Last minute ideas for the Destination City review

A review of Destination City, due out shortly, is likely to recommend that the future programme drops costly events like the “spectacular” 2023 version of Bartholomew Fair. Instead it should focus on promoting the Square Mile’s unique culture and heritage, improving the public realm of streets and spaces, and building stronger partnerships with key organisations and residents. Here’s the background, more on the review, and some last minute ideas before the report is discussed by City Corporation committees. All earlier blog posts and resources are here.

The Lord Mayor Nicholas Lyons cuts the ribbon for Cloth Fair 2023


In 2022 City councillor Matthew Bell and I promoted the idea of re-staging Bartholomew Fair with articles in the EC1 Echo and proposals to the City Corporation. In 2023 the Fair became the three-week £1.5m centrepiece of the Corporation’s Destination City programme aimed at attracting visitors to bolster an economy hit by working from home. It wasn’t an instant win: here’s Matthew story of the re-staging, which actually took five years of lobbying.

The emphasis was on specially-commissioned performances distributed throughout the Square Mile. While very welcome, it wasn’t, on its own, quite what Matthew envisaged, and with other councillors and residents we organised a complementary event to celebrate the original Fair founded in 1133 in Cloth Fair, where Matthew lives in the oldest house in the City. I live nearby in Bartholomew Close, beside St Bartholomew the Great, the priory church that established the Fair to fund what has became Barts Hospital.

We developed our own website with The City Courant magazine, and the Lord Mayor performed a traditional opening ceremony. Yvonne Courtney set up a reinvented clothing shop to re-make the connection with fabrics .

The Corporation’s Bartholomew Fair spectacular was an amazing feat of organisation, but only attracted an additional consumer spend of some £1.8 million. Here’s the evaluation report. Times have changed, lessons learned, and the Corporation indicated that the Fair won’t be funded again, and instigated a review of the programme. Initial review conclusions signalled a reset towards creating a liveable City that works for residents and workers as well as visitors.

The next phase of Destination City

The author of the review, Paul Martin, showed his commitment to engaging with residents by offering the first public insights into his final conclusions at a Citizens Forum organised by councillor Brendan Barns, the Resident Representative on the City Envoy Network. Paul reinforced that commitment by editing a transcript of his talk for me. The key points were:

  • Focus on developing and marketing the unique culture and heritage of the City.
  • Value and improve the public realm of streets, spaces and gardens that make up the public realm that is important for visitors, workers and residents alike.
  • Tell the story of the City more effectively, revealing its hidden treasures as well as major attractions. More could be done on that, in addition to the visitor website created for the first phase of the programme.
  • Explore how to attract more workers and visitors to the City on Mondays and Fridays, because there has been a shift to working Tuesday to Thursday.
  • Harness all the assets of the City by supporting collaboration between cultural and heritage organisations, the Livery companies, the Business Improvement Districts, businesses themselves, and resident organisations.

Last minute ideas

The first phase of Destination City benefitted from the ideas of the Cloth Fair group of councillors and residents, and the Corporation’s policy chief Chris Hayward told me at a City Question Time:

“if you feel we’re not consulting widely enough on Destination City, or the more engagement residents could have, we want to know how precisely we do it … we want Destination City to be owned by the residents as much as by anybody else.”

… so here goes with some ideas as a last minute contribution to the review, mainly drawing on my previous blog posts about Destination City, Bartholomew Fair and Cloth Fair.

Councillors will be considering the full review report on March 18 at Policy and Resources committee and Culture Heritage and Libraries committee. I hope the review will be on the public agenda, with papers published a week or so before at the above links. I’ll update then.

Share what we know

Engage with residents and support their ideas

  • The original ideas from Matthew Bell, and others in the Cloth Fair group, showed how residents can contribute to Destination City. Councillor Brendan Barns has organised two Citizens Forums and a third is scheduled for March 18 at the London Centre. Signup here.
  • More could be done through the Residential Reset that we have been promised. There’s nothing much on the Corporation’s Resident Involvement page.
  • Business Improvement Districts fund ideas from residents and community groups, and these could be brought together.

Value City Guides, historians and less formal event guides

  • Many City Guides and other historians post useful articles about City culture and heritage. These could be linked to maps and form guides to the City’s culture and heritage. A while back I started to do that for the Culture Mile area, and created information sheets for EC1 using Dropbox Paper.
  • When residents attending a Citizens Forum were asked where they got information about Square Mile events and activities they listed a range of sources. My favourite is IanVisits which offers an excellent newsletter of events plus blog posts and features.

Develop ways to join up online, on the streets, and walks

Finally I hope that it will be possible to publish a further edition of The City Courant, launched in 2022. Founder and editor Jeannine Saba, and executive editor John Foley, did an amazing job in developing a souvenir edition for Bartholomew Fair and Cloth Fair. Here’s their welcome message in that edition, and note about the original Daily Courant.

I hope that we could again combine the attraction of a beautifully illustrated magazine with additional content on a website. Developing that package would be a great way to help catalyse the collaborations recommended by Paul Martin, and create an inspirational guide to the next phase of Destination City.

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