Home Page A look back to the 1960s which should make us all proud 06/07/12

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

We are always being told that Haverhill is a forward-looking town, which is a very valuable attribute in today’s world and there are, no doubt, people around who get fed up with old fogeys like me looking back at the past.


However, the past has plenty of lessons for the future, not only about how to avoid the same mistakes, but also how to achieve equal successes. This is one of the reasons I get rather annoyed about those who don’t think history lessons should be compulsory on the curriculum any more.


History has become a rather more touchy-feely subject than it ever used to be in the days when we only learned about armies hacking each other to bits in primary school and about Palmerston’s foreign policy in secondary school.


Nowadays the fascination is with how people like us lived in those days – what they ate, what they wore, how they paired up and what they taught their children. You see it all the time on Time Team (one of my favourite programmes) and it is endlessly fascinating.


The trouble is that it doesn’t often teach us anything about the mistakes they made, or their greatest triumphs so, although we learn a lot about ourselves, we learn little about the consequences of our actions,  with the result that we tend to fall down the same holes all over again – as evidenced by the economic crash.


This is very important at a time when there seems to be a political deficit in much of the western world, and particularly in Britain. Fewer people stand for election at all levels, and fewer people vote for them. After all, if all we are interested in is ourselves, there is no incentive to take part in the political dimensions of life – which make up pretty much everything else that affects our daily lives. Instead, we just complain when it all goes wrong.


Those of us who have taken an interest in political history, with its dates and battles and legislative changes, are quick to point out how mistakes were made and what we could learn from them if we could be bothered, but less eager to look at why things have succeeded in the past.


That is why the Man Alive 2012 documentary film made in Haverhill in response to the BBC’s effort of 1968 is so significant and encouraging and why I hope it will be shown to as many young people in the town as possible via schools, etc.


In 1968 the BBC produced this very negative picture of an expanding town, in which everyone predicted a bleak future, and this was probably the last time Haverhill had any lengthy exposure on national TV. Is it surprising that the town was blacklisted for a generation and has had a lengthy struggle to rise above its reputation?


However, the new film, made by Ron Walker and his team, to which I am pleased to say I was able to contribute to a very small degree, shows how this bleak prospect has not, in the end, materialised.

It has been a long struggle, and it is nowhere near over yet, but looking at where we were in 1968 and where we are now, one can see the enormous progress which has been made, not only in the provision of services and infrastructure, but in the sheer look of the place.


Some newcomers in 1968 referred to the town as a barracks or a prison and you can see why. For those of us old enough to remember it, it does no harm to see it again and refresh those memories. The 1960s was an ugly period in architecture and no less ugly in civic design.


Those ex-pats who, on this website, frequently bemoan how the town has changed and how wonderful it used to be, should perhaps take off the rose-tinted specs and take a look at what it was really like.


Okay, so back in the 1950s, before expansion, it had a certain charm, but by 1968 that had mostly been ripped out already and the stark new housing was beginning to dominate the scene. What people mostly remember with true affection are the people they grew up with.


To get from that point to the present day scenes filmed in the new documentary shows real progress, and real foresight on the part of the old councillors, because one of the major softening influences has been trees.


People laughed at Cllr Horace Eves when he tried to make the point that the endless trees they were planting would make it a lot better in time. Now Haverhill, I have heard in one of those weird urban myths that do the rounds, has a higher proportion of trees per head of population than any other town in Britain.


I’m sure it isn’t true, but when you look over the town from the top of Wratting Hill, you can see how that story might arise.


And, in the end, the main catalyst for improvement has been the people. That is the conclusion of the new film, and it was good to see so many influential people present at the special viewing last week to hear the point made.


Councils and officers may mess up, but the people can still triumph, if they are the right sort of people. So it’s time for Haverhill’s residents to take a bow.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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