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Exploring the Impact of City Of Culture on Health and Wellbeing: A Mixed-Methods Study

Leads: Prof Graeme Currie, Dr Ila Bharatan (Organisational Science), Prof Aileen Clarke (Public Health)

Dates: April 2020 - June 2023


December 2017 Coventry was awarded the title of City of Culture for 2021. The City of Culture Programme (COC2021) involves a yearlong series of activities as well as a build-up period and a legacy programme. The primary aim of COC2021 is to design and implement a programme of cultural activities that focus on the diversity and the youthfulness of Coventry co-created with local communities. As part of the measurement and evaluation of COC2021, the aim of this study is to focus on the design and execution exploring the health and well-being impacts of COC on the local population.

While high profile cultural projects, such as the UK City of Culture (COC) or European Capitals of Culture (ECOC) among others, bring in an influx of resources, attention and visitors (Pratt, 2011; Stevenson, 2004), there is criticism around inflated impact (Garcia & Cox, 2013), understandings of success (O’ Callaghan, 2012), and lack of long-term change (Boland, 2010). These criticisms make it important to evaluate COC2021 to see whether reach and legacy potential are being taken into account during the design and implementation of the programme. Particularly, we do not have a clear understanding of the role that these cultural programmes play in addressing health inequalities within the city and how local organisations leverage these projects to address health and well-being issues in their communities.

Policy and Practice Partners:

Coventry City Council, Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport.

Co-Funding Partners:

Coventry City Council.

Aims and Objectives:

Professor Graeme Currie, Dr Ila Bharatan and Dr Rebecca Johnson will evaluate the reach and legacy potential of COC by conducting a three-year mixed methods study (qualitative ethnography and quantitative household survey) to explore the type of impact and the reach of the COC2021 on health and wellbeing of the local population in Coventry. Organisations we have engaged with provide services to populations most in need of local health and wellbeing services. Focusing on these organisations will allow us to examine the above impact and reach in relation to health inequalities and how inequality related issues are addressed by local organisations using high-profile cultural activities.

The research question that drives this project are:

  • Do high profile cultural projects enable local organisations to address health inequalities in low-income areas, and if so, how?
  • How do local organisations work together with COC to address their (own) health and well- being needs? • How is knowledge about local community health/ well-being needs shared with COC, how does this influence COC activities? • How does spatial/social stigma within the local community affect COC participation?
  • Does COC change the perception of stigmatised areas? If so, how?
  • Do residents from low-income areas perceive a difference in their health and wellbeing through participation in COC activities? If so, how?

To explore our research questions, we are focusing on local organisations which are based in some of the more deprived areas of the city to understand:

  1. Impact as well as the reach of COC2021 in these areas.
  2. Explore the processes (if any) that enable or constrain these organisations from using COC2021 to address health inequalities in the area.


We aim to conduct a longitudinal mixed-method study to explore the impact (if any) the CoC has on the local populations and how local organisations are able to (or not) use CoC to address health inequalities. As such, our study is divided into three phases of data collection across two geographical locations. We aim to do an ethnographic study to collect organisational level data and integrate it with analysis of the Coventry house-hold Survey using a Pillar Integration Framework.

Figure 1. Phases of Data Collection

Three phases of data collection (2020, 2021, 2022) in two areas

Main Results:

Data Collection is ongoing.



Implications for Implementation:

Results found here will inform the Coventry City Council on how to make any improvements sustainable, and it will also inform future Cities of Culture in planning and hosting events.

Further Information:

We recently published an article in the ARC WM News Blog (20 Nov 2020; 2(11): 3-4) focussed on this project.