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City of Culture 2025: Wrexham’s Bid

Volume 714: debated on Monday 16 May 2022

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Scott Mann.)

It is an honour to have been granted this Adjournment debate on Wrexham’s bid for city of culture 2025.

We are thrilled to be in the final four, with the title within touching distance. Bradford, Southampton and County Durham have made good bids, and colleagues from across the House have put forward very convincing arguments for them. However, one key difference sets the Wrexham apart from the other three, and that is Wales. If Wrexham were to become city of culture 2025, it would be the first Welsh winner of the title since the inception of the competition. As a proud Unionist, as I know a few of us Conservative Members are, I believe that a Welsh winner would highlight the commitment of this Government to the Union. Talking of firsts, Wrexham has had a few. I am the first Conservative female MP to be elected in Wales, and 2019 was the first ever time that Wrexham turned blue. We are going for a hat-trick in hoping that Wrexham is named the first city of culture in Wales.

One huge element of this bid is that we have the Welsh language as our trump card. Since many responsibilities in Wales are devolved to the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff, the city of culture bid presents a unique opportunity for the whole of the UK to celebrate the individualism of Wales, and its proud language and culture, while also celebrating its importance as part of our Union. Wrexham has a diverse population with over 70 languages spoken, the largest being our Polish community, who recently mobilised to send aid to Ukraine, working with local businesses to facilitate nearly £2 million-worth of donations. Working with each other for the betterment of Wrexham is what we do. Wrexham’s city of culture bid has involved over 200 stakeholders, with 50 grants being awarded to community organisations to participate, and we have held over 90 city of culture events already.

Wrexham is a town built on brewing, football and mining. To take football, which is very topical at the moment, Wrexham association football club is on a high. On Sunday, I will be cheering on the reds at the FA trophy final against Bromley at Wembley—and of course we will win. Someone would have had to have had their eye off the ball to have missed the fact that Wrexham AFC is now owned by Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. Wrexham has certainly been put on the map. We are not new best friends just yet, but I am working on it, and Rob and Ryan know the importance—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Scott Mann.)

Rob and Ryan know the importance of football to Wrexham, and want to nurture and champion it. As the Minister knows from a visit a while back, the home of Wrexham AFC is the historic Racecourse Ground, which is in some ways the headquarters of our town. The Racecourse Ground is the oldest international football ground in the world and has been used to host international matches. When Wales hosted the rugby world cup in 1999, the Wrexham Racecourse was filled with more than 16,000 fans from around the world. International games have not been seen on that scale since, mainly because the capacity no longer allows it.

Like everyone in Wrexham and the whole of north Wales, I am passionate about returning international sporting events to north Wales. The redevelopment of the historic Kop stand, which I am campaigning for as part of Wrexham’s levelling-up fund bid, will allow for an extra 5,500 spectators, which will then permit the hosting of international sporting events. If you would like to sign our petition, Madam Deputy Speaker, please click on to and “Redevelop the Racecourse to create a Stadium for the North”, where all signatures are welcomed. Our aim is to make Wrexham the home of Welsh football. Hollywood investment, the arrival of the national football museum for Wales, commitment by the Football Association of Wales and the redevelopment of the Kop stand—fingers crossed—could all make that a reality.

Another founding pillar of Wrexham is brewing. Wrexham Lager was founded in 1881, is the staple of the town and is steeped in fascinating history. As a former brewer myself, Wrexham Lager is close to not only my heart, but my tastebuds. The brewery exemplifies Wrexham’s business and trading prowess. The lager was one of the first international exports from Wrexham, imported to the Americas in the 1800s. It was served as the only beer on the Titanic—it went down well—and it is a firm favourite of the British Navy.

That brings me nicely onto the significance of Wrexham’s military heritage. It is a military town with a proud veteran community—I am one. Hightown barracks was the home of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, dating back to 1689. Hightown barracks was only to billet a residual military presence until last year, when the Ministry of Defence recognised Wrexham’s military significance and returned a reserve unit of the Royal Welsh back to the barracks under the future soldier programme. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Defence for affirming his commitment to Wrexham and north Wales.

On the final pillar of Wrexham, as I see it, I must mention the importance of mining to the town. Wrexham was a proud mining town, which was rocked in 1934 by the Gresford mining disaster, where 266 men lost their lives. We are fiercely proud of our mining heritage and look forward to commemorating it further in the future.

Finally, I would like to touch on Wrexham’s potential. Wrexham is brimming with talent, especially in science, technology, engineering and maths expertise. Wockhardt UK won the UK Government contract to bottle the AstraZeneca vaccine at the start of the pandemic. Wrexham is hugely proud to have played its part in the whole of the UK vaccine programme; the vaccine was produced in England, bottled in Wales, trialled in Northern Ireland and rolled out in Scotland. We have a growing industrial estate because of ever-increasing inward investment, and it is soon to be the largest in the UK. Wrexham will be the envy of the world and will be known for its STEM innovation, manufacturing and skills. We are growing our own talent, with Wrexham Glyndwr University and Coleg Cambria both in the town, and we have ever-increasing numbers of jobs vacancies on offer. Furthering our home-grown talent, we have expanded our healthcare training in Wrexham, for example with our new nursing campus at the university and nursing cadet training at the college, all training at our local hospital, Wrexham Maelor, where I trained as a nurse some decades ago and returned during the pandemic.

In terms of art, music and tourism, Wrexham has a massive offer. Only last week it was announced that Tŷ Pawb had been shortlisted for Art Fund museum of the year, and two weeks ago 15,000 people descended on Wrexham to enjoy the FOCUS Wales music festival, which showcased emerging Welsh talent. The crowds have always been attracted to our UNESCO heritage site, the Pontcysyllte aqueduct, which recently received £13 million from the UK Government levelling-up fund to ensure its future. Many more enjoy the grand house at Erddig and Chirk castle. In fact, of the seven wonders of Wales, three are in Wrexham—St Giles’ church, which dates back to the 15th century, the yew trees of Overton and the bells of Gresford church, where I got married.

I would like to put on record my thanks to the UK Government for already committing, in the levelling-up White Paper, to moving civil service jobs to Wrexham. With the Crown Prosecution Service and HMP Berwyn nearby, I am pleased that a Ministry of Justice hub is starting to develop.

To sum up, the benefits to Wrexham of being named city of culture 2025 are endless. It would bring recognition to our beautiful town and unmatched investment—something Wrexham has not seen for 20 years—and it would strengthen the Union. When I got elected in 2019, my goal was to put Wrexham on the map. Decades of Labour neglect left Wrexham deflated. There will never be a better moment for Wrexham to be recognised as a hidden gem, brimming with history, pride, potential and passion. To me, the bid for city of culture is not only about historical accolades, or how many famous singers, architects or artists came from a place. It is about what Wrexham is achieving now, and can achieve. It is about its people and its potential, and Wrexham has that in bucketloads. It just needs someone to unlock it and the Government have the key to do that. Wrexham, “We Rise Together”. Diolch yn fawr.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) for securing the debate. She rightly champions Wrexham, as she always does. She is justly proud that the county borough was the only place in Wales to be shortlisted in the fierce competition for the highly coveted UK city of culture title. Previously held by Derry-Londonderry and Hull and currently held by Coventry, it is a growing prize and a record 20 places applied this year.

This is the final debate secured for the four shortlisted places bidding for the 2025 title, and I will briefly reflect on the passion with which all hon. Members spoke about their constituencies. They highlighted the incredible heritage and cultural assets of which people across the whole United Kingdom are proud. They spoke of the dedication of their bidding teams, the ambition for positive change and the sheer number of partners who have come together to support their bids.

While this is a competition, it is worth acknowledging the transformative power of culture in all places, not just the winners. That is why the UK city of culture programme is a key part of the efforts by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to level up opportunity across the UK. It is a proven model for harnessing culture and creativity to attract investment and tourism, to bring people together and to drive economic growth, positive social change and regeneration. The title is unique in its holistic nature. It galvanises partners across sectors to ensure systematic change, promote social cohesion and wellbeing, and create a shared vision with multiple outcomes. The competition was inspired by the success of Liverpool when it was the European capital of culture in 2008, and it was designed and is delivered by DCMS in collaboration with the devolved Administrations. The Government have recently announced that the competition will be a permanent quadrennial competition, continuing in 2029 and beyond, and I am delighted that some of the unsuccessful bidders in the current competition have already declared their intention to bid again for the 2029 title.

My noble Friend Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, the Minister for Arts, recently visited all the shortlisted places, including Wrexham, and has been hugely impressed with the effort and ambition of the bidding teams and partners. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham mentioned, I had the honour of visiting Wrexham myself not so long ago and had the opportunity to visit so many of the local cultural establishments and sites that she mentioned.

The impact of the title is evident in the benefits felt by previous winners. There was more than £150 million of public and private sector investment in the 2013 winner, Derry/Londonderry, and the 2017 winner, Hull, saw 5.3 million people visiting more than 2,800 events. Coventry, despite the huge challenges posed by the pandemic, has developed an extraordinary programme of events that has put culture at the heart of the social and economic recovery. Co-created projects have taken place in all 18 wards of the city, with thousands of community dancers, musicians, poets and makers participating. The city has seen more than £172 million invested in the likes of music concerts, public art displays, the new Telegraph hotel, a new children’s play area in the city centre and improvements to public transport. Coventry’s year will culminate in Radio 1’s Big Weekend at the end of May.

It is no wonder, therefore, that there were more initial applications for the 2025 title than ever before. Wrexham county borough, along with the three other locations—Bradford, County Durham and Southampton—was approved by the Secretary of State to make the shortlist for 2025. All the bids have been scrutinised by the expert advisory panel chaired by Sir Phil Redmond, which will continue to assess the finalists against criteria such as place making, levelling up, UK and international co-operation, opening up access to culture and creating a lasting legacy. The panel has now visited the locations on the shortlist and will make its final recommendation to DCMS Ministers following a presentation from each place this week. The winner will be announced in Coventry later this month.

As my hon. Friend said so eloquently, Wrexham county is a proud and passionate region with substantial cultural assets. For one, it boasts a UNESCO world heritage site, the Pontcysyllte aqueduct—I hope I pronounced that right, or was close—which is the tallest aqueduct in the world. The colour splash on the bid team logo represents coal dust, as a tribute to Wrexham’s industrial past, and the colours represent the vibrancy and diversity of everyone who lives, works and plays in Wrexham.

Wrexham is world-renowned for its textiles, bricks, beer, mining and much else. Of course it is also home to the world’s third oldest professional football team, AFC Wrexham, and the club’s recent takeover has attracted immense international interest and support. Unfortunately, I last visited Wrexham just before the acquisition of the football club by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, and I therefore also missed out on the opportunity to visit the emerging major tourist attraction that is the urinal in the gents’ toilets that was a gift from Ryan Reynolds to Rob on his birthday. I am confident that this major cultural attraction will form the centrepiece of the 2025 city of culture bid, or maybe not—I was given that opportunity to talk about urinals in the Chamber of the House of Commons, so I took it.

Wrexham is a place of myth and legend. It is a place filled with music and home-grown talent, and FOCUS Wales—one of the UK’s leading music showcase festivals—welcomes more than 15,000 international artists, industry leaders and music fans from across the world to the county every year.

Wrexham’s UK city of culture bid is led by the county council, alongside partners from local businesses to National Trust Wales and Transport for Wales. Wrexham’s vision for 2025 includes celebrating the region’s cultural diversity and becoming the UK capital of play. I am told that, on the panel’s visit to Wrexham, the chair, Sir Phil Redmond, was even persuaded by young people to take a turn on a zipwire.

The bid also aims to establish Wrexham as the home of football in Wales, as the north Wales centre for trade and events and as a leader in innovation, and to promote the Welsh language and heritage. Wrexham’s bid celebrates local and national heritage. As part of the bid process, the borough council awarded over 50 grants of up to £1,000 to individuals and organisations to host a multitude of events and projects to promote the county. Planned activities include the recreation of the historic Wrexham tailor’s quilt; a powerchair football event to highlight Wrexham’s inclusive environment for disability sports; and a special fusion event with African and Welsh food, fashion and music.

As outlined on their website, the team also aim to establish a “permanent, long-lasting legacy” of socio-economic benefits beyond their 2025 year, improving health and wellbeing and educational outcomes. As the only Welsh region in the competition, the team anticipate that, should their bid be successful, it would have a positive impact on neighbouring regions, such as Denbighshire, Flintshire and Powys, and more broadly across Wales. In Wrexham itself, regeneration—of infra-structure and disused public spaces—is a priority.

As the competition goes from strength to strength, for the first time, each of the eight longlisted places from across the UK received a £40,000 grant to support their application ahead of the shortlisting stage. This was intended to level the playing field, reduce the burden on bidders and help them develop scalable plans. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all bidding places for participating in the competition.

As I alluded to earlier, there are clear benefits to all places that bid, as was evident from the recent visits to the shortlisted places. The bidding process engages and galvanises a wide range of local communities and organisations, resulting in enduring partnerships and pride in place. The process encourages places to develop a vision and to come together around ambitions for change. It also attracts media attention, putting places on the map.

For example, Hull was unsuccessful in winning the 2013 title but came back to win the 2017 title. Sunderland, which bid for the 2021 title, created the momentum to form a new arts trust, Sunderland Culture, which achieved enhanced Arts Council England funding and mobilised a lasting team of community volunteers. Paisley, which also bid for the 2021 title, has since raised funds for its museum and hosted a range of major events, including UNBOXED’s About Us. Norwich, which bid for the 2013 title, went on to become UNESCO’s city of literature.

DCMS wants all bidders to benefit from the bidding process. We are committed to working with those who do not win to continue to develop partnerships, advance culture-led change and strengthen cultural strategies, as well as to signpost upcoming opportunities and funding.

In conclusion, I commend Wrexham’s commitment to winning the UK city of culture 2025 competition, and I applaud my hon. Friend’s continuing championing of Wrexham. I wish all shortlisted bidders good luck in the final stage of the competition.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.