New era dawns for Southampton’s aim to be a leading centre of culture in UK

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03 January 2023

A new era is dawning in Southampton’s ambition to become recognised as one of the country’s leading centres for culture.

With backing from major organisations within the city, the newly focussed Southampton Culture Trust has announced a new Chief Executive and interim chair to take forward its cultural ambitions.

The new CEO is Claire Whitaker OBE, who led Southampton’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2025. Although it was Bradford who were ultimately awarded the title, Southampton was proud to be the first city on the south coast to reach the final.

Laura Read, General Manager of Westquay, the largest shopping and entertainment destination on the south coast, takes over the role of interim chair. Watch Claire and Laura’s message below:

The first task of the new team is to organise a major conference in the New Year with the aim of bringing those involved in the original bid back together and planning for the future. It will be held on Thursday February 9th at MAST in the Culture Quarter,

A number of partners, many of which were founding partners of the bid, have agreed to support the Southampton Culture Trust. They include Southampton City Council, the city’s two universities: the University of Southampton and Solent University; GO! Southampton, the city’s Business Improvement District; Mayflower Theatre and leading law firm Paris Smith.

Culture chair and CEO

Claire Whitaker said the Trust would have three main priorities: culture, festivals and events together with destination and tourism. She explained “We are delighted to be driving forward
this new era for culture in the city. The momentum created by our UK City of Culture bid was astonishing – we joined together and walked to the top of the mountain, and we had a choice – to tumble back down or go forward. In true Southampton style we have chosen to march on and ensure we achieve Southampton’s cultural potential.”

Laura Read said: “I am delighted to be asked to be Interim Chair of the Southampton Culture Trust. Following the tremendous work that went into the Southampton City of Culture 2025 bid, I feel we are standing on a true turning point for our city. We have a unique opportunity to harness all the drive, ambition, collaboration, and spirit that went into the Bid and focus it on unlocking Southampton’s potential.

“The city has my commitment to deliver a trust that works for everyone in Southampton and that allows every part of the community to be visible, included and inspired.
I look forward to working closely with Claire, the team, my fellow trustees, partners and the cultural sector to deliver a world class cultural events programme, improve the visitor experience and to shape the future of our city as a fantastic place to live, work and play.”

The leader of Southampton City Council, Satvir Kaur, said: “I am delighted that the city has again come together to ensure the delivery of a legacy for our UK City of Culture bid. The appointments of Laura Read as Interim Chair and Claire Whitaker as CEO, ensure there is strong leadership for the Southampton Culture Trust. I would like to thank the partners for all their support, which ensures we can maximise the economic and social impact of culture, tourism, festivals and events for Southampton.”

Shaun Williams is the Executive Director Engagement & Advancement, University of Southampton and Southampton Culture Trust Trustee. He said: “The University of Southampton is proud to continue its active support for the City of Culture bid by becoming a founding partner of the Southampton Culture Trust. Ours is a remarkable city, with so much potential still to be unlocked. We will play our part in building on the extraordinary energy, inspiration and pride that the City of Culture bid unleashed, and ensure we deliver for and include every part of our vibrant community.”

Southampton city of culture logo
Professor Karen Stanton, FRSA, Vice-Chancellor of Solent University said: “Solent University is delighted to be a partner of the newly formed Southampton Culture Trust, building on the tremendous legacy of the City of Culture bid. The university looks forward to making a major contribution to the work of the Trust, supporting its work to create a vibrant events, festivals and cultural programme for the city and an outstanding tourist destination. We look forward to working with the new CEO Claire Whitaker and the interim Chair Laura Read to make this happen.”

Tim Keeping, Chair of GO! Southampton said: “I have no doubt Southampton’s cultural offering will be one of the key drivers for the city’s future prosperity. A thriving entertainment scene, the theatres and museums; live music and a vibrant programme of events all have their part to play. They will drive footfall to our city centre; encourage investment and attract talented people and their families to the area to make our wonderful city their home.”

Michael Ockwell, the CEO and Creative Director of Mayflower Theatre, said: “We are committed to ensuring a meaningful legacy from our City of Culture bid and look forward to harnessing the amazing collaborative approach that was adopted over the last 2 years. Southampton is an incredibly vibrant city, and our cultural offer is so rich and diverse.”

Peter Taylor, Senior Partner of Paris Smith LLP, said: “Culture is the glue which binds a community together and helps to define it. As a business with over 200 years history in the city, we believe in working collaboratively to make a positive difference for future generations to come. We are proud to be founding partners of the Southampton Culture Trust. Paris Smith will continue to play our part through the city’s diverse and extensive cultural offering, through building a legacy for all to enjoy living and working in the city.”

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