Does Norfolk need to be challenging Cornwall as a world summit host?


Norfolk is more than a match for Cornwall, says Paul Thomas - but does it really want to host a global summit? - Credit: Lesley Buckley

Norfolk journalist Paul Thomas responds to editor David Powles' column from last week

So could Norfolk host a G7 world summit conference, potentially in 2028? To be held in Norfolk, possibly Suffolk, versus Cornwall, which is setting the pace this year! That is the challenge posed by editor David Powles in his Opinion January 20 – a vital day in global relations with many issues highlighted by the change of US Presidency from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.

Just what is Norfolk? A wonderful county fit for anything, including hosting world conversations, “better” than other UK places? Is it world-thinking, peaceful, shy, adventurous or controversial? Or, thank goodness, inimitably only Norfolk?

The state of the world currently is as never before. With a pandemic we hope to control, if not eliminate, an unknown new relationship, potentially good or bad, with EU countries, some of which we have both enjoyed life and fought with; plus climate control issues that may flood, over-heat, damage our wildlife and the world.

Perhaps, therefore, the plusses and minuses of two great counties but more than 300 miles apart, are a classic issue. I speak as a Norfolk immigrant from London, accepted here now by many, but not all Norfolks, after some 50 years. In that time I have come to question, assess, be persuaded, and finally accept the image of this amazing county. Which I love. And thank for having me.

Read David Powles' original column by clicking here

That said, I have visited Cornwall, a little. It is more than 260 miles from London, whereas Norfolk is around 100 miles. What does that say? Does it matter? Different views for Norfolk-born people (and Cornish).

I first worked in Norfolk 62 years ago, as a journalist on the Yarmouth Mercury in very different days for that holiday and entertainment-led town. I loved it, then was told to “calm down” – so my journalistic aims took me on to Fleet Street for six years of successful, enjoyable life, while maintaining my Norfolk connections. Ultimately I returned here from London’s newspapers, and started a public relations agency - which, thankfully succeeded over the next decades. Thanks to world business we won, UK interests – and Norfolk, particularly tourism and hospitality clients.

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During that time, Norfolk, its image, needs, hopes, and to quote David Powles – perhaps “inferior complex” – built in my mind, life, success for Norfolk. My impressions, wishes, and ultimately efforts for the county, were guided by many “locals”. Several very capable, influential, leaders. And I modified my thoughts in that time.

Today I don’t believe Norfolk has an inferiority complex. Nor, certainly, does Cornwall. And I favour Norfolk’s great points – including proximity, both in mileage but also, I believe “in-touchness” with our capital city. Norwich is a great historic city, our research park, brilliant scientists, a beautiful but flatter terrain and road access to much of the UK; a setting pleasing holidaymakers coming here for our inimitable Norfolk Broads, coastal resorts, charm, slightly drier climate – and so much more.

As I found during my education by locals, and increasing awareness of our unique characteristics, Norfolk wants to be itself. Does it want to be a competitor with Cornwall for world status recognition, a centre welcoming numerous nations to try to sort arguably un-sortable world issues? The G7 conference is predicted to aid Cornish income by around £50 million. Do we need that? Do we want it?

During my PR days, I thought the challenge of greater recognition for Norfolk nationally really was a key. And for a while, with county and city councils, we sought greater national recognition, including with the help then of Stephen Fry, a Londoner brought up in Norfolk and seen with many talents, some linked to our county. Then, North Sea energy awakening aspects helped people realize where we were… a new step.

Part of our campaign was seeking a motorway linking Norfolk to London – and 20 years later, the final miles of dual carriageway at last opened giving final success. Of sorts. Many didn’t want to be in London “that fast”.

How does Cornwall view its London links? I do like that county’s ruralism and holidays setting. But no more than that. Certainly not as a setting for a world conference.

But is my view sufficiently ambitious for “our county”? Do you readers – want it to be? Do we see Cornwall as a rival? What is recognition – in Cornwall’s case, established by that brilliant TV series on Poldark, himself certainly a Cornish man of some charisma?

Perhaps Norfolk needs such a TV drama… and to present a character, male or female, who represents “our” image. And if we persuaded Netflix, or even Anglia TV, to produce such a brilliant drama – what image indeed would it reflect?

So, is Norfolk now a county that offers so much more than “on the way to nowhere but the North Sea”; tourism, with scientific capability, at times humble, and a unique and welcoming county, the fourth largest in England (Cornwall is 16th)?

Who knows? At 80 years old now, I know, as a mere immigrant, how much I love this county. As it is. Potential world summit conference host. Or not.