BUSINESSES leaders from across the South gathered at one of Southampton's iconic buildings for the launch of an event to celebrate one of the city's most famous ships.

The Spark, Solent Conference Centre, was the venue for a preview of the programme events to celebrate Mayflower 400 – the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers setting sail for the new world.

Potential sponsors and stakeholders were given an insight into the festivals, exhibitions and seminars planned across the city during the commemoration year of 2020.

Events include a festival of light, a maritime festival and a film festival.

Guests were given an opportunity to pledge their support to the signature cultural event during the evening.

Commemorating the sailing from the city of the Mayflower and the Speedwell for the New World, with over a hundred Pilgrims on board, the programme is anticipated to deliver a major boost to tourism and is a unique opportunity to highlight Southampton’s cultural, maritime and heritage offering to city residents and visitors from across the UK, the Netherlands and the USA.

Law firm Paris Smith LLP has already been confirmed as the headline sponsor for Mayflower 400 Southampton, with funding also coming from the Barker-Mill Foundation, Southampton City Council, and Go! Southampton, which runs the city's Business Improvement District.

A national programme of events is backed by the government and is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Speakers at the event were Jim Zalles from Southampton Cultural Development Trust, Helen Freeston of Paris Smith, Charles Hackett, CEO of Mayflower 400 UK, Michael Ockwell, CEO of Mayflower Theatre and Chair of the Mayflower 400 Steering Group, and Cllr Satvir Kaur of Southampton City Council.

Mayflower 400 Southampton Project manager, Jim Zalles, said: “The sailing of the Mayflower and the Speedwell from Southampton was a key event in the founding of America, and what has happened since has changed the world.

"Mayflower 400 will be a significant national event, and will no doubt be one of the most significant series of events Southampton has ever hosted. I’m personally very excited about leading the planning for this programme, not only as an American and a keen historian but also as someone who wants the best for this city.”

Helen Freeston of Parish Smith said: "Mayflower 400 will create the perfect platform for Southampton to deliver a vision for the city in which we can all feel a sense of pride, engagement and inclusion on a regional, national, and international level.”

Neil Garwood, Managing Director Southampton Airport said: "We will certainly be making the most of the events and the increase in regional , national and international tourism that this commemoration will present.”