Paisley’s bid to be the first Scottish winner of the UK City of Culture title was given an emotional send-off today – as hundreds of choir singers gathered in the town centre for a mass musical performance.
A large crowd joined more than 150 singers from eight local choirs to mark the bid submission at Paisley Cross for a moving rendition of Wild Mountain Thyme led by local singing star Carol Laula.
Today was the deadline for Paisley to submit its second-stage UK City of Culture 2021 bid to the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The Renfrewshire town is the only Scottish place to make the final shortlist – alongside Coventry, Stoke, Sunderland and Swansea – with the winner to be announced in December.
The bid is part of a wider drive to transform Paisley’s future using its internationally-significant heritage and cultural story – and the send-off follows a massive £45.7m town centre investment package approved by Renfrewshire Council on Thursday afternoon which will prepare the town to host the 2021 title.
That includes a £22m modernisation of Paisley’s iconic 19th-century town hall, £10m of public realm and transport improvements in Paisley town centre, £7.7m to upgrade St James Playing Fields to make it suitable for large outdoor events, a £2.5m upgrade to Paisley Arts Centre, and £3.5m to turn the disused Galbraiths warehouse in Back Sneddon Street into a new multi-purpose arts space.
The bid send-off comes in the week it was confirmed Paisley Museum is in line for a £4.9m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, and on the day a local group – the Paisley Community Trust – unveiled their plans for a cinema and theatre complex in the town centre.
Wild Mountain Thyme – instantly recognisable after being covered by stars including Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart and Ed Sheeran – was chosen for its Paisley roots, with the modern version based on an original 1820s piece by Paisley’s weaver poet Robert Tannahill, a contemporary of Burns.
The performance saw the bid ceremonially handed through generations of females, set against the song’s refrain of ‘will ye go lassie go’ – including Renfrewshire’s Deputy Provost Cathy McEwan, Paisley resident and former Moderator of the Church of Scotland Lorna Hood, and University of West of Scotland Masters student and singer Sheyi Aina.
It was then handed over to Paisley 2021 bid director Jean Cameron and Lyla Slattery and Ayda Anderson – two P1 pupils from Glencoats and St Fergus Primary Schools, in Ferguslie Park, Scotland’s most deprived area, before being driven off on board a scooter emblazoned in Paisley’s globally-recognised Pattern.
The musical moment and band was co-ordinated by Tommy McGrory of music charity Loud ‘n’ Proud and featured pupils from Castlehead and Johnstone High Schools, as well as people of all ages from groups including PACE Youth Theatre, Singing through the Ages, Cotton St Singers, Renfrewshire Carers Choir, Arkleston Singers, Soundroute Singers, RockUs Community Choir, the Rock Choir and Paisley Musical and Operatic Society.
Chair of the Paisley 2021 partnership board Councillor Iain Nicolson said: “Today was a truly historic and inspiring moment for Paisley and it was an absolute privilege to be part of it – the culmination of a two-year journey which has already done so much for the town.
“Paisley is a town which needs a boost – and there is nothing which could do more to deliver that than becoming UK City of Culture 2021.
“That difference will be felt beyond Renfrewshire – we are very much Scotland’s bid, and with huge numbers of visitors expected in 2021 if we win, the benefits will be felt throughout the country.
“The bid is part of a wider plan to harness the power of culture and heritage to transform our town – the town centre investment approved by the council yesterday equips us to welcome world-class artists to our historic venues in 2021, while supporting that wider long-term vision.
“And to have a local group such as the Paisley Community Trust putting forward their own plans shows a shared vision of Paisley’s potential, and that the town is now seen as an attractive place to invest.”
Paisley 2021 bid director Jean Cameron added: “Our bid has been themed around the voices of Paisley and today was a spine-tingling way of bringing that to life – the sight and sound of those people joining together as one was an emotional, amazing moment, and one that will stay with me forever.
“It showed everything we want the world to see about Paisley – the quality of our home-grown talent, the contribution Paisley and its cultural figures have made to the world, and the warmth of the welcome visitors will receive if they come to our party in 2021.
“The people of Paisley have backed this bid from day one – more than 34,000, a number almost equivalent to half our population, joined the conversation around the first-stage bid – and today was another stunning show of support.
“As well as the economic benefits, Paisley’s bid will take the power of culture to make people’s lives better to every corner of Renfrewshire and today was a uniquely Paisley way for the people of this town to show how they have embraced that.”
It is estimated Paisley’s 2021 year could bring a £176m economic boost and create the equivalent of 4,700 jobs over a ten-year period while attracting more than 800,000 visitors in 2021.
Current UK City of Culture hosts Hull have seen £1 billion of investment since winning the title in 2013, with the city attracting 1.4m visitors in just the first three months of its year in the spotlight.