Column: Why #LoveMK Day is so much more than a hashtag

Dr Julie Mills explains why she loves Milton Keynes
Dr Julie Mills explains why she loves Milton Keynes

As the city celebrates its annual #LoveMK Day, Milton Keynes College Principal and CEO Dr Julie Mills writes for the Citizen on why it is so much more than a hashtag...

Today, our fair city will be trending on social media the world over. The sixth annual #LoveMK Day is already guaranteed to be a huge success; just saying that seems remarkable in itself.

If you do a bit of crafty Googling you can easily find websites dedicated to IHeartBarnsley, LoveNorwich or LoveCoventry (although one has to feel a bit sorry for places like Swansea, Carlisle and Exeter which have nonesuch), but they stand alone without any obvious element of wider community involvement, whereas the online references to our annual celebrations are myriad.

I confess I am an incomer to Milton Keynes. I came here in 1990 with the intention of staying for perhaps a couple of years and more than quarter of a century later, I’m still here.

I never would have believed back then just how much opportunity and excitement and commitment this city could provide. I look back to the past and to the days of the Development Corporation and I doff my metaphorical cap to those visionaries who sowed the seeds for the place we all love today.

Planners as a species often get a bad name, but what foresight to, for example, create the Parks Trust with a 999-year lease on five thousand acres of open space. Those green areas and the public art they hold (and the concrete cows did go a very long way to putting the city on the map) help to define why people love to live and work here so much.

Comedians like to poke fun at the grid system and all our hundred and thirty and more roundabouts, but it’s less funny when you’re trying to get round some of our older cities and realise how well the traffic does flow here.

Space is not just about roads or parks, either. The city’s design means we have an incredibly low population density especially compared to cities of a similar size – a quarter that of Brighton for example and a fifth of Plymouth, not to mention that each person living here enjoys up to fifteen times more living space than people in some London boroughs.

Perhaps it’s the wisdom of the past and the city’s designers which make Milton Keynes the community it is but perhaps it also has something to do with the people who came to live here.

It takes guts and optimism to up sticks and move to a new city in the way so many people who live here have done. It takes drive and initiative, and there can be no doubt that those qualities which brought people here in the first place have had a significant impact on the character of the city.

Milton Keynes is so connected. When I speak to colleagues involved in Further Education around the country they marvel at the enthusiasm of business people here to come to talk to students, to help with curriculum design, in short, to contribute. A perfect example is the amazing generosity of the people at the Holiday Inn who allowed a group of Milton Keynes College students to take over the running of their hotel. I don’t think there are many places where that would happen.

I was hugely honoured to be asked to take a small part in Richard Bateman’s wonderful reworking of the iconic Red Balloon TV advertisement, and in many ways that film and its echoes from the city’s earliest days capture in pictures far more of the spirit of place this unique place enjoys.

Listening to people recounting with pride their own involvement in the original makes it clear that Milton Keynes Magic is something experienced by many of the city’s inhabitants, and not just me.

With one of the youngest populations and the fastest growth in the country, these powerful, community personality traits make this an exhilarating place to be, especially when the foundations of the past and the drive of the present are leading us to an exciting future.

There’s never been a more thrilling time to look forward with the prospect of a university, MK:U, and the College’s own plans for an Institute of Digital Technology at Bletchley Park. Smart City technology, Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Vehicles, the Internet of Things – all of these are being pioneered right here in the real world around us. Even government has earmarked Milton Keynes for further investment, seeing it as key to driving the future economy of the southeast.

Having pride in where you’re born or raised is not uncommon. Loving the place where you live is fortunate. For so many people to feel such attachment to a location which did not grow over centuries but was specifically put in place for a purpose, seems nothing short of remarkable.

And yes, we have great communications links, some wonderful countryside round and about, excellent cultural and sporting opportunities and it’s a terrific place (as I have been fortunate to find) to build a career. But what makes Milton Keynes really special, has little to do with geography or heritage, it’s a place where move to, rather than leave. It’s a magnet for people with ambition and drive; a place to chase your dreams.

#LoveMK? How could you not?