Winning 'City of Culture' is not easy, and an amount of our fate is out of our hands, but Southampton is among a small handful of cities still in play. With the support of our citizens we can make it - here are are the first 6 of 12 reasons that Southampton should be City of Culture 2025:
1. Our story reaches through the ages
Southampton's is a story of resilience. Our city has been rocked by events throughout the ages, as can be witnessed from the monuments in the city. The cenotaph and the Titanic Engineers' Memorial almost gaze at each other in the city centre, representing two of our toughest periods.
Even though destruction in the war was on a horrific scale, the heart of the city, our medieval walls and much of the medieval street layout, the Bargate and our Civic Centre still stand. Southampton has much to uncover on your walk around the city, home of some of the most intact medieval walls in the country.
Southampton has embraced the modern age, and recently has found a way to balance the new and the old in a much more harmonious way, as can be witnessed at Guildhall Square or at the walls by West quay.
2. The arts flow through our city
Southampton invested millions of pounds into the arts at the height of the recession, bucking the trend across the country. The city has recently opened a new art gallery and theatre on Guildhall Square, the Sea City museum at the Civic Centre, as well as an arts and heritage centre at Gods House Tower. A space arts, who run Gods House Tower, support grassroots culture in the city. Recently, they hosted a lucky dip awarding £500 to 10 artists in the city to produce anything they like - we can't wait to see what they come up with.
From the birth of Southampton Pride, supported by excellent fringe theatre The Stage Door, to recent installations by a-space arts, we have shown that our creatives can make funding go a long way - creating rich experiences for residents and visitors to the city.
3. Our galleries are world class
From the art deco Southampton City Gallery boasting one of the most extensive art collections outside London, to the modern and intriguing John Hansard Gallery, to a post box near the old castle walls, Southampton is right to be proud of our art galleries. The City Gallery's collection includes Monet, Lowry (including a piece set in the city), and Renoir. Southampton's was one of twelve galleries entrusted with displaying part of the Queen's Leonardo Da Vinci collection on the 500th anniversary of his death.
The Showcase Gallery exemplifies the creativity of the city, with student-led exhibitions ranging from a giant map of Southampton across the entire gallery floor for people to scribble their memories on, to stories of blues parties in the city in the 70s, to the literal painting of the city's bins and benches.
4. We are a green city (figuratively)
In 1986, after funding was cut from central government, the local council persevered on their own to create the only city-centre geothermal power scheme in the country. The council has recently refreshed much of its van fleet with electronic replacements, has paved the way for a complete 'green way' walking and cycle network across the city, and in 2021 cruise terminal 5 will become home to the only on-shore electrical solution for visiting cruise ships. From the grassroots perspective Southampton is home to a wide array of campaigns to improve the health and sustainability of the city, from safe space campaigns to local branches of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as well as eco-friendly stores such as Rice Up vegan supermarket, Café Thrive and Art House vegan cafes, and October Books. The city has a way to go, and the recent Green City Charter maps out how to achieve our goal of becoming carbon neutral over the coming decades.
5. We are a green city (literally!)
According to the Ordnance Survey's greenspace data (not biased of course as the home of the OS!), Southampton is the South's city with the most access to green space, making up over 10% of the city. The Central Parks that run alongside the High Street are Grade II listed and provide a green oasis in the heart of the city, where historical sights intermingle with ornamental, exotic, alpine and rose gardens, as well as large open spaces for sports and cultural events.
Riverside Park offers gorgeous strolls along the Itchen, and connects to a wider walk that stretches all the way to Winchester. The millennia-old Southampton Common, over 2km corner-to-corner, includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest, home to the elusive great crested newt, as well as a beautiful Victorian cemetery and 3 large bodies of water. There will be a specific article on the parks of Southampton in the future, as from St James Park to Peartree Common, there are simply too many to mention here.
What isn't in doubt, is that Southampton - city of parks, is also surrounded by nature, including the Itchen Valley and Victoria country parks, and the only city in the UK so close to two national parks - the New Forest and the South Downs.
6. Southampton is the Heart of the South
Southampton boasts excellent connections, with direct train links to London, Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and even Newcastle. Our location makes travelling to Southampton incredibly easy for the majority of residents in the South, meaning everyone can take part in our City of Culture festival.
Southamptoners can never be sure whether to click "South West England" or "South East England". The fact is we are both. Sometimes our accents delve into Westcountry, and making cider has always been popular here, but sometimes we turn to the South East and our connections with the ancient and modern capitals of England - Winchester and London.
Southampton is where East meets West, it's a melting point and a port of entry and exit. It's where journeys begin and end. However long you're here for, you'll always get a warm welcome in Southampton.