I moved to Cardiff in 1993 as a naive, and long-haired, student. It’s over 16 years (and almost half my life) later, and I still love the city. When I first indicated to my Dad that I was considering Cardiff as somewhere to study he pronounced that having visited several times in the 80s the place was a dump. A few months after his declaration we visited the city on a University open day – he was surprised by the transformation the city had undergone since his last visit. “It’s changed”, he said. “A lot”.
Cardiff is a city in flux. And has been since the day I got here.
Since I’ve been here the main catalyst seems to have been the Rugby World Cup in 1999. I remember looking out of the window of my first business, three stories above St Mary St, seeing people from all over the world thronging towards the stadium. And this influx of tourism bolstered the nightlife and cafe industry, and gave Cardiff a burgeoning European feel. And with the FA Cup being held at the Millennium Stadium for the next few years, the UK and the world would turn its attention to Cardiff every May. As I toured the world over the following years I suddenly found people in Japan, Australia, Germany and America knowing all about Cardiff, where once it had drawn a blank, or the inevitable “is it near London?”. Cardiff was again becoming a truly international city of note, since its post-coal decline.
As you walk around the city there’s a real sense of “growth” in every sense. Constant, dynamic, exciting change. There’s always something being upgraded, improved, polished.
I work in the creative and small business scene, and I’m constantly amazed by how many brilliantly talented people we have here. There are world-class artists, developers, entrepreneurs, comedians, and designers who are known and respected across the globe. But this is also tempered by a lingering small-town mentality that sometimes means people aren’t keen to be seen as ambitious or actively, and unfairly, criticise those that do achieve success. It may be part of a wider British malaise, but we sometimes lack a “Let’s just do it” attitude.
Having said that, this could just be hard-wired into the size of Cardiff. As a small city I’ve never felt that anywhere was too much hassle to get to, or out of the way. And there’s coastline and hills within 15 minutes of the city centre. Everything you need is right on your doorstep, and there’s always someone you know just around the corner.
I’m very proud of Cardiff. I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else and it’s very much my home. I honestly believe it to be one of the best cities in Europe.
Neil Cocker is an entrepreneur, managing director of Dizzyjam.com, and in his spare time he enjoys holding free events to bring creative people together, most notably through his Network of Creative and Cultural Industries (NOCCI). Visit his blog at http://NeilCocker.com and follow him on Twitter at @NeilCocker. He currently lives in Wenvoe.
Neil was photographed outside the Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, by Geraint Griffiths