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Remembering Howard Bernstein: A tribute to a leading Civil Servant and close friend of DIB

As the news broke over this weekend that Manchester Civil Servant and regeneration pioneer and close friend of Downtown Sir Howard Bernstein has sadly passed away, Downtown CEO Frank McKenna looks back on a life well lived and pays tribute to Sir Howards important work and legacy.

“Come into the office and have a cup of tea” – that was an invitation extended to me many times by the great Sir Howard Bernstein who has been taken from us far too soon over the weekend,

I will remember fondly our numerous catchups in his Town Hall office, surrounded by Man City memorabilia- including the seat he used to sit on at Maine Road!

His counsel, advice, and mentorship have had a huge influence on me and Downtown in Business over the past two decades.

The most significant conversation I had with him, in that very office, happened around fifteen years ago. I went over to Manchester to ask him to help me establish the DIB brand in Leeds, as I knew he had a good network in Yorkshire.

“Why go there?” he asked, “You should set up here in Manchester.”

I explained my reservations about such a move – a Scouser leading a business organisation in his city and the fact that there were already a good number of strong business groups in Manchester, among them.

However, he told me that Downtown was different, we attracted a different type of business, and he wanted us to ‘shake things up a bit’ in Manchester.

He immediately picked the phone up to a guy called Chris Oglesby and asked him to meet with me – and so started one of the most valuable and important business relationships Downtown has had with the brilliant Bruntwood.

Within a year, we were hosting our launch event at Cloud 23 in the city’s Hilton Hotel – and with Howard as our keynote speaker, we attracted around 200 guests. The rest, as they say, is history.

He did, eventually, introduce me to the chief executive of Leeds City Council, Tom Riordan, and I have lost count of the number of introductions to influencers he has facilitated for me over the years.

His passion and love of his city was obvious, but his ferocious work rate throughout his life was remarkable. I don’t think he ever slept – if you sent him a text message at any time of the day or night, you would invariably get a response back within minutes, and the number of events, morning, noon, and night that he spoke at – he was ubiquitous.

His reputation goes far beyond the city he regenerated of course. Whenever Downtown has set up in a new city, one of the first things they ask is ‘can you get Bernstein over to speak to us.”

He was not only a leader in his hometown but influenced national policy too – not least the devolution agenda that we see being rolled out across England now.

My most recent conversations with him actually focussed on Liverpool, and his ideas to grow our economy here. I know some of his recommendations will be implemented in the coming months – adding to his already incredible legacy.

I am absolutely gutted about his passing. I will miss his advice. I will miss the banter, particularly around football, and I will miss his invitations to “have a cup of tea.”

Many, many condolences to his family. What a man!

Downtown in Business