Reporter Laura Connor speaks to Alan Weston, Ripon’s new city development manager who started in the role last week.
Alan Weston is Ripon’s new city development manager – the most senior public sector post created by Ripon City Council in nearly 40 years.
But with 14 years of experience working in local government across the north-east for local authorities, urban areas and historic villages, the 36-year-old Northallerton resident takes it all in his stride.
And now the Leeds Metropolitan University graduate plans to put his extensive background of working with businesses to good use by transforming Ripon into North Yorkshire’s “Capital of Culture and City of Celebration”.
“Ripon has a lot going for it in terms of history and tradition, but people think it can do more and is under-performing on its potential,” says Mr Weston.
“There are two elements to improving it – it’s about people rediscovering and reconnecting with all the great things and telling people about them, and the second element is about development. If you stand still, you go backwards.”
When discussing how Ripon can capitalise on its potential, Mr Weston described the Capital of Culture and City of Celebration title as “an ambition”.
“It’s about celebrating the history and the tradition of Ripon,” he says.
“There is an audience already engaged with the city from outside because of key events such as the candlelit procession on New Year’s Eve. It’s about promoting this to a wider audience.”
The city council increased its parish precept by 35 per cent from April 2012 to raise £180,000 over three years to fund the post, which was previously filled by Angela Harris – the first person to take up the high-profile position in May.
Mr Weston will work with all of the city’s organisations, and with the two other upper tiers of local government – Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council.
But Mr Weston sees his role as encompassing a wider portion of the community to boost tourism and trade in the city.
“We need to engage with everywhere and everyone, including people who are perhaps outside the city,” he says.
“It’s about providing visitors with what they want and offering multiple attractions and shops, giving people what they want and expect, and attracting visitors and tourists from outside the area.
“Different people have different expectations and I think it’s about meeting as many of those expectations as possible.”
For Mr Weston, this means the inclusion of both independent shops and larger companies, such as Costa Coffee – whose granting of planning permission to open an outlet in Ripon prompted howls of protest from some independent cafe owners in the city.
“It’s about having the right mix. I think there is an expectation to have big companies on a high street and a filled shop is better than an empty shop. It’s important that the city centre has multiple functions.”
Speaking to the Gazette last year, Mr Weston’s predecessor Ms Harris suggested one of those functions could be to provide an administrative hub at the town hall, bringing all of the council’s organisations together under one roof.
“The concept needs developing,” said Mr Weston. “It’s important that residents have access to facilities and the town hall is an obvious centre piece for administration.”
In addition to promoting a wide-variety of shops on Ripon’s high street and bringing together local organisations, Mr Weston also sees social media and marketing as “part of the mix” to help boost Ripon’s reputation.
“It’s a way of communicating with a younger generation and part of a widening marketing approach,” he says – just days after launching a new city development Twitter profile to reach out to members of the community.
The eyes of the world will be on the Ripon area next year when the first stage of the Tour de France comes through the city and Mr Weston is keen to maximise the potential of the event for the area. He said 2013 should be used as an opportunistic “stepping stone” to deliver the July 2014 Le Tour event.
“The potential for the Tour is huge. The spotlight will be on Ripon,” enthused Mr Weston.
“It’s about everybody sharing that vision and stating the Capital of Culture and City of Celebration as an ambition.”