Nottingham isn’t so much a city, more of a giant village where everyone knows your name. But despite our diminutive size and a general awareness of who’s doing what, we’ve tended to operate in little pods. This seems to be changing as various umbrella organisations have started to pop up, slowly pulling the strands of the city together.
We’re now a UNESCO City of Literature. Straight up. But this is more than just a fancy title. It’s acted as a catalyst for a scribal gathering of the literary community. Primarily we are an education charity but there’s the hope that in bringing together representatives from eight organisations we might just be able to support each other. See the twitter hashtag #Barker4Notts to see this in practice.
We’re also the first ever City of Football. Fortunately this status has nothing to do with the antics at Meadow Pain or the City Grind. It’s about strategies to make the sport more accessible and to use football as a means of bringing football organisations, businesses, creative industries, communities and faith groups together.
The Creative Quarter has also been instrumental in bringing different sectors together such as through their Pecha Kucha talks or supporting initiatives such as Cobden Chambers. Underpinning this is a real push for ‘independent’ businesses which in the literary community is epitomised by events such as States of Independence. But see also the CQ’s Summer of Independents campaign which kicks off on 4 July.
Nottingham is really on the up, which means we’ll get a right thick head if it all goes wrong and we come thudding down to the ground. So let’s not get too excited. Government cuts are having a profound effect on the provisions provided in local communities and this is evident by the increase of homeless people on the streets. We may be the birthplace of William Booth, but this didn’t stop us closing down the last remaining Salvation Army male hostel a few years ago. And now the D.H. Lawrence Centre has gone too. History and heritage don’t mean anything when you view culture through an excel spreadsheet.
One umbrella organisation doing its bit is Nottingham Means Business. Their ethos is to bring members of the business sector together with the overall aim of encouraging investment in the city. Part of this process is about being aware of the wider community and so I was recently invited to give a talk about Nottingham’s City of Lit status.
Literature has a vital role to play for business, not least in helping to produce a confident, reliable and intelligent workforce. Various reports from the OPEC to the Literacy Trust have found the UK has alarming literacy and numeracy levels. The most recent report actually positions the UK as having the widest literacy gap out of 22 industrialised nations. Literacy is also related to social outcomes, such as whether you have trust in society. This is why the City of Literature slogan is: Building a Better World out of Words.
Nottingham has traditionally been a poor city and in the current economic climate some of our communities and families face real challenges including high levels of deprivation, intergenerational worklessness and are feeling the impact of welfare reform. As a city we need to do everything we can to support each other and we passionately believe that literature plays a vital role in this. Participation in creative learning activities, speaking and listening work, reading for pleasure, storytelling and storymaking and engagement with writers from all disciplines, is key to developing literacy as a core skill for all our young people. And that participation in shared literature-based activities is at the core of developing strong resilient communities.
On a more pragmatic level, literature has the potential to boost tourism which in turn will benefit the business community. And we have a lot to shout about: We are home to a Booker Prize winning author (Stanley Middleton), a two hundred year old subscription library (Bromley House) our rebel writers Lord Byron, Alan Sillitoe and D.H Lawrence offer the potential for tours that extend beyond the city boundaries and that’s before we’ve even got on to that fella in green tights (excellently brought to life by Ade Andrews, the creator of Ezekial Bone). The most recent report from UNESCO suggested the status was worth £1m to the UK alone.
I am the kind of person for whom these kind of stats apply because every holiday I take has books at the heart of it. I’ve just returned from Sardinia, retracing the route taken by D. H. Lawrence in 1921. Prior to this I visited Riga to see their new library completed, Ljubljana when they were named Book Capital of the World and our friends in the nord, Reykjavik because they are a UNESCO city. I hope many people will now start to visit Nottingham.
We’re in this together and so it’s important to ask what the business community can do for the City of Literature team, remembering that we get no money from UNESCO. The purpose of the accreditation is to help build an infrastructure that will enable us to deliver the aims outlined in our bid. And if we don’t, we lose the status. Obviously money would help and donations could align with businesses KPIs, particularly in terms of widening participation and civic engagement. A simpler option could be sponsoring events. We could list and cost things we need to achieve (paying a writer to go into a school to help with literacy targets) which would enable businesses to see exactly where their money is going. On a pragmatic level why not simply make the most of each business e.g. a printing company could help us by printing leaflets promoting events. A marketing company could help by promoting a spoken word event. A consultation company could advise on fundraising initiatives and sustainability.
We don’t know exactly what it is we need at the moment as we only got our fancy title last December. But it’s good to know that the city is becoming more familiar, that we’re talking a bit more, and that for once it doesn’t take a Reform Riot or Framebreaking to bring us all together.
- Books and sport bring people together (nottinghampost.com)
- Nottingham Means Business wins Midlands business of the year (nottmps.co.uk)
- CQ wins European Enterprise Promotion Awards (enterprisingbritainawards.co.uk)
- Nottingham named UNESCO City of Literature (unesco.org.uk)
- Nottingham Means Business as investment club relaunches (insidermedia.com)
- A few words from James Walker (nottinghammeansbusiness.com)