David Parkin on the future of Welcome to Yorkshire and rocking the boat

David Parkin on the future of Welcome to Yorkshire and rocking the boat

DEPENDING on your viewpoint, the scheduling of Welcome to Yorkshire’s annual Y19 conference this week came at the worst, or the best, possible time.

Chief executive Sir Gary Verity resigned on health grounds two weeks ago from the role he had held for a decade.

He left after concerns were raised over his behaviour towards staff and his expenses.

Subsequent reports in the media speculated over the size and details of those expense claims and featured interviews with at least two of his former personal assistants criticising his behaviour.

If the Welcome to Yorkshire board hoped that Sir Gary’s abrupt departure would allow the organisation to move on quickly, the furore that followed quickly dispelled that notion.

This week, the day before Y19, Welcome to Yorkshire’s board announced two independent investigations into Sir Gary’s expenses and behaviour since his appointment in 2008.

Those investigations will aim to establish the facts from the speculation and gossip swirling around his departure.

At this stage, the only thing I can say with some certainty is that it seems Sir Gary went through personal assistants at an even faster rate than former Leeds United chairman Massimo Cellino went through managers.

On Wednesday the team he once led at Welcome to Yorkshire were faced with delivering their annual showcase event on the 10th anniversary of the organisation’s launch at a time when it was making headlines for reasons other than tourism success.

I think we’d all agree that’s a tough job.

But I think Y19 came at the right time.

Amid all the speculation and schadenfreude perhaps what was getting forgotten was the incredible success of Welcome to Yorkshire.

That is what my blog last week aimed to highlight – and the positive reaction to it suggests many others agree.

Yorkshire is an infinitely better place with Welcome to Yorkshire than without it.

Putting aside their challenges, the 40-strong team at Welcome to Yorkshire summoned the energy to deliver another amazing event.

Yes it celebrated the achievements of the last decade, but that was just a taster before an audience of 1,000 people at the Royal Armouries in Leeds saw a showcase of what the county has to look forward to this year.

And, credit to Welcome to Yorkshire, it didn’t duck the current issues or whitewash the involvement of Sir Gary from its review of the last decade.

Commercial director Peter Dodd addressed the investigations about the behaviour and expenses of the former CEO right at the start of the show – dealing with the elephant in the room.

The only disappointment for me was that the media coverage of the event hardly included any of the highlights of Y19.

Alongside new research from the Business School at Sheffield Hallam University which revealed that the value of tourism to the Yorkshire economy has grown to £9bn per year, major announcements included Yorkshire Sculpture International which will present seven major sculptures by Turner prize winner Damien Hirst, who grew up in Leeds, as part of the inaugural edition of the festival taking place across Leeds and Wakefield from June until September.

Works will be shown outdoors in Leeds city centre, at Leeds Art Gallery and at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield.

TV presenter Anita Rani and celebrity chef Brian Turner both appeared on stage with more details on this summer’s huge BBC Countryfile Live event which after several years at Blenheim Palace is making its official Yorkshire debut at Castle Howard in August with over 60,000 visitors expected over the 4 days.

Anita Rani said her favourite stat about the shows is not that they have attracted 350,000 people to Blenheim, but 50,000 dogs.

As well as the return of the pop-up Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre to York this summer and Yorkshire’s canal-themed garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, in sport there is the Ashes and ICC World Cup at Headingley and the Tour de Yorkshire to look forward to in cycling next month and then the big one, the UCI Road World Championships in Harrogate in September.

Mackenzie Thorpe, the official artist of the Tour de Yorkshire, was a really engaging character and the sculpture, artwork and posters he has created seem to capture exactly what Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme meant when he said that the Grand Depart coming to Yorkshire “brought together our ‘Ooh La La’ and your ‘Ee Bah Gum’. 

Prudhomme also got a round of applause when he paid a personal tribute to “the man who made me love Yorkshire, mon ami Gary Verity”.

Also well received was news from train firm LNER that new Azuma trains are soon to be arriving at stations in Yorkshire.

It will mean 12,200 more seats between Leeds and the capital and more direct services from Harrogate to London.

And hopefully goodbye to some of LNER’s older fleet which have seats carrying coffee stains going back decades.

For me, and probably most people in the room, the highlight of Y19 was certainly Tony Foulds.

You may remember the story of the 83-year-old from Sheffield who won over the hearts of the nation when he campaigned for a flypast to honour the crew of a US airplane which crashed just feet away from him when he was a schoolboy during the war.

Tony believes the pilot saved the lives of him and his friends who were playing in Endcliffe Park by deliberately crashing the plane away from them.

He has been tending to a memorial to the 10 US airmen for decades and when a bloke walking his dog started chatting to Tony about his story it turned out to be Dan Walker, presenter of BBC Breakfast.

Dan ensured Tony got his wish and the pensioner was recognised with a Pride of Yorkshire Award presented to him by Welcome to Yorkshire’s commercial director Peter Dodd and Tony received the standing ovation he deserved.

When event host Rob Walker couldn’t find the ticket holder for a prize of a flight in an historic Tiger Moth plane, the cry went up from the audience: “Give it Tony!”

And they did.

I’ve always liked a story that ends well.

:::

IN highlighting the achievements of Sir Gary Verity last week I compared it to the “ragged pathetic bunch of self-interested individuals currently squabbling over Brexit”.

That provoked the ire of reader Matthew Cormack.

He commented: “If that isn’t a gross over-simplified generalisation about 650 individuals, many of whom are doing their best with an almost unprecedented political crisis dumped on them by the worst PM and Cabinet I’ve ever known, I don’t what is.

“I suspect you don’t know many of them at all, nor spoken to more than a few, yet you dismiss them in one sentence which only serves to add, in just a small way, to an increasingly hostile, volatile, intolerant climate in this country.

“It was an easy, lazy jibe to make and many may agree but that doesn’t make it right.”

It’s true I don’t know many MPs, but if you are looking for informed political comment then you are probably in the wrong place here.

Matthew added: “I would say that your comment may well apply to such as Boris Johnson who can shift his position now that a leadership contest is on the horizon, and there are others like him who aren’t much different but you do a disservice to many, many MPs who are not at all self-interested and are doing their best to find a way forward that serves their constituents’ interests and that of the country.

“I hope you can, on reflection, acknowledge that.”

He’s right and I do acknowledge that.

But I have form in winding Mr Cormack up.

Years ago, in a tongue-in-cheek piece about the teenage goths and emos gathering on the steps of the iconic Leeds Corn Exchange, I suggested the fire brigade turn the hoses on them.

He didn’t like that either.

He wouldn’t have liked my taxi driver the other day who blamed politicians for both the impasse over Brexit and the current roadworks on Headingley Lane.

“You know who I’d get to sort the lot of them out?” he asked me.

I said I didn’t.

“Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. He’d line them all up on the deck of his ship and if they didn’t sort it all out, he’d have them walk the plank.”

Well the political commentators have been saying that there needs to be a new approach to Brexit…

:::

I RECEIVED an incredible amount of feedback following last week’s blog and almost all of it was positive.

Well, except for one tweet which described me as biased and calling for the police to get involved (hopefully not in this blog).

That was from a former drummer in a rock band from York.

Given in his profile he describes himself as: “Animal lover. Libertarian. Patriot. Anti-PC Anti-EU #BREXIT #Trump” I don’t think he was in the rock group Europe.

It turns out it was a heavy metal band called Maineeaxe.

I always wondered what happened to them.

Have a great weekend.

 

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