Culture Matters 2012 international heritage conference being held in Norwich over three days.  Photo: Bill Smith

Norwich’s unique character is worth millions of pounds to the local economy

Thursday, November 15, 2012
11.57 AM

Norwich needs to make the most of what makes it special - that was the message as it was revealed that the county’s heritage was worth billions of pounds to the local economy each year.

As the Cultural Matters 2012 conference got under way yesterday, calls were made for the government to recognise the economic impact of heritage.

During the opening day of the three-day event, it was highlighted how the UK’s rich heritage helped bring in £114 billion of visitor economy and supported more jobs than the car, film or advertising industries.

It was also stated how in Norfolk, heritage tourism is worth £2.4b to the local economy and supports 35,000 jobs.

In Norwich, people are said to spend more per head on culture than anywhere else in the country and cultural projects over the last seven years have given the city an estimated £50 million boost.

Michael Loveday, chief executive of Norwich Heritage, Economic and Regeneration Trust (Heart), which has organised the international event, said: “If you look at other countries like Norway and France, they invest more resource into culture because they see it is an economic driver.

“People are not going to go places that look the same. If places have something special like amazing buildings, cultural events, then people will go there and spend money there.

“Heritage is what makes places like Norwich great. People don’t go to places for Starbucks, McDonalds and Zara but they go for the culture and heritage of a place and we need to constantly hit national politicians with the evidence.”

The Cultural Matters, being held for the first time, is aimed at highlighting the cultural heritage of Norwich as well as discussing new ways of working through economic austerity and funding constraints.

The inaugural event has attracted more than 200 people from more than a dozen countries from around the world.

Case studies such as the Norwich 12, Ghent 12 and Liverpool 2008 European Capital of Culture will be discussed.

As well as guest speakers, seminars and case studies, the delegates will get the chance to explore Norwich’s culture and heritage, with special access to the city’s historic buildings and a programme of activities, exhibitions and entertainment planned.

Different parts of the conference will be held at iconic venues across the city, including the Norwich 12 buildings, such as Norwich Castle, Dragon Hall, The Forum and Assembly House.

Yesterday, Mr Loveday said a half a million pounds investment in a project to coordinate the Norwich Lanes, helping to fund heritage interpretation, signage and paving, generated £17m for the local economy.

And over the last seven years, Norwich Heart’s heritage projects have brought £50m into the city.

“Cultural regeneration can provide the cornerstone to economy and social recovery,” said Mr Loveday.

“Heritage creates more jobs, it boosts property values - culture and heritage are good for the economy and investment in them can provide more return and more jobs.

“Norwich needs to make the best of what makes it special. Norwich has one of the largest collections of medieval buildings in Europe and the county as a whole has a tremendous amount to offer.

“And it’s not just about attracting visitors from outside the region - Norwich is the fifth most visited city for day visits behind London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds.

“The French have got it, the Norwegians have got it, our government needs to get it.”

Donovan Rypkema, president of Heritage Strategies International in the USA, who gave a talk entitled The Economic Contributions of Heritage: Recent Lessons from Around the World, added: “You have to sell heritage to property developers, legislators, councillors. Heritage visitors stay longer and spend more money than regular tourists.

“Places need an identity to be competitive - if you are the same as everyone else then you can’t be competitive with everyone else.”

To follow what is happening at the Culture Matters conference on Twitter, use the hashtag #cmconf

Are you part of a project to help promote Norwich’s heritage? Call reporter Kate Scotter on 01603 772326 or email kate.scotter@archant.co.uk.