Does Anyone Respect Intellectual Copyright These Days?

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Some years ago, a writer friend of mine entered a short story competition run by a publisher of children’s books. The story she submitted had previously been sent to a radio station which was, at that time, regularly reading short stories on air, but this didn’t appear to clash with the competition rules. Her story didn’t win anything in the competition.

Not very long afterwards there was a children’s book published with a VERY similar storyline and (surprise, surprise,) the publisher was none other but the one who had run the competition. The characters had been altered just enough to make a difference and the credit was all given to the well-connected illustrator, who had also produced a suitable story about how he had come up with the idea. That book has since sold millions of copies, world-wide. Was it really just a coincidence?

My friend has no children of her own, she was unaware of the book until another friend told her (and I was present on that occasion). Her own records show she sent the story to the radio station several years before the book was published, and so I am convinced that the original story was hers. The publisher clearly had the opportunity to read her work before the book was published. Unfortunately my friend was not in a financial position to challenge the copyright.

Incidents like this make you wonder, how many other times this has happened with writing competitions? How many publishers exploit competitions and writers this way?

I’m afraid the incident put me off entering competitions, especially when I heard that several years later my friend had another idea stolen by entering a competition. This time the organisers were a respected writer’s organisation and she had been planning to attend their conference, where the stories were to be judged. Unfortunately, she fell ill and had to cancel her trip. Some time later, she discovered that someone in the admin staff of the organisation had apparently submitted her story under their own name and won awards for it.

There have been several high-profile copyright cases over the years, not only in writing, but also in music. The trouble is that it is very difficult for a small-time writer or musician to fight a copyright case through the courts, even if they dare risk the financial implications, and so some unscrupulous people take advantage of this situation. Some claim there is no copyright on ideas, but the difference between an idea and a piece of intellectual work can be a fine line.

The problem is not just confined to competitions either. Submissions to magazines and newspapers are also easily exploited. I too, have had the experience of a carefully-crafted piece of writing published under someone else’s name. I complained, and had a correction and apology printed in the following issue, but these are always small and not easy to spot. The damage has already been done – and the results linger for all time in archives, with the retraction easily missed.

Now we have the age of the internet, copyright theft is rife. It is so easy to cut and paste. If this is only for personal use/ study purposes, authors might not mind, but if someone is republishing the work, virtually untouched, under their own name, that is a different matter.

Photographs and images are just as much, if not more vulnerable on the web. Not everyone bothers to check if the picture they want to use is royalty-free, or has a creative commons licence. They just post whatever they want to post.

And then there is the whole music download argument that has rumbled on for many years…

Today’s young people have grown up with the internet, with such a wide range of content being so freely available with a few clicks of the mouse. They take it all fro granted and many don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to download/ share anything they want – for free. If they are asked to pay, they expect the charge to be a pittance – a token amount. After all, it’s out there on the internet, why should they pay to save it? What difference between that and other content given away for free?

The problem lies in what they don’t see. Behind all these items there are wordsmiths, researcher, artists, musicians, photographers, etc., working hard to produce the content, which can take many hours to create and seconds to be stolen. Yes, stolen. Copyright theft is just like any other kind of theft. Many of the people who produce this kind of work are depending on it for at least part of their living expenses. When it is stolen they are not paid.

If creative people cannot be paid for their work, they will either take it somewhere else, where they will be paid, or else they will stop producing it. The quality of new material would then gradually deteriorate. After all, why put time and effort into something if there’s no reward at the end?

Those who expect to be able to download anything for free from the internet, should ask themselves how they would feel if they were suddenly expected to carry on doing their own job without a wage at the end of the month. It’s the same thing, only creative people often don’t have the luxury of monthly pay.

Why is there such disrespect for intellectual property in this day and age? How much of it is because of the development of the internet – and information overload?

Perhaps the world-wide-web has made creative content seem more ethereal, so that consumers are less able to judge its worth because it’s no longer tangible. When music was sold on records or discs or tapes, when writing was in books and artwork hung on walls, they were tangible products and their value was, perhaps, more easily assessed. How come these same products are now worth so much less when published in a different way? The value is not only in the physical production costs, intellectual time is also a valid production cost.

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Publishers who take the work of an unknown author and publish a version as someone else’s work could be shooting themselves in the foot. If a person’s work is good enough to publish, it is good enough to publish under their own name. If they can come up with a good story once, maybe they could do it again and again, like my friend, and if given a contract, could earn the publisher more money over time. Instead, any further ideas may be kept from public view – even eventually destroyed – because someone treated the author and their work with contempt.

Writers who deliberately steal from other writers are not really writers at all.

What do you think?

Has Capitalism Gone Too Far?

ImageWhen the poorest in our society can no longer afford to heat their homes, while energy companies make large profits…

When big businesses seize all opportunities and charge high prices to consumers, in order to make money for shareholders…

When even politicians are so worried about upsetting multinational companies that they fail to take the action needed to protect the lives of their constituents…

Has capitalism gone too far?

Economy out of balance

House prices are beginning to boom again – at least in the south – which means more southerners are likely to look further north for ‘bargains’ and the wave will begin to sweep across the country again, putting properties even further out of the income-reach of many northerners.

Since privatisation energy prices have soared, and continue to rise each year as soon as the cold weather begins, leaving more and more of the poorest people shivering and frightened to turn on their heating – risking hypothermia.

High energy costs, together with other overheads mean food prices have continued to rise dramatically throughout the economic crisis of the last few years.

The cost of petrol/ diesel, which goes up fast but never drops back to the same level, affects everything that needs to be delivered to shops, and businesses that need to travel to their customers.

At the same time, government policies limit income and there are far more people either unemployed or underemployed. Household incomes have plummeted for many families over the same period as prices have rapidly increased.

The politicians of the Labour Party like to take about the ‘squeezed middle,’ but what about those at the bottom? Who represents the working class, and those who cannot even find work, these days? And for how many people was the bedroom tax the last straw?

Take this all together and add in tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts for the poor and it is clear that there is something going drastically wrong with the economic balance in our society.

The economic indicators all show the gap between rich and poor is wider that it has been for well over a hundred years, and the north-south divide is also widening. We are supposed to be an advanced, civilised society, so why is this being allowed to happen?

Wages

Minimum wage was supposed to stop employers from paying slave wages and give employees a decent income, with which to pay their household bills, etc. But it doesn’t seem to have kept up with the cost of living, and as usual, big business felt they had to find a way around the increase in their wage bill, this time they found it by adopting zero-hours contracts.

When working tax credit was introduced to top up low wages, big business simply paid the majority of their wages minimum wage, knowing it would be topped up by the state where necessary.

The introduction of flexible working was supposed to allow employees to work around family commitments, transport problems, etc. Instead, employers use it to try and keep their employees at their beck and call, to phone them at short notice and expect them to abandon all other responsibilities and jump to their ‘master’s’ voice.

Whenever a move is made to protect/ improve the lives of workers and give them a better work/ life balance, many employers seem hell-bent on twisting the legislation and turning it back on the employees in ways that actually make their lives worse.

Big business is so keen to profit, but many of them are also keen to avoid paying tax.

Energy

There are ways of cutting energy costs to homes, but at present only those with spare money, or access to borrow, can afford to take advantage of these ways, whether it be soar panels, a small wind generator in the garden, heat-exchangers, passive homes.

What kind of society are we that those with money have access to cheaper energy – and can even be paid for producing it – while the poorest pay the higher prices on ever-decreasing incomes?

When wind-power was first developed, I remember reading about a man in Scotland who had produced a small wind-power generator which could be fixed to a rooftop, similar to a TV aerial. He envisaged that we could all have one of these on our houses and generate at least part of our own electricity, to bring down costs. He couldn’t find anyone to back him to go into full production. Why? Because big business was already seeing pound signs in the development of the technology. They began to push to build swathes of the biggest possible ‘windmills’ to make profits for their shareholders and the still become angry and upset when campaign groups fight them over these plans. Surely, a small windmill on every rooftop would be less obtrusive? But of course, big business cannot allow the little man and woman to deny them profit.

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Food

What kind of society are we, when even working people are having to resort to using food banks to enable them to eat? How many more are going hungry rather than be seen to be so desperate? (And how many more are simply getting deeper and deeper into debt rather than use this last resort?) It’s obvious, if people can’t eat properly, they can’t work properly. They can’t function to solve the problems that are daily being thrust upon them. They become run down, exhausted, malnourished, ill. What kind of workforce will they be then?

Health

The more pressure that is put onto the already overstretched poor to pay higher prices/ find non-existent jobs, etc., the more their health is likely to suffer – especially in the long-term. Hypothermia, malnutrition, stress-related illnesses or even worse. This is turn, puts more pressure on the already over-burdened NHS – another national institution threatened with creeping privatisation. It could even be argued that big business, with its determination for power, and greed for more and more profits for shareholders, is gradually killing our citizens!

Even those who work for these businesses are not exempt, as employees are driven by ever-increasing targets – pressure again.

Time for debate

What’s the alternative? I’m afraid I don’t have any answers, but perhaps it’s time we all began to think about what kind of society we want to live in, in the future and come up with a new theory.

The runaway train of big business seems to be travelling faster and faster – is it out of control? How do we stop it, or at least slow it down? Is it going to take a big disaster?

Before the gap between rich and poor, south and north widens any further, it’s time we began to debate how to stop the trend and make society fairer to those at the bottom. They are running, like hamsters on a wheel, faster and faster, but still slipping further and further behind, in and effort to simply survive. Otherwise we may be returning to a time when the poor are forced to live on the streets – or in self-built shanty towns, and beg for handouts from passers-by.

A home, heat, food, health, are all basic human rights. European legislation is in place to protect us from extremes at the moment, but the Conservatives want to opt out of it. Those considering voting for UKIP should also be aware of this. I’m no great fan of the European Union, but without support from them a ruthless right-wing government coupled with big business could quite easily push us back into something like a feudal society. All in the name of profit.

What do you think?

Who Dares Wake the Sleeping Grey Monster?

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Pensioners deserve dignity in old age – even the ones with no occupational pension. The elderly paid into the National Insurance scheme all their working lives – or had good reason for being out of work.

For men, good reason was often illness or redundancy. When industries were closed down and large numbers were suddenly out of work, their workless state was not of their own making. They should not be punished in old age.

For women, working lives were very different in the past. Today’s female pensioners were usually expected to give up work when they had a family and concentrate all their efforts on looking after their husband and children, while their husband brought in the money to keep them all. If they worked at all after marriage, it was likely to be a little part-time job that paid a pittance. In those days the gap between the pay of men and women was wide, because the men were seen as the breadwinners and the women were supposedly only working for ‘pin money.’

Men

When the traditional industries of the north were deliberately closed down by the government policies of the 1980s, whole communities of men, sometimes several generations of the same families, were thrown on the scrap-heap. More concerned by the threat to their own reputations than the ruined lives they had caused, the government then encouraged the older and less able workers to be moved onto incapacity benefit, so that they would not be counted as unemployed. They were then left to rot.

Now the current government want people off incapacity benefit and back into work so that they can benefit from the extra taxes, but employers don’t want older workers – especially if they are long-term unemployed.

These were the men who fought hard for their jobs, through the unions. But Margaret Thatcher was determined to over-rule them and destroy their unions, their industries and in doing so, she also broke their families, their communities, their ability to earn a living and often their health.

It was a Conservative government that threw them on the scrap heap, now another, largely Conservative government suddenly wants them working again to boost the economy. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work quite like that.

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Women

The women who are crossing the new pension age around now – and many of those who will reach it in the next few years are the very women who fought for equal employment rights and equal pay for women in the 1970s and 1980s. They had to fight for the right to earn a living in a society that still saw women as second-class citizens, not capable of doing the same work as men – despite the fact that their mothers and grandmothers proved their capability during two world wars, while the men were away fighting for king and country.

There is a tendency, nowadays, for people to believe that women have always had all the opportunities and full time work they have now – and especially the child-care provisions. Those who think this way often look down on older women who have not led similar lives, as though they were too lazy to shift themselves to find work/ child-care in their younger days. They didn’t try hard enough/ took the easy way out, and so it’s their own fault they have no money in their older years.

This view is ignorant of the facts and short-sighted. The women they are looking down on could be the very women who helped to win the right to access to better work, and forced the employers and politicians to reconsider the problems of childcare, to enable more women to work.

In the 1970s, and for much of the 1980s, child-care places were like gold – especially in more rural areas of the country, and even if a place could be found, the wages paid to a woman may not have covered the cost. There were no government vouchers then. These women often had no choice but to stay at home unless they had family members who could take care of the children. Even when the children were at school, there was still the problem of before and after school hours – and a major barrier to work was school holidays. Jobs were not tailored to school hours, as many have become since, and there was no flexibility. If you wanted to work, you worked the hours set by the employer. There were also no breakfast clubs and after school activities were mainly sports practises.

Even when the change began in the 1980s, it happened much more slowly in many parts of the country – too late for many of the women who had fought for it.

Women now in their late fifties/early sixties have also been particularly badly hit by all they recent changes regarding retirement. They had planned their lives around the old female retirement age of 60. When this was suddenly pushed to 65, it was accepted in the spirit of equality, but brought problems for many because of the attitudes of employers towards older workers. Anyone, male or female who finds themselves without work when they are over 50 can find it almost impossible to find another job. Some people who may have benefited when the number of work-years needed for a state pension was cut to a standard 30 some years ago and felt that they at least had that covered.

Then came the blows. The retirement age for many was pushed back again – more years to struggle for work but no work to be had. Then the number of work-years needed was changed again – and the right to a portion of a husband’s/ex-husband’s pension was removed. Suddenly a woman in her late fifties/ early sixties finds herself being expected to work until 66, 67, 68, etc.

Take the example of Janet, who was divorced in the 1980s, with a young family that forced her to live on benefits until they grew old enough to be left alone. When she was ready to return to full-time work, the jobs had suddenly become tailored to school hours and full-time work was impossible to find. Part-time work left her worse off and increasingly she found employers  refused to take her on for part-time work if she already had one part-time job, so she couldn’t make up the hours that way either. She tried self-employment, but couldn’t make enough to live on because she didn’t have enough money to put into the business. She tried gaining qualifications, but found they only gave employers another excuse to reject her.

At one point Janet was told she would be entitled to a full pension – under the 30 work-year ruling with a combination of home-responsibilities protection (hrp), her own contributions and with several years of entitlement to part of her ex-husband’s pension. But now she doesn’t know where she stands, with just the hrp and her own piece-meal contributions. Because most of her work was part-time, she often didn’t earn enough to pay national insurance and during her self-employment phase, she was exempt from payments on account of her low income. She doesn’t think she has enough contributions to cover her for the 35 work-years she now needs.  Although in theory she still has time to make this up, in practice, she feels there is little chance, because she is constantly turned down for work for being over-qualified and there are even less full-time jobs available now.

Middle-Age Problems for Both Genders

There are also other problems that people of either gender can come up against in middle age:

–        having to give up work to care for elderly parents – or even a partner

–        health problems – perhaps from living in poverty

–        the benefit trap for those living alone (whether single, divorced, widowed) that makes part-time work unviable – especially if there are travel costs involved.

 

The Baby-Boomer Generation

The baby-boomer generation, born after the Second World War, is a phenomenon recognised in many countries, through Europe and the USA. In Britain, it began a decade later due to the continuance of rationing and really dates from about 1955 (exactly the birth-year of the first women expected to work until the age of 65) and lasted until the mid 1960s.

This has always been known. So why does the government act as though it’s something they have just discovered?

In actual fact, Britain was on course to weather the pensions time-bomb much better than the rest of Europe, because there was a reserve of money that had been built up from contributions to cover at least most of it. That was until Gordon Brown decided that there was too much money lying there and raided it to pay for other things. That is where this problem started.

It suits the government and the media to give the impression that all the baby-boomer generation are living the life of riley with houses, cars and occupational pensions, etc. SOME of these undoubtedly are in this position, but certainly not all of them. Those whose lives were blighted by the eradication of industry, and those who were forced to stay at home through lack of childcare, and jobs that didn’t (and don’t) pay enough to live on, are wondering where all this money is that they are supposed to have.

Although some will have resigned themselves to their fate over the years, for many, the anger, even bitterness, at the unfairness of society and the lack of help they experienced in trying to rebuild their own lives, still burns not far from the surface. This is the fighting generation, the generation who have fought for change all their lives, and by sheer numbers have achieved many changes – often too late for their own benefit, but they have opened doors for those who follow.

If this government or any future government, think they can easily take away the rights and privileges of old age that this generation has worked so hard for (and many worked for a pittance before minimum wage), they could be in for a big shock. The monster may be grey now, but it is only sleeping and it could yet rise up for one last battle – the grey-power battle.

Berwick – Promoting Local Talent and Playing ‘what if?’

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Where do we start?

Following on from my last post, Is Berwick to be Doomed by Local Attitudes? the question is where to start?

The logical place is probably listing what we already have that we might be able to build on/ uses in a different way.

  • The Maltings Theatre and Cinema
  • 3 Museums
  • Berwick Record Office
  • Several Art Galleries
  • A Film Festival
  • Craft Fairs
  • Local Drama Companies
  • Local Bands of various kinds – large and small
  • Youth Theatre
  • Local Publishing Company for local writers
  • Numerous local artists and craftspeople
  • Historical guided walks
  • Operatic Society
  • Spittal Variety Group
  • Civic Society exhibitions
  • Choirs
  • Bygone Borderlands events
  • Tweedmouth Feast
  • Spittal Gala
  • Spittal Seaside Festival
  • Riding of the Bounds
  • Minden Day Parade
  • Farmers Markets
  • Local food producers

In short, a lot of local talent! Every time I’ve looked at this list I’ve thought of something else and I probably still haven’t thought everything relevant! We have a lot to work with, but we need to join up the dots and tell people about it.

Perhaps we need a Berwick Guide to ‘What’s On’ and a co-ordinated plan to spread out events throughout the normal visitor season and beyond, so that it looks like an organised programme rather than everybody doing their own thing. This could be sent out through Libraries and Tourist Information Centres (TICs), etc., as far afield as we can send it. Yes, this would need money to produce, but wait a minute and let’s look at a bigger picture.

What if?

Before we can think about looking for funding, we need to make a plan of what we would like to do.

To make a plan, we need to start playing ‘what if’ and make a list of possibilities/ what might work/ what we would like to do, etc. Then we pick out the best/ most relevant/ realistic parts and out them together into something more coherent.

THEN we start to think about how we might find the money. The plan will no doubt be adjusted several times, and the money would probably have to be sought from several sources in relatively small amounts to fund different parts of the project. This can be a bit torturous, but patchwork is the way to do it – voluntary hours can also sometimes count as match-funding. (I’m not a fund-raiser myself, but have sat on enough committees to know that is the way it is done.) Although funding may be more difficult to find that it was a few years ago, that shouldn’t be used an excuse to sit back and do nothing.

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Returning to Berwick’s History

To kick this off, we’ll return to thinking about history. There was a comment made in response to the post Could this be the future for Berwick? That the public “don’t understand the history – it has to be explained.” Of course! That’s what historians are for! If the public understood everything by just looking at a building it would be too easy, they wouldn’t appreciate it in the same way as if they have to make an effort to learn about it. The important thing is that many of the public want to know more.

One of the recurring complaints I’ve heard over the years is that there doesn’t seem to be anywhere visitors can go to find out more about Berwick’s history. No centre for interpretation. Even if they’ve managed to find the town museum hidden in the Barracks complex, they have been disappointed at not finding more local information of the kind they were seeking.

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Berwick sometimes seems complacent about its history. Or perhaps – more likely – even most local people don’t really understand it either! They maybe have heard of disjointed bits and pieces, but don’t understand how it all fits together. After all, the most interesting bits are arguably before the walls were built and that’s a long time ago. For many people, anything before the Victorian era is difficult to get their heads around without help.

So, what if the local historians all put their abilities together and were able to take over one of the empty shops on the High Street, to turn it into a historical interpretation centre for Berwick and perhaps the older part of Tweedmouth.

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  • A sort of long-term exhibition to outline the history of the town and why the historical remains are so important.
  • A first step for anyone wanting to learn more about the history of the town, perhaps with scale models of some buildings to help explanations.
  • From there, people could be directed on to:
    • The museums
    • The Record Office
    • Derek Sharman’s walks around the walls
    • The Town Hall tours
    • The Main Guard
    • Etc. To find further information

All these things might make more sense if they have been put into context at the interpretation centre first. This is not to compete with any other organisation, but to supplement and complement their work and make finding them easier for the visitors. Both the town museum and the TIC are now effectively run from outside the town and are therefore not so in touch with local needs.

Perhaps there might be a room in this interpretation centre we could use for occasional talks, classes, other learning activities, for adults/ families/ the general public, visitors or locals. Maybe we could hook up with local film-makers for make some short documentary pieces we could show when speakers/ tutors are not available. (These may also be used for advertising on the internet.) Other spin-off activities might result, e.g. Jim Herbert might occasionally take a group of people up to the castle ruins to talk through an interpretation in the field. Generally educate those who don’t know – both tourists and locals – but want to know more.

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More Suggestions

Amateur groups could maybe help to start events moving. Perhaps with some

  • Street theatre – the youth theatre and/or adults
  • Historical interpretations
  • Pieces by local writers
  • Choirs or smaller vocal groups on the Town Hall steps.
  • Perhaps we should look for a pavement artist

If you make people feel good, and having fun, they are more likely to spend money.

Also as the economy improves, try to bring in more visitors of a higher income level and encourage them to spend in the town. For this we need to pitch shops and services in the town to a level that seems reasonably-priced compared to Edinburgh, but focus on quality over constant cheapness – think value. Some local people may also buy these items, if only for gifts/ special occasions.

Publicity Opportunities 

                     There are actually a number of ways of gaining publicity for free – especially through the internet.

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Also, remember, we are only a year away from the Scottish Referendum. That is likely to bring some more publicity – for Berwick and Carlisle in particular – regarding the effect Scottish independence might have on English border towns. Can we think of a way to cash in on this? We need to plan for it now. If they do vote for independence, we’ll probably have even more publicity – we need to plan ahead to take advantage.

What would be on your ‘what if’ list?

Is Berwick to be Doomed by Local Attitudes?

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My blog of a couple of weeks ago: Could this be the future for Berwick? seems to have stirred some opinions, especially in the Forgotten Berwick Facebook group.  So many thoughts and ideas have been generated that I have decided to publish a double helping this week. Today I will deal with some of the comments that were made tomorrow I will post another piece about possible ways forward.

Generally, by the feedback so far received, the idea of an old town/ new town set up with the big chain-stores going to Tweedmouth and the smaller  businesses to use the current town centre was met with approval, which is good, because it is happening whether we like it or not.

The discussion then turned to the development of tourism – as an important part of the town’s economy and then the old problems began to be reeled out:

  • We need to do something about the roads and toilets first.
  • We’re too remote for people to come here.
  • Nobody south of North Yorkshire has even heard of us.
  • Why would anybody want to come here when they can find everything an hour’s journey to the north?
  • The history isn’t enough. We need more to attract people.
  • There’s no money to do anything.

Northumberland County Council

As I understand it council tax is dealt with according to area. The income from an area has an effect on the amount the county council is prepared to spend on that area. North Northumberland loses out because:

  • Less heads of population, means
  • Less council tax per square mile, also
  • A low-wage economy, means
  • More percentage of people claim council tax rebate, therefore
  • There is less money for the County Council from the area, so
  • Less money is spent on this area.

If we could boost the local economy:

  • More people would earn more, and so
  • Pay full council tax, which would mean
  • More money to the County Council from Berwick, and
  • More money for them to spend on the area.

Apart from this, at the moment the County Council probably don’t see the point of spending money on Berwick. To them, we’re unimportant, at the back of beyond. I’m sure our representatives do their best, but they are easily outnumbered and out-voted in the larger authority.

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If we start shouting about the town, and doing what we can to raise the profile, the County Council will also be forced to take notice of us. They will definitely be interested in any increase in income they can claim. Also, if visitors complain about the lack of facilities/ poor roads, etc., it will damage their reputation, because they are responsible – and they won’t want that – especially if it happens to threaten a potential increase of income!

If we continue to put off doing things while we wait for the County Council to sort out the problems, we will wait for ever – it will never happen. They will let Berwick die slowly. (I’m sure some of them would prefer it if we were in Scotland so that they didn’t have to bother with us.) We need to force their hand.

If we can begin to start things moving and then point out the problems. If we direct any complaints their way and force them to take notice. Then and only then, we might be taken more seriously and be able to get things done.

Also if we start this moving perhaps it will add another strand to the argument for dualling the A1.

Isolation

Berwick is not so isolated as it used to be. Look at all the publicity that Alnwick has had in the last few years – and it is less than 30 miles away. Droves of people now visit Alnwick for:

  • The International Music Festival
  • Alnwick Fair
  • The Castle
  • Alnwick Gardens
  • And now a Food Festival, too.

We need to entice some of them up here!

How many people also visit Bamburgh (20 miles away) and Holy Island (about 10 miles away). How many of them come on to Berwick?

Looking in other directions, how many visit the various stately homes in the Borders? If they are interested in history we should be bringing them here.

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Visitor Origins and Who Knows of Berwick

You may be surprised at how many foreign visitors turn up in Berwick Record Office – from all around the world. They clearly know about us! Over the years I’ve lived in this area I’ve come across visitors from all over Yorkshire – I don’t always have to ask, sometimes I recognise the nuances of their accents to be able to place them. I’ve also spoken to people from Lancashire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, etc. A few weeks ago Berwick Writers Workshop had a visitor from Cambridge who was on holiday in Berwick. He and his wife come every year as it’s the only place they both enjoy.

Of the books I’ve published, the Anne Hepple biography has sold all around the world, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, the USA. I think more have gone to Australia than we’ve sold in Northumberland, despite her being a Northumbrian author! The two books on the history of Berwick’s drink culture have also sold in Australia and the USA. All these people have clearly heard of Berwick!

Berwick v Edinburgh

It may seem surprising but some people would prefer Berwick to Edinburgh! Not everyone wants to visit a big city for their holiday. Edinburgh is very crowded in the summer, which can begin to feel claustrophobic – especially when the weather is hot. Edinburgh is also very expensive and cheaper accommodation is almost impossible to find in the festival season because of all the performers needing to stay as well as the tourists. As the festivals there reach capacity perhaps we need a Berwick Fringe to provide an alternative with more breathing space and less cost?

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Historical Attractions and…

Berwick’s hinterland doesn’t just cover the old Borough of Berwick, the town also serves a sizeable portion of Berwickshire, too. In fact some of the shops attract more trade from over the border than from south of the town. Berwick is also the cultural hub for all of these areas. Although history gives us our Unique Selling Points (USP) we do need to look wider – partly to interpret, partly to compliment that history.

The people who are most interested in history are usually also interested in other aspects of culture. Therefore, we do need to look at culture and heritage together and form an attack with several related prongs. These would most likely include:

  • Music
  • Drama
  • Crafts
  • Art / Art History
  • Literature / Writing
  • Film / Media

All with a local bias.  We already have much of what we need, it’s just that sometimes the dots are not joined up from a visitor point of view. (More on this to follow in the next piece.)

The Money Problem

Of course money is tight everywhere at the moment, and even if it’s true that the economy is turning a corner, we can’t expect to have money thrown at projects. However, there are still some ways and means, if people are prepared to put in the effort. It would probably need more work to find funding now, but this is also the time to try and be more innovative in our thinking about how to find the means to do what we want to do. Besides which, it is not the first step we need to consider. It could be ‘putting the cart before the horse!’ (More to follow in the next piece.)

I hope this has addressed at least some of the arguments that were put forward last time and perhaps given more food for thought! Until tomorrow….

What do you think?