Ministers planning to make Rotherham Children's Capital of Culture

Ministers say they WILL plough ahead with controversial project to make Rotherham the world’s first Children’s Capital of Culture… 12 years after the South Yorkshire town hit headlines at centre of child grooming scandal

  • Levelling Up secretary Greg Clark is set to nominate Rotherham the award
  • Tory politicians were concerned about public reaction to the nomination 
  • Around 1,400 children were sexually abused in the town between 1997-2013 

Ministers will go ahead with a controversial project to make a town at the centre of one of Britain’s worst child grooming scandals the world’s first Children’s Capital of Culture.

Nearly £2 million was allocated to the year-long initiative in Rotherham which will feature a series of events to ‘empower children and young people’. But after the Mail on Sunday revealed the plan, Ministers put the decision under review amid concerns about how the public would react.

They have since concluded that it deserves the funding because it would improve life chances and opportunities for children and young people in Rotherham.

The South Yorkshire town hit the headlines in 2011 after allegations emerged of widespread child sexual exploitation by grooming gangs. It was revealed that children in care homes were being groomed.

Levelling Up secretary Greg Clark, pictured, is considering making Rotherham the world’s first Children’s Capital of Culture

A report into Rotherham’s handling of the incident concluded that an estimated 1,400 children had been sexually abused in the town between 1997 and 2013, predominantly by British-Pakistani men

A report into Rotherham’s handling of the incident concluded that an estimated 1,400 children had been sexually abused in the town between 1997 and 2013, predominantly by British-Pakistani men.

But despite the blot on its reputation, the city was selected to be the inaugural Children’s Capital of Culture in 2025.

The local authority described it as ‘365 extraordinary days… of imagination, creativity and community. Packed with music and magic. Dance and drama. Films and food. Exhibitions and events.’

As well as the £1.8 million from the Cultural Recovery Fund, it was also due to receive £13,600 from Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and has been awarded £76,100 in National Lottery grants.

But after The Mail on Sunday began raising questions, then Levelling-Up Secretary Greg Clark said he would look again at the funding, which was agreed by his predecessor Michael Gove in November 2021.

Following Mr Gove’s return to the role, the project will now go ahead, which the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) revealed in a Freedom of Information response. It said: ‘The Department has reviewed the process of how projects were selected and concluded that the department had been “transparent in its processes and decision-making on the Community Renewal Fund”.’

The project met the criteria for funding because it would ‘improve the life chances/opportunities of children and young people in Rotherham’, it said. It added: ‘The project has spent their full Community Renewal Fund allocation of £1,813,350.’ Although the official programme of events is not until 2025, a launch festival took place in February which included live music from a local band called Blood Stained Reputation.

It also featured a ‘Truth to Power Cafe’ where local youngsters answered the question ‘Who has power over you and what do you want to say to them?’.

Local councillor Dave Sheppard said of the event: ‘We want to make Rotherham a place that young people are proud to call home, and where they want to develop, work and invest.

‘We’re making improvements that will help change the perception of Rotherham, inside and outside the town, and lead a wave of aspiration amongst our young people.’

Julie Dalton, of the Children’s Capital of Culture Programme Board, described the project as ‘the boldest demonstration of Rotherham’s commitment to empowering children and young people to have a voice and play an active role in its future’. But Elliot Keck, investigations campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘Taxpayers are tired of real concerns being batted away by endless bureaucratic reviews.

‘The fact that this scheme was ever considered in the first place raises questions about how civil servants assess funding applications. The Department should make clear that not a penny more will be given to this project.’

The campaign group previously revealed that DLUHC had granted £31,690,000 to British city of culture winners since 2012, while £4,003,438 of taxpayers’ money had been spent on failed submissions.

A DLUHC spokesman said: ‘The Community Renewal Fund is all about restoring pride back into communities and giving towns and cities across the whole country an opportunity to level up and unleash their full potential.

‘Rotherham was identified as a priority place for the fund during the bidding process because it suffers from relatively weak economic performance and following a manifesto created by 30 young ambassadors, the project will improve the opportunities of children and young people in Rotherham.’

Don’t chuckle, Rotherham IS cultured 

Some may scoff at Rotherham as a cultural capital, but it has several arty claims to fame:

1. The Chuckle Brothers, Barry and Paul Elliott – whose ChuckleVision BBC children’s programme ran for more than 20 years – were born in the town.

2. Sheffield pop group Arctic Monkeys quipped in their 2006 song Fake Tales Of San Francisco, ‘Yeah I’d love to tell you all my problems. You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham.’

3. Rotherham father and son team John and Andy Pickles were behind novelty pop act Jive Bunny, who had three 1989 No1s by putting new beats to old rock ‘n’ roll tunes – much to the chagrin of music lovers.

Tara Fitzgerald, pictured, appeared in Brassed Off, was based in a town just outside Rotherham

4. Nineties film Brassed Off, starring Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald – which tells of locals rallying around a colliery brass band – is based on the fortures of Grimethorpe, just north of Rotherham.

5. The 300-room 18th-Century house Wentworth Woodhouse, just outside Rotherham, is Grade I listed to protect its historic Palladian design.

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