Stirling reveals ambitions as it bids to become the UK's next 'City of Culture’

It has played a pivotal role in the story of Scotland for centuries, with its historic landmarks, monuments and links with heroic figures ensuring it has long been a cornerstone of tourism industry.

But now Stirling is preparing to mount a bid to become Scotland’s next cultural hotspot.

Exactly 20 years after securing city status, it has become Scotland’s sole representative in the race to become the nest “UK City of Culture”.

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Although it is up against eight other bidders, there is growing optimism that efforts to stage one of Scotland’s biggest ever cultural programmes will be a serious contender to claim the crown for 2025.

Stirling is the only Scottish contender to be named the UK's next 'City of Culture.' Picture: Thomas Haywood
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The whole of Stirlingshire is envisaged to host events, festivals and initiatives if the Scottish bid for the title, currently held by Coventry, is successful.

And it is hoped the whole of Scotland will not only get behind the bid but also embrace Stirling’s year in the limelight if the city's ambitions pay off.

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Stirling is drawing inspiration from Dundee and Paisley, which saw their status as cultural destinations soar on the back of ultimately unsuccessful bids for the title in 2017 and 2021.

Obvious strengths for Stirling’s bid include iconic locations for hosting outdoor events, such as the castle esplanade and City Park, as well as its historic city centre.

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The Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, which usually begins with a torchlight procession, has become one of Stirling's best-known events. Picture: Paul Reich

Then there are the relatively new events like the Doune the Rabbit Hole music festival and crime writing celebration Bloody Scotland, long-established venues like the Tolbooth and Macrobert arts centres and the acclaimed Sistema Scotland initiative, which has created Big Noise orchestras across Scotland since an initial pilot in Stirling’s Raploch estate in 2008.

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The contest was launched last May by the UK Government, which has provided £18.5 million for Coventry’s programme.

Stirling’s bid for the contest against the likes of Bradford, Cornwall, County Durham, Derby and Southampton. Bids from Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, in Northern Ireland and Wrexham County Borough, in north Wales, have also made the longlist.

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The Scottish bid, due to be lodged early next month, is being led by a new culture collective, Scene Stirling, formed to raise the artistic profile of the wider “city region” in 2018.

A Halloween lantern parade is among the new events launched in Stirling in recent years. Picture: Julie Howden
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Manager Kevin Harrison said: “There’s a feeling that the cultural story of Stirling hasn’t been told well enough before, and that we’ve missed opportunities to scale things up and have a much bigger impact.

"But I think we've also been inspired by Dundee and Paisley and the incredible things that have happened there.

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"Getting to this stage is part of Stirling’s journey. We really feel we can win it, but it also feels that a new cultural strategy is already coming out of this.

“Our programme has to be inclusive and reach all members of the community, whether they’re in rural areas, or in the city.

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Stiring staged Scotland's biggest fireworks display at the end of last year.

"We want to build up grassroots culture and get communities to explore how to enhance and develop what is already going on in their areas.

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"But it’s also about bringing the eyes of the world to Stirling and ensuring there are authentic and interesting layers to our programme.

"It’s not just about having one story, but we want all the big moments to come from something real and truthful.”

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Sistema Scotland chief executive Nicola Killean said: “There’s been a great energy as people have come together to really think about the journey Stirling has been on and its historic past, what Stirling means now and the vibrancy of the international communities that live there, and also look to the future and ask what it wants to become and how to make that happen.

"All the creative partners involved in the bid are basically saying that we’re as ambitious for the people of Stirling and Scotland as the big players in the other cities. There’s the sense of a big opportunity to connect cultural partners across Scotland here in Stirling.

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"We want to put culture and arts on the same international platform as Stirling’s incredible history and landscape.

The music education charity Sistema Scotland staged a huge outdoor concert in the Raploch area of Stirling as part of the UK-wide Cultural Olympiad in 2012. Picture: Marc Marnie
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"It’s an amazing opportunity to unite the whole country because Stirling is very accessible and it will be really easy to be a part of things.”

Macrobert artistic director Julie Ellen said: “We’ve been increasingly working together to amplify what we all do and it’s given us a sense of the incredible future potential for culture and the arts in Stirling.

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“Becoming UK City of Culture would really translate those growing ambitions into a programme that would be for the people of Stirling, but would also attract people to come and experience what it is really about, and not just whizz by on the motorway.

"Stirling is still a relatively young city and sometimes its extraordinary sites, like the castle, Bannockburn and the Wallace Monument give the sense of a place that is of historic importance, but don’t really put the focus on contemporary culture.

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“If we’re able to put on high-profile, big scale work, and really invest in drawing attention to Stirling, people will be able to have experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

"But the bid is also about sparking their own creativity by giving them more things to get involved in and more opportunities to find their own voices.”

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Council leader Scott Farmer said: “A passion for culture and innovation flows through our communities and securing UK City of Culture status will help us harness that creativity and energy to improve people’s lives.

“Cultural participation can be a life-changing experience and we will encourage the people of Stirling and visitors to live more creative lives through an exciting and imaginative programme of events.

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“Reaching this stage is testament to the incredible diversity and dynamism of Stirling’s current cultural offering and our exciting vision to build on this for future generations.

“Stirling's bid has had a fantastic response so far from businesses, communities and individuals from across Scotland, and we're gathering more momentum.”

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Stirling is the only Scottish contender to be named the next UK City of Culture. Picture: Thomas Haywood
Stirling has been the home of the music education charity Sistema Scotland in 2008.
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Stirling is one of eight contenders to be named the UK's City of Culture for 2025.
Stirling Council leader Scott Farmer.

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