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16 Dec 2017

Katrina Larkin unlocks Hull’s cultural potential

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A visionary clubowner’s risky venture unlocked new cultural potential in the city

Brokers of change are often those that see an alternate world view – from Vivienne Westwood to James Dyson, the same is true – and they effect this change with drive and belief. A leader, whether of the world, of a movement or of a cause, may come in many different guises. What unites all leaders of innovation is vision.

Urban regeneration and development can be a risky business; people sometimes get it wrong and sometimes people with genuine passion and inspiration can make a difference. 

As UK City of Culture 2017, Hull had a fantastic year of events and happenings. Hosting the Turner Prize, having its first Pride event and seeing the 10th Freedom Festival get better and bigger. But behind the scenes there is another success story for the city. The transformation and development of an area around the former fruit and vegetable warehouses of Humber Street, situated by the marina, close to Hull’s historic Old Town, has been monumental. For decades, since the decline of the city’s shipping industry in the 1970s and 1980s, Humber Street has lain dormant, a quaint reminder of times past. One could still see the railway lines on the cobbled streets that took the produce, vegetables and fruits from Humber Dock to be distributed by freight across the country. 

In 2010 the warehouses and buildings that lined Humber Street were ghosts, mostly out of use, neglected and void of human presence. This was the situation when, after negotiations with the city council, local entrepreneur Dave Mays was given permission to create his aptly named bar/club/event space – Fruit – at number 64. To say he was brave to pour his money into the venture is an understatement. Humber Street lies at the edge of the city, divided from the Old Town by a major dual carriageway. There was no public transport to the area; the place seemed dead. But Mays had a vision, and with his track record of successful club and bar ventures around the city of nearly 30 years, both he and the council stuck their necks out. 

The building was a two-storey warehouse, a void of steel girders, damp brickwork and a leaky roof. A simple stage, bar and toilets were fitted and Fruit opened quietly to the public in mid-2010. After a shaky start that relied heavily on word of mouth and networking with friends and associates, the creative programming expanded to live music gigs, vintage street markets, club nights, comedy events, theatre productions, and weekend festivals. Humber Street started to get noticed. The wider populace began to embrace Fruit and the area began to blossom. 

Soon other buildings became occupied: a cafe, Thieving Harry’s, opened nearby, then a gallery and an antiques warehouse. Before long, businesses were popping up left and right. The street became Hull’s very own Shoreditch, pulling in a plethora of creative projects. Seven years after Mays opened the doors of Fruit, Humber Street and its environs have become a fully fledged regeneration success story. Practically every building is occupied or in the process of being developed. Humber Street is now Hull’s cutting-edge creative and cultural quarter. With boutique shops, artist spaces, tapas bars, restaurants, a distillery, brewing company, coffee shops, the Oresome Gallery and Jewellery Workshop, and several gallery spaces including Humber Street Gallery of Contemporary Arts, the people are flocking. The street was an official area of the 2017 Freedom Festival which attracts unprecedented numbers and has also been a core part of the City of Culture.

Hull’s hippest street is now one of the UK’s most vibrant thoroughfares. In 2017 it won the Great Street category in the Academy of Urbanism Awards, previously won by Marylebone High Street. Not bad for an area that seven years ago lay vacant. 

Fruit itself, along with developer Wykeland, housebuilder Beal Homes and Hull City Council, has recently generated a £3.5m development that will take it to the next phase of existence. Subject to planning, the venue will be made into a hub for the creative arts which will see it expand to include creative studios, performance areas, a restaurant and retail units. 

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that urban success stories can be created from the bottom up. It’s funny how corporations, councils and businesses can try for years to change an area, throwing money, skill and creatives at it, sometimes to no avail. In the end, you can’t force a new trend. In Hull, down Humber Street, a homegrown talent like Mays had an idea to create a space. He saw the potential, and a mini revolution, like dominoes in reverse, saw a new part of East Yorkshire “regenerated” into existence.

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