At the time they were simply old bones found in a car park – but Mayor of Leicester Peter Soulsby has told De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) students that he staked one of the biggest gambles of his career on them.
Sir Peter – who leads Leicester City Council – was telling the audience at Leicester Castle Business School about the moment in 2012 when he was told by archaeologists that a dig in the Greyfriars area of the city had uncovered human remains in the area thought to be the resting place of King Richard III.
Sir Peter said: “But at that point they were just bones. We weren’t sure they were the king. But we had an application to buy the nearby former school building.
“As Mayor I was able to get that purchase made. I took that risk. And it could’ve gone very badly if those bones had turned out to be some old nobody.
“But they didn’t and we were able to turn that old school into the visitor centre we have now, which is on the Lonely Planet’s 26 must-do things world-wide.”
It was an illustration of what Sir Peter, 68, considered a key piece of advice to future leaders: “Measure the risk, then take it.”
It was one of many tips he gave to business students at the latest LCBS' Visionary Leadership in Challenging Times series, which has seen influential leaders share their knowledge and experience when it comes to taking charge.
During the talk – given in one of the refurbished former courtrooms of the Leicester Castle Business School - Sir Peter gave what he considered the two most positive changes he’d overseen in Leicester during his career: his part in stopping bulldozing work in the 1970s and in recent years, the Connecting Leicester project which has helped make accessing the city’s highlights easier.
But he couldn’t deny the power of the city two biggest recent stories in improving Leicester’s international profile.
He said: “Yes they were remarkable: finding a king and winning the league happening in the space of a few years.
“But I think change in Leicester has been much more profound over the last few decades. Terry Wogan always used to say Leicester was ‘the lost city’ when it cropped up on travel bulletins: who’s actually been there? he would ask.
“They don’t ask that now. They wouldn’t call it that now. This city has so much self-confidence, such a bright sense of purpose and identity at the moment.”
Having been elected Mayor in 2011, Sir Peter told the audience about the rewards a career in local government had given him.
He said: “I can walk around Leicester, look at things and say, hey, we a hand in making that better. I can see the houses that we put roofs on. I can see the secondary schools we rebuilt.
He talked about the role of universities within cities and pointed to DMU as a “model” of how a modern university should operate.
He said: “De Montfort has a symbiotic relationship with the city – the city is not its host. There’s a mutual benefit to this approach.
“Take this building - it was a headache; there was a padlock on the door and old mannequins in the board room.
“But Dominic (Shellard, Vice-Chancellor at DMU) is very creative and has a very creative team and they were able to make something happen here and now with the new Vijay Patel Building and refurbished Mill Lane it’s a really special campus.”
Posted on Thursday 11th May 2017