Gearing up for a better future is everyone’s business – Yorkshire Post

The May bank holiday weekend offers Yorkshire yet another chance to see world-class sport right on the doorstep. The Tour De Yorkshire will whizz through the county from the coast to the Dales and many parts in between. It’s a testament to Sir Gary Verity and his team that this fantastic event was not as many predicted “just a one-off”. Far from it – it’s becoming a Yorkshire institution.

Being a Bradford lad, it’s Stage 3 from my home town to Fox Valley, Stocksbridge, that’s captured my imagination. The route passes through Lister Park to Saltaire, home to the rich heritage of Titus Salt, Samuel Lister and others who made Bradford the envy of the world.
They took risks, innovated, and were therefore the ‘go to people’ to make curtains for the White House.

The entrepreneurial drive that Yorkshire is famous for – of which the Tour is a classic example – is still there but perhaps less visible. Bradford for example has more business start-ups per head of population than anywhere in the country and, together with Leeds and Sheffield, ranked in the top 20 locations for business start-ups in 2016.

Moving on from the industrial heritage built on spinning and weaving, modern entrepreneurial businesses in Yorkshire are using technology to drive innovation in key areas like education and health. Local companies like Frog Education and Dynamic Health Systems are challenging the status quo and finding new ways to tackle old issues.

I have the privilege to lead Well North. Starting in ten northern towns and cities, we’re inspiring change by backing local people and ideas. Using enterprise, creativity and innovation, we’re helping our pathfinder communities to shape exciting and healthy futures.
Backing community entrepreneurs, growing and cooking healthy food, tackling social isolation, setting up arts and regeneration projects and boosting education opportunities are just some of the ways the Well North movement is improving health and wider wellbeing.

The important difference is that everything is decided and driven by local people, not imposed from outside. Better health and wellbeing is about being part of a vibrant and connected community, with a
high quality physical environment. And people in our pathfinders are responding to this, trying new alternatives to support each other. We are encouraging people to take control of their own health, by being active and involved, rather than relying on medical services to fix the problem.

I attend many meetings and events and have been struck by the positive attitude that nearly
everyone has. The one thing I’ve noticed though is that generally the business community is
absent. The entrepreneurs are not in the room.

Whilst clearly the local authority, schools and the health service play a crucial role, if towns and cities across the north are going to be successful, aspirational places, with opportunities for all, the business community and entrepreneurs, both big and small, must surely also become key players.

We are also looking at jobs and skills in a fresh way. By stimulating local and national partners in government, business and health to look at the potential in people and where they live, we overcome barriers to people getting a good job and a living wage and so help to improve their life chances. Fundamental to this is developing more entrepreneurial ways of working, capitalising on the skills and experience of people who have set up their own businesses and social enterprises.

We’re therefore seeking to build partnerships with business. For example, Brewin Dolphin have generously supported a local social enterprise in Girlington, Onna Bike, to enable 200 people to cycle and participate in activities at the start of Stage 3.

Another inspiration for the future can be seen at the Tour finish, the Fox Valley town centre development at Stocksbridge. Fox Valley was where the industrialist Samuel Fox established his wire drawing business in 1842 and subsequently developed the world famous Fox umbrella frame.

An ex- steel mill has now been transformed with 900 jobs, new homes and a high quality retail development, putting the heart back into the town, rather than yet another out of town development. It has been created by entrepreneur Mark Dransfield and his team, delivering a modern-day version of Titus Salt’s model community at Saltaire.

Of course, the Victorian philanthropists were also driven by commercial interests as well as the wish to improve the health and living standards of their workforce and wider civic community. Again, this is a lesson that contemporary businesses can benefit from.

Today building a successful business is not just about creating jobs, looking after customers well and making a profit to reinvest. There is the opportunity to have a much more profound impact in terms of giving people confidence, connecting communities and shaping cultural change. These are all ideas that we’re applying to improving the health and wellbeing of communities through Well North.

If we put the work of people like Mark Dransfield and countless other entrepreneurs at the
centre of our regeneration and health plans, rather than at the periphery, the future of the
north could be very bright indeed.

This opinion piece was first published in the Yorkshire Post