Reasons to be proud of Derby

Derby Cathedral

Derby Cathedral - Credit: Ashley Franklin + various photographers

Following the launch of Derby City Council’s recent campaign we take a fresh look at where our impressive county city stands today. Ashley Franklin reports...

In 1977 when I came to work and live in Derby, I confess I wasn’t greatly enamoured of the city. It had just been awarded city status but it felt like a large town. ‘Derby people are none bothered,’ I was told. My feelings were engendered by 18 years of living in Nottingham, the ‘Queen of the Midlands’ as Arthur Mee stated in his King’s England series in 1938; and it was a city of which I was proud. In his 1937 book on Derbyshire, Mee - by comparison - wrote of Derby’s ‘stability’ and ‘sobriety of outlook’ though he did hail it as ‘one of the proud towns of the Transport Age.’

Fifty years on, my arrival in Derby coincided with the publication of Roy Christian’s book Derbyshire. He confirmed how I felt about Derby, throwing up a fascinating, perceptive comparison of the city to its ‘bigger, grander neighbour’ Nottingham. He viewed Nottingham as ‘essentially romantic, lively and slightly feminine in character’ while Derby was ‘prosaic, stolid and ruggedly masculine.’

How times have changed. Although those descriptions of 35 years ago may still apply, there is now one essential maxim to be aware of: ‘Derby doesn’t compete with Nottingham. Or with Leicester for that matter. Today’s competitors are Singapore, Shanghai, Detroit, San Francisco and Seattle.’

These words were delivered by Cllr Paul Bayliss, Leader of Derby City Council, at the recent launch of Proud of Derby, a campaign to ‘build up pride in the city’ and ‘concentrate on everything that is positive about the city, focusing on regeneration activities, bringing new employers to the city and supporting those already committed to us.’

The reference to rivals like Seattle and Singapore largely reflects on Derby’s burgeoning manufacturing industries, with the Proud of Derby campaign aimed essentially at ‘encouraging the next engineers and entrepreneurs of the city’. This is where Derby has developed so significantly. Back in 1978, Roy Christian also described Derby as ‘unexciting’, though adding ‘most of the excitement goes on out of sight,’ citing Rolls-Royce, the railway works and Royal Crown Derby.

If Derby’s industrial performance 35 years ago could be described as ‘exciting,’ then today it is positively ecstatic.

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It is perhaps not surprising to hear that Derby has Europe’s densest cluster of rail engineering companies – 8.8 times the national concentration of rail firms – and an aerospace sector that contributes an impressive £6.9 billion to the economy, supporting 45,000 jobs regionally.

What may be startling, however, is that what has brought Derby to compete on the global scene is its pre-eminence in the UK for high technology, with an output equivalent to one third of that in the City of London.

It gets better. According to the Invest in Derby website, Derby is ranked 6th out of 64 UK cities for innovation based on patents awarded, and was last year named a top-10 city for entrepreneurs. Derby was also labelled the UK’s number 1 industrial investment location between 2013 and 2017 by Estates Gazette. And can any other UK city claim to have its own embassy in London? Granted, it’s a Marketing Derby resource to promote itself to investors in London but it reflects the kind of initiative that has seen Derby prosper.

One could almost breathe in that air of prosperity at the Proud of Derby launch event, held appropriately in Pride Park, where attendees included Rolls-Royce, Bombardier, Toyota, Smith of Derby and Royal Crown Derby. It was pointed out that across the world there are in excess of 100,000 rail cars and locomotives which have rolled off the production line at Bombardier; and 4,500 big clocks across the globe made by Smith of Derby including the world’s largest pendulum regulated clock, in the Harmony Tower in Ganzhou, China.

As for Royal Crown Derby, it’s likely there are pieces in every corner of the globe. Of the launch event, Chief Executive Kevin Oakes commented: ‘It was a wonderful opportunity to showcase Royal Crown Derby and our highly skilled workforce, who ensure the integrity of each item we produce.’

However, beyond those established aforementioned names are more recently-formed companies who are just as responsible for blowing in Derby’s wind of change. For example:

Derby provides one of the bases for Europe-wide Gardner Aerospace which has an annual revenue in excess of £100 million. It employs over 100 staff in Derby. ‘Our job is very complex and requires highly skilled individuals,’ says Rachel Ridgell of Gardener. ‘We’re finding people with the right attributes in Derby.’

Interfleet, an international rail technology consultant group has 29 international offices, with Derby being one of three UK offices, employing 300 staff. Interfleet is also in partnership with Derby College, training up students for the rail industry of the future. ‘Derby is our spiritual home,’ says Marketing Communication Manager James Rollin.

Epm: technology, who produce carbon fibre components for high performance engineering and Formula 1 motorsport, are regarded as ‘one of the most advanced and respected composite engineering businesses in Europe.’ As Managing Director Graham Mulholland says: ‘Derby is a city of makers; it’s where we make things happen... and it’s a message we have to get out to the country.’

?Pennine Healthcare, which manufactures sterile products for the medical profession, markets products and services in over 50 countries and employs over 270 people in Derby.

Pride in our city is not confined to industry, though. One can accentuate a multitude of positives about Derby. Once a city guilty of underselling itself, the Proud campaign can now promote Derby as the region’s safest, best-educated city with the highest average earnings and the most affordable housing.

Now is the time also to boast of long-held historical attributes: we have the world’s first factory in the Silk Mill which is now undergoing regeneration; the china works at Royal Crown Derby is Britain’s oldest surviving factory; we have the first publically-owned park in England – The Arboretum; the purpose-built Derby Market Hall was Britain’s first while the Eagle Market is Britain’s largest indoor market.

As for the present, Lonely Planet recognises Derby as a top ten must-see destination and also named the city as the best place to drink real ale in the world. Thus, it’s timely to mention that half the population of England lives less than an hour away from Derby, while we now have a link to St Pancras which can take us direct to Paris. The Peak District, of course, is on our doorstep. John Forkin of Marketing Derby told me that he sometimes calls Derby ‘the 15-minute city’ as it takes only 15 minutes to get out to delightful countryside. ‘But now,’ he says, ‘we have the opportunity to shout about the city as well.’ He said this five years ago, soon after Westfield arrived. And why was Derby Westfield’s first investment in Europe? ‘Because they saw 1.3 million people in Derby’s trading area with a £1.5 billion spend,’ explained John.

Westfield now attracts over 25 million shoppers every year. On the heels of its arrival, we saw the first steps in the regeneration of the newly-named Derby Cathedral Quarter. Happily, at the same time, cranes were cutting the city skyline as new office buildings and – just as importantly – hotels began to spring up. A revitalised Cathedral Quarter is now into its second five-year phase of development having seen business presence, footfall and investment rise.

A resurgence programme lies ahead for St Peter’s Quarter which has already been galvanised by the recently refurbished River Gardens and the Riverlights complex with the new Bus Station and two top brand hotels.

Today the Cathedral and St Peter’s Quarters represent more than 800 businesses. As Martin Langsdale, Chair of the Cathedral Quarter management group, explains: ‘Cathedral Quarter businesses are passionate about this area and the important contribution it makes to the lives of people who work, live and visit Derby. We are blessed with a historic and unique location full of charm and character and we are working together both to preserve this area’s heritage and build upon our many strengths.’

One of the great strengths of the Cathedral Quarter is QUAD, the arts centre which in five short years has become a massive cultural asset to the city, not least in establishing the FORMAT photography festival as the biggest and best in Britain. The dance centre Déda has also thrived and has joined QUAD in establishing Derby Festé which attracts 35,000 visitors.

There are many other Derby achievements of which we can proud if you read David Fearnehough’s excellent book Derbyshire Extremes. Next year, Derby will be home to Britain’s next cycling arena, and it was fitting that the Proud of Derby speeches were made in front of the site of Derby’s Multi Sports Arena, currently under construction and opening in 2014. The £27.5 million complex, which will house the velodrome, is being built by Heage-based Bowmer & Kirkland which, over 90 years, has grown to become one of the UK’s most successful privately-owned construction, engineering and development companies, with 1,700 staff operating regionally across the UK and offices in the USA. Director Robert Kirkland says he’s delighted Bowmer & Kirkland is behind the campaign: ‘Derby has come a long way over the past 15 years, thanks to the vision and ambition of many people who want the city to compete with our bigger neighbours for investment, talent and enterprise. The new arena embodies that vision – it’s a multi-use facility for the 21st century which will attract people to Derby from across the UK.’

Indeed, the inspiration behind British Cycling’s successes in the Olympics, Paralympics and Tour de France – Allestree-born Dave Brailsford – has hailed the Derby velodrome as ‘very important to the future of British Cycling’.

On a further sporting note, Derby County FC’s importance to the past, present and future of English football is paramount, while Derbyshire County Cricket Club – another Proud of Derby supporter – has been bringing first-class cricket to the region for 140 years. Chief Executive Simon Storey reveals that as well as employing over 100 local people, the club works closely with upwards of 80 Derbyshire-based businesses. ‘As one of only 18 first-class cricket counties, we are proud to represent Derbyshire on the national stage,’ says Simon. ‘When Derbyshire win, the county smiles.’

Admittedly it’s not all smiles in the city. In spite of the City Council’s Proud of Derby initiative, its budget cuts are threatening the future of our Christmas lights, the Darley Park Concert in the Park, and the restoration of the Derby Hippodrome. More generally, the economic climate is still claiming businesses, and a study predicts that internet trading could close one in five Derby shops in five years.

Furthermore, a global study has revealed that only 17 per cent of young Europeans feel confident about starting their own business – compared to a massive 60 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and 40 per cent in Latin America. However, if local youngsters are seeking inspiration to be entrepreneurs, a Derby-based business woman has it in spades; or should that be samosas? Getting right behind the ‘fantastic’ Proud of Derby campaign is Perween Warsi CBE, Britain’s ‘Curry Queen’, who started her business in 1987 making samosas on a kitchen table. Her company S&A Foods now makes up to a million meals a week, servicing Asda and beyond.

As far as Perween is concerned, ‘entrepreneurial spirit and drive are what makes Derby people so special’, and she has the evidence of history: ‘The city has a long line of inventors and innovators dating from the 17th century industrialist and silk weaver John Lombe. At S&A Foods I am fortunate to experience the passion and ambition of Derby’s remarkable people without whom my business would not have succeeded. This Proud of Derby campaign will show children and young adults what they could achieve if they are dedicated and are given the right support to nurture their energy and talent.’

‘We no longer need to be diffident about Derby,’ insists John Forkin of Marketing Derby, and Perween concurs: ‘Our city has an exciting future and I am confident that with the help of the next generation of innovative thinkers, we will continue to make Derby a city to be proud of.’ n

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