Nottingham Means Business…at last.

David Cooper Photo_2013

David Cooper Photo_2013

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.

Nottingham Means Business (L to R) James Walker, Hugh White, Simon Gray and Peter Askew

Nottingham Means Business (L to R) James Walker, Hugh White, Simon Gray and Peter Askew

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.

Stanley Middleton featured in issue 14 of Dawn of the Unread

Stanley Middleton featured in issue 14 of Dawn of the Unread

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.

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UNESCO Nottingham: Home of books, burgers and balls

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Football and literature featured in Issue 5 of Dawn of the Unread

I’ve left Nottingham five times but somehow always ended up back here. Now is a good time to be living in our little ode factory town because the place has absolutely transformed over the past two years. On one level, it would appear we’ve all grown four stomachs as we’re awash with restaurants. Where there was once a cinema on every street, now there’s a gourmet burger bar. It’s only a matter of time before the powers that be convert the Broadmarsh Centre into a giant vat of curry so we can swim and fart our way into the centre.

Three significant things have happened this year. We were named City of Football which will mean a lot of new sporting grounds pop up so you can burn off all of those burgers. The City of Football title also means a lot will be done to address gender equality in sport, something I’ve written about for their blog and linked to gender inequality in the arts.

On Friday 11 December, Nottingham was accredited as a UNESCO City of Literature. Instead of shouting at other people and telling them what they’re doing wrong, we’ve finally decided to stand up and shout for ourselves. The effect has been immediate and so I’m delighted to announce I’ve restarted the WriteLion literature podcast. It’s going to be co-hosted by Mouthy Poets, the Nottingham Playhouse and me and will be broadcast on the last Friday of each month to tie in with the publication of Leftlion.

Our new monthly literary podcast to celebrate the City of Literature accreditation.

Our new monthly literary podcast to celebrate the City of Literature accreditation. You can listen to it here

Finally, Dawn of the Unread won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in March, further validating our literary history. I was also shortlisted for the Outstanding Individual Award at the Education Investors’ Award in November. But more of that in a future post if I get time.

To celebrate the City of Football and City of Literature successes I’ve created my dream literary football team for the December issue of LeftLion. I’ve been meaning to do this for ages but finally had a valid excuse. I didn’t include DH Lawrence because he would be ranting at the ref and would get sent off. There was no place for Byron either, those tight shorts would have been too much of a distraction and I can’t imagine he’d have been much use with that club foot of his. Sillitoe is absent, too, as he didn’t like football and his only football related story, The Match, sees a Notts County fan take his frustrations out on his wife.

One person I had to include was Ioney Smallhorne who produced the video above. I got really upset last time I met her as she shared her frustration of being unable to find work as a film producer in Nottingham after having great success in Jamaica. Ioney perceives this may be due to institutionalised racism and I think she has a point. Racial equality will be one of the key areas I’ll be addressing through the City of Literature board as well as in other projects next year, having learned so much through the final issue of Dawn of the Unread where we met George Powe, George Africanus and the Nottingham Black Archive.

Chris Richardson is the author of City of Light, one of the greatest historical accounts of Nottingham ever written and so he was another immediate selection in my literary team. I hope more people google this polite and unassuming man and pop a copy of his account of Chartism, Socialism and Trade Unionism in 19th century Nottingham into their xmas stocking.

So here it is. Notts very own literary football team with a typo in Sweeper. My captain is Michael Eaton, a real inspiration with an unbelievable knowledge of his home town.

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