Sunday, 31 October 2010

Leicester Webcams

Search for Leicester webcams and the only thing you'll find are the Jamcams on the BBC website (click on the dots on the map to launch them - exciting stuff I'm sure everyone would agree!)

Surely we can do better than this? It doesn't exactly help disabuse outsiders' perceptions of a drab featureless city where nothing happens.

Here's some suggestions for better locations:-

Castle Yard
Orton Square
Town Hall Square
New Walk
Whole City (from Bradgate Park maybe?)
Grand Union Canal
DMU/UoL Campuses
Belgrave Road

Any other suggestions?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Interfaith Sport: Leicester's Boat Race?

With an English Defense League 'protest' looming, everyone in Leicester is talking about how to challenge the confused and often xenophobic ramblings of this rabble. It's a bit of a shame that we have to wait for something like this to set the agenda and jolt us into celebrating the community cohesion that Leicester is supposed to be famous for.

For years there have been many fantastic inter-faith football and cricket matches organised by the St Phillips Centre and also the Community Football Academy. Most 'famous' of these events was the Imams vs Christian Clerics charity cricket match at Grace Road on September 11th (sic) 2006. I was lucky enough to make it along to the match and the friendliness of the whole event was fantastic to witness. As well as the congenial atmosphere between the faith leaders (you could tell they all knew each other well) there was even some good-humoured sledging (Singing of "Kum by Yah" countered by cries of "Allahu Akbar"!).

(photos: Muslim & Christian clerics cricket match Sept 11th 2006, Grace Road, Leicester)

The frustrating thing about these events is that whilst they give us a deserved international reputation for community cohesion they get scant serious coverage in Leicester itself. This is a wasted opportunity. Knowing Leicester's love of sport, a regular high-profile inter-faith cricket or football match has the potential to become Leicester's equivalent to the University Boat Race.

For this to happen both the organisers and city officialdom need to have the imagination and inspiration to capitalise upon it properly. Now would be a good time!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Idea for Citywide Dress-Down / Mufti Day

Why not hold a citywide charity mufti/dress-down/casual-clothes day where citizens wear at least one article of clothing associated with Leicester (e.g. LCFC, Tigers, LCCC sports tops, club/association/society shirts, ties or badges, etc).

It would be loads of fun, would encourage civic pride and could raise a lot of money for charity (LOROS? Pakistan flood victims? Children In Need?)

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Skyride: Great fun but now what?

I had a great time taking my daughter twice round the Leicester Skyride circuit today in her newly installed front child seat.

Despite inspiring me to dust off my bike, I was left slightly wondering what the whole event was about. Having registered a few days ago and despite a lot of publicity from Leicester officialdom it felt slightly unclear where we should go and what we were supposed to actually do. Just turn up and start peddling seemed to be about it.

On the day we happily meandered between the various stopping off points via various barricaded and marshalled routes (some better showcases of the city than others).

Having only recently realised that the 'Sky' in Skyride is none other than everybody's favourite satellite TV broadcaster I was anticipating a bit of 'corporate' gloss on the event. I've got no problem with sponsorship of good causes though in actual fact there was precious little visibilty of the company other than their brand name (which seemed strangely neutered within the 'Skyride' brand).

When companies do this sort of PR it usually means they are attempting to change perceptions rather than drive immediate sales. I would guess that Sky wish to appeal to the cycling types who are probably a bit more middle class than their traditional customers. A bit of digging revealed the actual brief (page 4) from Sky's PR firm RPM: "To drive perception and awareness of Sky’s sponsorship of British Cycling, whilst encouraging 1 million more Brits to start cycling by 2013." Again I don't have a problem with this provided we the punters get something measurable in return.

My gut impression though was a deal along the lines of "Let's let Sky use our city for a mass PR stunt and hope that it encourages more people to cycle more regularly".

What I would like to see are more measurable results (i.e. what is the true legacy of Skyride on cycling numbers? How many less cars are on the road as a result? etc, etc). All that RPM's document could tell us was that for the London event "37% said they would cycle more regularly" - a statistic which is probably more exciting to a PR firm client than an urban transport planner!

I'd also like to see Leicester capitalise on this event better. The city should be able to get access to the Skyride registrations database and do some serious follow-up marketing to all the people who took part. It should also be measuring cycle usage before and after the event to see if it has any lasting effect.

As one of the original Skyride cities I'd also like to see if Leicester has the guts to be the first to run this on a busier day such as a Saturday. It's a big leap from a fenced-off course on a Sunday to a full-on weekday rush hour but we have to head in that direction if we're to achieve the critical mass of cyclists which will start to really affect traffic and exercise levels. Research I've read seems to suggest it only takes a small percentage reduction in car usage to substantially unclog roads - something which benefits cyclists and car drivers alike.

Finally, here is a thought-provoking little clip of what is possible (though read this and weep!):-

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Tidying up: A cheaper form of regeneration

Much is made of Leicester's 'trophy' regeneration successes such as Highcross and St Georges. Great those these are (and I visit both a lot), the sheer contrast with some of the more shabby parts of the city it stark.

As a city, we turn up to the interview in jeans and a t-shirt. The thinking seems to be that if we wear a nice tie that the rest of the outfit will be ignored.

Now that the big money has evaporated, isn't it time for a proper clean-up? I don't mean just a temporary scattering of banners and petunias. Putting up banners on a shabby street doesn't smarten it up - it just draws even more attention to the shabbiness.

I'm talking about a long-term sustained city-wide effort to reduce the levels of grime, graffiti, dereliction, litter, street clutter, etc - the things that everyone rightly moans about and which harm civic pride. I don't just mean city council controlled spaces either. A sharper stick needs to be used to prod private land owners to tidy up derelict areas, maintain heritage buildings, prevent fly tipping and remove rubbish. There are legal instruments such as Urgent Works Notices, Amenity Notices and even ASBOs at the council's disposal if they have the nerve to use them. There are also more gentle approaches such as community litter-picks and community reporting of issues.

Reading the city council's One Clean Leicester scheme I remain hopeful that we might see more than just a few cosmetic improvements. To quote this page: "A new website will launch later this year so you can post photographs and details of environmental blights in your area. It'll also include live progress reports as our teams respond and tackle problems". When will this materialise? Wouldn't it be more economical and effective to use the existing independent Fix My Street site instead?

Yes this would all cost money, but it would still be the cheapest bit of regeneration we could ever do. Crucially, it would also involve and benefit Leicester residents as well as potential investors & developers. Waiting for white knight developers to revitalise everywhere is not realistic in the current climate and developers don't always have our best interests at heart anyway.

Update 30/06/2011: One Clean Leicester was launched earlier in the year with smartphone apps to allow citizens to report problems

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Making Leicester a Food Destination

Leicestershire has strong reputation for producing food including EU 'Protected Geographical Status' items like Stilton and Pork Pies as well having all sorts of farm shops, organic food, vineyards, microbreweries, food festivals, etc. How come the county town Leicester is now rarely recommended for anything other than curry?

Business leaders are complaining that there is a "lack of quality restaurants" in the city and the forthcoming Leicester & Leicestershire Food Fortnight features very few city events. For a historic county town with such huge ethnic diversity surrounded by a foodie county, how come we're not capitalising on food as an attraction? Shouldn't Leicester be the focal point for regional food fortnights, food festivals and farmers markets? We manage a decent food festival at the market once in a while plus and the travelling Continental Market (which always seems a bit too expensive and uninspiring to be honest).

Melting pot cities like Leicester are where new dishes and even entirely new styles of cooking pop-up. If we can find innovative ways to combine the city's diversity with the county's tradition and quality then there is great potential. I'm not sure expensive restaurants are actually the place to start - Leicester isn't a particularly affluent place and I think value and diversity of choice are more important to most people here. Here are some suggestions:-
  • Uncover all the amazing multicultural home cooking happening behind closed doors (does any one fancy crowd-sourcing recipes for a Leicester Recipe Book? I bet there are loads of great fusion cuisine recipes out there as well as traditional ones)
  • Hold more food festivals and try to bring in the county audience (could we try to bag a regional event?). 
  • Diversify the offering at Leicester Market (it's crying out for a revamp)
  • Do more to develop and promote the city as a centre for world cuisine rather than just curry.
  • Open a multicultural food court in the city (sorry to keen banging on about it!)
My final thought is for my wife who once dreamt that she saw a Malaysian restaurant on the Aylestone Road. And why shouldn't there be one?!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

A circular bus route on the ring road

A lot of Leicester attractions and car parks are situated on or near the ring road. A lot of cars use the ring road and it is often congested. It's quite a long walk from one side of the ring road to the other and the transport hubs aren't in great locations. Why not have a circular bus route?

Ticket discounts or freebies could be available to people carrying tickets from the railway, NCP or other bus routes.

The ring road carved up the city when it was built but it isn't going to go away so we might as well make the most environmentally friendly use of it.

The death (and rebirth) of a 400 year old Leicester custom

Since 1636 the occupant of what was the Crown & Thistle pub (now part of O'Neill's) on Loseby Lane paid a peppercorn 'rent' of a damask rose and four old pennies to the Lord Mayor of Leicester. More details can be read here.

Why was this lovely old custom allowed to quietly die when the pub was absorbed into O'Neill's in 1997?

Update 6:30pm: Lord Mayor tweets that he'll see what he can do:

Update 28/07/2010: Lord Mayor discussed this on BBC Radio Leicester (34mins in) and apparently O'Neill's are up for bringing it back:

Update 15/11/2010: Leicester Mercury reports that the custom will be brought back next summer. Thanks to the Lord Mayor and O'Neill's.

Update 24/06/2011: The damask rose ceremony was held again after a 10 year absence (but were the arrears paid?!)

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Food courts

If you've ever been to Singapore you will have dined at the numerous and excellent value 'hawker centres' aka food courts which are dotted all over the city. These are multiple-outlet halls or open air food courts with communal seating areas and a large choice of different canteen-style kitchens surrounding. Typically there is a wide choice of ethnic foods including Chinese, Malay, South Indian, Indonesian, Western food, etc. They provide great value for money and generally very healthy food but they are also a place where people can meet up.

Lavender Food Court, Singapore. Image copyright mailer_diablo

Does this look like something that would work well in Leicester? Imagine being able to sit somewhere and have a choice of English, Indian, Caribbean, Chinese, etc food either at lunchtime, after work or in the evening. It would be a great addition to the New Business Quarter area of Leicester. In Singapore they even converted the old colonial railway station at Tanjong Pagar into a food court - worth a thought for our lovely but soon-to-be-obsolete station frontage?

Update 15/11/2010: Looks like my wish will be granted: Leicester City Council plan to include a multi-ethnic food court in their forthcoming revamp of Leicester Market (subject to planning approval). I've also been shown outline plans for a food court as part of a proposed new residential development in the Cultural Quarter.

Update 13/05/2011: Market Corner was opened today by Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Welcome to Leicester - Population 32

Here are are some scenes that confront drivers approaching Leicester from the motorways and roads into the city:-

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

It would be very easy to blink and miss the UK's 10th largest city altogether if you didn't already know it was there.

Wouldn't it be great to have large welcoming signs at the approaches to the city showing pictures of what goes on here? This sort of thing is commonplace in countries like Belgium.

What positive images of Leicester would you choose to tempt people to visit? How about Guildhall, Tigers, Diwali & Highcross?

UPDATE 18/07/2010:-
The University of Leicester has just given Sir Terry Wogan an honorary degree for recognising this problem many years ago: "Sir Terry's link with Leicester began when he referred to it as 'the lost city' – one constantly mentioned in traffic reports but 'otherwise unknown to mankind'". Read the Leicester Mercury article here.

Friday, 4 June 2010

A Freshers Fair for the City

The myriad clubs, associations, societies, & volunteer groups which exist in Leicester are the lifeblood of the city but they don't always get the support and membership levels they need to succeed.

In light of the massive success of the recent Food & Drink Festival at Leicester Market and the move toward a more diverse usage for the market, wouldn't it be good to see a recruitment fair event take place there?

This could follow the model of the university freshers fairs where many different clubs get to set out their pitch for new members.

UPDATE 30th June 2011: Our Leicester Day is happening! 11th September 2011

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Re-open the Castle Inn

Picture this: You're sipping a cold beer on a hot summers evening seated outside a bar in a beautiful cobbled medieval street surrounded by marvellous ancient buildings.

Brugge? Ghent? Vienna? Munich?

Well yes, but what if this could be in cosy old Leicester? Think it sounds ridiculous? Have a look at this picture:-

(photograph copyright Matt Ots - more here)

This is Castle View, one of Leicester's hidden gems within the boundary of the original Norman castle bailey. Around it are some of Leicester's most fabulous bits of heritage, St Mary's de Castro church where Geoffrey Chaucer was married, the Great Hall of the castle, Castle Gardens, the Newark Houses Museum and Trinity Hospital.

Now imagine once again this was full of people chatting, drinking and generally enjoying the atmosphere. What better way to breathe new life and interest into this beautiful but largely neglected corner of the city?

Not only is this not all that far-fetched, it actually used to happen:-

The above picture is the Castle Inn, next to the turret gateway as was a few decades ago. Many of the buildings on Castle View now lie empty having previously been used by De Montfort University.

None of this requires a regeneration masterplan or a millionaire developer - just a bit of imagination and a landlord who can see the potential of the location.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Better integration for new arrivals

Vast amounts of media coverage are given over to the need to 'integrate' immigrants into the UK and the immigrants are usually blamed when this doesn't happen properly.

But real integration isn't to be found on the pages of the Home Office's Life In the United Kingdom book (which is now required reading for all would-be non-EU immigrants) any more than reading the Highway Code teaches us to actually drive a car.

Talk to anyone who has actually arrived in the UK from another country (whether as on a temporary basis or as a permanent settler) and the story is one of confronting a wall of British reserve and sketchy information. A common result of this is that immigrants collect in cliques of their fellow countrymen, cliques which can often become quite insular and entrenched and which do not help them fit in (let alone improve their English)

What is badly needed is practical direction for people who arrive here so that they can meet and learn from long-term residents quickly. It is ironic that if you are fleeing persecution or are an international student (both of which normally imply only temporary residence) there are helpful organisations such as Refugee Action and International Students Associations to assist you. If however you've managed to jump through all the appropriate hoops and are planning to make the UK your permanent home then you're pretty much "on your own sonny."

As a city which is generally at ease with people of different origins, shouldn't Leicester be leading the way once more by instigating some sort of pro-active integration assistance for people who move here? It doesn't even have to apply just to foreigners - arriving in a new city can be just as daunting for British citizens.

My suggestion is that we need some sort of 'Arrivals Club', perhaps loosely based on the International Students Association model. This would welcome newcomers wherever they are from but also strive to make sure that they are influenced by people who have lived here for years instead of disappearing into the cocoon of cliques. As well as benefiting immigrants this would also give Leicester people an opportunity to show off their city which wouldn't do civic pride any harm either.

A survey earlier in the year found Leicester to be the "third unhappiest place in Britain" and suggested a reason being "people in Leicester were less likely to live near family and less likely to have close friends to call on in an emergency". What then could be more important for the well-being of the city than making sure newcomers integrate well, make good local connections and put down local roots?

Learning to love pound shops

The recent recession has fuelled a big increase in the number of pound shops in Leicester, particularly in areas such as Belgrave Gate and Granby Street.

The typical reaction to these is one of embarrassment and barely-disguised snobbery as if only wall-to-wall fashion and department stores are acceptable in the city.

Given that they've been around for hundreds of years and we all use them, can't we find a way to celebrate discount stores and turn their presence into a positive feature of the city's retail mix?

Roll on Leicester's Discount Quarter!

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Cinquefoil: Rediscovering Leicester's Ancient Emblem

When you think of British floral emblems examples such as the Tudor rose (merger of the Lancastrian and Yorkshire roses), the Scottish thistle and the Welsh daffodil spring to mind:-

Tudor Rose

Yorkshire Rose

Lancashire Rose

Welsh Daffodil

Scottish Thistle

But how many people know that Leicester's 'Cinquefoil' is one of the oldest of them all?:-

The cinquefoil ("five leaves") is the emblem of the Beaumont family, Norman Earls of Leicester from the 11th century which makes it one of the oldest floral emblems. The cinquefoil can be spotted all over Leicester and is used by many different organisations (most well known of which is the city council.) Here are some examples (click thumbnails to visit the sites or full photos):-

(images clickable - copyrights are with target page owners)

This simple, yet attractive emblem has the flexibility to be worked into modern brand designs yet has a historical continuity that gives it a credibility far beyond the fickle 'reinvention' spasms that cities often go through. The cinquefoil needs to be recognised as more than just the city council logo and many more Leicester organisations should be encouraged to fly the flag by incorporating it into their livery.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

(Un)eventful Leicester

How many times have you missed an interesting event in Leicester because you hadn't heard about it, only to read about it in the paper or hear a friend raving about it afterwards?

Twice in the last few weeks I have heard tales of permanent Leicestershire residents who had never even heard of the Leicester Comedy Festival.

Yet all over the city there are myriad events happening from big festivals right down to small club and society meetings. The current provision of city event information gives the impression of a dead city with nothing to do which is wholly incorrect.

Why can't we get better, in-advance access to "what's on" information in Leicester?

I am putting this question to the City Centre Management Board because it is something we're not getting right at the moment. This blog post is based on some of the points I will be making...

I think the immediate cause of this problem is that the current provision of “What’s On” event information in Leicester is an uncoordinated patchwork of different sites each carrying their own separate, sometimes overlapping information.

Here are some examples:-

None of these sites are comprehensive enough to be truly useful to a visitor and the results are at best, people don’t know what is going on and at worst, perceive that little is happening.

Additionally, most of the ‘official’ sites above cater primarily for larger events and neglect the many smaller events run by clubs, societies, bars, restaurants, etc, which are just as important to the entertainment mix as the bigger events.

We need a strategy where we all pool our event information and all help promote each other’s events.

I am putting forward a proposal to use an Internet-based solution. This would comprise a single database but accept event submission from multiple sources (especially RSS feeds) and allow access to the resulting data via multiple channels (especially RSS, social media & email). By simple tagging, such a system could allow visitors or webmasters to get custom event data based on whatever they are interested and have it in a format of their choosing.

Technologically speaking, none of this is particularly difficult.

What it would require is a team effort on the part of event hosts (and particularly the larger stakeholders such as the city council, universities, etc) to agree to collaborate for the greater good of the city. It would also require a certain amount of moderation to weed out offensive or poorly written event content.

Are we smart enough to work together on something like this? If we are then I think we'd fully earn the right to call ourselves 'One Leicester'.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Civic self-harm and how to combat it

Having been in the business of talking up (or constructively criticising) the city of Leicester for some years, I am trying understand the mindset of the people who quite openly dismiss it as an incorrigible shithole.

Reading comments in forums such as the Leicester Mercury website one could be forgiven for thinking that there are legions of people who are forced to live here against their will!

One's immediate reaction is to ask the question: why do you actually stay here? Another question would be: Would you describe your living room as a shithole? No? So why describe your city like that?

In actual fact I suspect that there are many people who are happy with their city and that most of the moaning is cathartic gossip rather than genuine lack of civic pride. This doesn't however deal with the glaring collective public relations self-harm which this inflicts.

What is evident is that we need to hear a lot more noise from the people who have good things to say about the city. We need a 'critical mass' (critical as in the crucial sense rather than censorious) of people to say "I like it here", "I have faith in the city's future", etc). These people need to be more than single voices, they need the confidence of being part of a movement or vibe where they know they are not alone in their views.

Although every cause needs some sort of leadership, these voices need the street cred of independence from official agencies such as the City Council.

I believe that if you got enough of the positive, independent citizen's voices in a room together you would almost certainly have the makings of grass roots movement which could drown out the moaners and make a huge difference to the way both residents and outsiders see the city. This is not to say that there aren't some big problems with aspects of life in Leicester which need to be sorted, just that we won't get anywhere by wallowing in them.

To that end, I recently launched a project called Leicester On The Map which is an attempt at a platform for the positive voices. At the time of writing, the embryonic beginnings of this are visible at and I would like to invite anyone with a positive voice to join this group. You can also follow the #LeicesterOnTheMap hashtag on Twitter.