Why Stoke-on-Trent lost City of Culture bid

IT’S a terrible shame that Stoke-on-Trent didn’t win its bid to be City of Culture 2021. This city has an awful lot to commend it, not the least of which is its people – and I can’t help wondering if that is where we went wrong.
The people of Stoke-on-Trent are the ones who make this city truly unique. They are the ones who breathe its character and creativity, the ones who drive it forward, the ones who have given it a future where once, not so long ago, the days ahead looked bleak.
In the days since Coventry won the bid, there has been a lot of positivity. I am positive too, because the last year of the bid process has highlighted what I well knew – there is an awful lot to be proud and upbeat about in this great city.
However, there’s no point trying to avert our gaze from the elephant in the room. There comes a time where we have to ask ourselves the salient question. Why didn’t we win?
There’s no point saying we won by getting to the last four. That’s hollow triumphalism – it doesn’t mean a thing. More importantly, it won’t help take us forward as a city. It won’t help us to assure we are victorious the next time an amazing opportunity like this comes along.
If I was part of the bid team I would be asking myself, “What could I have done differently? What could I have improved? Did our bid have the right team? The right equilibrium?”
We need to review the whole process – to deliver a positive critique, and the central point of public engagement has to be high on the list.
If we look at what happened, we will see there was plenty of engagement with high-ranking public sector individuals and celebrities. But at critical times, it felt like the people’s voice was nowhere to be heard.
Understandably, it took a while to build up momentum around City of Culture. When that momentum finally came, it was scooped up into the hands of the public sector. Control was theirs – and it showed. So instead of the judges seeing the beating heart of Stoke-on-Trent, the creative and inventive people who make it buzz, they were presented with an entirely predictable set of public sector individuals.
No disrespect to those who did the talking, but was there anyone who might really have made the judges sit up and listen, a Peter Coates, for example, or a member of the public with a great story? Someone who had their finger on the pulse of the city?
There was nothing from the people. It was all controlled by the public sector. And yet, if we won the bid, it wasn’t the public sector that was going to drive the necessary creativity, it was the people. Surely, when deciding where is going to be City of Culture, the judges need that essence of the people. Instead they got something rather more predictable.
When you are down to the last four, you need a pitch that is spot on. You want to know that those who make the presentation are the very best. The personnel involved can make the difference between make and break.
Being elected does not necessarily mean a person is best positioned to represent Stoke-on-Trent. More often than not the creative drivers in this city are those who are different from councillors.
Getting to the last four must give us confidence that we can deliver, but we have to learn from the mistakes that we have made and properly assess whether going with the public sector exclusively is the way to seek to win bids such as this. My view is that engagement with communities is the real key.
As it is, while Stoke-on-Trent could have pointed to geographical reasons had Paisley or Swansea won the bid, we are left wondering what Coventry, ostensibly a very similar Midlands city, with issues of post-industrial decline, did better than us?
After all, the idea of City of Culture is to regenerate and rejuvenate a city that has seen struggle. I would argue our struggle has been greater than Coventry’s. On that basis, we should have won hands down and yet that was not the case.
Yes, we need to give ourselves a pat on the back and say ‘well done’ for getting this far but, we also need to ask the big question – where did it go wrong? Because clearly it did.
If we don’t assess our bid openly and honestly, then the whole process will have been for nothing. And then we really have been wasting our time.

Mo Chaudry: The benefits of strong leadership

The benefits of strong leadership


With apparent divisions and indecision in the government, there is plenty of attention on leadership at the moment. So there should be, because without strong leadership we are left with a ship floundering towards the rocks on the shore.

What I see at the top right now confirms what I have long thought. Leadership is not about being clever – there are many clever people who cannot lead – rather it is about having natural instinct and empathy. It is about being street smart and understanding what makes people tick.

Boris Johnson is a case in point. He is the perfect example of someone who has created an image, a ‘personality’, for himself – an image the media has helped to sustain – behind which he can hide his obvious failings.

Boris is almost a celebrity politician. He has become Foreign Secretary by virtue of a created personality, like a reality TV show contestant. But that is no measure on which to appoint somebody. A promotion should be made correctly, on merit and relevance, otherwise there will be trouble ahead.

This is exactly what has happened with Boris. His gaffs are legendary. People laugh them off, but the truth is they are reputationally damaging to the country. Boris is clearly not in sync with how normal people think. He thinks he can laugh everything off, but he is in arguably the second most important position in the country. Foreign Secretary is no place for buffoonery. He clearly does not have the relevant skills.

This leads to me another area. People say Boris is clever, and the right man to lead, because he is, after all, an Oxbridge graduate. I would say a privileged background does not necessarily qualify you for leadership.

We are no longer in a bygone age where people were born to rule. Being a leader is no longer down to an accident of birth. It is a right that has to be earned. Does anyone really think, in 2017, that the best credential for a leader is a route through Eton or Harrow to Oxbridge?

The gap between those who travel that road and the normal person on the street is huge. What ability do they have to understand a normal life that they have never experienced? I’m not tarring everyone with the same brush, because clearly some people who take that route can still make that connection. The point I’m making is that it’s far more important to have emotional intelligence and empathy when it comes to getting the best from others. Far more important to have experienced the day to day tribulations to ensure you are truly offering your people what they need.
I am not disputing that Boris Johnson is an intelligent man. You don’t reach his position by not being clever. My point is that he is not clever in a manner appropriate to him being Foreign Secretary. For instance, his record clearly shows he has no idea of other cultures and how to deal with serious diplomatic issues. His cloak of bumbling bonhomie, which he has used to shroud so many of his failings, is no shield against a withering international community who can see all too well the glaring inadequacies and inconsistencies of the man underneath.

Leadership is about accepting responsibility for your actions, not diverting attention away from them. It is also about having the strength, and decency, to apologise when you get things wrong, not trying to deflect responsibility on to others. The buck stops with you. If that’s an issue, then you’re in the wrong job.
To develop trust and confidence, one requires consistency of approach, fairness, transparency, and, above all, a decisiveness to take action and get things done. To smooth that process you need to share your missions and goals with those in your organisation. From there comes that all-important  united and consistent approach. That way everyone is aligned and the organisation can move forward without constantly struggling to overcome every hurdle.

If, on the other hand, self-protection is the dominating goal, then those hurdles can only become barriers. If you have not had the intelligence to treat people with dignity, and fairly, then those self-same people won’t be lining up to give you a leg-up over the wall in times of need. As a leader, you must think and deal with matters unselfishly. People don’t mind the struggle as long as everyone is aligned to one cause. Never make promises upon which you can’t deliver. Best to under promise and over deliver is my motto.

Too often in politics, I see ill-considered deals done to obscure less palatable under lying issues, keep certain people happy, and negate internal competition. But life – politics, business, whatever – is not a game. One bad decision can have a major impact on the country or the business. Strong leadership may not be liked by some, but it is always in the best interests of the organisation.

I was at the Palace of Versailles last week and I can see why the French Revolution happened. The king was cocooned in his gilded world and either not realising his people’s plight or caring it was happening. The consequence in that case was disillusionment and, to put it mildly, strident action for change.

Versailles is a grandiose physical reminder of how an elite can become far, far removed from the ordinary people. Its mesmeric beauty is set stark against an ugly misunderstanding of the needs, and will, of the man and woman in the street.
Modern politicians are wrong to think they can still lead from a cocooned Westminster palace while we look on, bowed to our fate, from a distance. Brexit and Trump are the two great examples of the people displaying disdain for the old-fashioned systems, of being willing to enact drastic change.

The strongest leadership carries its country with it. At every turn, Boris and those like him are scattering the disillusioned people of Britain across the carriageway.

Teach our children to respect other cultures

Earlier than most people realise, children become aware of and intrigued by the difference in the way people look and behave.

Research has confirmed that children as young as six months old notice differences in race and family composition.

Now, as our nation grows increasingly diverse and our world is defined as a global community due to the digital age, it is vital that we learn to live respectfully together and benefit from one another’s wisdom and experiences.

However, sometimes fear and differences in race, culture and an alien language prevent people from talking to each other and moving forward together. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
I have recently returned from my first trip to India (my parents’ country of birth) and I was struck by the huge volume of mosques and heritage dating back from the Mughal Empire.

There was a strong Muslim influence. Yet in the midst of political upheaval, they were worshipping next to practising Hindus and Sikhs with no hostility and in-fact considerable mutual respect and tolerance.

Much-needed migration from the sub-continent to Britain happened a lifetime ago and we became a multi-cultural society. However, trepidation among the diverse communities should not still be prevalent four generations later.

While my generation is, at large, still struggling against a deep-rooted mentality that segregation is normal and acceptable, it is vital that we teach our children differently. They must be taught to open their minds to the different cultures in the UK and the world, to ensure a richer life and an altogether better world.

My thoughts come at a time when the Government is being urged to tackle segregation in UK schools. More than a quarter of all state primary schools across England and four-in-10 state secondary schools are ethnically segregated.

I, myself, grew up as a minority. In fact, I was the only Asian child at my first school in Luton.
However, I subsequently managed to get selected to a grammar school (and although still the only Asian pupil) I mixed with a whole host of different children from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Subconsciously, this had a positive impact and, rather than continuing with my parents’ mindset and thus a blinkered outlook, I was able to open my mind, learn from others and intensify my ambition to better myself. I became educated in the wider sense; it instilled a sense of confidence and a purpose that I could get along in this new and exciting world.

Schools play a vital role in building bridges between ethnic groups as it allows children to mix and learn from each other.

They are our best chance for inclusion and developing a sense of community and purpose. We know that contact between groups improves tolerance and breaks down prejudice – and will even contribute to tackling extremism.

All schools must promote social integration/cohesion and the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect for different faiths and beliefs.
The responsibility, however, cannot solely lie with our academic institutions.

As parents, we all want what’s best for our children and, in today’s interconnected global world, one of the greatest gifts we can give them is to prepare them to thrive in the new world marketplace.

We must inspire our children to be curious about the world and to become globally aware. Not just for community cohesion but also for economic cohesion/progress.

We must teach our children to appreciate, communicate and interact with people across different cultures and in other countries.

Cultural exposure doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It needs to be incorporated into an individual’s lifestyle, mindset and belief system.

Make exposing your children to other cultures an aspect of everyday life; the rich excitement of new cultures, the smells and tastes of foods, the colours and drama of art, the shapes of stories, and rhythms of music.

These fulfilling sensory encounters teach children that the new and different can be wonderful and progressive, rather than scary and strange.

Realise the importance of placing yourself as a powerful role model.

Children become culturally sensitive and respectful when they see adults who are culturally sensitive and respectful, and who take a stand against bias, racism or insensitivity.

By taking a proactive role in enhancing your child’s cultural awareness, you can teach your child to understand and deal with the challenges of a changing world.

We need our children to grow – not be diminished, fearful and closed but valued, open-hearted and open-minded in a world where success comes as a result of ambition and a sense of purpose, regardless of ethnicity.
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The making of the World’s Strongest Man

Three years ago I attended a charity football and darts event at what is now the bet365 stadium. During the interval, a strongman made a guest appearance and I sat transfixed and completely in awe.

I had grown up surrounded by stories of strongmen. My father had become a famous strongman in the 1950s.

From a humble background, my father had joined the Pakistan army; largely for the free healthcare that it would offer to my family.

During the monsoon season, the commanding officer became isolated from his troops during military exercises; his vehicle completely stuck in thick, deep mud.

My father was brought forward to the commanding officer after a comrade had promised that he would be able to pull the vehicle out to safety. He did just that in front of a spellbound commanding officer who had wagered that no man could single-handedly pull this off. In exchange my father asked to leave the army and move to the UK where the ‘pavements were made of gold’.

The strongman sport is the very reason why my family were able to come to England.

Strongmen, not just to me but to many millions around the world, are the superheroes, such as “the Mountain” in the Game of Thrones.

Little did I know that the future superhero I had seen at the bet365 stadium was Eddie Hall. A man who would, a few months later, go on to join M Club as part of his rehabilitation training.

I distinctly remember the day that we sat down together for the first time and talked, it became apparent that the gym was offering us both something much more than fitness.

Eddie told me how he was naturally bright at school and yet struggled with academic learning. Because of this he found school boring and, as a result became rebellious. He was excluded and from there suffered with depression.

Eddie and I had something in common.

We had both faced adversity and importantly, we had both survived.

Like me, Eddie had come from nothing and was achieving an impossible dream. How? By overcoming great challenges and igniting a spark within him to trigger an ambition to be the absolute best that he could be.

That initial meeting was life changing for both of us. I saw a gulf between the top three strongmen and the rest. Eddie, at that point, was stuck in the same pile as the ‘rest’. He told me that he was unable to put in the time necessary to be the best because he had to work to support his family. He had even, in his lowest moments considered quitting, but of course his character prevented him.

I saw that he needed to make a critical difference to his opportunities for success by training full time. I knew instantly that I had to support him.

I went on to see him achieve the deadlift record three times, become the first man in history to lift 500kg and the first Brit in 24-years to win the coveted title of World’s Strongest Man.

It would have been impossible to do so on a part-time basis. So I followed my instinct as I usually do. No one previously had taken such a risk to finance such an undertaking but it just felt right to me.

Overnight I became Eddie’s sponsor and manager. Eddie gave in his notice and became the first full-time UK Strongman.

Amazingly, as a result, other local entrepenuers and sponsors came on board including Peter Wright, Philip Blakemen, Chris Johnson and Chris Butler, who all run successful businesses and who bought in to the dream. It has been a pleasure to share the dream with such notable businessmen.

There is an interconnectedness between sport and business and in turn the growth of our economy which must be harnessed. The opportunities have to be taken and talent has to be nurtured in order to achieve fame and glory.

The Cricket World Cup is coming to the UK in 2019, providing opportunities for places like Southampton, Taunton and Durham.

And, just as cycling has enticed people to Yorkshire, so football entices them to Manchester and Liverpool, and tennis brings them to Eastbourne and London.

As we continue on our pursuit of our very own colossal title, City of Culture status, Eddie Hall is the latest local hero to back the campaign to make Stoke-on-Trent the UK’s cultural capital in 2021.

The World’s Strongest Man competition has graced countries such as Malaysia, China and New Zealand, but it has never been held in the UK. I am now pushing for the competition to be brought here, to the Potteries where I believe the bet365 stadium could be filled to capacity on the back of Eddie ‘The Beast’ Hall, who is now the biggest name in the Strongman World globally with 1.1m followers on social media.

A number of sports are unable to receive Lottery funding and it is just not right that only the favoured sports get it and not others and it took an entrepreneur to prove that talent has to be supported whether it is main stream or not.

This is where I believe the business men can help make a difference, to nurture and fund sports talent.

I have often thought about engaging a group of business friends and setting up a philanthropic fund to help support young talent.

It is not just a one-way thing – business people can learn a lot from sport and in turn be inspired. The similarities between the entrepreneur and the athlete are striking.

Both entrepreneurs and athletes are passionate, fearless, conscientious, energetic, enthusiastic and have an unrivalled spirit of determination and the will to win.

Sport is something that we, as a country, are great at. It is one of our biggest drivers of talent, it boosts our economy, it gives us international clout and national pride, and it is hugely enjoyable. Enterpeuneurs and businesses large and small can fill the void.

In winning the WSM title, Eddie has not only changed his own life but will continue to inspire a whole generation of Strongmen; inspiring them to get active, improve their lifestyles and, importantly in a city renowned for low aspirations, inspire our kids to follow their dreams.

We want people of all ages and abilities to be inspired to make sport a central part of their lives.

The benefits of this are huge and varied. We know that sport has a positive impact on health, crime, wellbeing and social cohesion. It also has an economic impact.

Physical activity adds £39 billion to the UK economy every year – half of which comes from people’s involvement in grassroots sport.

The more people get active, the more the economy grows. It’s a virtuous circle.

Working with Eddie has been one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. It all started with a sixteen-year-old boy from Clayton with a dream and now here we are: countless medals, a million-pound book deal, and the strongest man in the whole, wide world. Now that is what I call inspiring!
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