When I was a teenager, back in the, whisper it, mid-Eighties I was thrilled when the front page of the Derby Evening Telegraph announced that plans had been revealed for an ice rink in the city, writes Sarah Newton.
This meant I was just one skate closer to becoming the next Jayne Torvill who was at the time picking up a straight set of 6.0s in the Sarajevo Winter Olympics alongside Christopher Dean. Surely now it was only a matter of time before I was performing a triple salchow to packed stadiums and a worldwide audience of millions?
The reality, of course, is that I’m still waiting for Derby’s rink – those plans are still on ice, along with countless other front-page possibilities for the city over the last three decades. Although we do have the opportunity to glide across the ice every Christmas on the marketplace, a permanent skating rink has never come to pass.
Only a few years ago I would have used my ice-skating disappointment as the perfect illustration of how nothing ever happens in Derby, despite its big dreams.
Happily, it seems the tide has finally turned and this week’s front-page story about plans for Cathedral One – a 186 one and two bedroom apartment block on the vacant land on Full Street – are no longer greeted by a pessimistic eye roll and the muttering of ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’.
Because finally, we can ‘see it’. There’s the impressive Nightingale Quarter residential scheme – thanks to Wavensmere Homes – which has incorporated the city’s iconic pepper pots and gives pride of place to the Florence Nightingale statue.
A programme of building work such as the Market Hall transformation, the Becketwell apartments and a new University of Derby business school are all underway.
While St James Securities Group is also building offices, restaurants and cafes around a new public square at Becketwell, on the site of the former department store and Duckworth Square shopping centre with the £43 million 3,500 capacity performance venue at its heart.
Permission has been granted for the Eastern Gateway, which will vastly improve the area around the bus station and work has started on the former Aida Bliss building in Chester Green, which is being turned into a state-of the art film studio and stunt training facility.
Wavensmere Homes has also partnered with Clowes Developments for the redevelopment of the city’s historic Friar Gate Goods Yard which will transform two landmark Grade II listed buildings into over 110,000 sq ft of commercial space, with 276 new homes also planned.
Of course, there is still much to do. The Assembly Rooms and Hippodrome remain vacant eyesores – and my personal hope is that the bulldozers are brought in sooner rather than later – while the former John Smith clock works in Queen Street, Derby, where both painter Joseph Wright and astronomer royal John Flamsteed lived, is nothing short of a disgrace.
The city’s social inequalities are perhaps most disturbing – Derby ranks 303rd out of 324 areas in terms of social mobility, according to data compiled by the Social Mobility Commission. And a child born in Allestree today is likely to live a decade longer than a children born up the road in Arboretum ward.
This was one of the key messages delivered to the 200 people invited to Marketing Derby’s latest London Embassy event which acknowledged that inward investment and education have key roles to play in tackling Derby’s inequalities.
I was privileged to attend the event – in the impressive surroundings of the Old Library, inside the Grade I-listed Guildhall, the City of London’s civic and ceremonial centre – along with bondholders, investors, ambassadors and politicians.
Helen Gordon, chief executive of Grainger Plc, explained why her company had decided to invest in Derby’s first-ever build-to-rent apartments scheme – The Condor. And Professor Keith McLay explained how the university’s civic activities were making an impact on both the city and county.
The event, which was the 15th of its kind, was more than a celebration of everything Derby is achieving and – quite rightly – acknowledged that there is work to be done to overcome the challenges we face as a city.
All credit to the amazing and award-winning team at Marketing Derby who do so much to put the city on the map but it is the responsibility of all Derby’s business owners to help build on the work they have already done.
Yes, the city has a long way to go. But the green shoots of possibility are sprouting up through some of the weeds. If we all work together and continue to turn around the city’s fortunes Derby can once again be a city we can be proud of.
I won’t be dusting off my ice skates just yet, but who knows?