FOCUS THE MIDLANDS: Lottery projects have lift-off - Lottery-funded millennium projects in the Midlands are looking to PR to sell the idea to the local and national public, says Mary Cowlett

The Midlands has been a significant beneficiary of National Lottery cash over the past few years, as its major cities and large areas of countryside have been chosen as the location for some of the UK’s most prominent projects.

The Midlands has been a significant beneficiary of National Lottery

cash over the past few years, as its major cities and large areas of

countryside have been chosen as the location for some of the UK’s most

prominent projects.



Awards have ranged from pounds 50 million for Millennium Point in

Birmingham and over pounds 23 million for the National Space Science

Centre in Leicester, to smaller handouts of a few hundred pounds for the

refurbishment of community centres.



For Midlanders, though, most of the talk surrounding lottery funding has

centred on winning a fair share of the national pot. Local newspapers

such as the Birmingham Post have highlighted that, compared to other

regions, the Midlands is losing out.



Data from Sport England - the administrator of the Sports Lottery Fund

in England - shows that the East Midlands, with pounds 42 million or

four per cent of the total handout, is currently bottom of the national

rankings.



Meanwhile, the West Midlands has fared little better, receiving only

pounds 65 million, compared to the cool pounds 123 million that has

found its way to the North West.



According to Martin Bailey, media manager for Sports England, one of the

reasons for these discrepancies is that awards such as the pounds 23

million for the National Ice Centre in Nottingham are categorised as

national rather than regional grants.



And many of the projects are set to strengthen the Midlands’ image.

Birmingham’s Millennium Point, which is due to open in September 2001,

will be a celebration of the West Midlands’ contribution to

technological progress over the past three centuries, and a gateway to

its future.



Within Millennium Point, the Technology Innovation Centre will provide a

central resource for research and development, while the Discovery

Centre will be the main visitor attraction. Plans for a University of

the First Age will offer a learning resource for schools and teenagers,

with a central hub providing new social and civic spaces.



To promote this attraction to Birmingham residents, the Millennium Point

Trust last year organised a series of events, including a local schools

project to create five murals to hang around the site. The initiative is

also being positioned as the starting point for renewal in the run-down

Digbeth area of the city.



’Millennium Point is a key development for Birmingham,’ says Fred

Bromwich, assistant director of Citigate Dewe Rogerson Birmingham.

’Hopefully it will be the catalyst for regeneration of the east side of

the city over the next few years and replicate the successful

development of Brindley Place and the booming entertainment district

around Broad Street on the west side,’ he adds.



Birmingham’s landmark project to celebrate the millennium has already

attracted some big-name sponsors with local links, including Rover,

Jaguar and HSBC.



But what role has PR to play in these initiatives? When applicants stake

their claim for lottery cash, where does marketing and PR sit with

funding administrators?



’Obviously it depends on the level of the award, but applicants have to

have a thorough business plan and that includes marketing and PR,’ says

Bailey.



This point is underlined by Morag Wood, press and PR manager for the

Millennium Commission. ’As a grant is conditional and applicants have to

find match funding, projects have to take on their own PR to get the

support of local people and the media, and actually deliver the project

in the end,’ she says.



While the funding administrators view their role as partners, or even

catalysts, for these projects, they take the responsibility of

protecting public finances seriously. ’We don’t just hand out the money

up front,’ says Bailey. ’We have an rolling programme of monitoring and

in the last 18 months, we have introduced a compliance scheme where we

look at whether what should have been done, has been done, before we pay

out a penny.’



Bailey claims his organisation has never been close to asking for its

money back, but if things are not going to plan, Sport England is ready

to step in with some sound business or marketing advice.



Keeping a firm hand on proceedings is vital for some of the larger

projects in the Midlands which are rolling out in distinct phases. And

for those charged with selling the complexities of these initiatives,

the communications challenges can be daunting.



The Phoenix Initiative in Coventry, which has won over pounds 10 million

from the Millennium Commission, has ambitious plans to completely

transform a run-down part of the city centre.



’The first year was a real up-hill struggle’ says Moore Flannery, media

officer in charge of the Phoenix project for Coventry City Council.

’When you talk about medieval ruins and a 1930s garden in the same

breath, it doesn’t make sense to people.’



But, having silenced public misunderstanding about the closure of the

local Sainsbury’s, Flannery is now promoting the masterplan for

Coventry’s new look. This will feature three new public gardens, two

civic squares - including the ubiquitous Millennium Square - and a

state-of-the-art frontage for the Museum of British Road Transport.



The first phase is already underway, with the excavation of St Mary’s

Cathedral, destroyed by Henry VIII. This pounds 250,000 archaeological

dig has attracted national attention and featured on BBC2’s Meet The

Ancestors and Channel 4’s Time Team.



But to deliver the scope of the entire Phoenix project to residents,

Flannery and her colleagues have met local groups, including

conservation societies and students. ’PR-wise, no amount of press

articles or items on the radio has been as effective as actually talking

to people,’ says Flannery.



Many projects in the Midlands started their PR activities several years

ago as part of the bid to secure monies from the lottery funds. The

Heart of the National Forest Foundation, the body behind the creation of

the National Forest Millennium Discovery Centre in Leicestershire,

whipped up support from 50,000 local residents - through the Leicester

Mercury - for its application to the Millennium Commission.



Due to open in spring 2001, the project is a textbook example of

co-operation between private and public sector, with support from

patrons including Sir David Attenborough and former Prime Minister John

Major. Positioned at the heart of the National Forest - an area of some

200 square miles with 30 million trees to be planted over the next 30

years - the centre will transform a massive area of land laid bare by

former mining and clay works.



The discovery centre is being marketed to schools via a mailout through

specialist education publisher Hobsons. According to foundation PR

adviser Susan Newsome, such activities have been targeted at local

audiences, but this may change with the secondment of another marketing

professional when the project is closer to completion.



This raising of the game has already come into effect in the case of the

National Space Science Centre in Leicester, which opens its educational

facility, the Challenger Learning Centre, on 1 November.



’Our goal is to become the number one public information resource about

space in the UK,’ says press officer Jo Higgins. ’We are using

Challenger to strengthen our brand in preparation for the opening of the

main visitor facilities - the exhibition centre and the planetarium - in

spring 2001.’



The purpose of the Challenger centre is to stimulate long-term interest

in maths, science and technology. Using realistic situations - Voyage to

Mars and Rendezvous with a Comet - each Challenger programme creates a

team environment which exposes participants to the demands of

co-operation, problem-solving, communication and decision-making. While

this is mainly aimed at children, Higgins says a secondary target market

is the corporate sector.



Earlier this year, to reach teachers, parents and youngsters, the centre

teamed up with Bandai UK for the launch of the toymaker’s new range of

’Power Rangers in Space’. And by sponsoring and providing the

educational input for a space resource pack, the centre reached 25,000

schools. Later this month, it is joining forces with Casio for a schools

maths competition, with a prize of an all-inclusive day at the

Challenger centre.



To build awareness with target audiences within an hour’s drive of

Leicester, the centre has been working with former Countrywide Porter

Novelli director Pauline Kent of Norfolk-based Wildwood

Communications.



Higgins says the question she is most frequently asked in relation to

lottery funding is why Leicester? Her reply: ’Leicester chose space, the

Millennium Commission did not choose Leicester. We have one of Europe’s

leading astrophysics and space science faculties at Leicester

University, which convinced the commission to invest over pounds 23

million and the Challenger Learning Centres to grant its first licence

outside North America.’



Whether the Midlands is living up to the communications challenges the

availability of lottery funds creates has yet to be resolved. While

projects need to be seen as spending their cash wisely on bricks and

mortar, it seems that in certain pockets - Birmingham especially - the

public needs some sort of buy-in.



As Bronwen Eames, managing director of Haslimann Taylor, says: ’The

current level of investment in Birmingham is very exciting. But it is

worrying that a similar commitment to investing in communication is

clearly lacking.’



MILLENNIUM FESTIVALS WILL LOOK TO THE FUTURE



With less than 100 days to go until 2000, cities across the country are

preparing to host millennium festivals. Partly funded by the Millennium

Commission, these year-long festivities are set to celebrate the past

while embracing the future.



In the Midlands, as in the rest of the UK, events are likely to be

geared to the local population. But there is a great deal of work still

to be done to finalise what will be taking place, let alone how to

market the events.



According to Leicester City Council head of business development

Jennifer Tillotson, the council’s arts and leisure division, the

corporate communications unit and Leicester Promotions - the council’s

arms-length marketing function - only sat down to hammer out proposals

for promoting Leicester Festival 2000 at the end of September.



The city’s main events kick off in February. There will be 14

millennium-funded elements to the Leicester celebrations, ranging from a

film festival to an environmental festival and a black history month.

This programme is likely to culminate with a fireworks evening in

November and, according to Tillotson, ’a will to continue the festival’s

success in future years’.



Nottingham City Council has won the largest commission grant in the East

Midlands - pounds 180,000 - for its Spirit of Nottingham festival. This

will feature six year-long projects encompassing ’community involvement

and creating legacies for the future’. Its Neighbourhood Pride

initiative - designed to give community centres a face-lift - has

already kicked off, with interior design students from Nottingham

University undertaking some of the work as part of their studies.



In the West Midlands, Coventry has secured over pounds 300,000 of

commission money, enabling the city to celebrate in style. A small

proportion of this has been set aside for a millennium eve party

organised by Coventry and Warwickshire Promotions. Head of PR Peter

Walters says: ’The event will be very visual, with a high-wire artist

walking the span between two church spires in the city centre.’ Walters

has been talking to local radio and newspapers and looking for a sponsor

to raise awareness of the event. ’I am also trying to secure television

coverage from the BBC’s millennium night programme,’ he says.



However, Walters is the first to admit there is only so much that cities

such as Coventry can hope to achieve. ’We are not Birmingham, so we are

very aware that we are mainly catering to a local catchment area,’



he says. ’We are also bearing in mind that the event must offer

something to the entire community.’



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