“We are the Robin Hood of Europe: we will take your credit cards, your DVDs, your bank details and distribute them to our people.”
These were the welcoming words of a friendly burocrat of the Obrenovac Town Council in Serbia when I met him for the first time in 2009 as part of a trilateral cultural exchange project. I was startled and immediately searched my jacket for my credit cards, spare DVDs and loose bank details. Robin Hood of Europe? How was it that a minor official in a small town south west of Belgrade could draw on a Nottingham archetype when meeting me for the first time when trying to explain his country to me?
His words resonated as my first train from Liverpool to Nottingham trundled slowly through the city’s outskirts and into the long platform at the city station which doubles up as platform 4, 5 and 6 – and probably other numbers in the middle of the night when no-one’s around to look and those long unending freight trains rumble slowly through the station carrying who knows what to who knows what destinations.
I’d not been to Nottingham for many years and this train journey marked the start of another, more substantial new journey for me: moving to a new city to start a new job at the not so tender age of 57. My home town of Liverpool had become an increasingly difficult place to find gainful employment, despite all the post 2008 protestations that it had become a European City of Culture with work opportunities galore.
I’d been working in the arts and creative industries for over 25 years, perversely moving to Liverpool in 1989 from Leeds to find work – when the trend was to move out of the City and find work anywhere but Liverpool. But now, in a kind of wistful symmetry, I was now doing the reverse journey, 25 years later: looking for work away from the City.
One of the first people I met was Kathy McArdle, CEO of the Creative Quarter who was terrifically enthusiastic about the Creative Quarter and Nottingham in general. We spent a few days wandering the City streets and I was sold. After some testing interviews in the City Council and with Board members, Kathy and I shook hands, slapped each other on the back and agreed a starting date.
Within a couple of weeks, I had started work as Development Manager at the Creative Quarter and my first train journey into the city resounded with all sorts of clichés: of Nottingham, of moving town, of starting a new job, of getting on your bike to work. The clichés tumbled along in rhythm with the sound of the train wheels clanking on the track: “Get on your bike, clickety click; give up your past, clickety clack.; Robin Hood, clunkety clunk; Sherwood Forest, crash bang thud.” The train came to a sudden bumping stop and I had arrived.
Nottingham? What did I know about Nottingham? What does anyone know about Nottingham beyond the Robin Hood stereotype that the diminutive Serbian eurocrat had referred to all those years ago? Other than stories of Maid Marion, Friar Tuck and the Sheriff? The beauty of this move would be that I would soon find out about Nottingham’s surprises in the weeks which followed. I’ve subsequently been invited to write as guest blogger for Creative Nottingham and so that blog will to explore those surprises in the weeks to come, albeit from the position of a newcomer who knows nothing