DEWSBURY has launched a fightback over the bad publicity it has attracted.
The town wants to rid itself of the tag it secured after the kidnapping of Shannon Matthews by becoming an international centre of excellence for child welfare.
Dewsbury hit the headlines last year when Karen Matthews was found guilty of abducting her own daughter and hiding her for 24 days in a plot to claim £50,000 reward money.
The former textiles centre also became known as the home of London bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan.
But now a team dedicated to regenerating the town is looking at ideas to try to turn around the bad reputation, including recreating Dewsbury as a centre of excellence for child welfare.
In a report, entitled Dewsbury: Promoting Pride and Civic Engagement through Iconic Interventions, urban strategist Phil Wood says the town has been affected by “events beyond its control” and “has been the target of close and sometime spiteful scrutiny”.
He writes: “Dewsbury has to ask itself some serious questions about its identity and future image.
“After the pain of the 7/7 bombers and the Shannon Matthews case, it would be entirely understandable that the town would want to do everything in its power to stop seeming abnormal and slip into the normality of obscurity.”
But Mr Wood suggests Dewsbury uses the bad publicity created by the Matthews case to create a positive outcome.
“Dewsbury has been stung grievously by the Shannon Matthews affair,” he writes.
“Time is a great healer and Dewsbury might eventually slip back into anonymity. However, the case aroused a deep and visceral anxiety that Britain as a whole is getting seriously out of line in the way it brings up its children.
“A more creative and courageous approach for Dewsbury would be to take this difficult issue head-on and make the town a symbol of a fight back.”
Mr Wood concludes his report by saying Dewsbury could become “a beacon for a new kind of child-friendly society; a place where youngsters can have curiosity, aspiration and ambition; can get an education and start a family or business; and share in a vibrant distinctive town centre with people of all ages and backgrounds can forge”.
He compares Dewsbury to other towns around the world which have reinvented themselves following bad publicity, including Memphis, in the United States, which was “branded with a toxic image” after the assassination of Martin Luther King but now markets itself as “the city of second chances” after opening the National Civil Rights Museum.
Paul Kane, councillor for the Dewsbury East ward with Kirklees Council, heads the regeneration board, which has recently undertaken a visit to Gateshead on a fact-finding mission.
Mr Kane said he hoped to get funding to set up the centre of excellence and added that the team was looking at a similar scheme in Scandinavia.
“What the report said was what we should try to do is try to make the bad things that have come out into a good thing.
“One of our ideas is turning Dewsbury into a centre of excellence for child welfare,” the councillor said.
“We’ve had some extremely bad publicity about children’s welfare in Dewsbury and we want to make it a better thing.”
Mr Kane continued: “This particular thing that happened with the Matthews family could have happened in any other estate in the whole of Britain.
“We’re trying our best to pull Dewsbury up by the bootstraps and these are ideas we’re wanting to push.
“The report says that similar towns have done this sort of thing, where they’ve had a particular issue and they’ve turned that issue into good publicity.”