Why Derby?

View of the Derwent from Exeter Bridge

Derby – as far from the sea as it’s possible to be, and truly at the heart of the Midlands, Derby’s strap line could easily have been “Derby – fair to middling”.

But Derby has an astonishing world-changing history, while remaining a city of sharp contrasts:

  • At the Silk Mill, Derby has the site of the world’s first factory.1
  • Erasmus Darwin (Doctor and grand-father of Charles) and John Whitehurst (clock maker and geologist) had a Derby association and played a key role in the original Lunar Society2
  • John Flamsteed lived in Derby, creator of the Derby Meridian (a pre-cursor to the world-time-regulating Greenwich Meridian), and became the first Astronomer Royal.
  • Derby’s engineering expertise played a key part in seeing off the threat of Nazi-ism, to win the Battle of Britain and ultimately World War II.
  • Derby now employs the highest proportion of its workforce in advanced engineering of any UK city – four times the national average and twice Cambridge – making Derby like nowhere else.
  • Over the past 10 years Derby has attracted £3bn of investment and has the fastest growing economy in the UK, having with 23% growth in GVA over the last five years.

Nonetheless, for many of us, there remains a continuing disconnect between Derby’s historic and growing credentials as a centre of technical excellence, and what we see in our city centre and what we experience in our everyday lives.

Why should this be?

While many who work in Derby enjoy high salaries because of their specialist skills, they don’t necessarily live in Derby. The people who live in Derby do not have such high average earnings and, sadly, many communities suffer significant disadvantage and low educational attainment. And it seems all too easy for the different parts of Derby to be unaware of each other’s opportunities and challenges.

These issues were identified as key challenges for Derby, during work undertaken by the Government funded ‘City Growth’ programme. During those discussions, the City Growth Strategy Board Members were challenged by David Williams to come up with some Big Ideas. One suggestion was a ‘Futures Debate’, to help us think differently about the future, and Derby’s place in it: to help us lift our focus from the immediate future and think more about the direction we want our city to go in, what challenges to be overcome, and what opportunities to seize.

So Lunar21 came into being, to enable the discussion of city-wide issues, in a forum which is open to all. Now working with Derby Museums Trust staff and volunteers there is a real opportunity to take this further, and we are keen to hear from all who wish to support this ambition.


1. Visited by many from around the world, including Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America.

2. A group of 18th century Midlands’ friends and business men – engineers, factory owners, entrepreneurs – who met to share ideas, always on an evening near the full moon so that they would be more able to find their way home afterwards. The original Lunar Society was an exemplar of multi-disciplinary innovative collaboration (a real ‘think-tank’ before the term was ever coined) – some of their work captured in the work of Joseph Wright of Derby, which can be seen at Derby’s Museum and Art Gallery.