I’D hazard a guess that most readers of this newspaper are proud of their connections to Yorkshire. We share a love of our gorgeous county and think we know it pretty well. We want to back local businesses.
That’s the theory, but I think the reality might be a little different. The uncomfortable truth is that most of us know our own corner of Yorkshire well but our knowledge of the whole county is a little rusty.
We probably don’t really go out of our way to support independent local businesses. Most of us take the same route to work each day, shop in the same shops every week. We spend our free time in familiar places. So I’d like to make a plea: make some simple, low cost, life-enhancing changes and benefit some small businesses along the way.
You may not think it’s your place to prop up the Yorkshire economy. Yet, when businesses close and choice diminishes, we all suffer. This isn’t just about backing independent local businesses though. There are some real benefits for you too.
Making the effort to change our routine, go off our own beaten tracks and explore new places has a positive impact on our sense of well-being as well as the local economy. There’s plenty of research showing how taking small steps to change daily habits or make better use of your leisure time can have a meaningful effect on your mental health, levels of creativity and problem-solving abilities. Changes could include discovering new features where you live or spending time in other areas of Yorkshire.
I’m not talking about major purchases. A simple gesture like buying a drink from a non-chain coffee shop on a different route to work may help to keep that business afloat. Book a stay in another area of Yorkshire in a bed and breakfast or locally-owned holiday cottage and the impact is even greater. The ‘multiplier effect’ means money spent in that community benefits the business owner and others such as the butcher who supplies the B&B’s sausages. The local greengrocer might stay in business, benefiting those who can’t get to a supermarket.
I’m not sure what stops us from investigating the delights on our doorsteps, or from finding new ways to spend our leisure time. We all have pre-conceptions of places within Yorkshire and are not always good at acknowledging positive changes and developments. We carry prejudices for years, missing out on some gems. We don’t question the fact that we have a habit of always gravitating to a town in one particular direction, not bothering to visit other compass points for a change. It’s time to take a new look at Yorkshire, to revisit some of the places we’ve forgotten or avoided.
Researchers have found that travelling to countries with different cultures helps increase tolerance and trust of strangers. Perhaps we don’t need to travel so far to do that – there’s a vast difference between life in Yorkshire cities and the countryside. We can all benefit from understanding different life styles, whether it’s insights into farming or the chance to experience the bright lights and cultural delights of a city. I can feel my senses tingling and mind expanding when I experience the colours, smells and sounds of more exotic shopping opportunities in West Yorkshire. Residents from other areas of Yorkshire probably think the fields, hills and sheep in the Dales where I live are a world apart too. It’s all a question of perspective and travelling around our wonderful county is so rewarding.
When were you last a tourist in your own town? Visitors often know our areas better than residents. Take a look inside some of our historic buildings, try a new family attraction, challenge yourself to try a new place to eat. Look up above street level and you’ll spot some wonderful architecture you never noticed before, clues to previous uses for buildings you hadn’t considered. Every town and city has some free attractions that many locals never venture inside.
Exploration also doesn’t have to be expensive. Our cities are surrounded by stunning countryside. Between them, the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors offer almost 1,400 square miles of glorious countryside, fresh air, adventure and countless fantastic attractions, tea rooms and pubs. How many of us fully appreciate these places before we jet off overseas?
We’ve got miles of empty beaches to enjoy, acres of open land and dozens of activity providers to help us find new ways to develop new skills and hobbies. Getting out of our comfort zones, learning something different has considerable benefits for the brain. As well as the sense of achievement, research has found enjoying new experiences and places can help lower stress levels and promote better sleep. There’s really no excuse – we’ll boost our own well-being and the economy by exploring and appreciating more of what Yorkshire has to offer.
Susan Briggs is director of The Tourism Network which is based in Masham.