Backlash against ‘cultural’ report which slated St Albans

PUBLISHED: 11:56 18 October 2014

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An analysis by a northern paper which listed St Albans as the second least cultural place in Britain has been blasted by local residents.

Many questioned how the paper could judge a city’s cultural quality on purely the buildings it has, with a county councillor stating: “It’s about people taking part.”

The Manchester Evening News (MEN) analysed 50 cities with populations over 50,000 and ranked them according to the number of museums and fine dining restaurants per 100,000 people.

Valerie Shrimplin, who was born and bred in the city and previously lived in Manchester for a year, said: “Since when does fine dining and availability of numerous restaurants as ‘culture’?!

“And yes, for statistical purposes the size of the geographical catchment area is also relevant.

“I lived in Manchester for a year and it may have cinemas, restaurants (and at that time a top orchestra) but St Albans has an unbelievable culture heritage.

“It is in the air we all breathe – an Abbey a thousand years old (made of bricks that were already a thousand years old); the oldest pub in England; excellent museums; a fabulous lake; top films shown at the Arena; provision for theatre-going and concerts.”

Valerie added: “It’s just so easy to drop in and enjoy all that St Albans has to offer.”

County councillor for St Albans South, Sandy Walkington, said: “Culture is not ‘eating in fine restaurants’ or sitting watching professional performers, it’s about people taking part.”

Stephen Boffey, from East Common in Redbourn, said: “How sad that the Manchester Evening News judges ‘culture’ solely on the basis of museums and restaurants.

“Perhaps the Herts Advertiser should carry out its own survey of cities’ cultural strengths, based on activity and impact – I think the results would be very different!”

Although the Herts Advertiser has not carried out our own analysis we have looked at the average number of residents of several cities in the study.

Considering the analysis ranked a city’s culture by comparing the number of museums and fine dining restaurants per 100,000 people, it is worth noting that St Albans city only has a population of just over 50,000.

Cities that were listed high up the list including Oxford which took first place, Cambridge which was second, and Norwich which was third, have populations of roughly 150,000, 120,000 and 130,000 respectively. Manchester, with a population of just over 500,000, came ninth in the list of the top 10 cultural cities.

Jonathan Devereux, of Barnfield Road, said: “The crude measure used by MEN adds nothing useful to a debate on culture. One might point out Manchester was green fields or forest when St Albans had a Roman town at the site favoured by a pre-Roman king.

“And which 50 cities and why cities? No doubt there are many towns bigger than 50,000 which truly are cultural deserts - St Albans isn’t. Hopefully what this will do is lead us all to shout about what is great about St Albans heritage and culture.”

Surprisingly, it seems some people agree with the controversial data, with Terry Lockyer from neighbouring Bedfordshire commenting: “Wake up and smell the coffee St Albans what have you got to feel so smug about?

“Second least cultural city in the UK is a very well deserved ranking. With, the Cathedral apart, hardly a public building of architectural note, no art gallery, no concert hall, no music club presenting professional classical music - even Luton and Harpenden are more chamber and orchestral musically active - no cinema, no university, no theatre of any substance, no flower hanging baskets to lift its drab image and as for fine dining - only one McDonald’s!”


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