Cynicism in Preston

Frank McKennaOne of the things that businesses take a good deal of care over nowadays is their company image.

Consistency of branding, placing your brand in the right places, investing in a quality website and good PR are seen as must do’s as part of any decent business strategy.

It is the same for cities and places. In Lancashire, we have seen the successful re-branding of East Lancashire to Pennine Lancashire. Liverpool used its year as European Capital of Culture to transform its image from a perceived industrial wasteland into a genuine visitor destination and a modern twenty first century city.

Years before, the Capital of Culture badge was effectively used by Glasgow to turn its fortunes around, with the memorable ‘Glasgow Smiles Better’ campaign at the heart of their marketing and promotion work.

Manchester has also used events, most notably the Commonwealth Games, to secure its position as the UK’s second city.

In 2012 we have a Guild Year in Preston. It is a once-in-every-25-years opportunity to showcase what the city has to offer to potential inward investors, and a chance to give the indigenous community some confidence in Preston’s future.

Preston’s recent past has been dominated by the debate over the possible regeneration of the town centre through the proposed £700 million Tithebarn development.

There have been so many false starts to this particular scheme- which to my mind now has only a slim chance of going ahead in its original form that it is little wonder a cynicism exists among Prestonians about the ability of its civic leaders to deliver any significant change.

However, though a state of cynicism means that you will seldom, if ever, be disappointed, it can also lead to inertia; to people becoming risk averse. Why put your head above the parapet with a new idea, only to be met with a chorus of criticism and scepticism from the wider community?

It is a genuine problem in Preston. The speed with which new initiatives or fresh proposals are dismissed is quite alarming. It is now up to public and private sector leaders to challenge this cynicism with a well of exciting and dynamic ideas that can turn Preston’s image around.

I am optimistic that as the Guild year approaches, the plans emerging from the revamped Preston Vision; from those who are planning the Guild and indeed from the private sector partners involved in Downtown’s ‘City Thinking’ campaign will create a platform on which a more vibrant image and future can be built.

It is important that the new agenda that is emerging is given a fair hearing, and a chance to succeed. Hopefully we can develop a series of initiatives that can do for Preston what the Capital of Culture did for Liverpool and Glasgow, what the Commonwealth Games did for Manchester.

The people of all those great cities got behind the ambition and vision of its city leaders. Let’s hope the people of Preston do the same.

Frank McKenna, Downtown Business in Preston.