I went to the TalkYork event this week, which was really interesting, so I thought I’d share some thoughts and observations for those who couldn’t make it.
The event is run by Hemingway Design, For the Love of Place and Creative Tourist, and is aimed at rebranding the city of York. They’ve so far consulted 2,300 people, and this week’s event brought 100 local leaders into a space to discuss their vision for the city.
The consultation has so far found that:
York is a great place if you’re white, well-off, cultured and ‘nice’. We focus on heritage tourism but our ‘offer’ is a bit bland. Our ambitions for the city are often muted and cautious and we’re not brave enough. The history and heritage is stifling creativity. However, we’re a proud, friendly city, and there’s a real sense of belonging
I won’t bore you with all the preamble and context, there’s websites already doing that (here), so I’ll focus on what it meant to me, and Social Vision.
Firstly, there was an incredible mix of public, private and community sectors in the room – I’ve not seen that in a long time. I was very happy to see many familiar faces representing our sector, including Good Organisation, River Art Market, Inkblot Films and York Cycle Campaign.
What came out very strongly is that whilst York is a great place to live, there is universal recognition of the lack of opportunities for many in the city. The creative sector was very vocal, highlighting the amazing, inspirational and innovative things that are happening across York, most of which is operating ‘underground’ at grassroots level, and a call for support from the likes of City of York Council, Make it York and Visit York to help celebrate and promote what they’re doing.
And whilst the Universities championed some of the incredible innovation happening within their campuses, my concern centred on the thousands of young people living and growing up in the city, for whom University isn’t an option – through financial or social barriers and a lack of aspiration and inspiration.
I believe it’s crucial that any ‘rebrand’ of York captures the thoughts, feelings and challenges facing people across the city who don’t have the articulation, confidence or opportunity to engage in these discussions.
Unlike some residents present, I personally believe tourism is good for the city, and my challenge to the sector is how do we ensure everybody benefits from this footfall, exposure and revenue. This isn’t through minimum wage hospitality jobs or the gig economy. Let’s create role models and raise the aspirations of young people who are currently disconnected from the city. Let’s start philanthropic programmes that provide financial and professional support to allow people to realise their potential and have the same opportunities to enjoy our city as those with degrees, well paid jobs or privileged upbringings. And where good stuff is happening (River Art Market, Invisible Tours) let’s all scream about it from the rooftops.
But if this consultation and rebranding exercise simply focusses on bringing more people to York, it will leave behind tens of thousands of people, passing down through generations and further polarising our estates and suburbs. From my experience this week, I’m confident the consultants engaged to undertake this work recognise and understand the value of genuinely engaging and listening to the marginalised, vulnerable and isolated communities in York.
By creating resilient individuals in these communities and providing genuine investment in their untapped potential we raise the economic and social status of the whole city, creating a better experience for tourists and residents alike.