Bury secures prestigious Greater Manchester Town of Culture accolade
The town of Bury, home to famous faces including Victoria Wood, Danny Boyle, Howard Jacobson, Arlene Philips, Guy Garvey and Celia Birtwell, is now able to add another cultural first – it has been revealed as Greater Manchester’s inaugural Town of Culture.

The accolade, awarded by a GMCA culture panel which included our board member Fiona Gibson, will see investment in 2020 totalling £120,000 designed to aid a burst of creativity in the town and across the borough with local people encouraged to devise or participate in cultural events which could range from festivals, family days, concerts, exhibitions and opportunities to explore, reflect on and enjoy the heritage of the area.

At a prestigious event at the Fusilier Museum in the town centre on Wednesday 18 December, the announcement was made by the broadcaster, actor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones OBE, the Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones performer currently appearing in Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical at The Lowry in Salford Quays.

Griff said: “I have worked a lot in Manchester in the past, starting with the ‘Oxford Road Show’. I love the culture of this city-region.

“I have starred in Red Production’s “Mine All Mine” and I lived at here for months while we filmed in so many spectacular local locations. I have made programmes here on the eleven separate rivers of Manchester, and told the story of the growth of the town around that confluence of powerful water sources to run the original cotton mills, when cotton was still a form of woven wool. I have even explored the sewers for television, with a cracking production team.

“I’ve played the Lowry Theatre many times before, including this year with my one man show, and indeed played the Met in Bury last year. I love the museums and galleries of this great place. 

“Greater Manchester is a fabulous city-region and I have been coming here all my working life, to share in its central contribution to the UK culture.”

Board member of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership and GMCA Culture co-chair Fiona Gibson said: “Put simply, culture transforms lives. Not only does it fuel economic growth through the visitor and night time economies, it underpins the attractiveness of our towns and cities as great places to live and work. Culture is the beating heart of regeneration and the lifeblood of thriving communities through improving health and wellbeing, combatting loneliness and increasing social cohesion. 

“Here in Greater Manchester we are blessed with a wonderfully diverse and rich blend of arts and culture – famous for everything from music and literature, to theatres and galleries, green spaces, museums and heritage. Our inaugural winner of the Greater Manchester Town of Culture embodies all of these fabulous art forms, with big ambitions to engage the widest voice of the community at the heart of its decision making whilst building a clear sense of purpose and sustained civic pride through culture.

“Huge congratulations to Bury, and the Happy Project.  We’re excited to be part of your joyous vision for 2020.”

The Town of Culture accolade will be an annual award highlighting the distinctive creativity and diversity of one of Greater Manchester’s many towns, putting a spotlight on the remarkable art, culture and heritage that exists across Greater Manchester.

The award is based on the UK City of Culture concept, which was introduced in 2009 by Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, when he was Culture Secretary, built on the success of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008.

Andy said: “We had a strong field of candidates and the people of Bury should be proud that their town has succeeded. We are sure that Bury will make a great success of its time in the spotlight and establish an award that that will help others across Greater Manchester long into the future. The UK City of Culture Concept has boosted the cultural offerings in places as diverse as Derry-Londonderry and Hull, with Coventry set for 2021. Now, here in Greater Manchester, every year a different special place will be awarded the accolade which we hope will result in boosts to tourism, cultural offerings and the night time economy.

“Whether you’re visiting the Fusilier Museum, watching a performance at The Met or listening to Elbow, Bury is already an important player on the Greater Manchester cultural scene – long may that continue now the town is officially our city-region’s Town of Culture.”

Judging entrants took place in recent weeks, with a panel overseen by Local Enterprise Partnership member, Chief Executive of Liverpool’s Everyman & Playhouse Theatres Fiona Gibson, and Lisa Nandy, Chair of the Centre for Towns and recently re-elected MP for Wigan.

Councillor David Jones, leader of Bury Council, said: “We are delighted and honoured to be chosen as the inaugural Greater Manchester Town of Culture.

“It’s a fitting recognition of what we have here, coming shortly after we unveiled a statue to Victoria Wood, arguably Bury’s most famous daughter and loved by millions.

“The accompanying exhibition in Bury Art Gallery and Museum to Victoria’s life has attracted record-breaking numbers, and the gallery has also recently hosted an exhibition inspired by the work of Mark E Smith, another of our famous sons from Prestwich. The building is also home to our International Sculpture Centre, where its pioneering shows have put Bury on the worldwide cultural map.

“Bury is home to a number of immensely popular and creative venues, such as The Met: named as one of the best small venues in the country, and site of the legendary Joy Division ‘riot’ gig. Another band who played their early gigs there were Elbow, the award-winning band from Bury who now take top billing at festivals around the world.

“We are also proud to call Oscar-winning film-maker Danny Boyle one of ours, while the heritage East Lancs Railway is the location of choice for many film studios and documentary companies. 

“The town centre has been transformed in recent years, with new businesses, bars and restaurants complementing our traditionally famous attractions such as Bury Market, alongside town centre living in new apartments on The Rock.

“And, of course, Bury was the first town in Greater Manchester to be awarded the coveted Purple Flag award, for the quality of our night-time offer.

“We are hugely looking forward to the coming year and using our new Town of Culture status to promote and foster the many talents that we have and will come.” 

Bury town centre has now received Purple Flag accreditation for three successive years. The award reflects the strength of the town’s evening and night time economy, effective partnership working and the way in which the evening and night time offer is managed. Bury remains the only town centre across Greater Manchester to have achieved a Purple Flag.

Cementing Bury’s status as a cultural heartland is the Victoria Wood memorial statue, created by renowned sculptor Graham Ibbeson and unveiled in May. The two-metre high sculpture depicts the Bury-born comedy performer striking a typical on-stage pose, microphone in her right hand, and is located just outside the Fusilier Museum where today’s event took place.

Lucy Ansbro, Victoria Wood Foundation trustee, said: “We’re thrilled to be supporting Happy, a festival inspired by Victoria Wood, her work and the work of others that she so admired. We hope that Happy will open up doors of opportunity to people of all ages in Bury and that everyone in the town and beyond enjoys the wide variety of events planned.

“It’s great that Happy has been recognized as a key and integral part of Bury’s successful bid for the inaugural GM Town of Culture award. We wish culture in Bury well for 2020.”