Harrogate Valley Gardens
Harrogate Valley Gardens - credit Visit Harrogate

Harrogate bids for Great Exhibition of the North

4 July 2016

Harrogate has officially bid to host the Great Exhibition of the North in 2018.

The government has pledged £5m funding for the event, inviting bids to find a host venue in the North of England.

Inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851, with its show-stopping centrepiece, the Crystal Palace in London, the Victorian event attracted more than a quarter of the entire British population. It showcased the miracles and wonders of the mid-19th century.

2018’s version will celebrate great art, culture and design of the North, showcasing local artists, performers, cultural organisations and creative businesses. It aims to showcase innovation and entrepreneurship, with the working title, The Economy of Tomorrow.

Harrogate’s Bid Team consists of representatives from Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate International Festivals, Harrogate Theatre, the Mercer Gallery, and Harrogate Borough Council, which backs the bid.

Despite being up against major cities in the North, the team says Harrogate has the facilities, infrastructure and experience as an exhibition town to host the event, which is due to take place in July 2018.


Sharon Canavar, CEO of Harrogate International Festivals, said:

The success of the Fire Garden in Valley Gardens proves Harrogate can be a beautiful home for innovative large-scale arts. We welcomed audiences of 20,000 over three nights. It showed what the town can achieve, how it can make the most of its assets, and how warm and welcoming Harrogate is as a host town. As a festival, we’ve brought the finest international talent to Harrogate for 50 years, it’s a fantastic opportunity to build on that reputation and put the region strongly on the cultural map.

Tour de Yorkshire had an estimated economic impact of nearly £60m across the county. The forecasted economic impact of the Great Exhibition of the North for Harrogate alone is £75m.

Harrogate Borough Council Leader, Councillor Richard Cooper, said:

There isn’t a better place to host the Great Exhibition of the North than Harrogate.  We know how to dazzle when it comes to hosting national and international showstoppers – just look at the Tour de France.  We have a world-class conference centre in the centre of our town which is girdled by 200 acres of beautiful grassland – all ideal for hosting indoor and outdoor exhibitions.  As gateway to the Dales the town opens the way to a host of award-winning gems like Ripon, Knaresborough, Boroughbridge and Masham.  Bettys, Harrogate Spa Water and Theakstons are just three names which make the Harrogate district a world-beating brand.  That is why we are ideally placed to host this event.

If successful, the main venue will be HIC, but the exhibition platform will potentially encompass two miles to include outdoor space, including Valley Gardens and potentially RHS Garden Harlow Carr.

Simon Kent, Director of Harrogate International Centre, said:

Harrogate is an attractive destination with the flagship Harrogate International Centre as the host venue. As a major conference destination for national and international exhibitors, we are well versed in welcoming visitors with a robust tourism infrastructure. HIC has the capacity and experience to host in excess of 10,000 visitors per day with over 13,700 square metres of event space. Our track record includes international events, live TV events and major conferences.


Jane Sellars, of the Mercer Gallery said:

We are known as ‘The Jewel of the North’ for good reason. This will offer a significant legacy for the town, region and the North. Not only will it increase profile and showcase Harrogate as a prestigious international destination, but it will inspire people locally to pursue careers in the arts, digital and cultural sectors, and help stop the brain drain to London.


David Bown, CEO of Harrogate Theatre, said:

A lot of groundwork has gone into the bid, and we are confident with Harrogate’s backing that if successful, this would leave a remarkable and lasting legacy, improve the leisure tourism offer, contribute to a strong local economy and engage diverse audiences from across the UK and the world.


Wallace Sampson, CEO of Harrogate Borough Council said:

We are delighted to support Harrogate’s bid for the Great Exhibition of the North. Harrogate is a major events destination in its own right with world class conference facilities making a significant contribution to the economy of the district. We were hosts to the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in the summer of 2014 and regularly deliver cultural and artistic events of the highest quality attracting international visitors. We are an ambitious district and our track record supports that. Hosting the Great Exhibition of the North matches that ambition, and we would be proud and passionate hosts offering an unforgettable Northern experience in 2018.

The objectives of the Great Exhibition of the North is to not only inspire and engage a wide range of audiences and participants from across the region, but to maximise economic potential in the knowledge economy and creative sectors in the North.

Sir Gary Verity, CEO of Welcome to Yorkshire, has been appointed to oversee the project chairing a Great Exhibition Board to report to Ministers.

The initiative is part of the Government’s investment in the North of England. It will be free to audiences, and the winning bid will be announced later this year in September.

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