As published in the Municipal Journal on the 24th June 2012
As celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee draw to a close, Kevin Keith looks at the serious benefits that a royal connection has made to Burnley.
‘It starts six months before,’ says Steve Rumbelow, Chief Executives of Burnley MBC, who has spoken the words ‘Welcome to Burnley Your Royal Highness’, four times in the last five years. The most recent royal return was last month on the 16th Mayas the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh joined the Prince of Wales to form a rarely-seen triple royal visit.
The reason for such interest in Burnley stems from a decision in 2008 by Prince Charles, who invited a dozen of his charities to work in collaboration with agencies in and around Burnley on social and economic issues, in particular the regeneration of a cluster of Victorian mills on the Leeds Liverpool canal, known as the Weavers’Triangle.
Dame Julia Cleverdon, Special Adviser to the Prince’s charities, says: ‘By giving the charities a geographical focus, as was the case with Burnley, it not only allowed those charities to work collaboratively with each other, but it also enabled them to work with all the stakeholders involved with the town’s economic and social progress.’
‘The Prince’s Charities serves as a pivot for improvement – a link between communities, business and the can-do mentality.’
It has been a relationship which has seen the Prince reported in the press as declaring himself a Burnley football Club supporter; has generated huge amounts of public support and interest in aspects of the town’s social and economic regeneration; and led to vigorous debate on the town’s economic policy priorities.
‘I remember being summoned to Clarence House in late 2007 to talk about the Weavers’ Triangle,’says Mr. Rumbelow. ‘Once these premises produced the most cotton cloth in the world but, at the time, they stood empty.’
‘I told Prince Charles how our town could not afford to be sentimental, and that these mills must create jobs for them to remain standing. I subsequently leaned two valuable lessons: he cares and he cares.’
For Mr. Rumbelow, seeing how passionate the Prince was about the possibilities for the Weavers’ Triangle and how it could make a difference to people’s lives, strengthened the relationship and led to the Prince’s first visit to Burnley in almost two decades, in February 2008.
A series of follow-up visits in 2010, 2011 and, more recently, in 2012, have coincided with a series of improvements – most notably, a successful bid to transform a GradeII-listed former mill into a university technical college for almost 800 14 to19 years-olds.
Tim Webber,Managing Director of Barnfield Construction, responsible for the redevelopment of Victoria Mill, says: ‘The tension in the room when plans were recently unveiled to Prince Charles was almost palpable. Thankfully, he seemed to approve. People may not recognise the level of interest the Prince takes in these schemes, but it is significant.’
In addition to specific projects Prince Charles would like to see on the day, there is also amore standard set of ‘p’ words which a council chief executive is likely to find himself involved in with regards to a royal visit – planning, precision and protocols.
A change takes place mid the everyday of council services. Security representatives appear standing in meetings, and are later to be seen securing streets; itineraries are drafted, redrafted and redrafted to account for each minute; and marshals are meticulously briefed and given fluorescent jackets, with fixed points established to be filled with briefed-up media.
Media coverage is one of the contentious points in the organisation of a royal visit as competing objectives line up alongside each other.
Whereas Clarence House or Buckingham Palace set objectives to ensure the work of the Prince receives coverage, so too, the town hopes to promote its progress.
‘I have seen council press officers having heated conversations with press secretaries, and press secretaries having heated conversations with other representatives within Clarence House.
‘It is all part of the making sure the event is as good as it can possibly be,’ says Mr Rumbelow. ‘It may sound secondary in the great scheme of things, but royalty matters to business.’
‘Managing relationships at this time is particularly crucial as we have businesses genuinely contributing to the betterment of Burnley – finding promotional activity, leading careers events in schools and colleges, and actively seeking to shape economic policy and strategy. And that is something we are intensely proud of.’
Such has been the success of the involvement of the charities in the local area, the Prince of Wales has now recognised that the Burnley model could be replicated in other parts of the UK.
In October 2011, he announced plans to extend the initiative to a further five places – East Ayreshire, Tottenham, Redcar and Middlesbrough, Burslem (Stoke-on-Trent) and Llandovery.
In May 2012, on the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee visit, Burnley hosted a regeneration summit to see the progress made.
The Queen said: ‘The leadership and interest of the Prince of Wales has encouraged and enthused communities to come together to improve their neighbourhoods, their towns and cities and their countries, and ensures that the Prince’s Charities focus on the right areas, such as the quality of the built environment and opportunities for young people.’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with future kings, nor lose the common touch, then you will be a local authority chief executive.