Time to dream big to reach town’s true potential

Harrogate has The Big Bike Bash next weekend and it takes me back to the events leading up to July last year.

Monday, 8th June 2015, 2:04 pm

The Grand Depart of The Tour de France: the biggest sporting event in the world, and we have the finish line only 200 yards from the front door of our pub.

For me it all started in September 2013 with a presentation for local business people.

Someone called Gary Verity was there to tell us what to expect. Gary said The Tour was going to be bigger than anything we’d ever seen before.

My pub can do busy. The busiest day is Friday; and the busiest Friday is the one before Christmas.

We cope with that. We have done it for so long we know what to expect and we know what to do.

But the Tour is something new and different. Gary told us it will be phenomenal, amazing, a huge opportunity.

I left the meeting with those words in my head.

It’s a once in a lifetime chance to really go for it. I know we have loads of local talent who can do stuff.

So, here’s what we do:

We brew a special beer. With Daleside Brewery and Craig, their head brewer, we produce a quaffable summer ale. Local company NY Design come up with the logo, a fine gentleman on a penny farthing, and Pedal Power beer is born.

We decorate the pub. A favourite pub of mine, The Golden Rule in the Lake District, has maps of the Lakes under glass tops on their tables. Great idea.

NY Design do us our own table-tops, with maps of the tour and local trivia. We get some historic Tour memorabilia to replace existing pictures on the walls, and the inside is sorted.

Now, the outside. I know Martyn Wood at Harrogate College had made some small metal bikes to decorate a bike rack.

He crafts a series of bikes to show the history of cycling. We put them up round the outside of the pub.

We get our regulars to draw sketches of Harrogate.

These are turned into a tiled mural by ceramic artist David Oxley. This goes on the outside wall.

Metalwork artist Steve Blaylock creates a giant sculpture of Pedal Power Man. We cause a stir fixing it to the corner of the pub.

Thank you, David Kendrew, for the crane and expertise, and thanks to the motorists and pedestrians on West Park for their patience.

We want to celebrate cyclist Mark Cavendish’s connections with Harrogate.

His creative team, The Lift Agency, are local. We talk, the deal is done, and the pub is renamed The Cavendish and Horses.

Next, ordering stock. We daren’t run out so we fill the cellars to bursting point. Glasses can’t be taken outside so we need plastics, but how many?

We do the sums on the back of beer mat, and get the maximum we could possibly need.

The pub becomes a focal point for visitors and media.

Pictures are tweeted. Sky News, Belgian TV; Isle of Man radio; the French press: they all want interviews.

I thought being twice as busy as the busiest day we had ever had would be impossible.

In reality it was more like three times. Not just busy, but everybody was having a good time.

That was when I knew that all the hard work by those talented local people who helped us get ready had been worth it.

The one thing we didn’t take account of? The 100 bin-bags of rubbish we collected and had to store until normal services resumed.

During the weekend the Belgian TV crew were often in the pub.

On the Sunday evening I offered to show them the delights of Harrogate. A very pleasant, and quite lengthy, evening was had.

No problem I thought, as I crawled into bed at 4.30am. The job was done and a lie in tomorrow.

Exactly two hours later my phone rang. It was Sky News. A surprise call to ask me to be ready at 7.45am for one final live interview.

I don’t really watch Sky, and at that moment I was desperately hoping no one else did either. The cyclists weren’t the only ones with an uphill struggle that weekend.

Looking back, everything we had been told came true.

The organisation was superb; the atmosphere was amazing; no evidence of trouble. The tidy-up outstanding; the Stray soon recovered. The cynics were silenced.

There is still interest from visitors almost a year later.

Next weekend the Stray is again being used in a way that perhaps 18 months ago would have been unheard of.

I’m not saying I’d support a Glastonbury-type Festival but the Tour shows the potential we have when we dream big.

*What do you think? Is it time for Harrogate to put itself on the map for outdoors events and to keep the momentum of the Tour de France Grand Depart alive?

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