Nottingham Castle bid – part two

I made no particular secret of my views on the last scheme that was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund last year. It was rejected in May – but the City were encouraged to make a further bid. I thought it was all a bit bland – and I blogged about it just over a year ago.


Well there is a new bid – about to be submitted – and this time we’re dropping Robin Hood (boo!) – in favour of the story of the 1831 Riots.

Forgive my cynicism – but the what? The ‘famous’ 1831 Riots? Really? Look it up on Wiki and you’ll see we don’t even get a mention.

The feedback from HLF before was that they liked the historical connections and the rebellious nature of us local folk. The latter, of course, was claimed by the Castle Working Group. It actually came out of the Sheriff’s Commission trip to the USA in 2008. And was crystallised by a record store on Bleeker Street in New York – called Rebel Rebel. But that is detail.

Perhaps there was a need to revisit the story of Nottingham Castle – but leaving Robin Hood out? That is completely bonkers.

Clearly the story of the 1831 Riots (which were in Nottingham and Bristol) will be a world class attraction – and people will flock here to hear of it.

It’s enough to make you riot.

Grimsey Reports – on Nottingham!

So the cat is out of the bag!


Last night I was at the launch of the Grimsey Review in the rather grand surroundings of the Churchill Dining Room in the House of Commons.

You may remember that I blogged about Bill Grimsey before; his book is a fascinating insight into the state of our High Streets – perhaps more importantly why they are in a state of terminal decline.

I had the pleasure of showing Bill around Nottingham a few weeks ago and was delighted that he chose Nottingham to be his case study. His visit was orchestrated – to show the good, the bad and the ugly.

We know that we face some challenges – lots of challenges. We have too many shops – that has always been the starting point for us to move forward. It is no different to the alcoholic in acknowledging he has a problem. We have been in denial for years! Time to wake up and shake our pre-conceived, outdated and fatally flawed approach off.

But, despite the challenges, what Bill did see was a City of opportunity.

From his visit he saw:

• a massive investment in infrastructure
• a superb education offer – both at HE and FE level
• A wealth of creative talent
• A science city – with unrivalled history – Boots / Biocity and the like
• An USP – which we have known and heard about before but we fail spectacularly to capitalize on … Robin Hood.

I know that the City Council have seen the report and they are willing to grasp it and run with it. This is a great start.

And I can tell you that Bill Grimsey will be speaking at RE:Fest in a couple of weeks – he is likely to be joined by the Deputy Leader, Graham Chapman and Councillor Nick McDonald from the City. The debate is starting – and soon. My invitation to you to attend is here.

I really do hope that this is the start of a revitalized Nottingham. We have the assets, we need to use them!

Robin Hood – relevant to Nottingham

Over the last few weeks I have been trying to defend Nottingham! It is hard to bring someone here and show them all positives. I then saw some comments about the relevance of Robin Hood to the City today. Rather I saw a question as to whether Robin Hood was relevant in 2013.


And I came across a document produced by my good mate John Lyle. He wrote this back in 2009 – when we were part of the proper Sheriffs Commission. We were both binned when a new broom swept clean – but we’re not bitter!

Back to the plot – John wrote this about the relevance of Robin Hood. These are his brand values. It is brilliant.

Social Justice

Perhaps because he was a victim of a major injustice himself, he fought the cause for others – there is a very strong case that his role was never simple robbery, but always more based on a theme of social justice.

Green environmentalist

The green colour so strongly associated with Robin Hood has become a perfect one for the brand.

He lived amongst the trees of Sherwood Forest and described the major Oak as the ‘council tree’ of his outlaw band. At that time the forest was over 100,000 acres compared to 450 acres now. They saw the Forest and trees as a place of safety and lived off the land, raiding the kings ‘larder’, by poaching his game.


Robin hood is a romantic in two senses of the word. Firstly, his story cannot be separated from that of Maid Marian – even though it appears clear that their ‘relationship’ is born from a combination of individual British and French stories.

His hopeless romanticism is also portrayed constantly, in that he is fighting a battle against a tyrannical state, that he can never really win in the long run – but he keeps striving for what he believes is right.

Clever and brave

Robin Hood could rarely win in a head to head fight, unless it was in an archery competition, where he was world class. He was nearly always portrayed as using positive trickery and cunning to win through. Often with the help of disguises and sleights of
hand he used his brains before he used his brawn to defeat the succession of enemies he faced.

Part of a team

He was also very much a team player. His band of merry men and women are very much part of the myth and legend.

Courteous and humorous

There is strong evidence that he was both humorous and courteous. All of the stories relating to his meeting with Little John show the two fighting and laughing in equal measure.

©John Lyle 2009 – genius.

Nottingham Castle – backwards we go?

There was disappointing news for Nottingham last week.


Our Heritage Lottery bid to upgrade the Castle failed. We were seeking nearly £15 towards the estimated £26m cost. Six out of 11 projects were successful in sharing £68m:

* Silverstone, home of British motor racing in Northamptonshire
* HMS Caroline, the last surviving warship of the First World War fleet, in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter
* Redruth’s old brewery transformed to celebrate Cornish heritage
* London’s Alexandra Palace – ‘The People’s Palace’ – with over 140 years worth of history
* 12th-century Auckland Castle in Durham, home to a spectacular collection of Zurbaran paintings
* Aberdeen Art Gallery and Cowdray Hall, the city’s public gallery with an impressive collection of early and contemporary works

We now have to wait another 12 months to re-submit.

You may know that I sat on the Sheriffs Commission back in 2008/9. Five years ago we were pressing for the Council to bring on board the private sector, that looks even more necessary now.

I was a little underwhelmed last year when I saw the plans for the first time. In fact, I blogged about it here.

We really need to aim higher and in my opinion we need to bring a different game to Nottingham. There is such an opportunity here – Robin Hood is a world brand and we just don’t use it. Five years have passed since we looked at some of the options. Lets not wait another five years!

In the meantime my good friend Johnny Lyle sent me a link about a theme park that looks like it might go ahead in Sherwood Forest. Pity they didn’t put that in the Castle?

It took me back…

As I mentioned yesterday I was in Boston on Friday. The last time I was there was with the Sheriff’s Commission back in September 2009.


In fact, that was the start of this little blog really – I wrote a guest piece from good mate John Lyle. Then this blog got started soon afterwards – John and I sat in the cafe at Tate Modern and the rest, as they say, is history.

We had a few hours in Boston and I recalled many of the places I had visited on the ‘Boredom Trail‘. Including the rather uninspiring stone circle which is the site of the Boston Massacre. However, if you look at the blog post on John’s site and my image above – you will see a big improvement – they have a brass plaque now. The red brick path is still there – which we thought would have been a great idea for Nottingham (creating a Robin Hood trail). Sadly that was another idea that fell by the wayside.

Looking back at that trip we learned so much and had some much enthusiasm to get things moving in Nottingham – that all seems rather wasted now. We were in America over three years ago. 12 months after the trip I blogged about the progress here. Today, although there is a new Castle working group, if we’re honest nothing has really happened.

A bit like Boston then.

Nottingham Castle – the vision

I was at a presentation last week to see the proposals put forward by the Nottingham Castle Working group. This is the group that replaced the Sheriff’s Commission.

They have spent the last few years considering the future of Nottingham Castle. This was a private presentation to the Invest in Nottingham Club members. There were around 40 people from businesses around the City present.

There weren’t many surprises. The City of Rebels idea has found fortune, there could be a glass elevator on Castle Rock and the caves will form an integral part of the scheme. They are hoping to make an application for grant funding – which might be for between £20-30m. The intention is to create a world class attraction. So far so good then.

There is an acknowledgement that the current offer is poor – with a hotchpotch of things – starts, bandstands and various artefacts which get placed at the Castle when we can’t find anywhere else for them.

But, there are some issues I have with the scheme. Firstly the role of Robin Hood continues to be played down – with him being part of the story of rebellion. I still believe we miss a trick by not having Robin Hood at the very centre of the story. Secondly, the art is to remain at the Castle – which I don’t understand at all. Art plays an important part of Nottingham’s offer – but the permanent collection is in the wrong place to my mind.

The proposals include a plan to extend at the back of the moat-house entrance. This extension will house ‘facilities’ and create the new entrance to the world class attraction.

Whilst this is a step in the right direction this won’t in my opinion be world class. I just cannot understand why we can’t aim higher?

Nottingham Castle – an imminent announcement?

I keep passing Nottingham Castle and wondering when someone will do something with it. It was three years ago that we went to the USA in search of what would make a world-class attraction for Nottingham. I was pretty unceremoniously invited to leave the Sheriffs Commission in 2010 – for having a conflict of interest!

I have heard on several occasions that Ted Cantle (former Chief Executive of the City) and his reformed committee (the identity of whom I do not know) are about to make an announcement. I wait with eager anticipation… Although I was told this last year too.

I was looking back over the weekend to some of our ideas at the time – and thinking how valid they still remain today. I chose back in October 2010 to try to use 17 words to describe what made a great attraction – you can see them here.

We had long since decided that ‘Robin Hood’ wasn’t enough – and that a wider theme was needed. The Eureka moment was in New York when we saw a record shop – “Rebel Rebel’. Nottingham – City of Rebels was born. It was, and is, a great concept which we ought to use. I have recently seen the use of volunteers again at the Olympics – like we saw in The Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Again a volunteer bureau can’t be that difficult can it? And last week in London I saw an amazing glass elevator in a hotel – and was reminded of the idea we had to take an elevator from Brewhouse Yard up to the Castle Grounds.

I still don’t understand why some or all of these ideas we had haven’t been used. Perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised soon?

I have a feeling I won’t – I think the Castle needs massive investment – and I can’t see that coming from the Council. It needs private money. We need to think big. Or not bother. Which would be a missed opportunity – again. Deja Vu?

Nottingham – The story – the final bit?

It’s been a bit of a meandering week. BUt I started out by asking some questions which I readily admit I don’t have all of the answers to.

But I think we can generate a positive story around the things we have – Robin Hood, The Castle and our rebellious background. Lets trade on it. This is easy stuff to do. We have threatened it for years.But we need to do it now.

We need to grasp all of the positives and celebrate them. The City needs to embrace the Universities and Colleges.

We need to build on the success of the creative and Science sectors. Antenna and BioCity are critical components of our future visibility and prosperity.

The story we have to break though is crime and peoples perception of it. There is little point in papering over the cracks. We have to do something different. We have lots of NEETS (not in employment, education or training). We have to break this mould. We have to get the disenfranchised kids off the streets and into education, training and work. This is the way we can make a difference.

So what do we want to be known for? I suggest…

1. Our rich history – based around the Castle
2. Our creative Industries and connections with Art – through Antenna / The Contemporary
3. Our World Class Universities and their connection with the City
4. Our shopping – which needs some work!
5. We need to build on our transport links – but make sure they are not a bailer to growth (i.e. too expensive)

But perhaps most important of all, we need to stop talking about stuff and actually do something.

To that end I have an opportunity for us to work with Thinking Place – some leading lights in branding cities. If you are interested in this I would be happy to involve as many people as possible…

The Nottingham Story – Part One

I have been fairly vocal in the past (and particularly in the Mayoral Campaign) about my home City and it’s lack of a cohesive story. In fairness, I was really issuing a challenge to see if I could generate a debate at the time.

But this has rather come back to me – and I have met a few people who don’t necessarily disagree, but have laid down the challenge to me. They want to know what my ideas are.

I have been trying to think this through – I never did think it would be an easy thing. It isn’t. But then again, if it was, everyone would do it.

So my challenge was (and remains) on a number of levels:

1. What is the Nottingham Message (not ‘open for business’ please)
2. What is our story?
3. What do we want others to know us for?
4. What negative images do we want to break?
5. How do we differentiate?

I have decided that this is quite a big subject, so I’m going to run the story for this week. 5 Blog posts, trying to meander through the the issues and some of my ideas.

I am not naive enough to think that I have all of the answers. But if we can get collectively think about the issues and potential answers we might start to get to a solution – and a clear message.

I think, as I have said before, that we actually have all of the ingredients here. What we don’t have a is a ‘glue’ to pull them together. We don’t have a theme – or the themes we do have are disparate.

The world we live in is becoming more and more competitive. We have to fight for investement. We have to fight to keep business here. We have to fight to get a great centre for the City. We have to do something to redcuce crime.

Hard stuff… so tomorow – part two – The big picture!

Newark sorts it story…

One of my key issues at the moment with Nottingham is our lack of story. We don’t really have a coherent message to feel – I have blogged about this before – a lot!

I can’t quite understand why we don’t embrace Robin Hood and The Castle. The work I did in 2008 with the Sheriff’s Commission seems a relevant today as it did then. People in the know keep telling me a big announcement is on the way about the Castle. The best I can get is “It’s Big”. With a capital B.

I live in hope.

In the meantime, Newark have won themselves a £3.5m Lottery fund grant to build a Civil War Museum – the first of its kind in the UK. It seems to me that Newark has always had this connection with History – its place on the Fosse Road, its historic castle and the number of re-enactments they hold. They have their story – and will now appear firmly on the map.

Two Grade 2 listed buildings are to be converted to tell the story of Civil War in the 1600′s. The total costs are expected to be over £5m. They are also utilising the skills of the local college to create apprenticeships – looking at Heritage conservation.

Let’s hope that Nottingham can get to a similar position – otherwise we slip again, and allow visitors to wander off to Newark?