’s been a lot of ‘almost’ in Leicester’s history, but for every handful of things that make us think we could have done better or that we don’t find that impressive, there’s something else that Leicester can be proud of. Our city’s culture is alive and strong and growing, we just need to be reminded to take notice of it and be proud of it…
Leicester today, like many cities is a bit battered. The current financial downturn has made its presence felt and the high-street shows a few scars, but behind the sterile retail front there’s a lot going on; there’s always been a lot going on. Enough to make it ‘Leicester City of Culture 2017’? Let’s see…
We have in the Leicester Tigers one of, if not the best Rugby Union team in the world, built over the years with an unwavering focus on club performance and team spirit – pretty good for a little city in the middle of the UK. Our Indian population (supported by the hungry Leicester locals) has elevated Indian food to new levels, to the point where Leicester chefs have been hired by the best restaurants in India to bring their food up to scratch. We’re the proud home of what people call the ‘King of Cheeses’, the Blue Stilton, which has its fanatical supporters at home and around the world; and a little pie from Melton that is as good to eat as any savoury meat pie you’re ever likely to find in the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie. Our Pukka® Pies have become a Chip Shop icon and Parish’s ‘Baz’s Bonce Blower’ was one of the UK’s first super strong beers to put handmade beer on the map. The woman that changed children’s TV forever, Biddy Baxter MBE, was born and raised in Leicester and went on to work as the editor for a little children’s tv show called Blue Peter in 1965. The award winning director Stephen Frears hailed from the ‘Shire’ too, going on to create little films like Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity and The Queen. And then there’s Sir Alec Jeffreys and his team who devised genetic fingerprinting – what would an episode of CSI be without it (and very handy for working out if that old skeleton was in fact old King Richard III)! And for many years we have had one of the highest saturations of creative businesses outside of London based on our strategic transport position for retail design. We even have a manufacturer of dance and ballet-wear in the internationally respected brand Freeds of London. In fact, when you look back and take time to see what Leicester has achieved and given to the general culture, it’s punched above its weight time after time.
Even today Leicester is doing rather nicely (which is why it’s got a good chance to be crowned Leicester City of Culture 2017). The Curve Theatre, built to make a statement and form a central role in regenerating the ‘cultural quarter’ of the city, is an award-winning building putting out the highest quality arts programmes. The newly launched Makers’ Yard is a new collective space for some of Leicester’s crafty, arty businesses and individuals. A solid foundation where new creative businesses can build themselves up, interact and grow. The annual ‘Dave’s’ Leicester Comedy Festival has slowly built itself up over the years to the point where now it’s seen as a real national destination and the longest running comedy-only festival in the UK. There’s the rock band Kasabian who built their solid following on home turf and then took on the world; Cornershop, who in the 90’s redefined what modern pop music could be; Leicester’s Caribbean Carnival; and Asian music festivals that generate interest from around the world. On top of that there’s the annual Summer Sundae weekender (a pioneering boutique festival) and the Folk Music festivals that draw in people from across the UK. And in between all of this there’s lots of smaller one-day events happening all of the time.
To be honest, there’s much more ‘culture’ in all large cities than meets the eye. Scratch the surface and look past the faceless shops and brands and you’ll find live music, theatre, arts, design, science, sports and a whole world of stuff to engage with and be entertained or educated by. Has Leicester got enough bells and whistles to out-culture the other contenders? It’s a big ask. But if there’s one thing I am sure of, I’ll bet that as a city we give it a damn good shot. We’ve got the raw material; perhaps we just need a little more passion to dig a bit deeper to discover the city we are under the city we think we are.
‘Leicester City of Culture 2017′ – has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Check out our overview of Leicester’s competition here
STOP THE PRESSES! As of the 19th of June Leicester won a place in the final 4 shortlist.
Cool Culture Stuff
Take a look at Paul Wright – a truly amazing artist who is gaining an international reputation.
There’s always something cool on at the Phoenix Square – Cinema, Arts and much more.
Take a walk into out own Botanical Gardens at the University of Leicester – a hidden gem!
Leicester’s rural escape Bradgate Park might nit be in the city but it’s where’s you’ll find people trying to escape it every Sunday morning.
The Little Theatre might be small but it;s been punching above its weight for years and always worth a visit.
The National Space Centre is in Leicester and you can’t miss the building, looks a bit alien.
The best flapjack company in the whole of the UK happens to be based in little old Leicester – BlackFriars Bakery.
We have one of the biggest Asian culture festivals in Europe in the Leicester Mela. You’d be hard pushed to find a better showcase for British asian culture anywhere else.
Looking for live comedy and music in a relaxed atmosphere? The Crumblin’ Cookie on High Street is the place to go – there’s always something on and well worth a visit.
Leicester is the home of what we believe is the best bombay mix ever, ‘Bombay Spicy’ by the masters of indian snack food, Cofresh, and like many Leicester companies, they’re going from strength to strength. Want to give your taste-buds a workout – track any of their products down.
Leicester Market is one of Europe’s biggest covered markets. Well worth a visit on a weekend if you want to get the freshest fruit and vegetables and much more besides. And to keep the farmers busy there’s the monthly Farmers Market, first Thursday in every month.
The Spark Festival is an important part of the cultural scene in the city. Now in its 11th year – the children’s arts festival was enjoyed by over 13,500 people last year and have a new Patron in the award-winning director, writer and actor Tim Crouch!
Leicester has it’s hidden gems and one of them is Upstairs At The Western, Leicester’s own boutique Theatre venue in a pub. Truly amazing and home to the Off The Fence theatre company – well worth a visit for the culture and also the free-house beers served up below in the Steaming Billy owned The Western pub.
Pretty as a picture, Leicester Print Workshop has a national reputation in promoting fine art printmaking – it runs workshops and organises exhibitions and is at the top of its game. Want to unleash your inner print maker? Novices to experts, they are THE print guys to talk to.
Embrace Arts http://www.le.ac.uk/embracearts/ – the University of Leicester’s multi-use inclusive arts centre, with a history of promotion and encouragement of engagement in the arts by people with disabilities. Championed by Lord Attenborough, it is one of only two purpose-built spaces in the East Midlands for the promotion of arts and disability.
Leicester does well for looking after and nurturing all of our children’s creative side, regardless of ability. The Bamboozle Theatre create work for children with learning difficulties and special educational needs – their patron is the quiet, witty titan of British theatre, Alan Bennett.
Leicester’s leading illustrator Joe Wilson does his bit for Leicester’s art and design scene and he’s represented in both the UK and in swanky New York.
We’ve got our fair share of talented artists in Leicester, like Award-winning artist Loz Atkinson.
No city of culture would be complete without cool art spaces and studios and the new Two Queens gallery and studios is just that. Like a creative engine room.
and there’s more. We’ll keep adding to the list if you have any bright ideas you want to share.
Leicester City of Culture 2017 – let’s make it happen…