Imagine there’s no Giants
Yesterday the city of Liverpool bid farewell to a spectacular piece of street theatre. It spanned three glorious days, in which sun baked crowds lapped up all that was on offer.
They came to commemorate the advent of WWI and the finale was particular poignant. Leading the giant grandmother along The Strand (a road that runs along the city’s waterfront) were men dressed in civilian period costume. Uniformed officers led them to battle. Their widows in black followed behind.
These men represented the PALS, friends and neighbours who had been recruited together by Lord Kitchener to fight in Europe. The theory was that men, who lived, ate and drank together as comrades in peace, would fight for each other in war.
It was an interesting idea in theory. Sadly it also meant that whole communities would be decimated when, en mass, those same comrades failed to return home. Liverpool, though not alone, was particularly affected by this policy.
It is no surprise then that our city was chosen to lead the nation’s commemoration of that bloody conflict. It also seems perfectly natural that we should turn to France, and specifically Royal Deluxe to help us find a way to pay our respects.
The city and Jean-Luc Courcoult, the company’s creative director, have formed an amusing and surprisingly affectionate bond in recent years. Given the reaction of the throngs, it’s a love-in that seems destined to flourish.
However, all is not sweetness and light when it comes to the weekends festivities. There have been dissenting voices. Grumbles range from disruption to transport to the cost of the event.
The former complaint seems extreme. It’s not as if events like this are a daily occurrence. Indeed given the benefits to the city’s image and economy, surely we can suck it up for a few days. This was a message delivered, far more subtly I add, by a station announcer yesterday at Fazakerley.
As I stood on the platform early Sunday morning, the lady on the speaker system pleaded with me to be patient “during this very busy period.” She needn’t have bothered. I got it.
As a veteran of the 80’s, I often went to London to either demonstrate or watch my team win a cup. I had seen how even the capital could struggle with large numbers. Liverpool is a city with a much smaller population, which had more than doubled this weekend. Disruption was inevitable.
However, perhaps the economic argument is more understandable. The city council recently voted through £156 million worth of cuts over three years. This is as a result of a reduction in government funding. Such cuts can only mean hardship for the most vulnerable in society.
Against this back-drop, the largesse of the Giant Spectacular seems obscene to some. Is this fair? I don’t think so.
Let’s look at how much this event cost to stage. Reports suggest a figure in the region of 2 million pounds. This seems a lot. However, the contribution from council funds was a fraction of the overall sum, coming in at three hundred thousand pounds.
This amounts to around £1.55 for every person in the city. The rest of the funding came from European and Government grants. Of course we are still entitled to ask if it was all worthwhile.
Before I explore the intangible benefits to the city, of which there are many, let’s look at the cold hard economics. Or to coin a phrase – ‘show me the money.’
The last time the Giants came to Liverpool, in 2012, they attracted up to 800,000 people. It is estimated that this earned the city a staggering £35 million. A third of this income went to the hotel industry with the remainder spent in bars, restaurants and shops.
This year’s attendance is expected to reach 1.5 million. In the context of these sums, our £1.55 per person investment doesn’t seem like much.
If I have any criticism at all, it is that so many of the businesses benefiting from this spending are national chains. This means that the money spent in the city doesn’t necessarily stay here. Yes those chains employ local people who spend their wages here, but the profits go elsewhere.
Perhaps the council should look at increasing the number of local independent businesses occupying prime locations in the city centre. This may help ensure the local economy benefits more.
However, the council and organisers are to be praised for taking the giants into the neighborhoods. Just as they did in 2012 Royale Deluxe also visited some of the most neglected areas of the city. The joyous scenes in Newsham Park on Friday night suggested that this paid off.
For me though the economic and political argument, whilst important, is missing the point. Yes the council and the people of Liverpool should resist the cuts they are expected to endure. Yes we need clothes on our backs, a roof above our heads and food in our bellies.
These are the stuff of life, the basis of existence. However, surely life is about more than mere survival. What of the city’s self belief? Isn’t a confident and assertive population also a healthy and prosperous one?
Too long negative stereotypes have pervaded. I once welcomed a visitor to the city who proclaimed how astonished he was at how ‘modern’ it all seemed. What was he expecting – horse and cart? He probably was.
Surely all such notions have now been dispelled. Liverpool is once again seen as an international city. We are not just capable of hosting these types of events, we excel at them. This weekend’s carnival was beamed around the world. We remain part of the global psyche.
Events like the Giant Spectacular, The River Festival, Liverpool Sound City and The Matthew Street Festival are all important factors in achieving this. As well as bringing in cash they change perceptions. They energise, inspire creativity and motivate people. Life, after all, should be more than just an endless cycle of work and rest.
Imagine there’s no giants? I’d rather not. This was Liverpool in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Yes back then we regularly had thousands on the streets. Trouble is they were either protesting or welcoming their victorious hero’s home with a trophy.
I am not saying we shouldn’t still be protesting. Of course we should. There is still much injustice about. Food and shelter remains the stuff of life. However, events like this weekend and the joy they bring thousands, are what make life worth living.