Home Page Fun in the streets, but should community be looking at the far horizon? 04/07/11

Haverhill Poll
Haverhill Poll


Mailing List

Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Anyone who stubbornly retains the old tendencies to knock Haverhill in general would have done well to get out and about in the town over the last week or so to see several aspects of a positive community in action.


The weekend marked both the close of the two-week Haverhill Festival, and the annual highspot of Haverhill Show, and the good weather brought out plenty of people to enjoy the events on offer.


Although Haverhill Show is not what it once was and, in many ways, has settled down to being a glorified car boot sale with attendant attractions, it is still a happy occasion in a very British style, where you will find lots and lots of people who are determined to enjoy themselves and raise money for charity.


The weather may be awful, as it has sometimes been, and there may not be much to see on occasions, but the good old British spirit ignores all that and gets on with it. Every town needs such an event at least once a year.


The festival may be a little more contentious, because it is funded from council tax and people are divided on whether entertainment is the sort of thing they want their hard-earned cash spent on.


But I think you would find that those who criticise it have not attended it seriously, and those who have made the effort have become its staunchest supporters. That is not unusual in community arts provision.


I was wandering around the high street on Saturday morning and witnessed a small child being lifted up by two giant stilt-walking Restoration belles, a memorable and highly enjoyable experience. Street entertainment is all about moments like that, and worth every penny.


However, these were not the only interesting events afoot over the weekend. While all that gentle silliness was going on in the street outside, a small number of people were gathered to pursue what many would see as the ultimate silliness – the return of the railway to Haverhill.


This project moves at about the same speed as climate change and has just as much difficulty in persuading those who control finances that it is ever likely to be a reality.


It is curious that whenever there is a big business meeting in Haverhill, the guest speaker always urges local businesses to look at the bigger picture, to widen their horizons, to take a global view, etc, etc.


Yet the one idea which really is on an almost ridiculous scale attracts very little notice. Like Don Quixote and his windmills, RailHaverhill, as it is now going to be branding itself, takes no notice of reality-bound pragmatists, and presses on with the grandest of ideas by making them even bigger.

There is no hope, the group thinks, for the small-scale versions of the project which are the only possibilities entertained by local authorities. Guided bus? Waste of time and money. Light railway? Never be viable. Any mass-transit system solely linking Haverhill and Cambridge? No chance. Single track railway? Unachievable.


No, the only chance is for a double track rail link from Colchester to Cambridge. The fact that Haverhill (and, for that matter, Sudbury) happen to be on the route is fortuitous but unimportant. The C-to-C link, which their new logo will reflect, could fit in with the East-West rail link which, it is rumoured, will be a reality in the not too distant future.


People are coming round to the idea that railways – and new ones at that – must have a major part to play in the future transport infrastructure of this country.


The contrast, between the intimate day-to-day debate about whether our town council should be funding entertainment - on the street or in the arts centre - and the almost geological scale of discussions about whether the railway will ever return, was ironic and poignant.


It’s all about vision, really. The consultation process on Haverhill’s new local plan is entitled Vision 2031, but I seriously doubt whether the word railway will appear anywhere among the hundreds of pages of the finished document.


Of course, nobody thinks it likely there will be a railway here by 2031, but it would be nice to think that the likelihood of one being built in the future will be greater by then. It would probably surprise most of the individuals attending Saturday’s meeting if the railway returned in their lifetimes, but it doesn’t stop them pressing on with the idea.


If Haverhill had had people thinking that far ahead back in the 1970s, things would probably be a lot further advanced today. That is a thought which is worth holding as we go around admiring the positive community around us.

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.
© Haverhill-UK | Accessibility | Disclaimer