Admin of “One Hull Of A City” online community, Rich Sharp Wilson is the absolute authority on all things cultural in and around ‘Ull. We sat down with Rich for a coffee to discuss the city’s growing art scene, regional rivalries and, of course, the role of Football is this most unusual of cities….
Could you give me a short introduction to yourself and to One Hull Of A City?
I’m Rich Sharp Wilson, admin of One Hull Of A City, one of the largest online communities in the city. I have but no longer really run a website called Weird Retro and within that I had a segment I called “One Hull Of A City”. I decided to create a Facebook group to post articles and stuff that interested me about Hull. I expected a few hundred people might join and it just grew and grew. At the beginning of 2017 we hit 6,000 which I thought was phenomenal in itself, and then it just exploded to the point where we’re about to hit 28,000 members.
It is a way of generally promoting and pushing Hull, a platform where we can discuss not just what we like about the city but how we can make positive changes as well. One of my mantras is “Solutions Not Problems”, so I always try to force people to look at what the solutions would be instead of it becoming a moaning shop which a lot of Social Media is. It’s about changing the city. As you well know, off the back of that I’ve got this coffee shop and creative space I’m opening which is a kind of offshoot of what people wanted, responding to what people are saying.
Moaning and negativity…. Let’s talk about the people of Hull. Do you think there is a stereotypical Hull character?
There’s a sense of self-deprecation to Hull that I think a lot of people don’t get. I enjoy it. I enjoy the sense of self-referential humour, the self-deprecation. I think it’s a really precious thing that we have. And we’re good at it; we’re good at putting ourselves down. It’s a fine balance I think between sometimes just whining and complaining about the city. But on the other side the self-referential humour is wonderful. No one can get too big headed in this city because they will be brought down. And I like that. I think it keeps people grounded.
People of Hull have always struck me as being very fun loving and quite playful. I don’t know if you observe that as well?
Yes, absolutely. I think I’m a very typical Hully. I’m very self-referential, very playful, I do say Hull is my playground. And I mean that. It really is a fun place to be. On the whole, people have a laugh.
How does the average person from Hull think politically?
Politically? Obviously, those who bother to vote [are] majority Labour still. Now, you’ve got a group of people who really detest Labour and they’re sick of the council. I think we’ve got quite a population that’s shifted to the right politically but aren’t engaging in democracy in the sense of getting out there and voting. Huge voter apathy in this city, which is a shame. And again it brings it back to what I was saying about Solutions Not Problems. People might moan and complain but you go “well what are you going to do about it then?”
The city’s economy has long been strongly connected to maritime industries and the North Sea. Do you think this connection also manifests itself strongly in the city’s culture?
[Laughs]… oh dear, I opened up a big can of worms on that a few months back because I stuck my head above the parapet and said no. No. As a city, we’re not about the fishing industry. That is generations gone, dead in the water, and it was a tiny part of the city and a very tiny percentage of people. I got a lot of hate for daring to even say that. But on the flip side, a lot of people said “Finally, somebody’s saying it!” Because there’s a lot more to this city and we need to stop just harking on about the fishing industry.
So you think the economic dependence of Hull on the maritime industries has been romanticised. But do you think that image benefits Hull domestically?
Completely. I mean that’s exactly what’s happened. Last year the City of Culture played those narratives out; the connection with the sea, the fishing industry, the murals down Hessle Road, the Deep. It was very well done and it was a very well-played out narrative. Great, for all the reasons that you say. But on the other side, we can’t fool ourselves. It’s done for the tourists.
Do the people of Hull still see North Lincolnshire as its main “rival”?
Kingston Upon Hull is situated in the former county of Humberside which ceased to exist in 1996. Has this led to a change in the way that people of Hull see themselves? Do you think people in Hull more strongly identify as being Yorkshiremen than used to be the case?
That’s an interesting one. A lot of people even when we were Humberside refused to acknowledge Humberside. “We’re East Yorkshire!” We always called ourselves East Yorkshire. I think we look to Leeds as our nearest rival city. In many ways we see Leeds as our nearest big city now. I know this is weird because it hasn’t moved anywhere, but it feels like it’s closer. It’s easier to jump on a train and you’re there in no time at all. Leeds is in people’s psyche a lot more now.
What role does sport play in the culture of this city?
It’s a strange one…. I was brought up near Craven Park. I used to go play in East Park, the team (Hull Kingston Rovers) would be there. You know, they were working geezers, a lot of them were dockers and they were training in East Park and we’d go run with the guys. My uncle [would] take me to see the Rugby as a young lad. And I played Rugby at school and I always had the Rovers kit. In my adult life, I moved away, and that’s when Hull City got in the Premier League. I felt a complete shift. Almost as an outsider looking into my own city, it felt like it was all about Rugby and Football was something nobody cared about apart from the die-hard fans. Suddenly it was all about Football, all about Hull City and that was the big sport. It was a weird shift to see and feel in the city.
KR represents East Hull, and FC West Hull. Do you think that there’s less inter-city rivalry and identification with East and West Hull, so the medium of sport has changed because there is a stronger pan-Hull identity now?
I do personally, very much so. I identify as Hull. I always have done. As a kid I identified as East Hull because it was just easier and because of the Rugby thing again. But then as a young adult I moved into the West and I’ve always identified just as Hull. That rivalry is still there. We do make fun of East Hull and West Hull but I think it is definitely less defined now than it used to be. Hull City represents the whole city. People can congregate around a single entity which represents the whole rather than split and divide.
I used to live in South Korea. When students used to ask where I’m from, I used to say Hull. They all knew the Premier League, so you could name it by teams. You’d go Newcastle or Leeds or whatever, and then you could coordinate a rough idea of where Hull was. As soon as they hit the Premier League, suddenly they knew exactly where Hull was. I do feel very much that Hull is my tribe. Tribe is a good word for that, and I kinda had to go away and come back to understand that.
2017 was Hull’s City Of Culture year. What is the legacy of 2017, and do you think the extensive positive media attention has led to any lasting changes?
If you want to use that word….
[Laughs] It’s the word we’ve got to use…. it’s a double edged sword really. Yes and no. Obviously there was a drop off which was to be expected at the end of last year. But what’s actually happening is [in] the grass roots we’re finding our feet. I see a lot of stuff going on that isn’t necessarily on the radar yet. But it is happening. Hull is finding its own voice again. I think what happened with the City Of Culture was our voice was created for us. And it was great and people did find a pride in the City. But our independent voice kind of got lost in the melee. Now we the People of Hull are picking up the torch and getting on with it and it just takes time.
Do you think that Hull’s creative industries suffer from a relative geographic isolation?
I think that’s undeniable really, and I think that’s part of what is happening with us finding our way. We’re getting out there and our creative outlet is reaching beyond the city. The only thing I have concerns about is the audience. There are plenty of creative people out there, but our audience is very small. Our audience is basically Hull and anyone who can be bothered to travel in from the East Riding [of Yorkshire]. We have a limited audience with a limited budget. People don’t have a lot of disposable income, so they spend it carefully. Will all these creative industries survive? Probably not, but at least they’re giving it a go. We’ll wait and see.
How will the city change in the next 20 years?
I hope that we grow and expand. What I don’t want to happen is for us to become just another homogenised city. I don’t want us to just look like another Leeds, Nottingham, Sheffield. Hopefully because of our geographic isolation, we maintain our identity. That is the one thing I hope we never lose because that is what makes Hull, Hull. That manifests itself in the geography, the buildings, the places you go visit, the cafes, the bars. I hope we keep moving forward. Twenty years…. You’re looking at what’s called the “Legacy Generation”, the kids who are born during 2017 or young during 2017. That is the generation we really need to look at. That’s really where the legacy is.
Having lived out of Hull and then come back, I’ve seen particularly entertainment places and creative outlets…. that’s what I want for Hull. I want to bring that kind of thing here, and that’s what in my madness I’m doing. We can have that. We are good enough. A lot of people think “are we ready for that kind of thing?” That’s what I want [my coffee shop and creative space] to be; a space where anyone and everyone feels comfortable. We can have places like that here. It’s okay.
Thanks for speaking to us Rich.
Rich Sharp Wilson is opening a new coffee shop and creative space located on Whitefriargate in Hull. “Bean & Nothingness” is already attracting a huge amount of attention, and we look forward to soon being able to pop in to enjoy the shop’s latest exhibitions and events with a drink.