Spin doctors go to Hull and back to give city a brand new image

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The Independent Online
WHEN BEGGARS give your city a wide berth because it's so unremittingly awful, you know you have an image problem.

Four hundred years on and Hull is still apparently unable to outgrow a reputation illustrated by the 16th-century proverb: "From Hull, Hell and Halifax, good Lord deliver us."

That insecurity is apparently so ingrained in the city's psyche that local businesses are now paying for spin doctors to go to New York's own enfant terrible, Brooklyn, to learn how to reverse centuries of bad publicity.

Councillors, business leaders and a team of image consultants arrived in the Big Apple yesterday, hoping to learn a few lessons on how to dispel widely held myths of poverty, depression and crime.

Hull's CityVision project, a quango charged with implementing regeneration and attracting inward investment, feels the trip is an essential precursor to "rebranding" the city in time for its 700th anniversary next year. The city has also engaged the help of a brand consultant, Wolff Olins, which conducted a year-long analysis of Hull and has formulated a "two- decade image enhancement programme".

Two decades may appear to be a long lead-in but given some of the popularly held misconceptions of the city by the public and the business community, Wolff Olins may have got it right.

Hull is hardly helped by its geography. Tucked in on the Yorkshire coastline, the city braces itself against the biting winds that howl off the North Sea; no doubt linguists would point to the wind as central to the tight- lipped local accent that calls men "blerks", a telephone is a "fern" and the leader of the Roman Catholic Church is the "Perp".

Hull is, quite literally, at the end of the road (the M62 vanishes just before) and is haunted by its role as a terminus.

Travellers do not casually pass through; they can only leave. With its traditional industry in decline, the largest council housing estate in Europe at Bransholme, a succession of sleazy rows in local politics, and a football club in freefall, it is easy to see how melancholia can take root. After all the city's most famous resident was the master of gloom, Philip Larkin.

It might seem in dire need of some positive spin but the trip to New York has already been denounced as a junket too far. Locals and some politicians say the trip is superfluous. They say the city does not need a US makeover: it has its own thriving plus points which CityVision should promote.

Hull gave the world William Wilberforce, slavery abolitionist, the aviator Amy Johnson, the playwright John Godber and the actress Maureen Lipman as well as being home to Larkin. Not forgetting the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.

Its industrial base includes such giants as Smith & Nephew, Kimberly- Clark and Reckitt & Colman. It spawned one of the first rivals to BT with its own telephone network in Kingston Communications with its distinctive white telephone boxes.

Humber ports handled more than 30 million tonnes of cargo last year and the ferry terminals boast more than 1 million passengers annually. Culturally, isolation has helped to breed its own brand of creativity including the poet Andrew Marvell, the determinedly original Hull Truck Theatre Company and one of the finest contemporary galleries in the country, the Ferens. And now tourism, a key barometer of economic health, is rising.

Independent Labour city councillor Chris Jarvis said: "Everyone knows the saying `From hell, Hull and Halifax, lord deliver us' but nothing could be further from the truth. I don't recall it including Brooklyn and I don't see what New York has in common with Hull. It's just utter nonsense if you ask me. Another trip for the lads on the quango. Hull is a delightful city to live in and they should promote our home-grown successes instead of looking for excuses abroad."

The City's

finest

John Prescott: Deputy Prime Minister, MP for Hull East. Often stays at his eight-bedroomed Edwardian mansion in Sutton-on-Hull.

Amy

Johnson: In 1930, Johnson became first woman to fly single-handed to Australia - covering 10,000 miles in 19 days in a Gypsy Moth.

Philip Larkin:

Not a Hull native, the late university librarian is associated with the city for his trademark brand of melancholic poetry.

Maureen Lipman:

Associated for ever

with her BT commercials - despite the city's telephone system being run by a monopoly-busting rival.

White

telephone boxes: Kingston Communications is still the region's choice for `ferns' since 1904 and Hull is peppered with white boxes.

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