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?