Yesterday’s (Wednesday, May 22) afternoon tea at the House of Lords was a showcase of Discover Our Land, the campaign launched by the county council earlier this year that promotes Northumberland as a great place to live, work, visit and invest.
Among the guests was Tourism Minister Michael Ellis, who said: “I have a really favourable impression of Northumberland generally and I am just desperate to get up from Westminster and see all the wonderful things; the wonderful vistas, the geography of Northumberland, of course, is world-renowned and the people are very, very friendly because I know quite a few Northumbrians.
“The reality is as soon as I get a chance, I am going to come and visit, because whether it be Alnwick, the Garden, the Castle or all the other tourist opportunities, I think there’s something for everyone.”
The Alnwick Garden, which had transported some of its Poison Garden down to the capital, Alnwick Castle and Northumberland National Park were all represented at the event, explaining to the guests what they had to offer.
Mr Ellis added: “I’ve been so impressed by all the stories and all the opportunities there are for visitors.
“It’s a really positive thing and I encourage everyone to really spread the word, as the MPs from Northumberland are doing here in Westminster and as the county council is doing, to encourage visitors, because we are actually seeing an increase in staycations, a dramatic increase in people who are choosing to holiday within the UK, so it’s not just international tourists, we want to encourage tourists from other parts of the UK to visit Northumberland as well and there’s a lot to experience.”
But Discover Our Land is not just about visitors and tourists, and addressing the assembled guests at the event, the leader of the county council, Peter Jackson, had underlined that the key message was that Northumberland is open for business.
“We have got so much to be proud of, much that others are envious of and therefore much to shout about in Northumberland,” he said.
“For too long, Northumberland has not been fully recognised by the rest of the UK and beyond for its unique offer.
“It’s time for a great change in Northumberland and for our vision of great economic growth in Northumberland.”
Coun Jackson also highlighted how this could be supported by the North of Tyne devolution deal as well as the £345million Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal, describing the county as ‘the place for prosperity and innovation, that boasts international leaders in business, investment-ready locations and welcoming communities’.
He concluded: “Please spread the word because that’s what Discover Our Land is all about. If you haven’t been to Northumberland recently, come visit. We firmly believe we have a lot to offer for everyone.”
Delegates showcasing opportunities for business and investment included representatives of the Port of Blyth, NHS Northumbria International Alliance, the council’s food verification scheme Produced in Northumberland, as represented by Martin Charlton of The Old Boathouse Group, the council’s development company Advance Northumberland and the North East England Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber’s chief executive, James Ramsbotham, said that events like this are ‘hugely important’ as ‘Northumberland is one of the best-kept secrets’.
“In the North East, we all know exactly what’s on offer throughout that incredible county, but it’s important to actually put it on the national stage by bringing it here, by making sure that peers and members of the House of Commons can come and hear what we have to say, by putting some of the examples of the many great attractions and businesses that we’ve got available for people to see and experience and actually just starting the discussion.
“You only need to go into this room today to feel the buzz that we’ve actually exported some of that Northumbrian spirit down to London today.”
He added: “I’m regularly telling Government that they’ve got to make people aware of the opportunities in Northumberland and indeed the wider North East.
“We’ve got so much space, so much desire and so much passion, so why keep putting stuff into a crowded part of the country down here when we’ve got so much ability to do it there?
“When we’re on the east coast of Britain facing into a Europe that offers so many opportunities, we’re a region that understands the benefit of exporting, of working to countries all over the world, we’ve got the ability to attract people to live in the most incredible environment with the most amazing landscapes, actually, just why wouldn’t you?”
The event was hosted by Lord Curry of Kirkharle, while other guests included Northumberland MPs Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Guy Opperman as well as the former Conservative leader William Hague.
Welcoming all the attendees, Lord Curry said: “As a born and bred Northumbrian, I’m very proud to host this event.
“We are very, very proud of our county, we have everything; amazing, diverse landscapes, incredible history and the friendliest people in the world.
“Let’s have economic investment and growth that’s essential to support our rural communities.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service