Dominic Gibbons, Managing Director, Wykeland Group

Wykeland is a property development and investment company based in Hull. We cover the north of England and Scotland but most of our regeneration and redevelopment schemes are in the Yorkshire and Humber, particularly in Hull and the immediate area, from business parks to town and city centre regeneration schemes. Regeneration is very much at the heart of what we do, and at the heart of regeneration is culture.  It is about more than buildings. It is about social, cultural and physical regeneration – an interaction between all of them coming together at the same time. As a business, we can’t do what we do without social and cultural regeneration.

Wykeland’s been around for about 45 years, and 2010 was an epiphany moment for us.  Councillor Rick Welton, who was involved in arts and culture, came to see us about marking the 25th anniversary of the death of the poet and University of Hull librarian, Philip Larkin with, in part, a multiple art installation.

At the time less than 20% of people in the city knew about Larkin.  And that was the beginning of Wykeland engaging in the cultural process.  We supported the Larkin 25 Festival, which included a public art display and trail, “Larkin with Toads” – 40 fibre-glass toads around the city. After the festival, over 85% of people demonstrated knowing who Larkin was and his association with Hull. It was quite a transformation.

What we noticed from a property development perspective was the increase in footfall and spending brought to the city, not just from people coming from outside the area but also from local people.  Enthused by that project we connected with arts consultant Eileen Burke who developed our projects with schools and since then we’ve been involved in a whole host of projects, including supporting the art gallery and Freedom Festival annually.

So why do we engage? As I said at the beginning, cultural and social regeneration is vital for what we do as a business. Strengthening links with local communities, developing an understanding of what the community wants and needs is vital. When going through the difficult process of making change, we seek to engage with local people through art to communicate what we’re trying to achieve and to take into account their thoughts.

Creating successful town centres is key. KPMG’s Magnet City report showed that culture is essential for a great city and wealth creation – the development of an attractive place to live, work and play. The average 15-25-year-old is far more culturally aware and savvy than previous generations – so we need to factor this in to development plans.

Wykeland gets very good staff interaction – they love being involved in different activities, whether it’s the art engagement with schools or the organisations that we support. Working with artists stimulates our own creative thinking – we get a lot from that. We gain from different approaches from the standard business model and our staff feel a closer connection with the city.

We actively encourage other businesses to do the same – we can make a bigger difference by working together. Other reasons why businesses engage with the arts is that it helps connect with customers in a different way – for example using artists to work through product development. Using the arts to launch and establish new brands in a market, and raising media profile. Modern arts projects are very media friendly, particularly projects related to wellbeing.

This is evidenced through statistics.

When an area has double the average cultural offer, the average house price is £27,000 more than an area that hasn’t – quite an impact from a property development point of view.

Wykeland is involved in multiple arts projects across the region. There is the £700,000 amphitheatre we created as part of City of Culture in partnership with Freedom Festival Arts Trust and Hull2017. The open-air performance space, Stage@The Dock on Hull’s Fruit Market cultural quarter came out of discussions when Hull2017 was announced. Along with Beal Homes we are working in partnership with the Council to develop the Fruit Market into a new urban village in the city centre.  Partnership with Freedom Festival is key.  We’re a development company, we couldn’t operate Stage@The Dock, so we have a service level agreement with Freedom to operate it. Another example of our work is at our Bridgehead Business Park where we worked with artists and children to create and display their work.

Katy mentioned Hull2017 Business Angels.  Back in 2013 the Angles scheme was launched to get the business community involved in winning the bid by contributing £17,000 to the bid fund. The aim was to get 20 companies involved and by the time the bid went in there were 22 – a powerful demonstration of business community support.  There are now 54 members of the Hull 2017 Angels Business Consortium, which won the 2017 Arts & Business Sponsorship Award.

Hull businesses are supporting the arts in many ways in addition to Hull2017 projects.  For example, William Jackson Food Group is supporting Opera North’s In Harmony activity at Bude Park Primary School in Bransholme, the biggest council estate in Europe.  I spoke to Nicholas Oughtred, who’s the chairman of Jackson’s a couple of weeks ago, and he was saying what an impact their business and their staff have had from it, and that it’s had a complete transformational effect on the school and pupils.

Higher Education needs to support the development of highly skilled graduates. Engaging them and providing access to some of the great cultural organisations, not just in our local area but globally, promotes creative thinking. Connecting business students with the creative sector and arts students with the business school sector helps develop the skills needed in the workplace.  Art and culture have a big part to play in terms of what businesses can achieve, and the creative thinking that artists bring can change the approach to problem solving. And vice versa, art students can benefit from using business principals and taking a strategic approach.  It’s important for all parties to be very open, and to open their doors.

When the business sector is looking to work with the cultural sector – to be part of the cultural agenda, we need to start with a blank page and a very open mind. As I say, Wykeland had to take risks, and understand that it’s a partnership. It’s important to find the common ground for both sides.  Businesses can’t let brand identity be tarnished. We got involved with something about two or three years ago, which potentially started to damage our brand, so we haven’t supported it again.  My advice to arts organisations is to make sure the quality is there. I advise business to get staff involved. We’re just about to start a new project in the Fruit Market and 90% of my staff are keen to be involved.

Don’t see cost as a barrier. Great partnership activity can be done very cost effectively. If businesses are investing there needs to be an integrated strategy.  As I said earlier, we want our art engagements tcan be very media friendly.  Funding models need to be strong.  Cultural projects such as festivals can be supported through multiple business partnerships – word of mouth from respected companies can help engage a pool of new partners.

Arts organisations need to be pro-active and prepared – to understand the priorities of the businesses they are approaching, to be aware of what’s going on in the economy, to be visible in business circles such as The Bondholders scheme in Hull.  Become embedded in the business community so you can speak confidently about what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Be organised, be ready, be clear in your thoughts. Think long term in terms of the processes. Don’t try and just get in and get out because the business will be looking at trying to create a long-term relationship. Make sure you have a plan to achieve long-term impact.

I’m just going to finish with a very short video that we’ve created about the Fruit Market, the land regeneration scheme in the centre of Hull that I mentioned earlier. The amphitheatre is part of it. The Centre of Innovation is part of it, the gallery is part of it. The central spine includes a mixture of independent cafes, restaurants and gallery artists. Culture runs through it and that’s why it’s so important to Wykeland in terms of place making.

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