BLOG: Why Derby’s two-star ranking from Which? doesn’t tell the full story of our city


It has been described as “rundown” and a bit of a “dump” – and a survey by consumer giants Which? rated Derby poorly for food and drink, accommodation, cultural sights and tourist attractions, shopping and ease of getting around – all just two stars.

But while Derby isn’t perfect, there are many reasons to feel positive about the city from its engineering heritage and Viking past, to its love of sport, Olympic medallists, independent shops, university (the University of Derby is a world leader in coral research) and the people who live here.

In our latest blog, the Penguin PR team share what they like most about Derby.

I saw the Which? story in The Times and, once I got over my wounded pride and the dust settled, I came away with a feeling of “meh”, writes Simon Burch.

Because a look at the other cities on the lists shows me they’re either bigger than Derby – and, obviously, have got more stuff – or they’re obviously the lovely places that everyone likes to visit, with historic buildings, museums, Roman ruins and the like.

The likes of Wells, Bath, Chester, Lincoln and Durham.

And then there’s Derby, the medium-small city that people are least likely to visit and, admittedly, doesn’t have the stuff those higher up the list has. And, according to Reddit, where the newspaper Metro took some comments, it’s a place that “lacks identity” and is “a dump”.

The Which? readers weren’t so damning. Instead, Derby’s 25th in the list ranking was due to the fact that we swept the board with two-star ratings for things like eating out, culture and getting around.

This is the kind of rating you’d give to an underwhelming show on Netflix or a vacuum cleaner you bought on Amazon that didn’t suck up dust very well. It’s not very good.

But then it’s not disastrous either. And I can’t see where the ratings are for the local industry or world-class engineering, or the access to the countryside or the affordability of housing.

No-one is saying that Derby is perfect, but stressing over how other people are judging us as a place to visit, rather than to live and make a living, is myopic, because there is more to a city than it being the kind of place people come to for a night. 

Maybe Derby isn’t a place to visit, but it is a place of work. It has a thriving engineering economy where the people have dirt under their fingernails because they make stuff that it high-tech and of global significance.

That isn’t the stuff that people go to see, or talk about in holiday guides, but it is important. In car terms, we’re not the preening Porsche with the gloss and the sleek lines that works best in Italian sunshine, we’re the Ford Fiesta, who you can rely on to get your kids to school on a rainy Monday morning.

This isn’t a message you could put on a tourist poster, but nor is it a laurels for us to rest on. Because Derby’s biggest problem is, in my opinion, that it lacks a story that engages people.

We don’t have a Robin Hood, nor do we market ourselves using our Viking past. We don’t have a castle, or a Minster.

When you tell people you’re from Derby, they look blankly at you or, if they’re being polite, they might ask you if that’s where they do the horse race.

But just because Derby hasn’t got a national story doesn’t mean it hasn’t got a tale to tell.

And this is the tragedy of this list – not because we’re at the bottom, but because we needn’t be. We have nearly 2,000 years-worth of history and a heyday when we made iron bridges that carry railways all over the world and the aircraft engine that helped win the Second World War.

And we’ve got Joseph Wright, whose painting hangs in the national gallery. Oh, and a UNESCO world heritage site – the Derwent Valley Mills which includes the Silk Mill, Darley Park and Darley Abbey village – just as Bath has.

The historic Silk Mill was home to the ‘Weeping Window’ display of ceramic poppies in 2017, created by artist Paul Cummins – a graduate from the University of Derby – and designer Tom Piper. Image: Penguin PR.

We could do so much better. I’m sure we would never be an Oxford or a Bath, and there is no danger of residents priced out of Chaddesden because of investors snapping up their properties for Airbnb.

But it would be nice for us all to unlock our potential and creep up the list a little bit and I’d suggest to do that requires we do more of what we want tourists to do – to go into Derby, support the independent retailers and amenities and start to tell our story. 

It only takes a short stroll around the city centre to see that there is much work to be done to improve our streets and at the moment a good imagination is still required to visualise the impact of the numerous building projects and investments currently underway, writes Sarah Newton.

It’s true that Derby has the potential to be so much better than it is, but I can’t see the city ever having what it takes to become a tourist hotspot, like many of the ‘better’ cities on the list.

Derby didn’t spawn the world’s biggest band, unlike Liverpool (number one on the list), it doesn’t have a castle like Edinburgh (number two) or a Roman wall like York (number three). We don’t have a Robin Hood, a Banksy or even a Betty’s Tearoom. But what we do have are Derbeians (no, not the shopping centre) and it’s the people that make a place.

My mum was a Mancunian and my dad comes from Nantwich in Cheshire – they only ended up in Derby for work – and although I was born here we left when I was two, first to live in York, before moving to Cornwall. But by the time I was seven we’d moved back to the city, again for my Dad’s job in the NHS. But one of the major reasons for returning, so I’m told, was because the people here were so friendly. My parents had been treated as outsiders in our other two homes: in York they felt like outcasts because they weren’t ‘Yorkshire born and bred’ while the Cornish were deeply suspicious of strangers.

But in Derby you can guarantee eye contact and a smile from anyone you pass on the street.

Shop assistants and barman will cheerfully call you ducky, while a chat with strangers at the bus stop is nothing short of normal. Neighbours will put the bins out for each other and colleagues will work together to raise money for good causes. To us, of course, this sounds entirely run of the mill – it’s just what we do. But if you lived in a different city and waved ‘good morning’ to a dog walker across the road you’d be given a wide berth the following day.

Derby might be home to some of the world’s leading industries, a university which attracts students from around the world and a museum which has picked up multiple awards. But none of these things really matter – because it’s the people that make a place, ducky.

I love living in Derby, a city that’s often overlooked by those who prefer the bright lights of larger cities. But for me, Derby is the perfect place to call home. With its unique blend of village life and city amenities, I feel like I get the best of both worlds, writes Sarah-Louise.

As a proud graduate of the University of Derby, where I completed my Journalism degree, I’m not surprised that the university’s journalism program is one of its strongest offerings. The facilities are incredible – industry-standard television and radio studios, a state-of-the-art newsroom, and experienced lecturers who are all industry professionals. It was the perfect place to hone my skills and prepare me for a career in PR.

But what really sets Derby apart is its location. Living on the outskirts of the city, I’m able to enjoy the peacefulness of village life, with its picturesque streets and community spirit. But at the same time, I’m just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Whether I need to pop into town for a new outfit or catch a train to London, it’s all easily accessible.

Sarah-Louise has just finished her journalism degree at the University of Derby.

It’s also a great place to raise a family. There are plenty of options in the area for a fun day out, from treating ourselves to fish and chips at Matlock Bath to exploring the exciting adventures at Conkers. We also love visiting the many local farms and petting zoos, where we can get up close and personal with the animals. And with its many parks and green spaces, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities and fresh air.

There’s something comforting about being part of a close-knit community where familiar faces are always around the corner. When I left the city for a few years, I missed that sense of belonging. But now, in Derby, I’m surrounded by a vibrant community that comes alive through its bustling cafes, quirky shops, and lively festivals and events.

As an army child, I’ve lived in a lot of places in my life. Moving around when you’re young teaches you things that perhaps you don’t benefit from when you’re settled in one place. You get to be good at meeting people, and quickly adapting to somewhere new, writes Lucy Stephens.

As someone who is not born and bred from these parts, I can tell you that I think the Which? Survey result placing Derby bottom out of 25 cities in the UK gives a very misleading impression.

My family is based south of Derbyshire in Melbourne and when deciding what to do at a weekend, the consensus from us all: two daughters, my husband and I – will often be to head into Derby.

Why do we all like Derby so much? As far as we’re concerned, Derby is a great place to mooch around in for the day. For one thing, it’s very compact. You can wander around a lot of shops without getting tired, or – as you might in a larger city – having to hop on any kind of public transport. We like popping into Sostrene Grene, Typo and Design 44 in Derbion – especially if we need to pick up a present for someone. And don’t you find when you’ve got children, there are always presents to buy?

QUAD at night time. Image: Matt Jones via Visit Derby website.

We’ll often grab a bubble tea and Vietnamese coffee at Miss Coffee and wander into town. My younger daughter loves art so we like having a look into Artcore on Osnabruck Square, and we pretty much always head over to the Cathedral Quarter and finish up at Derby Museum. We’ve been regulars there for years – and let’s face it, there aren’t many places where you can get that close a look to an actual mummy. London may have great museums, but what queues!

With one daughter being diagnosed Coeliac we need to eat somewhere where there is a good gluten-free menu – and Carnero Lounge on St Peter’s Street is brilliant. It’s cavernous inside so finding a table isn’t difficult.

If we’re in the mood for a film, we might head over to Quad and catch the latest release.

In my opinion most surveys are generally pretty spurious anyway. And trust me, as someone who has lived in a lot of places in the UK, Derby has so much going for it. Yes, other towns and cities may have more picture postcard appeal but when you’ve lived somewhere like Brighton, for example – as I have – you soon yearn for somewhere a bit less popular with half a million people every Saturday.

During the week, I’m a member at Moorways Sports Park and when I can I stop off for a swim on my way to work – what an amazing facility this is for Derby. I’ve not experienced many other publicly available pools to match it in the UK.

Derby has so many hard-working business, restaurants, shops and such an interesting engineering and manufacturing history to tell. We should all sing its praises as much as we can.

Mention Willows Sports Centre to any amateur sportsperson in Derby and they’ll no doubt have fond memories of important matches played on the hallowed carpeted courts of the popular leisure facility; they’ll probably recall drinks enjoyed in the bar and the cheery members of staff – namely Stewart, Windy and Rick – that would (and, I believe, still do) greet you when you arrive at 1 Willow Row, writes Kerry Ganly.

Sport is a big part of life here in Derby; whether it’s enjoying being part of a packed crowd at Derby County’s Pride Park Stadium, sitting in the stands at the County Ground or, as many parents in the city and surrounding areas will relate to, watching your children play football on the Racecourse (perhaps the coldest place in Derby?!) you don’t have to go far to watch live sport.  

Our Kerry brought England netball international Ama Agbeze to Willows Sports Centre in 2004 for a training session with her team, Allstars.

Derby is home to one of only five Velodrome’s in the UK. We have a 1,000-seater athletics stadium and you can play Padel – one of the fastest-growing sports – here, too. We’ve produced Olympic medalists in swimming, hockey and cycling.

Football, cricket, netball, athletics and even pigeon racing – those who have seen the King of Rome memorabilia at Derby Museum will know all about Derby’s link to the pigeon who made history when he won a 1,001 race from Derby to Rome way back in 1913 – are all enjoyed here in Derby. And that’s why I think the city is so great.

Rewind the clock back just two years to when Derby County – founder members of the football league – were on the brink of extinction, and thousands of people marched through our ‘dump’ of a city in support of the Rams, past the historic Guildhall Theatre which dates back to 1828; past the Roundhouse – built in 1839 as railway works and boasting the world’s oldest roundhouse – and over the more modern Pride Park flyover to the stadium.

Thousands of Derby County supporters marched through the city as the club’s future lay in the balance. In the distance you can see the Rams’ Pride Park Stadium and Derby Arena. Image: Penguin PR.

It still gives me goosebumps now recalling that day when three generations of my family took to the streets to show how much we cared for the club. And the wonderful people we met along the way.

Derby has pride; there is passion, and we care.  Whether you’re a sports fan or not, everyone can be a part of ‘Team Derby’.   

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