Yorkshire's Golden Olympic opportunity

PUBLISHED: 08:33 20 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:13 20 February 2013

Open Weekend. Yorkshire will celebrate the countdown of two years to go to London 2012 with an Open Weekend on July 23rd-25th.

Open Weekend. Yorkshire will celebrate the countdown of two years to go to London 2012 with an Open Weekend on July 23rd-25th.

The man behind Yorkshire's tourism campaign has been given the task of making sure the county gets the most out of the London Olympic Games 2012. Chris Titley reports

Two years and 200 miles away, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games seem a long way off. The sporting contest set in East Enders territory has yet to make much impact in Emmerdale country. But that could be about to change.

There are two ways of addressing it. You either say, its a London event and well just forget about it. Or you say, what are the benefits that we in Yorkshire can get out of it? says Gary Verity.

Appointed chairman of Yorkshire Gold in April, Gary is out to ensure our county is one of the Games biggest winners. Yorkshire Gold is all about bringing councils and other interested parties together to squeeze maximum advantage out of the first English Olympics since 1948. To hear Gary talk you start to believe that whats going on in London is little more than a sideshow to the main event in Yorkshire.

Our aim is to position Yorkshire so it benefits significantly from London 2012. Rather than just take whatever we get, were going to be proactive and make sure we get the most benefit of any English region.

Gary is also chief executive of tourism body Welcome To Yorkshire, which has been hugely visible thanks to a marketing campaign which included peak-time television ads and sponsorship of events like the Ebor Festival at York Racecourse.

Yorkshire Gold is an offshoot of WTY and is based at its airy offices in a converted foundry in Leeds. It has some way to go to reach the high profile of the tourism campaign though. Last October it was reported that Yorkshire businesses had failed to clinch the same number of Olympic deals as their counterparts in other regions.

Many believe that Gary was appointed to shake things up. He sidesteps that suggestion diplomatically, but says: What we hope to do is bring the same energy, dynamism and success weve had with Welcome To Yorkshire to build on the work already undertaken at Yorkshire Gold and help it fulfil its potential.

In business terms he reels off a list of companies which are already stuck into lucrative Olympic contracts: Bridon International in Doncaster, Portakabin in York, the Fullflow Group, Sheffield.

We need to continue to work with businesses to make sure they get the maximum potential out of the Games, whether thats in terms of the construction or via the supply chain, making sure its Yorkshire food and drink thats being consumed in the Olympic Village, Gary says.

Another of his tasks is to divert some of the international attention from London to our neck of the woods.

The eyes of the world will be on the UK in the run-up to and during the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. If we can make sure that Yorkshire gets a far greater share of that coverage than it would ordinarily do, thats a big tick to us.

Therell be at least 20,000 unaccredited journalists over here during the Games who wont be covering the sport. They will need something to write about, and Yorkshire is awash with interesting stories about people in our cities, in our countryside, along our coastline. For many people around the world, Yorkshire equals England.

The torch relay is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the county. On its way to London, the Olympic torch will spend four or five days in Yorkshire, with lots of runners each carrying it 300 metres.

The torch will cover a huge amount of ground, and visit virtually all parts of the county, Gary said. Images of the Olympic torch going past our great iconic landmarks, whether thats York Minster or the Winter Gardens in Sheffield or Sutton Bank, will be beamed around the world.

Imagine the Olympic torch coming across the Humber Bridge that would be the shot that you could see making it on to many newspaper front pages or onto news channels around the globe.

Hes also out to persuade overseas visitors who come for London 2012 to stay not in the overcrowded, rather busy capital city but in Yorkshire, popping down to the Olympic Park when they want to and exploring the dales and moors in their free time.

Garys even positioning the county as a welcome bolthole for Londoners wishing to escape Olympic congestion and disruption. Yet those looking to avoid the sporting spectacular altogether might still be best to go elsewhere. Come 2012, Yorkshire could be chock-full of Olympic athletes.

A team of Serbian Olympians have already signed up to stay and train in venues across Yorkshire, while the Dutch swimming team will be preparing for their events in Leeds.

Gary hopes theyll be joined by many more. Leeds and Sheffield, who lead on attracting the training camps, are talking to the USA, the Brazilians, the Chinese and the negotiations are quite advanced with a number of African nations about coming here.

Rotherham are talking to the South Koreans about them being based here. There are some interesting conversations going on.

And thats in addition to four teams from Great Britain choosing to base themselves in Sheffield: the diving team at Ponds Forge International Sports Centre and the volleyball, table tennis and boxing teams at the English Institute of Sport.

Yorkshire Gold has identified five golden opportunities from the Games. Three are self-evident sport, including a pledge to get 100,000 more adults participating in physical activity; tourism and business.

But what about the other two culture and communities? Well, Yorkshire is part of the UK Cultural Olympiad. One of the centrepieces will be a project called Leeds Canvas. With a 500,000 Arts Council grant, a team of artists will use the buildings, streets and people of Leeds as the canvas for a month-long series of works.

And in a years time, get ready to let your hair down. We are going to be running a 12 month Yorkshire party in the lead up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said Gary. It will seek to encompass every event and festival thats happening in any case in the county.

To get individuals and communities involved, Yorkshire Gold will be encouraging people from all walks of life to take part. Therell be lots of opportunities for enthusiastic volunteers: to find out more, see the website www.yorkshire-gold.com

Young people are a particular focus. Besides having a physical legacy from the Games, we are aiming to achieve an attitudinal legacy.

If we can inspire even some young people to say this was the one time when Yorkshire as a county realised its full potential, when the whole county worked together, and look what we achieved that could be really important for our future.

Garys immediate future looks frantically busy. Its not quite clear how the man who grew up in Leeds, and now lives in North Yorkshire where he has a sheep farm, is going to find the time to head up both our tourism and London 2012 campaigns. With a lot of help from his 30-strong Welcome To Yorkshire team, he says.

Will he emerge unscathed from this Olympic effort? Well find out, wont we? he laughs.

Open Weekend

Yorkshire will celebrate the countdown of two years to go to London 2012 with an Open Weekend on July 23rd-25th. Therell be a number of free events that people can take part in. Nearly 50 events were staged in Yorkshire during last years Olympic Open Weekend including film shows, music and sports festivals, mass participation dance events and local community tidy ups.

Latest from the Yorkshire Life