Special report: How culture is providing a welcome boost to Norfolk’s economy

Value of culture: The People's Tower launched the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Value of culture: The People's Tower launched the Norfolk and Norwich Festival - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

In an increasingly competitive world, stunning scenery and rich history - even a vibrant shopping centre - are not necessarily enough to keep visitors coming back.

The People's Tower being built which is a cardboard replica of St Peter Mancroft Church for the Norf

The People's Tower being built which is a cardboard replica of St Peter Mancroft Church for the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2014. NNF14 volunteers. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

What is needed is a USP and in the case of Norwich it was already there in a festival dating back more than two centuries.

The Thursford Christmas Show. Picture: Ian Burt

The Thursford Christmas Show. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

In the shoulder season, ahead of the summer rush of visitors, the economic figures from last year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival are compelling enough for sponsors such as rail company Abellio, Adnams and the city's business improvement district (BID).

The economic impact of other events, including Great Yarmouth's Out There festival, last year's Houghton Revisited exhibition and Thursford's Christmas show, also underline the value of culture to the economy - particularly at times outside the main tourism season.

An evaluation by the Audience Agency shows that the 2013 Norfolk and Norwich Festival generated £2,400,000 worth of economic activity in the county and created 20 full-time and 85 part-time jobs, the majority of these going to local people.

Ten per cent of last year's audiences were drawn from outside Norfolk while Robert Wilson's successful event at Holkham - Walking - part of the festival in 2012, drew 77pc of its audience from outside the county.

Alex Derbyshire, executive director of this month's 17-day extravaganza, said the scale and reach of the festival had grown and grown, particularly in the past decade.

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She highlighted the findings of a study by the Arts Council that since 2000 engagement with the arts in the East of England had grown at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country - in a region where it had previously lagged behind.

Ms Derbyshire said: 'The festival draws in people of all ages. At the People's Tower event (a giant cardboard recreation of St Peter Mancroft Church outside The Forum) there were several thousand participants and spectators with people in their 80s and 90s alongside little children.

'For the main festival work, we project audiences of over 50,000 for our free events and over 27,000 for our ticketed events.

'The difficulty we have booking accommodation for artists demonstrates how full the city gets.'

She said many festival visitors were surprised and delighted by Norwich's wealth of attractions - 'in many ways the city is still a well-kept secret' - and declared their intention of making a return visit.

Jonathan Denby, head of corporate affairs for key festival sponsor Abellio Greater Anglia, explained how their investment helped to create a virtuous economic circle to the benefit of the whole community.

He said: 'By working together with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, we are able to raise the profile of the event, both across the region - including across our rail network - and nationally, which then encourages people to come to the area to attend or participate in the festival.

'Most of those artists or audience members will then spend money on food, accommodation or other items in Norwich or Norfolk, boosting the local economy.

'In addition, the more the reputation of the area is enhanced by the success of the festival, the more attractive it becomes for holidays and tourism, as well as for businesses looking to locate in places that will appeal to their employees.

'Clearly, we hope that as many festival-goers as possible take the train to concerts or other performances wherever practical and with late night trains back to Sheringham, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Ipswich and Cambridge that is a real option for many events.'

Seachange Arts' Out There Festival in Yarmouth - now in its seventh year - is also delivering a significant business impact.

More than 60,000 visitors now come to the festival of circus and street arts which attracts world class performers from across Europe.

Its place on the calendar in September is designed specifically to extend Yarmouth's tourist season beyond the traditional summer holiday period.

'We know we attract many visitors from across the UK for weekend breaks,' said Joe Mackintosh, Seachange's chief executive.

'Hoteliers report an upturn in business and other attractions, particularly the Hippodrome, have extended their usual summer season, to capitalise on the audiences we bring to the town.'

Almost all the programme, this year featuring around 40 acts and more than 100 shows, is free. While at the festival though, audiences pump around £1m into the local economy on shopping, dining and transport.

With hundreds of artists and performers brought to Yarmouth for the five days of the festival, Seachange spends around £125,000 employing local production crew and suppliers while a further £55,000 is invested with guest houses and caterers to accommodate the artists.

Pete Waters, brand manager for VisitNorfolk, said that culture had the potential to help develop a year-round visitor economy.

He said: 'The infrastructure is in place, and nobody could doubt that we have exceptional museums, theatre, historic buildings, exhibition spaces and festivals, but we have to tell the rest of the world that it's here.

'Last year's Houghton Revisited sold more than 114,000 tickets, with the ripple effect of bringing business to accommodation providers, eateries and transport providers in West Norfolk.

'The key to that success was not that they convinced The Hermitage in St Petersburg to loan the Walpole Collection back to its former home, as impressive as that was, but the decision to spend £50,000 advertising the exhibition through West End theatrical marketeers. It was a gamble that paid off spectacularly.

'Quite simply, we have the cultural offering already here in Norfolk to entice visitors, but we need to market that fact outside the county.'