Jayne Dowle: Forget the old Yorkshire cliches, let’s be proud of our modern county

There's a lot to be proud of in Yorkshire.
There's a lot to be proud of in Yorkshire.
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HOLD on a minute whilst I bake a celebratory Yorkshire pudding and drink a pint of warm beer.

I don’t know what I should be more excited about – the prospect of full Yorkshire devolution or the fact that Harrogate is now officially the fourth happiest place to live in Great Britain, according to the Rightmove property portal.

The Tour de Yorkshire

The Tour de Yorkshire

And, what’s more, the Black Swan at Oldstead in North Yorkshire has just been announced as the world’s favourite restaurant, voted for by members of Trip Advisor, no less.

Even the most cynical of Yorkshire folk can’t deny that the broad acres are enjoying something of a moment in the sun. And we are certainly cynical, it’s said. As well as being curmudgeonly, it’s said we’re tight with our money and suspicious of strangers, or “off cumers” as they are still known in certain parts of the county.

Let’s stop the cliches right there. Put the pudding basin down, swap the beer for a shot of vodka – especially now Yorkshire’s own brand is being brewed at a potato farm near Wetherby – and leave the whippets in their kennels.

It’s time to stop trotting out hoary old stereotypes every time Yorkshire is mentioned. If we’re going to push forward our case for any kind of devolution, which if taken to the max, could include managing our own budget and spending, setting business rates and seeking out foreign investment under the leadership of a mayor and cabinet, we have to show ourselves with confidence.

The Brownlee brothers

The Brownlee brothers

And if we want to be recognised for the serious (but we are funny) region we are, we need to remind people what makes modern Yorkshire great.

Sport, for a start. The Brownlee brothers have given inspiration to skinny young Yorkshire lads across the county, with their numerous international triathlon accolades. And cricket? Don’t get me started. Apparently even the legendary Geoffrey Boycott, who grew up in the mining community of Fitzwilliam, near Wakefield, is in awe of Sheffield-born Joe Root, England’s current captain.

And who can forget the last Olympics? If Yorkshire had been a nation in its own right at Rio in 2016, we would have been 14th in the medal table. Yorkshire athletes won more golds than Canada, which has seven times the number of inhabitants.

We might not be as populous as Canada, but there are more than five million of us living here. It stands to reason that we are going to be more diverse than, say, Rutland. Diversity. Multi-culturalism? We’ve had it for years. The sheer variation of what we have to offer is part of our strength.

I can think of no other region in England which contains the prosperity of Leeds, the industry of Sheffield, the history of York, the grandeur of Harrogate, the vibrancy of Bradford, endless landscapes and a coastline offering scenery as startlingly beautiful as anywhere in the world.

Yet, despite our cutting-edge business, industry and innovation, it is also part of our weakness. For every Harrogate, York and Leeds, there is a Barnsley, Rotherham or Castleford, places which undeniably have been left wondering what all the fuss is about. Indeed, in the Rightmove happiness index, my own home town of Barnsley staggers into 117th place.

The researchers asked more than 17,000 people to rate where they lived in terms of community spirit, feeling safe, the friendliness of locals, amenities, local services and earning enough to keep body and soul together. In Barnsley, it could be that they just dropped on a particularly disgruntled bunch on a rainy day on Cheapside.

I know Barnsley is responsible for creating two of the most iconic Yorkshiremen imaginable in cricket umpire Dickie Bird and interviewer, author and TV personality Sir Michael Parkinson, but like many places in modern Yorkshire, there’s a lot more going on behind the familiar faces.

I want Barnsley – and Yorkshire – to be recognised for the town that it is, rather than being seared on the national consciousness as a place populated by chaps in flat caps and women in curlers.

I’d like people to know about the dancers and musicians and artists, playwrights, academics, writers and scientists we are producing. I’d like them to know about our glorious skies and friendly welcome. And cheap house prices, in easy reach of the capital by train, if you must go down there.

I respect our history. Indeed, I’ve just spend an enjoyable few days being diverted from my proper work by researching my family tree. It’s bursting with Booths and Brookes from Birstall and Battys from Dewsbury and I love that I’m rooted to the very earth here. Still, I always try to look forward.

That’s why I say forget the flat caps and the whippets and stick to the facts. Our region deserves to be taken seriously, and not dismissed by the metropolitan elite as a weird place up North where the men are miserable and the women carry rolling pins as weapons.

This is as far removed from Leeds on a Saturday night, with its cocktail bars and designer-clad crowd, as it’s possible to be. The population of Yorkshire is the same size as that of Scotland. I think I need say no more.