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
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
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
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
’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
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
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
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
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
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.’