I’ve been having some interesting conversations about train timetables recently. I thought I would share this with you, seeing as tomorrow is Yorkshire Day (August 1). Train timetables? Yorkshire Day? Are the rail companies laying on special trains so we can all go to Scarborough?
Sorry to get your hopes up, but no. Let me explain. I write about homes and property for various national publications. Much of what I cover involves talking about what it’s like to live in Yorkshire and the North of England in general. I’m lucky enough to be well-placed to do this, having moved back here from London some 14 years ago.
Since my return I’ve seen a huge amount of change, not just in my own home town of Barnsley, but across our region. I’ve watched fishing ports such as Whitby turn into fashionable seaside destinations, where you can’t walk two steps without bumping into a latte-wielding weekender from Leeds. And of course, I’ve seen that aforementioned city rise to become a hub of commerce, shopping and education, rated highly not just nationally, but internationally.
I’ve witnessed Yorkshire’s stunning countryside take centre stage in the Tour de France in 2015, and Hull become the UK City of Culture this year, impressing the world with its architecture, arts scene and proud heritage of international trade. I’ve also seen towns such as my own, Barnsley, attempt to establish a new identity in the wake of industrial demise and economic deprivation, with varying degrees of measurable success.
Anyway, for these property articles, I pick a town, city or village and attempt to write an insightful piece about the price of property, the impressive choice of houses on offer, the restaurants, theatres and the fantastic quality of life in general.
And the train times to London. Always the train times to London. Whether it’s Leeds, Sheffield, Harrogate or Pateley Bridge I’m writing about, it always includes the train times to London.
The other day, one of my editors asked why. As in, why must we always see moving to a desirable place to live, such as Yorkshire in terms of how quickly it might take to jump on a train and head back to the capital?
I’m really glad she has raised this issue. And for the record, it had nothing to do with HS2. It is simply an observation; we need to challenge a lazy assumption which has been allowed to take root in our collective psyche.
The regions of England should not be seen as spokes in a wheel with London at the hub. Rather they should be allowed to flourish and stamp their own clear identity on the country overall. More people in positions of power and influence in the national media, including radio and television need to join in and add their influence to this process.
As so do politicians. I hesitate to mention the “Northern Powerhouse” but what an arrogant premise the former Chancellor, George Osborne, based this notion upon. That we in the North needed to be coaxed and coerced into proving what we are made of?
This is the very worst kind of cultural imperialism. We need to show the rest of the country that we can compete, not just in terms of business and property, but in the arts, culture, music, business, retail, books and pretty much anything really which makes up this thing we call life.
We see the excellent work which organisations such as Welcome to Yorkshire does in promoting our region as a highly-desirable tourist destination. However, by its very nature the remit of the work it does is “inbound”, in that it exists to literally import visitors to Yorkshire. What we are notoriously bad at here is exporting ourselves. It seems to be something of a mental block, because Yorkshire people are not usually known for being backwards at coming forwards.
We need to find the self-confidence and self-belief that our food and our art galleries and museums and our schools are just as good as anywhere else’s. This recognition thing is a two-way street. If we stop doing ourselves down and making excuses, it will go a great way to encouraging the rest of the country to take us seriously.
I don’t want to generalise. I know the North is a big place, but let’s be fair. Yorkshire is the biggest county within it. Five million individuals should be neither pigeonholed nor ignored. We have the right to a leading voice in any debate. And if we don’t seize this initiative, you know what will happen. Manchester across the Pennines will steam in and take all the glory, especially with their elected Mayor, Andy Burnham, leading the charge.
So as we celebrate Yorkshire Day tomorrow, let’s think about ourselves for a change. And let’s make this the year that we actually make a change. Whenever possible, we should find the confidence to put forward a strong, regional identity at every possible opportunity.
Yorkshire deserves to be a thriving, inspirational place in its own right. The time has come to stop making unfavourable comparisons to the rest of the country and show them what we’re made of.