LAST year has been hailed as the best for Exeter in decades – and business leaders are calling for the city to build on its recent triumphs in 2013.
An unprecedented hat trick of awards – meaning the city can lay claim to the best museum, college and university in the country – are seen as an enviable platform for future success.
In June, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum won the coveted 2012 Art Fund Museum of the Year title and £100,000 in prize money six months after the results of a four-year, £24m refurbishment project were unveiled.
In October, Exeter was named University of the Year in the prestigious Sunday Times University Guide 2013, having joined the UK's elite Russell Group of leading research-led institutions in March.
And a remarkable triple crown was completed in November, when Exeter College was named Outstanding Provider of the Year and won the Outstanding Leadership of Learning and Skills award at the Times Educational Supplement Further Education Awards.
Such is the pride of civic and business leaders in Exeter's annus mirabilis that there are plans for an advertising campaign at stations in London to promote the city as a great place to live and work.
Derek Phillips, vice president of Exeter Chamber of Commerce, said: "It's a tremendous achievement for Exeter, because anybody looking to relocate will be looking at important things such as education and thinking about where they are going to get their workforce from.
"These awards show we have a real top-rate college and university and a great cultural offer, so it's all looking terribly promising.
"But we need to capitalise on it because we are never going to win all three awards in the same year again.
"Let's make people outside Exeter aware of this fantastic achievement. We need about £30,000 to do a poster campaign across railway station escalators in about 30 or 40 locations and so far about £10,000 has been pledged by various people, including developers, the city council, the college and university."
Tim Jones, chairman of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: "For the greater Exeter area, which includes the East of Exeter Growth Point, 2012 has represented probably one of the greatest, most successful years that Exeter has had for the last 20 years.
"It's the culmination of a lot of hard work and some great forward thinking to prepare the ground for this success. And it's happened despite some of the most difficult economic conditions in the past 100 years.
"It's against that background that we should judge not only these three awards but the many other things that have happened – which include the opening of the district heating centre for Cranbrook, a first for England; the opening of the Forum at Exeter University, a phenomenal long-term investment for the city and the sub-region; the university becoming part of the Russell Group, a major step forward; and, vitally important, the start of all the initiatives around Junction 29 – the Flybe academy and tangible beginnings on the Science Park.
"All this is clear evidence of Exeter setting out its stall for a successful future. The immediate effect of it is that people vote with their feet and what greater evidence could there be of that than John Lewis, who opened a new concept store here – one that doesn't exist anywhere else in the country.
"These three awards coming together is a remarkable achievement but it would be dangerous to be complacent. This is a platform from which it's important to strive forward. It will not just happen without the need to constantly innovate and drive things forward.
"It's such a challenging market but the market sentiment is strongly in Exeter's favour and it's important that these awards are built on."