When I founded The Mighty Shire, a website with blogs, guides and stories about local businesses and places in my native Yorkshire, it was because I believe Yorkshire has a lot to offer, and is the ideal destination for business, living and tourism.
I am currently across the pond in the Netherlands, where I have been living since 2016. As a result of living in a country that’s not my own I have come to a new view of the UK and my home county, Yorkshire.
Due to COVID-19, I haven’t been able to come back home in over 18 months and that has been exceptionally difficult. The imposed travel ban meant that I couldn’t travel unless it was absolutely necessary, and this restriction has made me want to be back home more than ever.
Here, in Europe, I’m often asked where I’m from. I start by saying ‘the UK’ or ‘England’. Then, depending on the reaction of the other person, I sometimes have to direct them away from London, and say ‘the North’. If this goes well, I then elaborate by saying ‘Yorkshire’.
Not everyone looks blankly when they hear me say Yorkshire. There are those who have been to the UK and they ask, ‘is that near York’? or, ‘isn’t that something to do with food’? If needed, I chat more and signpost people to Leeds and, as much as it pains me, I sometimes have to reference Manchester (Lancashire!).
Over here, it’s generally easier to talk about Yorkshire if the other person has been to the UK and visited areas outside of London, for example on business trips to different cities, visiting family members or for holidays. Also, there tends to be a stronger awareness of Yorkshire when the person can identify something from popular culture, for example a sports person or a famous actor.
But there is definitely some confusion about what Yorkshire is, not just where Yorkshire is. I have seen first-hand where the confusion begins and believe it stems from how the UK represents itself to the wider world, for example:
- The football team: England
- The Eurovision Song Contest: United Kingdom
- The Olympic Games: Great Britain (Team GB)
I do think it would help Europeans understand our country a lot more if this naming was consistent. Then, identifying the regions withing it would be a lot easier too.
Sentiment for the UK in Europe has changed a great deal because of Brexit. Now that Brexit has happened I’ve heard comments about how the UK is becoming the black sheep of Europe, and it is said with a tone of sadness because the UK is no longer part of the European Union.
My conclusion is that the way in which Yorkshire is presented to Europe should be different to how it is presented to the UK. Yorkshire may have a big reputation in the UK but that’s not the case on the continent.
There’s certainly work to be done in strengthening the representation of Yorkshire. Now, in this new era after Brexit and COVID-19, I believe we have a unique opportunity to develop the region of Yorkshire as a destination for business, living and tourism.
Given that Yorkshire is relatively unknown to Europeans, the region has the chance to tell its own story and present its own narrative and not be misrepresented with a UK narrative. By doing so, the Yorkshire community can market itself to industries in Europe and beyond to attract business and tourism. This could open up great opportunities and it will help to stimulate Yorkshire’s economic growth, while setting itself up for success as stand-alone economy in the UK, and Europe.
Yorkshire and Europe can continue to make strides together. We all know how much Yorkshire has to offer and we can engage with Europeans to come and visit Yorkshire. This is why it is such a great step that The Yorkshire Society is gathering data and starting the conversation about what it means to be from Yorkshire.
It is my aim, through The Mighty Shire, to tell positive stories about Yorkshire and all that it stands for, and I hope my voice here in the Netherlands can enlighten Europeans as they learn about Yorkshire from me.
The Mighty Shire is a corporate member of The Yorkshire Society