Welcome to Yorkshire celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. unLTD’s Peter Kay grabs a quick brew with chief executive Sir Gary Verity to look back over the past decade

It’s coming up to five years since the Cote de Midhopestones, Cote de Bradfield, Cote d’Oughtibridge and Cote de Jenkin Road were added to the map of the Sheffield area.

Vivid memories remain of the spectacle of the Tour de France Grand Depart speeding from York to Sheffield, with big and enthusiastic crowds cheering the world’s top cyclists.

An impact survey estimated that 1.5m home and overseas spectators watched this second stage of the race and 380,000 people lined the final 22 miles of the route that ended at the Sheffield Arena.

Sheffield alone is thought to have reaped at least £11m in spin-offs, mainly through accommodation, food and drink, souvenirs and clothing, shopping, cycling shops, transport and supplies to event organisers.

Across the whole of Yorkshire, the figure is put at £102m.

Sir Gary Verity holds his insignia of Knighthood which was presented by the Prince of Wales at the Investiture ceremony in Buckingham Palace, London.

And what a showcase. TV coverage reached 180 countries, highlighting the glorious countryside that much of the route passed through in July 2014.

The passage of time confirms a memorable and rewarding experience for all concerned, not least for Welcome to Yorkshire.

For the destination management agency – a rebooting of the Yorkshire Tourist Board in 2009 – it was a notable success in its ambition of making the county the most popular destination in the UK for business and leisure and securing the significant economic benefits.

Latest figures value tourism at £8bn to the Yorkshire economy – up 14 per cent from 2011 – on the back of award-winning campaigns and national and international recognition.

So, as it approaches its tenth anniversary in April, Welcome to Yorkshire has plenty to celebrate.

As does, individually, chief executive Gary Verity, the man who persuaded the French to bring their national sporting treasure to the north of England and who continues to sell the Yorkshire story to tourists around the world.

It’s not a job, it’s a mission. It’s a privilege to do this role, leading the organisation and representing the greatest county in the world.

A year after the race, he was knighted for services to tourism and the Grand Depart. Then, in 2017, France’s National Order of Merit recognised not only his commitment to hosting the race, but the legacy he has created through the annual Tour de Yorkshire, encouraging thousands of people to get into cycling.

The event takes place this year from May 2 to 5 (with stages in Barnsley and Doncaster) while the latest coup is to host the UCI Road World Championships from September 21 to 29 (with Doncaster on the circuit). It will be the first time that Britain has hosted the championships since 1982.

World class cycling continues to bring benefits to all corners of Yorkshire and has given Sir Gary and the tourist agency a platform from which to further promote a new and dynamic view of the UK’s largest county in stark contrast to outdated stereotypes of flat caps and whippets.

ProTeam Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali celebrates winning stage two in Sheffield during the 2014 Tour de France 2014. Picture by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

“We are all about supporting business – helping businesses to fulfil their potential,” says Sir Gary.

“There has been a lot going on over the ten years. It’s been incredibly packed and the profile of Yorkshire has never been higher.

“If you had said ten years ago we are going to do all this stuff you would not have believed it.

“Look at the growth in the value of the economy, to £8bn, and the amount of jobs we have created across the whole of Yorkshire.”

Based in Leeds, Welcome to Yorkshire has 6,000 members ranging from small B&Bs and hotels to local authorities, large tourist attractions and companies keen to be part of the Yorkshire brand.

With a budget of £3m, funds come from membership fees (varying according to the size of business), local authority contributions, partnerships with a variety of organisations and some government grants.

In Sheffield, for example, members of its Y 30 Members Club include Irwin Mitchell, Sheffield United, Sky Betting & Gaming and Dransfield Properties, owners of the £50m Fox Valley retail and commercial development in Stocksbridge, which hosted the climax of the Tour de Yorkshire in April 2017.

It’s an opportunity to lock into marketing, social media for business development and research, access suppliers in the tourism and hospitality businesses and to connect with venues ranging from purpose-built convention centres to country houses.

“We can drive footfall to businesses,” says Sir Gary. “Over 12m people visit our website every year.”

That website lists the reasons for UK and overseas residents to visit Yorkshire, and many are obvious – the grandeur of York and Harrogate, 2017 Capital of Culture Hull, the internationally renowned Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the charming East Coast resorts and, not least, the natural glories of the Dales and the North York Moors.

So where does that leave South Yorkshire?

There has been a lot going on over the ten years. It’s been incredibly packed and the profile of Yorkshire has never been higher.

Sir Gary points to a list of locations in the Sheffield area that are promoted by Welcome to Yorkshire. “Sheffield Theatres, the Arena, Meadowhall, Fox Valley, Kelham Island …”

In the 2018 White Rose Awards – the largest awards ceremony in the UK tourism and hospitality industry – Brocco on the Park at Hunters Bar in Sheffield won Small Hotel of the Year.

The Large Attraction of the Year was Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley and the Small Attraction of the Year Grimm & Co, which encourages children to develop their writing confidence and skills, in Rotherham.

The Millennium Gallery was the most visited free attraction in 2017, according to Visit England, in the same league as the National Railway Museum in York and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster was second in the list of paid for destinations, only behind Flamingo Land Theme Park and Zoo

And let’s not forget that one-third of Sheffield is in the Peak District National Park – and the park is regarded as very much part of the overall picture, with its own section on the Welcome to Yorkshire website.

“Sheffield is the only city in the UK to have a national park within its boundaries,” says Sir Gary. “We always promote three national parks not two – the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors and the Peak District.”

So there is no marginalising of South Yorkshire.

After all, Sir Gary adds, “Yorkshire county cricket started in Sheffield and you can’t get anything more Yorkshire than cricket!”

Another success story to shout about is the award-winning Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster.

“The Yorkshire Wildlife Park wasn’t here ten years ago. It’s celebrating it tenth anniversary on April 4, the day after us!”

Welcome to Yorkshire will review the first ten years and reveal its latest strategy for the county, including the Sheffield City Region, at its conference at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, the venue where it was launched, on April 3.

It’s very much a case of flying the flag for the whole of Yorkshire. “We are just as relevant if you are on one of the boundaries or if you are in the middle.”

Unsurprisingly, the Grand Depart springs immediately to mind as one of the highlights of the first ten years.

Sir Gary was pondering what sort of game-changing event could put Yorkshire on the map.  He has said he has his best ideas while shaving – and they didn’t come much better than this.

After the Olympics and the World Cup, the biggest world event is the Tour de France – and Yorkshire had the cycling heritage as well as the hills and stunning scenery to see it fend off rival bids from Florence, Barcelona and Edinburgh.

Sir Gary recalls the day it came to the south of the county. “Having the Tour de France with the finish in Sheffield which was just remarkable. If somebody had said we are hosting the world’s largest annual sports event in Sheffield you would have laughed at them.”

Whatever the conference announcements on April 3, cycling will remain high on the agenda.

The Tour de Yorkshire is well-established. That’s big. The World Championships will be another big one. Again the world is coming to Yorkshire.”

Live BBC coverage will take the Championships – and Yorkshire – into homes in 190 countries.

It’s not just elite cycling, though. Welcome to Yorkshire is a partner with Cycle Yorkshire in Yorkshire Bank’s Bike Libraries scheme which sees unwanted bikes being donated and loaned to children and families.

“There is the vision of being the first place in the world where every child has access to a bike, and we’re well on the way.”

If Yorkshire is now firmly established on the international cycling calendar, the RHS Chelsea Show offers another annual high profile opportunity to spread the word.

Last year an authentic recreation of a slice of the Yorkshire Dales – think Wensleydale cheese, buttercup meadows and dry stone walls – won the agency’s garden a gold medal, best construction award and the BBC People’s Choice.

The 2019 show will include a garden designed to capture the beauty of Yorkshire’s canals and drama of its rich industrial heritage.

And so the selling of the county goes on, with renewed purpose.

Sir Gary believes that Welcome to Yorkshire will be more relevant than ever post-Brexit. “People need to know that Yorkshire is at the top of its game and we are on a roll. It’s all about momentum.”

He relishes the challenge, and his achievements to date have not gone unnoticed, to the extent that media speculation put him on the radar as a candidate for chief executive of the Premier League.

The Leeds-born businessman, 54, joined Welcome to Yorkshire in 2008 following a career as a corporate turnaround specialist in the City of London.

His first job was as a management trainee with Barclays, and the bank is now a corporate partner of the agency, helping to support the region’s SMEs.

He returned to Yorkshire, where he has a sheep farm in the Dales, when his wife, Helen, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

His success in leading Welcome to Yorkshire is based on an all-embracing approach – binding to maximum effect the identity and advantages of a county that has a bigger population than each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and tapping into the vein of the Northern Powerhouse.

“It’s not a job, it’s a mission,” says Sir Gary. “It’s a privilege to do this role, leading the organisation and representing the greatest county in the world.

“The work that the whole team has done is something they can be proud of.”

With lambing underway, there is always the sheep farm to help act as a counter-balance to the rigours of promoting the county around the globe.

“The sheep keep me sane! They are not interested in who you have been meeting or what you have been doing. They stand on your foot! They are a great leveller!”