Home Page It's summertime, so why haven't we got any tourists? 24/06/11

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Well, it’s Midsummer Day and the weather isn’t too bad, although a bit changeable, but where are the tourists?


I have to admit to being one of those people who is surprised to see a tourist in Haverhill. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a snap-happy party get out of a coach here, except, perhaps, the town-twinners, but I do occasionally see people in hiking boots and carrying a rucksack.


I suppose they could be local people, because I have walked from home sometimes, and there are some excellent walks to be had within a five-mile radius of the town, but I have my doubts, especially when they are in the high street looking for... well, the high street.


Perhaps they are walking the Stour Valley Path and have done a little detour. Or perhaps they have, like me, conserved those rare editions of Country Walking which feature a walk beginning in Haverhill (oh yes, there are some), and determined to give it a go.


But, following on from last week’s thoughts provoked by Tim Passmore, chief executive of Choose Suffolk, and now tourism leader for the new Norfolk and Suffolk Local Enterprise Partnership, it is, perhaps, time to move on from the old jokes about Haverhill having nothing to make it worth tourists visiting.


I used to think that nasty little remark in John Timpson’s book about East Anglia where he said the best thing about Haverhill was the road to Bury St Edmunds was probably worth us getting upset about, but if anyone has been listening on Radio Four to Mark Steel’s In Town you will know we are not alone.


It’s a stand-up comedy show, but entirely devoted to the town he happens to be performing in, and researched beforehand by talking to residents. Among the series of clips from these street interviews which are put together for each show, there is invariably someone who says the best thing about X is the road to Y (fill in Walsall-Birmingham, Boston-Lincoln, whatever).


So there is nothing particular about Haverhill per se which makes it immune to tourism. It is just governed by the attitude of residents and the entrepreneurial qualities of local businesses.


Mr Passmore was rather proud of the fact that, in a new, posh tourism booklet about the wool towns of Suffolk, called Suffolk Threads Heritage Trail, and including walks around them, he had forced the inclusion of Haverhill.


The booklet was complete and ready to be printed, but he happened to come to Haverhill for a meeting and discover it, too, was a wool town, so he went back and insisted it was included.


You can imagine the scenes of horror and dismay in the corridors of Suffolk’s tourism supremos. "What, Haverhill? A wool town? But it can’t be. Wool towns have nice little medieval buildings with studwork and pargeting, and ridiculously large churches. Everyone knows Haverhill’s a 1960s dump.”

Still, they had to do it. So someone searched out some details about Haverhill’s history – probably astonished to find it had any at all – and had to include words like ‘Domesday Book’, ‘market’, Henry VIII’ and ‘Puritans’ which are generally the preserve of smug, middle-class tourist destinations.


In fact, there was so much, they had to cut it to fit on the single page at the back of the booklet which had been cleared for it. Like many a sub-editor before them, they left the last paragraph and then cut from the bottom to fit, with the result that the tale of Haverhill’s weaving history fails to mention Gurteens or the mill at all, and jumps from the 1820s to the present day as if nothing happened here in between.


Needless to say, there is no walk or map attached, just a suggestion that if you enjoyed the other towns, you might like to look in on Haverhill as well. Still, what can you expect from people who define Clare throughout the booklet as a village, than which nothing is more likely to enrage the residents of that proud town.


If this is the level of service we are going to get from the tourist chiefs in Suffolk, it might not be a bad idea to do the job ourselves. I note that this heritage trail and booklet was put together with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.


Typical. Haverhill gets less from the National Lottery than almost anywhere in East Anglia, and when we do get something it’s, if not wrong, poorly researched.


St Edmundsbury, I believe, is trying to promote a good image of Haverhill, and has put together a library of nice photos to show what a pleasant place it is. But I’m not convinced that will hit the tourist trade in the way that a new heritage trail does.


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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