You don't need to be a visitor to be surprised by York
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 July 2017
So you think you know the historic city of York. Well, there is more to be discovered than you might reckon, says Tony Greenway (who lives there).
‘People come to York for the first time and don’t know what to expect,’ says Sally Greenaway, head of Visit York, the city’s leisure tourism brand. ‘They find some surprising things here.’ Actually, you don’t need to be a visitor to be surprised by York. I live here and the city constantly amazes me. For example, if I hadn’t talked to Sally for this article, I might not have discovered York’s street food court, just off Shambles at the bottom of the main market, which has been open for quite a while. ‘It is tucked away,’ Sally says, possibly trying to make me feel better (come on: I’m supposed to know about these things). ‘It’s a bit of a hidden treasure.’
I vaguely remember someone telling me about the world street food court in passing, but presumed it was a couple of burger vans and an ice-cream stall. It’s rather better than that. Apart from crêpes and galettes, there’s Sicilian, North African and Turkish street food, good coffee and, yes, burgers, but of the kangaroo, ostrich and venison variety. I went to the Los Moros stall — which serves Lebanese spicy potatoes, falafel, merguez tajine and more — and got a complimentary cup of Moroccan tea while I was waiting for my order to arrive. Meanwhile, my daughters chomped through a Sicilian pizzolo and Persian chicken. ‘This is much better than taking the kids to a famous American burger chain,’ said my wife. (She didn’t actually use the phrase ‘famous American burger chain’, but you get the drift.)
In London, world street food isn’t a surprise. It’s everywhere. In York, though, it’s a long overdue and very welcome addition to the food scene. Sally says Visit York wants to increase the food court’s profile, is looking at expanding what it does (a prosecco van would be nice) and holding evening events there.
Another York surprise is the new official Harry Potter outlet, called The Shop That Must Not be Named, which opened in Shambles, the street said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Potter books and films. Our plan was to nip in after polishing off our street food and have a browse. Betsy, my youngest, was beside herself with excitement at this prospect and ready to gasp with wonder at the wands and broomsticks. I was ready to shriek in horror at the prices. But as we sat in the food court having our lunch, a long queue began to snake past the tables. ‘What are those people doing?’ asked Betsy through a mouthful of wrap. Answer: queuing to get into the Harry Potter store. In busy periods, you should be prepared to do the same.
The Potter shop is, plainly, going to be a big hit with residents and visitors alike. But it’s just one part of a much bigger tourism picture currently building in York. The April tourism figures from Visit York showed that visitor numbers to big attractions (like the re-opened Jorvik, tour buses, and the Chocolate Story) were up 10 per cent while smaller attractions were up a whopping 44 per cent. ‘There’s a lot going on from a cultural point of view,’ says Sally. ‘Every month we have some kind of festival. The wealth of events and attractions is quite staggering, especially during school holidays when activities are ramped up.’
York’s cultural sights are world famous. We talk about them often enough at Yorkshire Life: Shambles, Jorvik, the Minster, Clifford’s Tower, Museum Gardens, York Castle Museum/The Eye of York, the city walls... so it’s no wonder that when people think of York, they think of tourism first, says Andrew Sharp.
But the city also means business. In May, a new Business Ambassador Programme was launched to harness the skills and influence of York’s senior entrepreneurs in a bid to promote the city as a place for inward investment and relocation. ‘York does very well as a business destination,’ says Andrew, who is head of business at Make it York, the company that promotes the city as a place to live, visit, study, work and do business, and to help companies start-up and grow. ‘The city has a range of sectors that just quietly get on with what they do and, to that extent, they’re a bit hidden. But people should know that there is some fantastic work going on by excellent companies in digital technologies, creative media, IT, financial/professional services and insurance. Biosciences are also very strong with York Science Park and the university proving a huge attraction.’
There are some surprising success stories here: Paragon Creative, for example, a design and build company involved in over 1,000 projects in more than 26 countries for museums, heritage centres, aquariums, science centres, theme parks and more; Stage One, an architectural engineers that has delivered creative set design and manufacture for numerous Winter and Summer Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, including the Athens, Bejing, London and Rio Games and Anaplan a software development company that was founded in York (and has retained its R&D centre in the city), but now has its headquarters in San Francisco. Anaplan have grown to be a ‘Unicorn’ – a tech start-up valued at a billion US dollars.
There’s also an interesting overlap between tourism and business in York, says Andrew. Take the York Mediale, for example, a new international media arts festival which is planned for 2018 (and then every two years after that). The Mediale is specifically designed to play to York’s strengths in film, media and TV production within York’s creative and digital and IT industries while increasing its global profile and capitalising on its City of Media Arts status, given to it by UNESCO the world cultural organisation. ‘York’s status as a UNESCO City of Media Arts is unique in the UK,’ says Andrew. ‘It puts us in a very strong and interesting position. We’re really pleased where things are going as a city. It’s all looking very positive.’
YORK: COMING ATTRACTIONS
The Great Yorkshire Fringe (July 21st–August 6th) is a festival of comedy, music, theatre and cabaret, with headline names including Richard Herring, Ronnie Scott’s All-Stars with Clare Martin, Joe Lycett, Henning Wehn, Dean ‘Lucky Stars’ Friedman (remember him?) and Curtis Steigers (ditto).
At the end of July, a collection of ceramics by Picasso — yes, Picasso — will be on display at the York Art Gallery in a show that will run until November; while the city’s nationally acclaimed food festival will run from September 22nd–October 1st.
In autumn, a balloon fiesta will be coming to the Knavesmire and it is hoped (but not confirmed) that Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, who run the York Ice Factor ice rink at Christmas, will be bringing an exact replica of Shakespeare’s Globe to a space near Clifford’s Tower in summer 2018.
YORK MINSTER GETS ‘APPY
Here’s a fact for you which isn’t (sorry Donald Trump) fake news: 16 per cent of York’s tourists are American. Now the city is preparing to increase this number - bigly - with an innovative augmented reality (AR) app built to appeal specifically to younger American tourists visiting York Minster. This ground-breaking experience uses embedded videos to bring some of York’s historical characters connected to the Minster back to life which means that visitors can find out who cut off the heads of the church’s grand stone statues, marvel at John Thornton’s enormous stained glass window which predicts the end of the world, and hear the dramatic tale behind the Minster’s devastating fire of 1829.