I am writing this blog from China! I’ve been taking part in a UK/China cultural forum on the economic future of historic towns and villages. It’s part of a year long programme called UK Now, which aims to promote the UK and its creative industries in China.
The programme, and my trip, is funded by companies such as Jaguar, Range Rover, Standard Chartered and Diageo, and the British Government.
Due to the wonders of the Internet I have been able to do daily council business via email and Skype - and also to track my son’s progress at the London marathon which he was running to raise funds for Oxfam. The last two miles seemed interminable as I was willing him on to the finish line from the other side of the world.
I have been promoting York - as a visitor destination, a place to come and study and a good place to do business with. In addition to tourism, which is an obvious and important opportunity, I have been talking about our expertise in heritage conservation, heritage interpretation (we’re celebrating 800 years as a city), media arts and environmental management where York has a particular offer to sell.
The scale of China is mind-blowing - with a population of 1.3 billion, 50% of whom live in a city and six million (equivalent to the population of Scotland) graduating from Chinese universities each year.
This, combined with the Chinese economy growing at around 8% per annum (the visible signs of which are all around in rapid development of its cities, massive construction projects, burgeoning consumer spend on high-end goods and growing concern about the environment), makes it an important market opportunity for York.
All of the UK speakers have had a great welcome. Indeed, many of the Chinese academics - in urban planning, architecture and archaeology - already know York and have visited or are graduates of our university.
In my presentation, I showed a picture of a 10th century Chinese silk cap discovered in an archaeological dig in York to demonstrate that our mutual connections go back at least 1,000 years.
Kersten England, chief executive, City of York Council