Shall we get the clichés out of the way first? It’s Yorkshire Day on Saturday, so steel yourself for an abundance of flat caps, Yorkshire puddings and whippets. If you’re reading this and thinking, I have never owned a flat cap in my life, I wouldn’t know where to start with a pudding, and I’m allergic to dogs, you won’t be alone. I daresay that for most of us August 1 goes by just like any other. And it will probably rain, so that rules out the whippet racing. And the welly-wanging. And all those other outdoor activities which local news programmes get terribly over-excited about and send their daftest-looking reporter to cover.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to be proud of Yorkshire and of coming from Yorkshire. We’re the biggest, most diverse county in the country and we have an unrivalled history, rich with political intrigue, industry and commerce. And, at the moment, with all this talk of devolution, we’re given to serious contemplation about who we are and where we fit in the world. However, I’m beginning to wonder if Yorkshire Day itself needs a bit of a re-think.
It started off originally as a military celebration, then in the 1970s, the event was taken over by the Yorkshire Ridings Society and held as a protest at local government reorganisation. I bet you didn’t know that did you? Well, I’ll admit I didn’t either until I looked it up. Wouldn’t it be helpful if amongst all the hype and silliness, we were reminded of this more? It seems particularly apposite, given that we have become very respectful of military traditions of late. And local government reorganisation? It’s not exactly the most exciting of issues, but it has the potential to influence and shape each of our lives. We’re about to undergo a massive dose of it. Could there be a more timely moment to have a good think about how Yorkshire sits in the rest of the world?
Let’s take a moment then to contemplate. Just why should we be proud of Yorkshire? What does it mean to come from this county, to live here and work here? For a start off, we need to shatter a few cliches. Say “Yorkshire” to someone from London, for example, and either the flat caps and whippets hove dangerously into view or they assume that you own at least 100 acres with shooting rights. How to get across the diversity of our county? This is the biggest challenge if you ask me. And although organisations such as Welcome to Yorkshire do an amazing job of promoting our region, there is only so much they can do. And the problem with any official marketing campaign is that by its very nature it will flatten out all the nuances. It has to generalise. Hence the proliferation of clichés and toe-curling activities involving wellies and black puddings.
One way to crack this is by each of us trying our best to always be a good ambassador for Yorkshire. Whenever we venture abroad – even to Nottingham, or Manchester say – we should carry ourselves proudly and tell others of where we came. There isn’t space here to recount the rich detail of our county and everyone who lives in it, but each of us has our own story to tell.
We should never be embarrassed about sharing these stories with others, especially southerners. With some honourable exceptions, too many non-Yorkshire people assume that our county is still a fearsome redoubt of dark satanic mills and children up chimneys. Perhaps they will just about have heard of Leeds, but only in terms of Harvey Nicks. I am not joking. I regularly speak to people in London who sound genuinely surprised that we have airports up here.
Clearly we have a challenge on our hands. When faced with such a situation, make it your business to tell such people about the fantastic restaurants and food producers we boast. Go on a mission to enthuse about our rejuvenated towns and city centres, our innovative retailers, our striking architecture and the preponderance of listed buildings. Tell them about our sporting achievements. Remind them of the Tour de France.
I would also mention the sheer number and variety of stately homes we have open to the public: not just Castle Howard and Harewood, but Brodsworth and Cannon Hall and Burton Agnes and Nostell Priory, and many more. I haven’t got the figures to prove it, but I’d wager that we’ve got more of these grand old houses open to the public than anywhere else. And then of course, there’s our landscape and coastline.
Where better than the South Bay at Scarborough on a sunny day? From just above the Spa Theatre, the view rivals any on the Italian Riveria. That’s just one of my favourite spots. I’m sure you will have your own.
We’re not a homogenous mass of black pudding eaters, we’re a county of five million individuals. That’s why we have to reclaim Yorkshire Day for ourselves. So this year leave the welly-wanging and the whippet racing to those who enjoy that kind of thing, and find your own way to celebrate.