Home Page Did anyone see any signs of Royal Wedding fever? 02/15/11

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

Did you enjoy it, then? All that pomp and ceremony? Or did you just enjoy having a day off work? Or did you moan about it being a bank holiday at all?


I think you’d have to be a hard-hearted cynic not to have been impressed by the much-anticipated Royal Wedding. Even some of the journalists seemed to be welling up.


As everyone has said, this sort of thing is what we British do rather well – well enough, at any rate, to impress the rest of the world, if not ourselves.


I can’t say that wedding fever appeared to have taken off in Haverhill prior to the day, but the town was pretty deserted once things began to get under way on TV.


I can remember a variety of royal celebrations which had a greater impact here, from the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 down to her Golden Jubilee in 2002.


On both those occasions I think there were two bank holidays and we had to work on both of them to cover all the events going on.


As for Princess Diana’s death and funeral in 1997, there were masses of flowers laid along the wall of St Mary’s Church, and loads of people signing books of condolence.


Initially you might think this reflected a declining interest in the Royals and their doings, but then, people seemed to be watching the events on TV.


So it could reflect a declining interest in community events, which would be rather more worrying. Maybe the threats of ‘Health and Safety’ played a part. Maybe lack of confidence in the April weather was an element.


But when I look back at the Haverhill Show in days gone by and see what the town can manage now, I think the problem goes deeper.


The generation of people who organised such events seems to have died out and few nowadays have the time, energy or inclination to put much effort into staging something within the community.


Perhaps the fact that Haverhill Town Council does so much has had a bearing on it. There are a multitude of cracking events put on in the town during the year without members of the public having to turn to at all. All we have to do is pay a bit extra on our council tax, and most people seem to have tacitly accepted that as being a reasonable bargain.


Even those who do make the effort to stage something for local people to enjoy can find themselves up against lack of support or general criticism.


Of course there are, every year, new events which catch the public’s imagination, but they seldom last more than a year or two with the initial level of enthusiasm.


After that they become just another churned-out annual event, and a treadmill for the organisers.


So, slowly, people have become disenchanted with running public events, and even a one-off like the Royal Wedding produces quite a small response.


The most curious thing about this is that Haverhill is held up as a model of David Cameron’s Big Society in action, and yet the prime minister himself saw Royal Wedding parties as typical of the Big Society.


So what is going on? One answer may be connected with something which Haverhill’s MP Matthew Hancock said the other day to a meeting of town businessmen.


He pointed out that Haverhill has withstood the worst effects of the economic crash partly because it is very much a business-employed town. Most people work for the private sector and there is a much smaller public sector than towns where, for example, a county or borough council is based, or where there is a hospital, or a Government office.


This means that people have less well-structured lives because their jobs often require them to work odd hours and overtime. The town does not have a huge section of nine-to-fivers who can leave work behind and get on with other interests, which might include organising events.


There is a big voluntary sector in Haverhill, but it is very orientated to people’s basic needs – care, housing, food, health, etc. In that sense it is exactly the Big Society which the Government wants to put in place to take over from the public sector monoliths and save lots of money.


And in that sense it is curious that the prime minister should consider Royal Wedding street parties as being an example of the Big Society, because they are one-off events which used to happen anyway, probably at limited cost to the taxpayer.


Although one might superficially conclude that Haverhill is not a community-minded town, that would go against the evidence from everyone who works in the voluntary sector, and from the many newcomers who are amazed at how everyone in the town makes an effort to support important causes like the air ambulance or the hospice.


In fact, the most likely scenario is that Haverhill is a town where people get on with doing what needs to be done with the limited resources available in the town, and leave Royal Weddings to people who have more time and money.
Oh, and by the way, that wedding really was something, wasn't it!

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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