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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 10th April 2009
What is Ripon’s USP? Does it have one – or more? And what should be done to let others know about it? Asks David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society

A USP is a Unique Selling Point (or Proposition). It’s a term first dreamed up in the 1940s. In its strictest form a USP needs genuinely to be something the competition either cannot, or does not, offer; something that offers a specific benefit to the customer; and strong enough to pull over new customers – who might otherwise have gone elsewhere – to your product.

On these criteria, how does Ripon stack up? How many people will be attracted to Ripon this Easter weekend by its uniqueness?

First, what have we got that other places cannot offer? Easy, you may say – we’ve loads of things that are special. We have a cathedral, a fine market square, interesting museums. True – but so have many other places. And every one of them is, to that degree, unique, too. Ripon may have the oldest crypt – but then Salisbury has the tallest spire, St Paul’s the biggest dome, Durham the most dramatic site, York the best stained glass. Our square is very fine, but other places have decent squares, too – Newark, for example. And other museums might not offer Ripon’s insight into law and order, but the diversity of their subjects, from lawnmowers to space travel, means that they, too, can argue uniqueness.

Of course, the combination of cathedral, market square and museums, along with the independent shops, wide variety of walks – and the closeness of major attractions like Newby Hall, Fountains Abbey and Lightwater Valley, and a position between two National Parks – means that Ripon is well-placed to attract visitors. So what is the specific benefit to the customer – the local people as well as the visitors?

It’s easy to talk in generalities. Ripon is an attractive place and people use the city for all sorts of reasons. They may be going to the supermarket, visiting the doctor, meeting friends, enjoying the pubs; these are activities that take place here because Ripon is the most convenient location for them. Or they may be visitors, looking for an interesting day out. Some will come because they want to see the cathedral, or have heard that Ripon is an interesting place to while away an hour or two. Others may just come to the city as a convenient stop en route to Fountains or Newby – so Ripon is not a destination in itself.

But as to the third of the USP strands – bringing in new customers who might have gone elsewhere – where does Ripon stand? We have some intangible assets – in the Civic Society’s survey last summer one of the most common responses from visitors to the question about what they liked about Ripon was its ‘quirkiness’. Quirkiness – and ‘Ancient Charms’ – are good, but do we need more concrete matters on which to hang the city’s prosperity?

There is, of course, one USP in Ripon – one that is on public view each evening at 9.00 pm. The city’s long history of setting the watch and having the Hornblower sound his horn in the Square is known world-wide and is the true symbol of the city. You have only to glance at the top of the obelisk to see that the horn is important to Ripon, and has long been so. But how much does Ripon value this tradition, and how much use is made of it?

There is an argument for making much more. In 1986 the Ripon 1100 celebrations included a day at the College of Ripon and York St John when the British Horn Society held workshops, seminars and concerts. That should have been a catalyst for developing Ripon as centre for studies of the horn in all its aspects – from the simplest cow-horn to the most sophisticated of modern French horns – and everything in between. Ripon should have set up a horn museum (Morpeth has a bagpipe museum!) to attract visitors, and there should have been the start of a series of concerts and events on the theme. Instead, arguments about the public profile of the Hornblower make it look as if the city is very narrow in its interpretation of the tradition, and cannot see its wide value.

Ripon cannot manufacture a USP overnight. But there is scope for using the city’s valuable assets better. Perhaps we should be looking at making it a city of music and art, based on the proliferation of art, craft and other galleries in the Kirkgate area, on the many local art and music groups, and on the uniqueness of the city’s horn and hornblower. Put them alongside the other assets, each with its own special character, and we will really have something that is unique.

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