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The glorious Platinum Jubilee celebrations in Britain, commemorating the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, were televised around the world in June. Hidden amongst the jubilant street parties, the nostalgic pageant parade, and the thunderous Party at the Palace, an important proposal competition also formed part of the celebrations. The civic honours competition was a rare opportunity for towns from across the UK and British Overseas Territories to put themselves forward for the much coveted and historic title of city status. I was honoured to serve as the Project Director for the bid submitted from the borough of Doncaster, in South Yorkshire – one of only 8 winners, and the only winning city in the north of England.
In Britain, unlike many other countries, there is no alternate process for towns to be elevated to become cities, city status can only be granted by the monarch. On this occasion, entrants had to submit proposals following a defined application template. This involved drafting a summary (maximum of 1 page); an introduction covering issues such as civic pride, cultural infrastructure, and associations with Royalty (maximum of 8 pages); and a local profile covering issues such as the resident population, economic activity, and public green spaces (maximum of 10 pages). The submission also had to include up to 50 photos of local permanent features, and a map showing the main tourist, leisure and entertainment sites, and main transport routes.
So how did Doncaster win? It was arguably not a standout favourite and had failed to win on three previous occasions. Middlesbrough, Reading, and Bournemouth were just a few of the heavyweight competitors we were up against. Whilst Doncaster has lots of history, cultural infrastructure, and a host of other assets, these were, in many respects, not notably greater than the assets of some of our rivals. For example, Doncaster does not have a cathedral, an asset that many still wrongly perceive to be a perquisite to become a British city. Nor does it have an established university, another key asset which many existing cities also boast. And whilst Doncaster has some prominent visitor attractions, perhaps most notably the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, it is not a place traditionally associated with being a “city-break” destination.
There were, in fact, many aspects of the campaign which led to its success, such as a strong level of local stakeholder participation and widespread political support across Yorkshire, but for this article I will focus in on the written proposal itself.
There were several features we applied in shaping the design of the content. Firstly, every sentence had to say that this is a city already – an evidence rich application, packed with great examples which might rightfully be considered as being of a city standard. We focused in on those differentiators that made us distinct from our rivals, while ticking all the boxes in what a city should have at the same time. If an example could have a date or statistic attached to it, we found it and included it.
We sweated the word count, cramming in as much as we could, whilst keeping a focus on readability and layout. At almost 12,000 words, Doncaster’s application was one of the most detailed. The wording was carefully nuanced as a bid presented by the people of Doncaster by the people of Doncaster. Placing emphasis on the first person, we used the word “our” over 100 times, whilst some rivals barely used it at all. We also used the word “city” over 80 times and minimised the use of the word “town”. Several rivals did the opposite, in some cases using the word “town” over 100 times, arguably reinforcing the perception that they were, indeed, still only a town.
We also placed an emphasis on relatability, using examples that were varied and engaging, with an emphasis on events during the Queen’s reign, such as her Silver Jubilee when she visited Doncaster to see her own horse, Dunfermline, win the famous St. Leger Stakes. We avoided obscure dates and historical insignificances which would burn needless word count to explain. Every inclusion had to meet a “So What?” test and had to be accessible to evaluators who may have never visited Doncaster before and had no prior familiarity with the borough.
We also had to ensure that Doncaster was positioned on par with, or better than, its rivals. For example, whilst Doncaster does not have a university, it does have a range of other specialist educational institutions, which the proposal duly showcased. Likewise, we researched the very best examples of firms working in the low carbon sector to position Doncaster at the forefront of environmental sustainability. We wanted to ensure that Doncaster punched-up wherever it could. In leafing through our competitors bids, I could see some obvious examples where some had arguably undersold their assets, where they might otherwise have made a stronger case.
There is no way of knowing for sure which of these proposal measures may have made the critical difference, but collectively all the inclusions added up. We didn’t want to count any chickens prematurely, but we knew from an early point that we had a quality bid and a very good chance of success. The result was hugely rewarding for everyone involved, and there will be more festivities still to come when Doncaster formally receives its letters patent confirming its city status.
If you have never been to Doncaster before, why not give it a try?
You never know, we may surprise you!
About the Author
Jim Carley is the Managing Director of Carley Consult Ltd, an award winning bid writing company in the UK, a speaker at BPC Europe 2022, and APMP Corporate Member, established in 2007. Jim has spent over 20 years as a bid writer, with a particular specialism in the outsourced market for employment services and vocational education. His business is based in the town of Doncaster, and he is a Board Member of Doncaster Chamber of Commerce. He was appointed in 2021 to be the Project Director of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council’s bid to achieve City Status through the Platinum Jubilee Civic Honours Competition.