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.

Robin Hood – the cat’s out of the bag

As I blogged about a few weeks ago, the City Council have now shared some of the ideas they have been working on for Nottingham Castle. As I had hoped, many of these ideas were picked up by us on the sheriff’s Commission three years ago.

Some of the ideas:

* Using the story of Robin Hood as a guide through key periods in Nottingham’s history to create links to
important historical events

* Providing a significant educational experience for all visitors, using the excitement and richness of the
Nottingham Castle history to engage visitors, particularly younger people, in an exploration of different
ideas and activities

* Exploring the castle site as a symbol of Nottingham’s importance nationally within social protest and
rebellion through the ages – and the development of democratic institutions as a result

* Creating a new Visitor Centre that provides modern facilities and access, new toilets, a café / social
space and a place where visitors can engage with the castle programme and enter the site

* Creating an entrance directly from the castle to improve access to the caves beneath the castle which
are themselves a rich source of history

* Hosting a more diverse all-year-round programme of outdoor festivals and events

* Enhancing and exploring the historic early English architecture of the castle to create a sense of place
as part of a world class heritage site

* Offering a range of indoor and outdoor leisure opportunities to generate an improved family offer that
encourages users to spend more time at the site

* Connecting the castle with other key heritage sites including Brewhouse Yard and Ye Old Trip to

This is now out to public consultation… It will be interesting to see what the Nottingham folk think. You can comment here.

It’s a pity it has taken this long to get to this point?

Mayor Part Two….

I promise not to blog about the Mayoral issue again at least for a few days…

Last night there was a letter at home for my son, he shared the contents with me.

The headlines:
1. £1m wasted
2. Fat Cat Pay – £120k pa. for Mayor
3. Corruption – one person to influence.
4. No Say – local Councillors have no say.
5. Stalemate – one party Mayor, the other party in control = arguing.

Oh, and “After 718 years, the Tories plan to scrap Nottingham’s traditional Mayor and Sheriff and replace them with an extra Mayor costing more than £1m

Is this it?

1. I still don’t get the £1m figure (or is it ‘more than £1m’) – the cost of a referendum and two elections seems to be estimated at £300k? The rest must be salary?
2. Fat Cat Pay (ignore the emotive stuff) I wonder where the figure comes from – the average suggested by Government is £88,267? And savings could be made as some of the roles are duplicated?
3. Corruption – doesn’t even warrant a discussion. Suggest they need to look close to home on this one.
4. No say – not sure this is entirely correct. The Mayor doesn’t abolish the Council.
5. So the Labour party assume that the Mayor would be Tory? Do they know something we don’t?

Where is the suggestion we would lose the Sheriff of Nottingham? Is this just emotive clap-trap?

Come on guys – we can do better than this in the debate surely. This is small time politics and pure spin in part. Time for a grown up discussion?

The thing I don’t really understand is why Labour have thrown in the towel? Surely it would be better to embrace the process – and with their present power base you might expect them to romp home to victory?

The Olympic Torch tour – how would you characterise Nottingham?

I can’t embed the video from the Olympic announcement that the torch is going to pass through over 1,000 places. It will travel around 8,000 miles and is estimated to go within 10 miles of 95% of the population. You can watch the video here.

And how did the video choose to portray its trip to Nottingham?

Yep – Robin Hood. No surprise there then. A clear view of the statute below the Castle walls.

I still wonder why we can’t quite get this brand power in the City…

Robin Hood – just for the record….

if you are a regular to this little part of the blogosphere, you will probably know that I was part of the Sheriff’s Commission a few years ago. The Commission was set up with a view to making the most of our best asset and world-wide brand. I went with the Sheriff of Nottingham to America in September 2009 and we prepared a report which looked at what made a World Class attraction.

The Sheriff of Nottingham, Leon Unczur, being interviewed on our USA trip 2009

We also identified a number of people and organisations who were pretty skilled at delivering these attractions. We had meetings with them and they all, without exception, believed that Nottingham was more than capable of delivering a world class attraction.

Then the Sheriffs Commission was all but disbanded – the reality was that it had become too large. Decisions and a coherent direction from big committees is difficult. So a small group was formed with Ted Cantle – former CEO of the City Council – at its head. I was asked to join the group – but a few days later was asked if I would step down due to a ‘conflict of interest’. I did do, because my time at the Commission was given gratis. I know when I am not needed or wanted. The conflict was tenuous to say the least!

I did express a view to Ted that I thought his group lacked ambition – I was concerned that the Castle was being painted and the contents were being shuffled around.

This week in the paper there was news that the big attraction isn’t on its way anytime soon – due to the economic downturn. The economy is in a different place from when we were in the USA just over two years ago.

I can agree with the latter, but I can’t help but express my surprise that progress hasn’t been made. My surprise is simply that I know there are people out there who are still interested in progressing the project…

New York – part two

New York, New York – so good they named it twice. And it really is great to be back in my favourite City. It certainly has been too long. It was September 2009 when I was last here with the Sheriff of Nottingham.

The High Line - with viewing gallery

We are staying in The Meatpacking District in an amazing hotel. The hotel have some ‘interesting’ rules – including – ‘no suits’ and ‘no mobile phones or cameras’ – in the common areas – including restaurant! I think that is just in case we bump into some celebrities.

This area of New York has seen massive investment in the last few years. It is still ongoing. Stella McCartney is here. The Vitra store is too – and that really is cool.

But perhaps the biggest investment went into The High Line – a 1.5 mile long elevated railway, which was converted into a park. The cost? – a cool $50m. Like most of these sort of projects the real benefit (apart from brilliant public open space) is the impact it has on the surrounding area – it is reckoned that 30 projects have been kickstarted as a result of the project. This is the essence of urban renewal, but how often is it that public money needs to be the prime mover?

The Apple Store and The Chelsea Flower Market are great places to spend time (for me). In fact, at RonnyBrooks in The Flower Market the owner remembered us visiting with The Sheriff! John Lyles blog from that visit is here! The Apple store is just a boys playground!

New York is characterised by the numerous districts – each has it’s own unique feel. It is also a changing place, SOHO was the place where the artists and Bohemians moved into the giant loft spaces – then it got trendy. Prices went up and they moved on. The Meatpacking was the centre of the gay community, but now has the trendy fashion shops.

The Meatpacking District is in a the ascendancy at the moment! Which is great except the man with the pneumatic drill started at 7am…

12 months on…where were you?

I was in Los Angeles – with the Sheriff of Nottingham, on my fact finding tour of the USA. We were in search of world class attractions – and in particular, attractions that would have a resonance with Nottingham and our local hero – Robin Hood.

The trip was fascinating and we learned a lot. The knowledge was shared with the Sheriff’s Commission and there was much enthusiasm for building a new Robin Hood attraction – based around Urban Entertainment. The buzz around the Russell Crowe film as palpable. I went to the Premiere in Nottingham.

Then there was launch at MIPIM 2010 – and the talk I gave about how we had to capitalise on our very own asset.

So what has happened one year on?

Well, the Commission has been disbanded. I’m not sure that the work has been done. Yes there has been some good from the Commission – The Robin Hood month has put Nottingham back on the map. And the City, I think, have let Robin back into their psyche – he was a bit of a lost cause for a while.

The next stage is for the City to put together a prospectus for potential developers. I have an involvement in this. It is a critical step in us achieving something for the City. But, it needs more than just a glossy brochure – it needs commitment and enthusiasm to deliver. This might be a bit more challenging – especially against the economic backdrop.

We still have some way to go. We have to keep pushing forward – one day we will be out of recession – and we need to be ready with a world class attraction. One which Nottingham can be proud of.

I was reminded in China two weeks ago of the branding power of Robin Hood. When I was asked where I was from – people don’t know where Nottingham is. But when you say ‘home of Robin Hood’ or mock pulling an arrow on a bow – they immediately ‘get it’. How many other places can boast such a powerful brand – which crosses geographical and language barriers? Not many methinks!

Nottingham : a top liveable 25 city by 2011?

One of my favourite printed magazines is Monocle; I sometimes pick it up for the office, but last week took it on holiday. It is a weighty tome – and you need a few hours to pick your way through it.

It was good edition to buy – as they published the ‘liveable cities index‘ for 2010.

I was sad to see that Nottingham didn’t make the list, but then not one UK City did! We need to put this right immediately – or at least in time for the 2011 survey.

Liveable City, according to Monocle is

“urban settlements where human life can thrive because they are easy to navigate, diverse, pulsating and full of opportunities”. Easy then!

Munich came out top with Copenhagen and Zurich in second and third respectively.

What Monacle don’t do is print you a convenient tick list against which you are measured. You need to read between the lines, I will have a go at the headlines…

Transport – this features highly, whether it be the airport, public transport or cylcing. Reducing the reliance on the car is clearly a big factor. Easy to say but difficult to achieve…

Public Space – the winning cities all have a familiar theme – there are public spaces where people can walk, relax and play. Please walk on the grass!

Art / culture / technology – these intertwined things are an important part of the Cities life. Galleries can inspire people. But inspiration isn’t enough on its own – we need to create opportunities. Culturally you have to be diverse. We need to make it easy for people to start businesses and keep them running…

Food – when we were in the USA last year with the Sheriff of Nottingham we quickly spotted that ‘food’ was a key component to making something work well. The presence of an eclectic mix of restautrants – from Michelen starred establishments, to basic street cafes.

Sport – both watching and taking part are important in the mix of a City. People feel good if they are taking part or watching winners; they feel great if they are winning…

Ambitious and proud – the Cities featured had some familiar themes – they had ambition or were competitive (on a national and international stage). But critically their citizens were ‘proud’ – and this is a hard won badge.

Looking at this list, I don’t see that it is out of reach for Nottingham. In some ways we are ‘there’. I’m not saying we couldn’t do better – we could. But we have a great platform to work from.

Anyone up for the challenge?

p.s it was noted that there is a ‘chain’ index and the number of Starbucks is one of the measures. Shutting them down won’t help my cause..

Abel Collins – the end of my term!

You might know that I have been involved in Abel Collins, an Almshouse Charity based in Beeston for some time. Actually for about 5 years.

a bit strange - my name in stone!

I got involved through Business Champions and became Chairman fairly soon after joining the Board of Trustees. Then last year we split the responsibility of Chair-person – I held onto property and resources.

I resigned my position last week. This was for a number of reasons.

Firstly, my workload in my real job has increased significantly this year particularly – and ‘spare’ time has become a little scarce! Abel Collins took quite a lot of time – it is big business and I was not really able to commit the time and energy I felt it needed. In fairness my Co-Chair really helped over the last 12 months…

Secondly though, I did agree to head up the Charity on the basis that we actually ‘did’ something. It is a fantastic Charity which has been around for 300 years, but I felt that it needed a project. We set out on a new build scheme and completed 4 new bungalows in late 2009 – designed by Marsh Grochowski, I think they are fantastic. It was a great day last November when Leon Unczur, The Sheriff of Nottingham officially opened them!

So it is the end of an era for me. I have played a very tiny part in the Charity – it remains in great hands and I am sure it will do so for another 300 years.

I will miss the Trustees meetings which were often quite exciting! But I think most of all I will miss the residents – with all of their little foibles!

I shall have great memories!

The Sheriff’s Commission – 12 months on

I attended the advisory panel meeting of the Sheriff’s Commission last Friday. It was held at Loxley House – a fitting location!

The Commission celebrated it’s birthday and it was time to look back on the year – and forwards into the future.

Firstly, there was a review of the things that have been achieved:

1. Without doubt the biggest achievement has been the recognition by the Council that Robin Hood has a massive role to play in the City. This was not the case when we set out…
2. As a result of this recognition, the City has reclaimed Robin Hood and we now proudly claim that this is the Home of Robin Hood. The logo above is a small but important part of this strategy.
3. The work done in the USA and elsewhere (looking at what makes a World Class Attraction) has been well received and sets the benchmark for the aspirations of the City. This is not nebulous, it is a real aspiration – it is acknowledged that if Nottingham is to ‘get this right’ it has to be done well.
4. The Robin Hood film captured the imagination of the Public and (hopefully) the sequel will keep Nottingham on the map. Spending on gifts with a Robin Hood theme were up 83% in the week of the film premiere. Nottingham hosted a Gala screening which attracted media attention from around the World.
5. The Robin Hood month in May was a huge success – visitor numbers at the Castle were up, spending in the shops was up.
6. A Robin Hood trail complete with new visuals will be in place in Nottingham shortly. (These have been done by my mate John Lyle and are really good)

But the real trick now is to move forward. The ideas are still coming forward about keeping the momentum going – in all sorts of areas. This includes long term aspirations for a Visitor Attraction, educational materials for schools, ongoing events (like the Robin Hood month) and the continuation of marketing and merchandising…

Graham Allen MP was present at the meeting and he spoke passionately about his aspirations for the City.

I have some disappointment that we are not further on, but it was said that “good things come to those who wait“. We have gained some momentum – we need to keep it going! I genuinely believe that we have won some hearts and minds and that we are in a better place than we were 12 months ago. There is much work to be done, but we have made a great start.