How local tourism innovation in Yorkshire can inspire national answers at this election – Susan Briggs

Grimm & Co is a children's literary charity in Rotherham which is changing perceptions about the town.
Grimm & Co is a children's literary charity in Rotherham which is changing perceptions about the town.
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AS we edge closer to the General Election, there are more and more headline-hitting promises of better healthcare, better housing, better education and improved infrastructure.

They’re all essential, yet it feels like something’s missing: local understanding. We need more politicians with a genuine passion for Yorkshire, who care and make things happen right here.

The Grimm & Co charity building in Rotherham is now a landmark in its own right.

The Grimm & Co charity building in Rotherham is now a landmark in its own right.

Some of the political issues do seem overwhelming. It’s easy to lose belief in the future. Hearing daily stories of broken promises, complex negotiations and never-ending conflict can lead to a negative mind-set.

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We expect our political leaders to show us the way, to lead us to a more positive future.

How long do we wait for others to help us? Or should we solve some of the issues ourselves?

Andy Swinscoe's Courtyard Dairy is another small-scale business that is now flurishing.

Andy Swinscoe's Courtyard Dairy is another small-scale business that is now flurishing.

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I’ve always been most interested in what affects small businesses, how economies in rural and forgotten urban areas can be improved.

Funding always helps, but that’s just part of the story.

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Yorkshire continues to benefit from the Gentleman Jack effect.

Yorkshire continues to benefit from the Gentleman Jack effect.

Passion for a particular place, a sense of real purpose and also enthusiastic collaborations can make a vast difference.

A spark of confidence can create a powerful catalyst. Meaningful, grassroots improvements happen away from the headlines, often in unlikely places. Their impact sometimes lasts longer than the bigger stories.

Maybe it’s time for politicians – including our prospective MPs – to spend a little longer looking at what works, and to take their cue from some of our communities.

Rotherham isn’t the most obvious place to look for fairy-tale endings.

It sounds far-fetched to suggest that a charity whose purpose is to “change lives, one story at a time” could change perceptions of Rotherham and attract visitors.

Grimm & Co. have done just that, in a very short time. Their innovative approach to children’s literacy, and inspiring ‘shop’, have already made a difference to their community. They’re already expanding and having an impact far beyond their original purpose, giving Rotherham another reason to believe in itself.

Coffee, some interesting old buildings and a few ambitious restaurateurs have been the ingredients for positive change in nearby Sheffield.

After years floundering as a nondescript post-industrial city full of world-weary cynicism, Sheffield now bursts with energy, vitality and confidence.

Big infrastructure schemes have helped, yet its attractiveness is largely down to a few creative individuals who dared to phoenix new businesses out of the industrial ashes.

Some of their early innovations were initially viewed with disbelief and ‘that’ll never work here’ declarations. They’ve since led to a booming café culture and upbeat self-belief, leading to more investment and activity.

Much is made of the exodus of young people from rural areas, and difficulties facing farmers.

There’s positive change afoot in the Yorkshire Dales, thanks to cheese. It started with Andy Swinscoe’s Courtyard Dairy business, selling high quality cheeses made on small farms.

His expansion and mentoring gave others confidence in invest in dairy farming and small-scale cheese production. Then the Spence brothers returned to Home Farm near Aysgarth and invested in their family dairy business.

They’ve moved into raw milk cheese production and sell milk direct to the public through their award-winning mobile trailer vending machine. The Spence brothers have been supported with advice by nearby Wensleydale Creamery and Courtyard Dairy.

Several other local farmers have started their own cheese production, and now visitors are attracted to the Yorkshire Dales for the September Cheese Festival.

There’s more excitement in the Yorkshire Dales at the moment, thanks to filming taking place for a new series of All Creatures Great and Small. You can feel the new optimism in the air.

Locals know that if it is successful, this one series could secure livelihoods of tourism businesses for a generation to come. It took investment from Screen Yorkshire for it to happen, but the benefits will be far beyond the financial returns for the series producers.

Calderdale is another area where there’s a palpable change of mind-set among business owners. TV series like Ackley Bridge, Last Tango in Halifax and Gentleman Jack are showcasing their area, and it’s attracting publicity, visitors and investment.

Confidence is a powerful ingredient that can help destinations and businesses thrive. It’s what makes the difference between ‘just getting by’ and a booming economy.

It starts with small steps by a few committed individuals who quietly make a change or improvement because they believe in their area and their business.

They show what’s possible and instil confidence in others, changing entrenched patterns and building positive perceptions. Once there’s a little optimism in the air, it spreads and multiplies, impacting positively on the wider community.

The reality is that whoever is elected there will still be gaps that local people will need to fill. Not every political promise will come true. The good news is that there are some brilliant individuals and organisations around Yorkshire that can grow and inspire others to do more.

Our political representatives can help to create the framework for greater Yorkshire success. But it’s also down to us to make a difference.

Let’s support and shout about those who’re already working hard to change their area for the better.

Susan Briggs is a tourism campaigner and director of The Tourism Network which is based in Masham.