UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has launched the competition to find the UK’s next City of Culture.

The competition, delivered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in collaboration with the devolved administrations, will use culture as a catalyst for levelling up areas outside London and put culture at the heart of their plans to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

The new winner will take on the baton from Coventry and be at the centre of the UK’s cultural spotlight for a year.

For the first time, groups of towns will now be able to join together and apply for the title to be awarded to their local area – widening the scope of which areas of the country could benefit.

Towns and cities will need to articulate a “strong and unique vision” for their future growth, celebrating local heritage and using culture to bring communities together, build a sense of place and inspire local pride. Bidders will also be asked to demonstrate how investment in culture and creativity will drive growth, how they will open up access to culture and to develop partnerships and celebrate links with places across the UK.

Dowden said: “UK City of Culture is a fantastic showcase of the huge impact culture has in towns and cities across the country. From Derry-Londonderry, to Hull and Coventry, previous winners have shown how the competition can deliver greater cultural participation, drive economic regeneration and boost local pride. I encourage towns and cities across the UK to put forward bids for 2025 and champion their local arts and culture scene. I’m also delighted to confirm the competition will run in future years, as a sign of our commitment to levelling up culture across the whole of the UK.”

The future for the competition has been confirmed, with Dowden announcing that UK City of Culture will become a regular event in the country’s cultural calendar – running in 2029 and beyond.

The first city to take up the mantle was Derry-Londonderry in 2013, followed by Hull in 2017. The City of Culture title attracted millions of visitors and drew in significant investments for both cities. The cultural programmes have had a lasting positive impact on local people, with surveys showing that communities felt prouder and more positive about the place they live after their City of Culture year.

Bidding for the title in its own right can have a hugely positive impact on a place – helping to bring partners together and develop strategic cultural leadership. To encourage as many places as possible across the UK to bid and to benefit from the UK City of Culture process, DCMS will offer funding of up to £40,000 to up to six long-listed places to help develop their applications.

The bids for the 2025 title will be assessed by an independent panel chaired by Sir Phil Redmond. He is joined this year by Claire McColgan, director of Culture Liverpool, as deputy chair.

The formal application process for the 2025 competition is now open. The winning city or town will be announced in spring 2022. Prospective bidders will be invited to join a two day workshop in Coventry which will provide further detailed information and advice on the bidding process.

Redmond said: “I am delighted with the announcement of the competition for 2025, with its expected continuance as a regular feature in our cultural calendar. The UK City of Culture years provide the UK with an opportunity to project its creativity to the world while providing cities the opportunity to revaluate their place in the UK, to come together, forge stronger partnerships and reset both internal and external perceptions as Derry-Londonderry 2013, Hull 2017 and currently Coventry 2021 are experiencing. It is the excuse for people to talk to each other, rather than at each other.”

Martin Sutherland, chief executive of Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “The impact that winning the UK City of Culture title has on a city is huge. Over the last four years in Coventry, we have seen significant investment come into the city as a direct result of being UK City of Culture 2021, leading to an ambitious reimagining of the city’s public realm and cultural infrastructure as well as supporting the extraordinary artists, freelancers, cultural organisations and charities that make this youthful and diverse city so exciting. Our year as UK City of Culture has just begun, but we can already sense the long-lasting impact on the city, its business and its communities.”