FIVE years ago, prospects were few for Hull. We were managing slow decline following the demise of the fishing fleet. There were glimmers of hope with potential for renewables and offshore wind power – perhaps Hull could be as successful in these emerging sectors as Aberdeen had been in oil and gas on Scotland’s east coast?
I was asked to chair the City Leadership Board. On the face of it, I had very little experience but I could spot the opportunities on the horizon and I wanted to back the city council, who were serious about making the changes needed. In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought, so I also became vice-chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership and a member of an Investment Board as well as chair of the Green Port Growth Fund. We have had some very early wins – the City Plan that the council backed really helped.
We have, of course, been awarded the City of Culture in 2017 and we have all worked together to attract Siemens to build a factory here. These are by no means answers to all our economic woes, but we have a strong belief that the tide has turned. We knew we could win something, could attract the best and when Siemens believed in us, so did we. Moreover, it’s not just Siemens – Reckitt Benckiser, which has a strong tradition in Hull over generations, is now investing in a £100m research centre; locally based civil engineering company Spencer Group is building a £150m waste-to-energy plant in the city and the city council is spending more than £80m in the public realm in readiness for the City of Culture year. In total, a huge £1bn of investment is being made in Hull.
We know that, if this city has a future, we have to attract 20 to 45-year-olds to come and work and raise their families here – and the truth is, we haven’t been very good at doing that up until now. We have some great assets, but we are not exploiting them. For example, Hull doesn’t make the best of its waterfront destination. The old docks and River Hull corridor is in decline, crying out for regeneration and rejuvenation – initiatives to create jobs, homes and places of leisure. I fervently believe that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something very special with the area and I am delighted the city council is as ambitious as the business people of Hull are to make it happen. We have plans on a large scale, but these won’t work unless we bring the hardworking people of Hull along with us on the journey.
This is the essence of why I was keen to get involved with Spacehive, a funding platform for civic projects. We want to empower people to bring the environments where they live back to life. Spacehive is designed to engage those who want to help themselves and their local community but have always thought it would be too difficult to make the changes they want to see happen. If you have a great project or fantastic idea, Spacehive can help you turn it into a reality. It’s been successful in Manchester and elsewhere across the country and, together with ten other business leaders in Hull, we have put in £50,000 to matchfund your projects to help turn them into reality. This is just the start – if it takes off, we will donate more.
We believe Hull is full of people with creative ideas and we want you to lead the way on what it is you want to see happen. When I say I want Hull to be a visitor destination of the future, people may laugh, but in 2017, all eyes will be on Hull. It’s important for everyone to get together and get involved, from the theatres to the University of Hull, which is already very much on board and extremely supportive of our plans. We can be leaders of tomorrow in new industries – the wonderful, iconic C4DI building being built for digital start-up businesses is a great example, funded by Hull business Wykeland Group, completely engaging with the vision for Hull “putting its money where our mouths are”.
One of the issues at the heart of Hull’s recent fortunes is that we have always sold ourselves to Government as a failing city in the hope that it will give us more money. Well, there is no money left. More importantly still, if we believe we are failing and we declare we are failing, there is no doubt about it, we will fail. We must try to put an end to being sad and sorry for ourselves and start being the drivers of the economy of the future. Hull is a great, traditional city steeped in history. If we change our outlook about what the future could look like, we can start to see how we will get there. But we can’t do it alone. Join in, get involved and be part of this change.
Businessmen in Hull have joined forces with Spacehive, a crowdfunding platform for civic projects, with the aim of empowering people in Hull to produce ideas that will bring their civic environment to life. These are the Hull Pioneers.
Richard Beal, chairman and managing director, Beal Developments Ltd
David Garness, managing director, Garness Jones Ltd
Dominic Gibbons, managing director, Wykeland Group Ltd
David Kilburn, executive chairman, MKM Building Supplies Ltd
Thomas Martin, managing director, Arco Ltd
Alistair Needler, managing director, Needlers Ltd
Nicholas Oughtred, chairman, William Jackson Food Group Ltd
Mark Parkes, managing director, Bostonair Group Ltd
Tim Rix, managing director, JR Rix & Sons Ltd
Charlie Spencer, chairman, Spencer Group Ltd
Nick Ward, director, Alan Wood & Partners Ltd