A HUDDERSFIELD man is calling on the town to shake off the recession blues and take inspiration from its own great track record of fighting its way out of a crisis.
Phil Wood, who lives at Paddock, is a board director of Huddersfield Media Centre and co-author of The Intercultural City.
He travels internationally advising city governments on creativity and transforming cities for the future
THE newspaper headlines and the mood of despair today take me back to the atmosphere of a generation ago.
When I left university the employment situation was so bad I, like many others, went abroad to find work – in my case as a hotel cleaner in Germany.
Eventually, I returned to Huddersfield in 1981, which was in the midst of a seemingly catastrophic crisis of factory closures and gloom.
I spent over a year on the dole here before eventually getting a position with Kirklees Council. My job was to seek out the unemployed – of whom there were thousands – to help people find alternatives to the conventional factory or office work that had disappeared.
Although life without work was certainly traumatic for some, there were many others using the enforced spare time and freedom to experiment with new ideas and ways of making a living.
Many of them are still around today and the organisations they set up are well known and successful. For me, the symbol of this phoenix from the ashes approach is the Huddersfield Media Centre.
I was delighted to see the entrepreneur – and my fellow Media Centre board director – Ajaz Ahmed featured recently in the Examiner. He says this is a good time to start a new enterprise, to take advantage of the upturn when it comes – and he knows what he’s talking about.
What I have learnt over the years is how towns, just like people, can get themselves into a mindset.
Some places seem torn by self-doubt and internal struggles while others seem to pick themselves off the floor and keep going forward, not frightened to try something new.
I like to think that Huddersfield is just such a place and I enjoy using it in my work around the world as an example to encourage others.
I was recently invited to give the keynote speech at the International Cities and Towns Conference in Australia, on the subject of how to revive the fortunes of struggling communities.
Even before I set off I’d decided to use Huddersfield as an example, but I realised what a good idea this had been when I arrived.
The venue was Sydney’s Olympic Park, dominated by the awesome ANZ Stadium. The audience was mightily impressed when I told them that the prototype for it is none other than our own Galpharm Stadium which, when it opened in 1994, was the sign that Huddersfield had clawed its way out of its 1980s trough.
Over the years, I have spoken to audiences all over Europe and beyond and inspired them with the example of Huddersfield’s self-motivated revival.
Self-motivation is the operative word here. I’m proud that Huddersfield hasn’t just been a place that has wrung its hands and waited for a miracle – or a government hand-out.
If I have one criticism, it sometimes seems to me that the only place that doesn’t get inspired by the town is Huddersfield itself! I know that’s partly down to West Riding stoicism and bloody-mindedness; and there’s also a bit of the old self-deprecating mindset that ‘if it’s from round here it can’t be any good’.
But its also an indictment of how short are our memories – how easily we forget our achievements and assume there is nothing to learn from the past.
After all, how many readers of the Daily Examiner could tell me the title of the official Biography of the World Bank? Well it’s “The Road to Huddersfield: a journey to five continents” – making our town the exemplar of a human spirit that refuses to be cowed by life’s tribulations.
Written by James Morris in 1963, the book celebrates the “horny, stocky, taciturn people who were the first to live by chemical energies, by steam, cogs, iron and engine grease and the first in modern times to demonstrate the dynamism of the human condition”.
I’m confident there’s another generation of local people ready to take up that challenge, albeit using different tools.
Even now, there’s someone in this town who has it in them to found the 2010 version of a world-beating worsted or gear-box company, the next stadium, Media Centre or whatever. Necessity is the mother of invention and times of adversity can be when we are at our most creative.
That doesn’t mean I think we should let things get as bad as they did in the 80s, but I do hope we can recreate the spirit of co-operation and positivity that was born out of those times.
With the recession starting to bite all around, I don’t see any reduction in the demand from places wanting me to come and tell them the “Huddersfield comeback story”.
Do they know something we don’t? I think it’s time for our town to rediscover its famous self-belief and self-motivation.