Wakefield conference gives shot in arm to Yorkshire economy

Sir Rodney Walker
Sir Rodney Walker
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AROUND 1,000 people attended a series of business seminars which gave a shot in the arm to Yorkshire’s economy by providing incisive advice from some of the region’s top entrepreneurs.

Wakefield Business Week acted as a showcase for vibrant businesses who managed to secure jobs and investment during uncertain economic times.

The speakers included Sir Rodney Walker, who described how he helped to turn a run-down building into a leading cultural centre.

Sir Rodney, who is the honorary vice president of the Rugby Football League, appeared at an event in the Theatre Royal Wakefield, alongside Murray Edwards, the theatre’s executive director.

Mr Edwards said: “This event provided an opportunity to hear about how the theatre trust acquired, transformed and re-opened the Theatre Royal following a five-year closure.

“Sir Rodney explained the background to his desire to take the semi-derelict cinema and bingo hall and re-open it for the benefit of the local community. He raised more than £750,000 between 1981 and 1986. With the help of a large number of committed supporters he achieved this ambition when the building re-opened in March 1986. I brought the audience up to date with details of the current programme and its growing reputation as a cultural destination.”

Other speakers included John Bird, the co-founder of the Big Issue, who told the audience that the root cause of homelessness can be tackled by creating more jobs. The Big Issue magazine was established by Mr Bird and Gordon Roddick in 1991. The two men believed that the key to solving the problem of homelessness lay in helping people to help themselves.

Vendors buy their magazines with their own money and sell them at their own profit or loss. To complement the self-help principles of the Big Issue magazine, The Big Issue Foundation was established in 1995 to link vendors with the support and services which help them address the problems linked with homelessness. The product of a poor Irish family from West London, Mr Bird believes enterprise can help to tackle poverty in Britain.

During an energetic and humorous speech, Mr Bird told the audience about his troubled youth, in which he often found himself sleeping rough on London’s street.

Mr Bird told the audience that he realised that the only way to escape from this destructive circle was to give himself a hand up rather than wait for others to give him a hand-out.

He said he never forgot the hardship of his youth, and the ways in which deprivation affects tens of thousands of others on the bottom rungs of society. Eventually, Mr Bird found regular work and became a skilled printer. He used this knowledge to establish the Big Issue in 1991.

Wakefield Business Week, which is organised by the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, gave delegates the chance to pick up tips that could help to boost their business and further their careers.

Andrew Choi, the executive director of Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce said: “Wakefield Business Week and the business conference have been a massive success.

“The events and participation reflected the wide diversity in the Wakefield economy. It demonstrated the great passion everyone has for the success of Wakefield and the great resilience that exists in the local economy.”

Other participants at the 2014 event included Helen Oldham, the managing director of Johnston Press Yorkshire, and The Yorkshire Post deputy business editor Greg Wright.