Home Page Prettiness is Haverhill's best-kept secret - unfortunately 23/09/11

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

If you have had the chance to comment on what services you think St Edmundsbury Borough Council could save money on, I wonder where such activities as marketing and promotion figured in you deliberations. Probably nowhere.


The borough does quite a bit of self-promotion, one way or another, and that is exactly as it should be. The same would be true of Suffolk County Council. Haverhill’s problem is that very little of it refers to this town.


Of course, efforts are made to promote the town as a place to come to do business, as a good location for people to live, etc, but that is a little different. The sort of promotion I mean is all about showing people the town’s best side as a place to visit.


In fact, Haverhill is ideally situated as a holiday base for anyone wanting to visit both Constable country and Cambridge, which is a decent chunk of East Anglia as far as heritage is concerned.


Almost any tourism expert would immediately turn up their nose at such an idea, because Haverhill still carries the visual image of run-down or ugly council estates.


When people think of Bury St Edmunds, they don’t immediately picture the Howard estate, and when they think of Cambridge, they don’t call to mind the Abbey estate. But mention Haverhill and the Chalkstone or Clements immediately surface – and not as the pleasant environments they generally are now, but as they were 30 years ago.


Why? Why is it impossible to present Haverhill as a pretty place? Everywhere has its less attractive side, but they are not thrust under our noses all the time. The answer is because nobody is interested in linking Haverhill to the middle class market – or if they are, they have not been very successful.


The emphasis is always on how Haverhill is a town ‘on the up’ (implying it used to be ‘down’), ‘forward-looking’ (implying it has no past), ‘entrepreneurial’ (implying it has no big businesses to boost it) and with ‘a strong community spirit’ (implying that its residents make the best of it).


These may all be true, but they are hardly attractive to middle-England visitors. Quite a sizeable number of people have a real interest in Britain and its many facets, and they travel around looking at them. Mostly middle-aged or older, they have money to spend, within reason, and they holiday quite often, even if they also take breaks abroad.


They drive about, exploring. They enjoy country walking. They stop off in pubs for a bite and a drink. They stay in hotels or guest houses, or they rent cottages or caravans, and they eat out in restaurants in the evening.


I know this because I am one of them, and I know how much I have to pay to stay anywhere in this country. It isn’t cheap, particularly south of the Wash.


How often does one see any of these people in Haverhill? So rarely, that the other day, when I had occasion to don boots and rucksack and walk from Haverhill to Clare, using the excellent and beautiful Stour Valley Path, I felt out of place in a way which is not the case elsewhere in the country.


And yet this is a delightful walk, the equal, and probably superior, of any southern river valley walk I have done. It doesn’t look as if many people walk it in a year. In fact, the bit from Haverhill to join up with the Stour Valley Path in Wixoe is much better used, probably by dog-walkers, than the long distance path itself.


Of course, it doesn’t help that one of the best bits of the route has been closed off by the massive excavations connected with water supply which are scarring the landscape between here and, I guess, Ely.


This is the work which is denominated by the name ‘Farrans’ in numerous places across the area at the moment, but rarely do you see the extent of it which you can if you climb above Water Hall at Wixoe and look back at what should be one of the best views in this area.


Already the delightful Suffolk landscape which rolls from this rise, through a patchwork of fields and woodlands, to the Genzyme towers on the horizon, is ruined by unsightly electric pylons.


But now there is a chalk-coloured scar the width of the M1 gouged through the countryside. If anyone ever wanted to see how simple it would be to build a new full-scale railway line to link Sudbury and Cambridge via Haverhill, you only have to look at this. ‘Farrans’ have created something more than twice as wide.


If all this seems to you to belong to another world, you might wonder why. Why are you unaware of how beautiful the countryside is around Haverhill? Why has no one brought it to your, or anyone else’s attention? It’s a well-kept secret indeed, so it doesn’t make anyone any money.


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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