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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
- 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?