A world class attraction?

I collect world class attractions – I have done ever since the Sheriff’s Commission was formed in 2008/9 and we went in search of what the criteria was for such an attraction. The general consensus was more than 1m visitors each year.


This week I could hardly fail to see and visit the CN Tower in Toronto. It’s on the list of world class attractions. It’s big too – although their claim that they are the “Worlds Tallest Building‘ may be slightly misplaced – the tallest man-made structure is Burj Khalifa, a skyscraper in Dubai that reached 829.8 m (2,722 ft) in height on January 17, 2009. Still Nottingham has a legend aka Robin Hood so facts and a good story needn’t trouble us too much!

The CN Tower is impressive – although a trip to the top is a bit expensive – setting you back £20. We did get to see a film about Boeing (an advert for Boeing) and a ‘ride’ into some fantasy forest project in a place between the Amazon and Nepal – all a bit 1970′s.

The building is iconic and reminds you of the power of such things. CN stands for ‘Canada’s National’ – such is the importance of the structure. 2m visitors arrive each year – which is impressive – and profitable.

Not sure that claim is quite right!

Not sure that claim is quite right!

When we researched attractions for the Sheriffs Commission there was feature we noted several times. people love to look down on our place – buildings occupying height have a fascination for us. Glass elevators are a very cool way to acned. The glass floor 1,100 feet above the ground below is a real feature.

If I’m honest I didn’t think there was that much at the tower – but the views are amazing. On a clear day you can see 100 miles…

So, applying this to Nottingham – the glass elevator on Castle Rock to get people to the top of the Castle is still a key in put future success?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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…

Wye aye pet – it’s contemporary art!

Last weekend I braved the hard North – where the blokes think that wearing just tee-shirts in gale-like winds and freezing temperatures are de-rigeur. It’s a lifestyle choice in Gateshead, Newcastle and Sunderland. I am clearly a big softie wearing my coat and gloves. There’s no demand for this kit in this part of the world it seems.

On Sunday we braved the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art – on the banks of the Tyne. This is a huge monolith of a building – hewn from millions of bricks in the late 1940′s. It was built as a flour mill, but fell into disuse in 1982 – during Maggie’s recession. It wasn’t entirely her fault – they had a major fire which contributed to the downfall. Building work to convert it to an Art Gallery began in 1998 -and it opened in 2002.

Since it’s opening it has had 3 million visitors through it’s doors – which is pretty impressive. But not significantly more than Nottingham Contemporary – on average!

Unfortunately during our visit they were between exhibitions – with just one small space with some impressive pictures from Dan Holdsworth. Regrettably there were just a handful. We did get to visit the viewing box on the 5th floor which offers a fantastic view of the Tyne and the Millenium Bridge. I was reminded of on of the features we observed when we were looking with the Sheriff’s Commission at World Class Attractions – views! Especially high viewpoints! Even in the pouring rain the vista was fascinating.

The only things left open were the shop and the cafe. Both were good – but the lemon tart washed down with that ‘artful’ drink, Dandelion & Burdock was great!

I would go back, I think this is a great place. I loved the building – this is real urban regeneration. It was just a shame that they were between exhibitions!

And in case you wondered I wore a tee-shirt, jumper and coat. Lightweight and wimpish perhaps, but warm nonetheless.

Robin Hood and Nottingham – here we go again

I can’t let up this opportunity to comment on a story carried in Tuesday night Nottingham Evening Post. You can read it here, but to paraphrase,

Home for a Robin Hood attraction?

Tourism experts have criticised Nottingham for failing to make the most of Robin Hood…. a third of people surveyed associted the City with the outlaw (only a third?)…. Robin’s name is known worldwide…. Robin seems to disappear a little each year….. many visitors were disappointed with the Robin Hood dimension.

This work was carried out by the Nottingham University Business school.

I am pleased that this world class Institution have waded in. They have managed to get some column inches in the local paper. They have raised the issues again.

But, with the greatest respect to the report authors, we already knew all of this. The Sheriff’s Commission was founded on the basis of this knowledge. That Commission is now being wound down – and a smaller team is looking at the possibilities for the City.

But what must really happen is that we need to stop writing reports. We need to take action.

We do not capitalise on the brand of Robin Hood. And he is a brand worthy of using to our advantage. John Lyle at Purple Circle in Nottingham has done the key work on this already.

We have a fairly obvious site for an attraction.

We have had interest from a number of world class operators.

We have a very basic scheme designed.

We have the demographic information which ‘proves’ the economic case. It proves the potential visitor numbers.

But something gets stuck. It is not an easy two-minute solution, but there is a deliverable opportunity here. It’s difficult to see why the train is stopped on the track. The only glint of good news is that I think it still is on the track!

The crusade goes on…

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!