A lecturer in promotional culture at the University of Huddersfield has conducted an in-depth study into how communities get involved in UK City of Culture bids.

Jenny Gibson’s detailed findings have now been published by prestigious academic journal Public Relations Review. The subject is particularly topical, as nearby Bradford gears up for its year in the spotlight as UK City of Culture in 2025.

A total of 20 professional communicators, bid leaders and community representatives, from five contender locations, were interviewed by Jenny, as part of her MA by Research in Communication Cultural and Media Studies.

Former Huddersfield journalist Jenny, subject area leader for media, journalism, film and drama, said: “This was a fascinating foray into human nature itself. I was interested in the way communities are mobilised to get behind bids and offer them authenticity, through their input.

“When a city announces its intention to bid for UK City of Culture, lots of participatory opportunities for residents will follow. There will be meetings, workshops, and fun things to go along to.

“But project teams often encounter derision and disbelief from local people, that the place where they live could be considered for such a status.”

Jenny added: “Usually, residents need time to warm to the idea, before they start to really champion it, and encourage others to do the same. By the time the big announcement comes around, they’re likely to be incredulous if their hometown doesn’t win!

“One particularly interesting thing I found was that people who are interested and skilled in the arts can be the hardest people to enthuse about the prospect of UK City of Culture, and I explore the reasons for that in my study.”

While many academic projects have focused on such designations’ benefits to locations in terms of investment and visitor numbers, the effects for local people have been much less documented so far.

Jenny hopes to start a PhD soon, building on this theme to interview Bradford residents during its year as UK City of Culture, and find out what difference the initiative has made in their communities.

Read Jenny Gibson’s article, Participatory culture’s role in advancing critical PR ideals through community placemaking for UK City of Culture 2021 (UKCoC) bids, from Public Relations Review.