Nottingham, the home of DH Lawrence, Lord Byron and Alan Sillitoe, has been awarded to permanent status of UNESCO City of Literature on account of the city’s literary heritage, its diverse writing community and its commitment to improving literacy across the city.
It joins a UK network of eight vibrant Creative Cities including Edinburgh and Norwich Cities of Literature.
Here, Nottingham City of Literature Chair, David Belbin, gives an overview of the bid process and what the accolade could mean for the City.
We didn’t think we’d done it. And we were OK with that. The eighteen months we spent working on our bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature made so many things happen that, in a way, we’d already won. We encouraged so much creativity and civic pride, engineered numerous events and produced several publications. The process of putting together the bid in itself helped the city’s literature scene to become more joined up. And we made a start on the biggest task of all, using Nottingham literature to improve the city’s literacy.
But UNESCO accreditation – which is a permanent honour – is a big ask. We knew from the start that the odds were against us. We were told that UNESCO wanted to reach into continents other than Europe and that there are already two great UNESCO Cities of Literature in the UK.
The bid call, when it came, required us to answer a lot of difficult questions in a smaller space than expected, and only gave us two months instead of the three or four we thought we’d have. This made it hard to put our best foot forward. No matter how good your bid writing team – and ours, I’m happy to say, turned out to be very good – we were up against it.
We made sure that our bid reflected as accurately as possible the unique literary character of our city, its independent, contrarian spirit and enormous outpouring of energy in this most financially challenged of times. For me, the fifteen months since we set up the company to make the bid and I was asked to chair it have been a steep learning curve. I learned a lot about myself, about handling, motivating and, yes, cajoling people. Most of all, I learnt what a vibrant, creative, diverse literary city we are, with more going on than I could every have imagined. Undoubtedly a world city of literature. But that didn’t mean we’d get the award.
Ours was a partnership of the city council, two universities, Nottingham Playhouse and all of the bodies connected to Creative Writing, with a great Project Director and lots of help from individuals. I want to acknowledge the stringent, detailed feedback that the UK National Commission for UNESCO gave us on the first completed draft of the bid, making the final version, which they had to approve and submit on our behalf, much tighter and more persuasive.
As I write, it’s ten days after the result, our board has met, and we are sending out invitations to the first meeting of our working group on literature and literacy. We have had advice from Edinburgh and Dublin on infrastructure. We’re getting ready to raise money and write job descriptions. The next year will be challenging, exhilarating and more than a little daunting. But we have a fantastic team of diverse partners with the will, talent and energy to do this. We have started to forge the international links that our new UNESCO status will bolster.
Our City of Literature will be inclusive and ambitious. We need time to get our infrastructure in place before we work out the most effective way to involve the many people who have offered to help. I’m very proud of my adopted city and the way in which we won this accreditation. I ask everyone not to lose patience with us or expect immediate results. This is only the beginning. 2016 is going to be an exciting first year for our City of Literature and will culminate in an expanded, more international Festival of Words in the autumn. Heartfelt thanks to UNESCO and everyone who has helped with our successful bid.