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Town's rise from adversity to success is hailed in new film

Thursday, 28th June 2012.

The astonishing success of Haverhill in recovering from the many problems caused by becoming an 'overspill' town over 50 years ago are saluted in a new film premiered last night.

Civic leaders, including both mayors, town, borough and county councillors and the town's former MP Sir Eldon Griffiths attended the gala showing of the film at the Arts Centre.

It was made by amateur film-maker Ron Walker, working with his wife Linda and Gary Pontin in front of camera, in response to the BBC's Man Alive documentary of 1968 which branded Haverhill as a disaster for a generation.

Mr Walker came across a copy of the 1968 film a couple of years ago and was so incensed at its negative tone and the bleak future it predicted for the town that he determined to make a response and put the record straight.

His film includes the 30-minute original and adds a similar-length reply showing how Haverhill has improved and succeeded since.

Sir Eldon, who was MP for the town when the film was made, and interviewed in it, was among those interviewed for the new film, along with industrialist Chris Gurteen, whose father, Bill Gurteen, was also in the original.

Adrian Graves, son of Haverhill's vicar in 1968 Canon Eric Graves - who was also a councillor and keen proponent of town expansion - was also interviewed and hosted the showing last night.

The interviewees gave their views on the early days of town axpansion, the mistakes that were made and the effect on the town, and then spoke about its more recent success and bright future.

Also interviewed about the future of the town was one of its major developers, Nic Rumsey of Carisbrooke, who gave a very upbeat assessment of its prospects.

After the showing, Sir Eldon, who is now in his eighties and spends much of the year in California, congratulated Mr Walker and his team and said he felt honoured to be invited to the evening.

"In a word, Haverhill was a mess in the early days," he said. "The London County Council architects and planners were determined to do it their way and didn't want to listen to what anyone thought.

"But, it's happened. What has made the difference since has been the people. As so often happens in England, that which started badly is very much better now.

"But Haverhill won't prosper if Britain doesn't prosper and we are going through difficult times at the moment.

"I think what will stand Haverhill in good stead into the future is its background in the health sciences. I would like to see as much development as possible in the bio-sciences."

Sir Eldon admitted to having been responsible, as a local government minister, for creating St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

"Originally the council couldn't handle the social engineering of Haverhill," he said. "But now things are different."

The current leader of St Edmundsbury is Cllr John Griffiths, Sir Eldon's son, and the former MP told how John had accompanied him in his early days of canvassing around the bleak estates of the town as they were then.

"He learned then that Haverhill was a challenge," he said, "and that now it was in St Edmundsbury, St Edmundsbury must do something for it."

He also urged improvement of the A143 to Bury St Edmunds and lamented the failure of all concerned, including himself, in the 1970s when RAF Stradishall was replaced with Highpoint Prison, to build a new road straight across the old airfield.

"We should have done it, the county council should have done it and one day it will happen," he said.

Haverhill Online News

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