As Newport is snubbed from the Nato summit’s title and an overwhelming majority believe there are no benefits to be had, LAURA LEA asks the people of Newport how we can benefit from the global event this autumn.
AN ONLINE Argus poll has shown just how far the organisers of the city’s Nato summit have to go to convince people here that it will benefit Newport.
We asked our readers “Do you think the Nato summit will benefit Newport?”
An overwhelming majority – 85 per cent, 565 votes – said no.
Just 15 per cent – 99 votes – said yes.
This is perhaps unsurprising, in light of the anger that followed the unveiling of the Nato logo last week, which featured Wales, instead of Newport.
The symbol, which was launched last Wednesday, features the Transporter Bridge as well as a Celtic Knot, a dragon and Cardiff Castle.
It doesn’t, however, name Newport – with secretary of state for Wales David Jones saying it was important the whole of Wales should benefit from the summit, taking place at the Celtic Manor Resort on September 4-5.
Further still, Mr Jones appeared to pour cold water on hopes for so-called outreach visits around the summit, indicating people should be realistic about events involving world leaders in the city. Leaders such as Francois Hollande and Barack Obama are set to attend.
Then, we have the recent warning from Gwent’s chief constable, Jeff Farrar, about the potential traffic disruption, and the fact city schools are considering closing for the summit because of that feared disruption.
But is that it? Many Newport residents now realise it’s up to them what happens now, whether the city is on the logo or not, come September at least 60 heads of governments will be coming to their city. So with two months to go, the question now is how can we benefit?
There have been talks of school visits, food guides, walking tours and even a village green to get the people of Newport involved and engaged in this global event.
Less than two miles away from where the delegates will be meeting is Ringland Primary School.
Headteacher, Lisa Bowden, said: “From a school perspective it’s about raising awareness of Nato’s significance on a world stage. When we come back in September we’ll be doing some mini projects.
“We’ll engage with the children on its purpose and the fact it’s raising the profile of Newport and is taking place here. When they hear about these things on the news they’ll be more informed with an overview about how important it is.”
Pippa Bartolotti, leader of the Wales Green Party, is also a signatory of No Nato Newport. But even as someone opposed to the methods and actions of Nato, she is optimistic of the opportunities the event brings.
She said: “It’s going to be a really good week for Newport. It will be a week of action that we hope local people get involved with.”
Protestors, artists, performers, activists, journalists and representatives from organisations all over the world will descend on Newport to join the discussion surrounding the summit, which won’t be taking place in the Celtic Manor but the city itself.
Ms Bartolotti said: “We’ve got the heads of states of all Western countries coming to the Celtic Manor who will not engage with Newport in any shape or form, so we’ll provide a counter balance.
“We’ve booked the Pill Millennium Centre for the best part of the week.”
American human-rights activist and peace-prize winner, Medea Benjamin, will be among those international speakers joining speakers from the local community.
“Schools may be closed, so on the Thursday we are having a family day to help broaden ideas about non-violent resolution. It’s about bringing the argument and the ideas to the people,” Ms Bartolotti added. “Newport people aren’t inclined to go with the flow. We want to talk about it. We’re a multi-cultural city and we want to continue to enjoy and promote that.”
Newport City Church Pastor, Robbie Howells, has even invited all diplomats to attend their Sunday morning service at 10:30am.
But many in the community still need persuading, with empty promises from past international events all too familiar. Pill florist, Ann Barton, said: “We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again. The Ryder Cup didn’t make a difference for traders in Newport so why will this?”
About 4,000 people are expected to descend on the city centre during the week and as many have already pointed out, these people are going to need to be eating and drinking, presenting city vendors with a golden opportunity.
Russell Ham, of Newport Rises, said:”It’s down to everybody to ensure we benefit. We all need to work together. We need to maximise this because we can benefit from the few thousand coming into the city centre. Businesses need to make sure they are open at the right times and can get their staff in.
“We need to do things for ourselves. That’s what the ‘Newporters’ was all about. It should all be worthwhile.”
But Angela Roberts, owner of The Pot, in Newport Arcade doesn’t believe Nato will benefit her business or the people of Newport and admitted she was largely in the dark about what was going on.
She said: “I’m not pretending that it’s going to be good. I’m just a realist. We haven’t had any heads up from the council.”
But she did say: “I hope that people do come to town during the Nato. That would be great for us.”
One person who does have some ideas is Labour councillor and founder of Newport’s Voice magazine, Chris Evans.
He said: “Perhaps invite less high profile heads of state to key sites, particularly those which have possible links to Newport.
“For example delegates from Eastern European countries like Poland could visit the large communities of people from these areas living in Newport, who could give them a tour around their city. Or we could invite one of the members of the Italian delegation to one of our Italian restaurants for a business lunch.”
Mr Evans also suggested the erection of a temporary village green, which was done in Bristol’s Park Street. He said: “Maybe we could create a bit of a speaker’s corner in the city centre. It would benefit local traders – you could turn it into a green so visitors, protestors and locals could sit and speak.”
Leader of Newport City Council, Cllr Bob Bright, told the Argus the main benefit is “global exposure”, calling the impact it will have on future investors “unquantifiable”.
He said: “This will be the first time a sitting president of the United States of America will have visited Wales and he is coming to Newport.
“Long after the delegates have left, Newport will be known globally as a significant city with the capability to deliver a successful summit and is central to the success of the Welsh economy. Working with our partners, we intend to build on this by having post-Nato events.”
As Mr Evans said: “Let’s not miss this opportunity.”
It’s not too late to put the Newport back into the Nato Summit.