A review of our May talk
by Mike Chitty

Neil Peterson, the newly-appointed 'Head of Liverpool Welcome', came to talk to us on Tuesday 17th May. He began his talk with two questions: 'Why did we bid?' and 'Why did we win?'. In answer to the first, he quoted the Mayor of Barcelona as saying that 25 years physical regeneration work gets done in five when a city wins a major award like the Olympics (in Barcelona's case) or European Capital of Culture (in Liverpool's). There was also the prospect of 14,000 new jobs in leisure and tourism for Liverpool's young people. The answer to the second question was Liverpool's heritage waterfront, its international fame as a musical and sporting city - and the fact that the whole community was seen to be behind the bid. It was this latter aspect which the Liverpool Culture Company - an organisation created partly from existing City Council staff and partly from new appointees like Neil - was aiming to build on, to ensure that the people of Liverpool, and organisations like the Gateacre Society, feel that they have a role to play in 2008 and the years leading up to it.

Neil then ran through the 'themed years' which have already taken place - 2003 Learning, 2004 Faith, and 2005 Sea Liverpool - or are still to come: 2006 Liverpool Performs (including the Biennial and the Golf Open), 2007 Heritage (Liverpool's 800th birthday) and 2008 Culture (in 'a new and reborn city - a great place for our children to be'). The future events programme will be masterminded by Robyn Archer, an Australian former opera singer whom Neil described as 'a buzz of energy'. Projects already planned include 'See Liverpool through my eyes' - a sharing of experiences by the old and the young - a cruise liner facility at the Pier Head, a study of how the current Beatle 'offer' can be improved, and the '08 Place': a new information centre in Whitechapel. Other ideas are a well-publicised scoring system for customer service, special training for taxi drivers, and a team of '08 Volunteers' to reinforce the existing heritage and other organisations. Liverpool's gateways and routeways will be improved, street entertainers will be encouraged, and contacts will be established (or re-established) with Liverpool's twin cities and ex-pats abroad.

The evening ended with a lively and wide-ranging question-and-answer session. This brought out numerous snippets of further information about forthcoming events: a children's summer art festival, a production of Jason and the Argonauts in Otterspool Park, a visitor centre in St George's Hall, the extension of the current 'public realm' improvements throughout Church Street, new temporary performance venues, an interactive website with music clips, a series of 'two for one' cultural offers for local residents, and the encouragement of families to 'reclaim the city centre'. And yes, some of the problems which visitor surveys had revealed - like too much chewing gum on the streets and too few public toilets - are being seriously looked at. The evening ended with a promise from Neil that - if invited - he would return each year to report on progress and to obtain feedback from our members. We may well take him up on that offer!

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