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SOCIETY & CULTURE – WHAT MAKES YOU LOCAL?

What Makes You Local?

When considering what gives the regions of the UK their identity, qualities that spring to mind could include accents, local foods and natural beauty. No. Think bigger.

Cornish pasties, Yorkshire pudding, the Scouse brogue…defining characteristics for different parts of the UK you may think.

But not as important as Big Ben, Angel of the North and Stonehenge, it seems.

A survey of 1,000 people across the UK suggests landmarks give people a sense of local identity more than accents, regional foods or the people themselves. Respondents said they were most important because they enhance the landscape.

WHAT SHAPES REGIONAL IDENTITY?
76% Landmarks
61% Architecture
60% Regional events
51% Food and drink
44% Regional accents
44% Regional newspapers
3% None of these
2% Don’t know

When asked to name their favourite landmark attractions in the UK, Big Ben, the London Eye and Stonehenge topped the poll.

But respondents most often chose their local landmark, so the Angel of the North was the favourite in the North East and the Eden Project in the South West. In Scotland, it was Edinburgh Castle followed by the Forth Bridge.

Not the case in the West Midlands, however, where the top three answers were in London and Edinburgh. So what do Brummies regard as their top characteristics?

Most important is the people, says Carl Chinn, social historian at the University of Birmingham.

“Our manufacturing prowess, our determination and grit, our hard work,” he says. “These are some of the characteristics we’ve got. And the fact we can attract and mix with people from various parts of the globe, and they all become Brummies.”

The importance of landmarks differs from person to person, and they can please and offend in equal measure. The Angel of the North, which is apparently seen by more than one person every second, was also the least favourite landmark among many people outside the north of England.

The B of the Bang, the UK’s tallest and most recent major sculpture, did not figure among the top answers but might do so in years to come. Instead the more traditional Royal Liver Building was the only local landmark among the choices of the North West, in fourth place. Liverpool 1 Manchester 0, then.

“Manchester is torn between the beautiful Victorian Romanesque Gothic architecture of the last century and the ghastly concrete and glass creations like Urbis,” says broadcaster and Mancunian Stuart Hall.

“It doesn’t stand for anything. Go to any other European country and there are buildings which say ‘This is our identity, this is our heritage.’ But Manchester is trying to rebuild itself into I don’t know what. “

But the landmarks lamented today could be the ones cherished in the future. At least that’s the hope of the East of England Development Agency, which commissioned the research as part of its hunt for ideas for a major landmark in the area.

Four teams have won funding for feasibility studies in an international ideas competition. One of the plans is sculptures off the coast of Suffolk marking the lost Anglo-Saxon city of Dunwich.

Regional accents were quite low down the list of identifying features, which surprised Dr Clive Upton, a linguistics expert from Leeds University, who says there was huge public interest in a recent BBC study into the subject, called Voices.

Far from becoming less important, many regional accents are strengthening and spreading to people who never had them before, he says. Some people in the North East, for example, want to develop or emphasise a Geordie twang to appear tough and northern.

For a barometer of what’s happening around the nation, where better to look than Aireborough, West Yorkshire, – according to the latest census, the most “average” place in England and Wales. Butcher Brian Meays says the district’s identity is undergoing rapid change since its industrial past.

“The mills have gone and it’s now a sleeper town for people working in Leeds and Bradford, a place where people go home to. It’s good for business because lots of people are better off than with the mills.”

As with Stuart Hall’s feelings about Manchester and probably in countless other “average towns”, there’s a notion that post-industrial affluence has brought with it some loss of character.

My local landmark is Humphy the camel, he’s a fibreglass camel next to the M5 in Somerset near junction 24.
Tony Hayman, Taunton, UK
I come from the North West but live in Norwich, where I chose to stay after attending the UEA. I cannot define exactly what keeps me here; the confused panic on the faces of motorists when it snows (at the same time, every year), the endless churches, the simple inability of the pedestrians in the City Centre to actually walk around in a sensible, unobstructive manner…But I think on balance the most important things to me living here are my friends and the pubs. Obviously the two usually go together.
Tom Butterworth, En-ger-land
In the burgh, you just can’t beat a jumbo haggis supper, with a generous dollop of Edinburgh chippy sauce on. A wonderfully simplistic mix of vinegar and brown sauce, guaranteed to please even the most selective taste buds! Very rare, but not unknown, outside the city, it is something any Edinburger who has tried it can identify with, and any who haven’t, must!
James Stansfield, Edinburgh, Scotland
The thing that defines ‘home’ most for me is my local radio & TV stations. When I’m out of the country it’s great to be able to use the Web to access a friendly voice talking about places I know.
Roger Price, Nr. Reading, UK
For me it’s the culture of a place – I love London’s multicultural tolerant progressive vibe and that’s a combination of most of the things on that list – the food, the people, the history, the whole package!
Pat, London UK
In Belfast its the Harland and Wolff cranes and now they can also be seen on the TV between BBC programmes with skateboarders going underneath them
Mairead, Belfast, Northern Ireland
For me there is greater intrinsic value in natural landmarks such as our beloved National Parks. Identity can in many ways be greatly influenced by our environment and our environment is a great gift. The nature of its longevity is a testament to its greatness over man-made landmarks.
Andrew Jubb, West Yorkshire
My local landmark just has to be Wembley Stadium. The new arch dominates the landscape for miles around and from close quarters is huge. It also looks impressive from the air as you land at Heathrow Airport.
Mike, London, UK
What most characterises our area of South Oxfordshire are the massive cooling towers of Didcot power station. My favourite local landmark is the line of hills that block it from our view in Abingdon.
Andy T, UK
Definitely Durham Cathedral situated less than two miles from where I work. It characterises the NE and is appreciated by my business visitors and colleagues from around the world. The Angel of the North I found unpleasant when it was first erected, but now appreciate its better qualities.
Mike James, England
Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. It’s always just been there to most people today but close up it is awe inspiring and behind it is St James Cemetery, bombed during WWII the grave stones arrayed along the wall tell of harder times than ours when families were lucky to have children survive to age 5
Ian Jones, UK
I cannot believe that the Angel of the North is what Geordies think of when they think of home. The Tyne bridge is the symbol to know you are truly home.
Angie, England
In Sheffield, it has to Henderson’s Relish! A generous helping on mum’s cow pie or ‘tater ‘ash is a culinary delight for us Dee-Dars!
Martin, Northern England

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