Hart of the Matter
The unexpected little retail and business park scheme which has come forward to revive the former Project site has brought into sharp focus again all the quirks which exist in the way we view how Haverhill should develop.
I think it was young people who were surveyed by St Edmundsbury to produce a wish list which had a cinema at the top of it, and that is quite understandable. It is time-consuming and costly to go to Cambridge or even further afield to catch the latest films.
Young people are not going to find Haverhill Arts Centre an attractive venue for films in comparison with the facilities a giant Cineworld offers. The fact that many of us oldies preferred to stroll down the road and view a two-month old film set in Victorian times was virtually incomprehensible to them, and no doubt is even more so now that there is a Cineworld over the road and we still do it.
However, I think it unlikely that a survey across the whole range of ages in and around Haverhill would have put a cinema top of the list. No, they would have put ‘better shops’ in large letters all over the form.
The commonest criticism you hear nowadays of Haverhill is that it has a limited shopping offer, despite recent improvements, which, we are told, came in the wake of Tesco’s decision to locate here. And yet, when Tesco was first discussed there was total panic among town shopkeepers and their many apologists within local government.
Now, I am a great supporter of local shops, and I would far rather use them than travel to Cambridge, Bury or Lakeside. You get a good deal, a good product and good after sales service if you need it.
But, as with the cinema issue, I also realise that I am in a minority. I freely admit it – I don’t like shopping. It is almost heretical to say this, in an age when the majority of people can think of nothing more enjoyable to do on a beautiful bank holiday than queue up for hours at the car park of a vast collection of enormous retail outlets. One day, people like me may be burned at the stake.
Nevertheless, the economy is built on this manifestation of the material and affluent zeitgeist, and we ignore it at our peril.
And that, it seems to me, is exactly what we are doing in Haverhill. In a frenzy of determination to defend our high street, and in a state of panic over any form of competition, the alarm goes off straightaway, as if we have some kind of prophetic instinct that this or that new scheme is bound to signal the end of our little retailers.
Actually, our independents have seen off a string of nationals such as Rumbelows, Currys, Dixons, etc, because they are extremely good at what they do. I suppose it is understandable that they fear competition, but it shows that they, and we, are not confident that they can continue to do this.
Comparison shopping – the system whereby people wanting to buy an expensive item choose to shop around and compare – is something that is almost beyond my comprehension. If I want a new television I shall go to Chapmans where I got my last one, for all the reasons I mentioned earlier.
When I am satisfied with a shop or a service, I see no reason to wander off and look for another one – it’s a waste of time and effort that I think could be spent on something more constructive. It’s not an age thing, because in this I am totally different from my father, who always thought there was a better deal to be had somewhere else, whatever he was buying, and made that feeling pretty clear to the shopkeeper or service provider.
But he would have been far more at home with the modern concept of shopping than I am. If he had lived into the age of Internet shopping, I am sure it would have been as if Aladdin’s Cave had opened up to him.
I don’t see how we can ignore the fact that people shop in different ways. At the moment Haverhill caters very well for a particular type of shopper and, sadly, there are scarcely enough of them.
It doesn’t cater at all for other types of shopper, so they all head off in droves to other places. If all types of shopper could be persuaded to use their own town – at least in the first instance – the market would be quite big enough for the current providers and new competitors. And it would be a lot more sustainable.