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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 13th November 2009
Ripon could be part of the Olympics – which, says David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, have already started.

Did you know that the Olympics have already started – and that Ripon could be part of them?

No, you haven’t been asleep for a couple of years, nor have you missed the wall-to-wall coverage on television. Runners, riders, cyclists, jumpers, throwers and leapers have not been competing for gold in east London. What has begun is the Cultural Olympiad.

Actually, the Cultural Olympiad has been around for more than a year. It was launched in September 2008 and is described as ‘a four year cultural festival in the run-up to the 2012 Games to celebrate the richness and diversity of Britain’s arts, culture and heritage’. Its aims are set out in not-exactly-deathless prose on the relevant website. Among the Cultural Olympics’ aims are:
• to encourage and welcome involvement from communities across the UK
• to leave a lasting legacy that improves cultural life
• to showcase excellence in the performing arts and creative industries as well as sport
• to introduce young people to the UK’s many artistic communities and those from around the world
• to heighten economic regeneration and encourage tourism in the UK through the work of the creative industries
Or, in the words of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Movement, ‘The Olympics is the wedding of sport and art’.

The more cynical among us may think that a Cultural Olympiad is a way of the government distracting us from the fact that the Olympics are being paid for with money from the National Lottery – a scheme set up originally to create additional funds for all sorts of charitable, artistic, supporting and community efforts. Over the years it has come to be seen as convenient way for governments to save money.

Still, it’s a good idea to celebrate the cultural life of the country alongside its sporting talent. And although there is inevitably a great deal of emphasis on the cultural life of the capital, there is some effort going on to make sure London isn’t the only place to be able to show its cultural assets.

To encourage participation from communities around the country, the organisers have set up the Inspire Programme. Not-for-profit organisations can submit applications to run programmes, events or activities inspired by the 2012 Olympics – and the chosen ones will be given ‘the coveted Inspire mark’ for use in their promotional material, as well as ‘communications support, networking opportunities, and the chance to showcase your success as never before’ – though, it seems, no financial support.

Much of this is reminiscent of 1951, when the Festival of Britain, although mostly London-based, encouraged local people to hold their own celebrations. In a time of post-war austerity the opportunity was taken up enthusiastically; it will be interesting to see how things go with the Cultural Olympiad.

One of the strands of the Cultural Olympiad is a proposal that Ripon might take up. ‘Discovering Places – revealing the nation’s hidden gems’ will encourage young people to be inspired by historic and contemporary buildings, public spaces and natural places in and around the area where they live and work.

Some of the inspiration from this came from the annual Heritage Open Days in which Ripon Civic Society takes part – we open the Gazebo just off Blossomgate, and try to encourage other people with interesting buildings to open up, too. ‘Discovering Places’ has set the May Bank Holiday weekend in 2011 as a special time to encourage young people to visit unusual and hidden places. This will also involve all the UK’s World Heritage Sites, including Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, right on our doorstep.
Perhaps for that special weekend there should be a city-wide effort to really celebrate our stock of historic buildings – not just the large and obvious like the Cathedral or the Spa Baths, but even some of the humbler, though no-less-interesting buildings of the city – and encourage our young people, from nursery school to Sixth Form and beyond, to appreciate the fabric of the city.

Then, when the shouting and the tumult of the sporting Olympics has long faded, they may remember the event, and become the next generation of those who know and care about the buildings and the environment of Ripon.

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