Border Lines

Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Archive for the tag “Mary Portas”

From South to North – Berwick five years on

Since my family is cruising towards the end of our fifth year in Berwick, a little stocktake seems in order. What, I wonder, have I moaned about over the years? And what, if anything, has changed?

I didn’t see a parking problem when we first moved to Berwick. In London parking was way more expensive, exclusive (parking permit holders only) and elusive. Why can’t people walk a little? I asked. Of course, free parking at out-of-town supermarkets and retail parks versus fee-paying parking in Berwick was a challenge. Since then pop-to-the-shops parking has been reinstated in the town centre, and there’s free parking throughout town. Is everyone happy? Certainly not! The bollards on Marygate have yet to be removed, making parking a tad chaotic and, of course, pull-up parking is not very pedestrian friendly. Got the magic parking solution? Wave your wand now.

All parking in Berwick is currently free - but you'll need to pick up a clock to indicate how long you've been in your space. Available at a range of outlets, incuding the Tourist INformation Centre on Marygate

All parking in Berwick is currently free – but you’ll need to pick up a clock to indicate how long you’ve been in your space. Available at a range of outlets, incuding the Tourist Information Centre on Marygate

Back in 2011 I described the high street as not totally alluring. An Edinburgh family I’d met planned to explore Berwick but, on a dreich day, were so unallured by it that they drove straight on to Holy Island. This lack of pavement pizazz in Berwick was largely due to the one-two of the economic downturn and the trend towards internet shopping – and consolidated by the below-the-belt blow of high retail rents maintained by distant and uninterested investment fund landlords. Castlegate and Marygate – the gateways to the town – sported many flaking-paint and missing-letter shopfronts. Slam-on-the-brakes boutique shops and cafés tended to be tucked away in West Street and Bridge Street. So, what’s changed? As ever, we’ve seen shops come and go. But Castlegate is transformed, with many buildings and shopfronts benefiting from the Berwick Historic Area Improvement Scheme and private investment. Marygate still feels a mite vulnerable, but has reaped some rewards from the Portas monies, such as the craft collective shop Serendipity. Additionally, the tenacity of people such as John Haswell of the Chamber of Trade has ensured that several empty windows now display art and/or heritage information rather than curling carpets and dusty shelving.

The Free Trade public house on Castlegate - benefited from Berwick

The Free Trade public house on Castlegate – benefited from the Berwick Historic Area Improvement Scheme

In 2010 our nine-year-old longed for a playground in which to dangle and climb. I dubbed the facilities at Flagstaff the ‘sad swings’. In the intervening years the four swings there have dwindled to two. I know that these things take time. I also know that some people are working hard to ensure that a new generation has tip-top play facilities. But it has been a long wait and my now nearly 14-year-old has maybe passed that moment.

The sad swings at Flagstaff Park have dwindled to two - although there are great plans afoot for a spanking new playground.

The sad swings at Flagstaff Park have dwindled to two – although there are great plans afoot for a spanking new playground.

Perhaps regeneration is most evident across some of the once eyesore-sites. Remember City Electrical Factors on Chapel Street? Hello spanking new flats. How about the mouldering loo on Bank Hill? Take a bow The Louvre ice cream parlour. And the ramshackle remains of the Elizabethan pub, North Road? Enter affordable housing. Recall the shards of Lindisfarne Pottery, Governors Garden? A snug residential square is emerging. Yes, St Aidan’s House crumbles on, and the Premier Inn guessing game continues at the old cinema site. And graffiti glitz from Berwick Youth Project and other artists puts a brave face on the former Youngman’s building on Hide Hill, but it still awaits regeneration – as do many other well-known sites.

Nevertheless, there is movement across the town – not least at the former Kwik Save building. Get those seagull chicks in the air and it can come down. Yes, opinion’s split on plans and usage – what’s new? It’s easy to forget that the peace that descends on Berwick post-October marks famine for many businesses. Investing in a town where all-year-round life and facilities must balance with seasonal footfall and a trembly economy is complex and risky. Even so, there are people and organisations wanting to invest in Berwick. All in all, taking stock suggests there’s plenty of hope for our fabulous feisty town for the forthcoming five years.

Berwick Guildhall. Not the House of Commons.

A fabulous feisty town.

A version of this article was published in the Berwick Advertiser on 13th August 2015

To do, or not to do? What is the answer?

Reading the 18th/19th-century charge sheets at the Magistrates Court during the recent Berwick Heritage Open Days, I was struck by how many misdemeanours then are the same as those perpetrated today. Drunk and disorderly, brawling, illegal parking (carts left in Tweed Street too long!), fly-tipping, petty theft. The punishments were perhaps rather more barbaric – public floggings, workhouses, hard labour.  But overall history does seem to repeat itself. Or, as the French would say – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Berwick Magistrates Court (Image (c) Jim Herbert)

Another thing that stays the same is the amount of missed appointments. Skipped NHS appointments cost shedloads and increase waiting times. A report I read a while back (based on research by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine) suggests that posters telling people how many patients keep their appointments (rather than how many miss them) are more effective in reducing DNAs (Did Not Attend). Combine that with getting patients to write down their own appointment time and date, or asking them to repeat details back over the phone, and no-shows were cut by 31% in the surgeries where trials were run. So why isn’t this common practice? Now, if I were in charge…

Moaning. Everyone loves a good moan. It gives us a feel-good frisson of self-righteousness. Moaning is a mono-activity. You download about a subject and then sit back. And when no one does anything about your moan, you moan again.

In-fighting, back-biting, bullying, jostling for supremacy. These are endlessly repeated in playgrounds and meeting rooms around the world.

Parallel to the repeating worlds of petty crime, missed appointments, power-play and moaning, is a world where people keep appointments, work together and do life-enhancing things. I am endlessly impressed by people who get stuff done. They are not overcome by the possibility of failure or ridicule or humiliation.

There are people in Berwick who win Portas bids, set up pop-up shops, open cafés, devise and organise festivals. Sometimes, when I think of all the amazing things that people make happen in Berwick, I feel the need for a duvet day on their behalf. We’ve had the Food & Beer Festival, Film & Media Arts Festival, Heritage Open Days, Mouth of the Tweed, Frontier Music Festival,boat trips on the Tweed, and much more besides. Could these things have been better? Probably. Will they get better? Possibly. Will there be in-fighting in committees and organising bodies? Indubitably. Will some people have a good moan about them? Certainly.

A festival season in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Worth celebrating.

A festival season in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Worth celebrating.

Of course, most of us criss-cross between the world of celebrating and pursuing the positives and the world of getting bogged down in negatives. The truly amazing thing is that anything ever really gets done at all. But somehow events committees, town councils, town teams dust themselves down after body blows, criticisms, dead-ends and they plod on –  or pass the baton on to others, sometimes graciously and sometimes less so.

And maybe this is the painful and repeating dynamic of getting things done. Reading reports about the Berwick Town Team, the Town Council, County Council and the Portas Pilot monies, I certainly hope so. A glance at feedback on other Portas Pilot towns indicates that most are experiencing similar issues to Berwick – and presumably everyone wants the funds spent effectively and judiciously. But interpretations of ‘efficient and judicious’ vary. It’s hard to please everyone.

Mary Portas – many Portas Pilot towns have faced struggles.

Despite the French proverb, history isn’t all same-old, same-old. Just as attitudes to punishment have changed, the line between things we applaud and things we deplore also shifts with time. The research into NHS missed appointments demonstrates – and any parent will tell you – that highlighting positives rather than moaning about negatives will usually produce more positive outcomes. If only we could simply consign moaning to history and focus on trumpeting the successes of the here and now. Who knows where it might take us.

(A version of this article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser, October 2013)

Community: the antidote to big business and the rip-off culture


The snowdrops and aconites are bright jelly tots against the grey packaging of our garden. This splash of colour, and the lighter evenings and mornings, should help lift that weighed-down-winter-feeling.

But it’s not just the weather and lack of light that’s been lowering this year. The news also seems particularly grey. The horsemeat saga highlights a sense that morals and ethics have gone out of the window in favour of the pursuit of ever-larger profit margins – and that great faceless catchall, ‘shareholder value’. The upside is that the episode has been good for our marvellous high street butchers – my butcher tells me that he’s had a shopper who’s never been in a butcher’s before. NEVER BEEN IN A BUTCHER’S SHOP!

Marvellous John Skelly at work in the high street.

Marvellous John Skelly at work in the high street.

Back in the news, there are uncomfortable reports on quality of care – in hospitals, homes for the elderly and those with learning disabilities. Abuse of power is commonplace. The sense of having paid for, or simply having a human right to honest, thoughtful and appropriate care, service or products seems to have evaporated. Part of the reason for this must be the increasing need to justify and quantify everything in financial terms – whether it be healthcare, education, or the supply chain.

The fact is that if financial criteria are the key markers of success you’re always going to fall short. There are always more savings to be made. Always more money to be scrabbled after. Hence, things that were free or cheap now cost more, and higher-end goods are often compromised. For example, chicken was a real treat when I was little. Now you can choose from a row of identically plump water- and hormone-injected breasts at bargain prices. Accountability becomes a paper exercise.

On the day I’m writing, a supermarket chain announced it will source all its meat from UK suppliers. It’s to ‘reassure’ because people have ‘lost faith’. Let’s face it, all the huge food suppliers are on the back foot looking to salvage the most customers they can from a murky business. Once the dust settles, bad practice will slip seamlessly back into play.

But maybe that guy who’d never been in a butcher’s shop is a timely reminder that lots of us have forgotten how to shop for essentials, if not daily, then more than once a week. That we’ve wandered away from the high street – the greengrocer, the baker, the deli, the small supplier. And while our backs were turned, well, the high street has all but disappeared and we’ve been lumbered with big, bigger and biggest.

So, what to do?

Well, I say, three cheers for the local community. Working together to hang on to what we’ve got – like our high street (The Green Shop, The Market Shop, Retro, Danish Design, Berrydin Books, Grieves Stationers and many more), like our maternity unit and hospital, like decent train timetabling, like our heritage and open spaces. The more we use these resources and fight to keep them, the more they’ll succeed and, hopefully, the more enterprises and services will join them.

One of the reasons Berwick is such an exciting place to live – and why, like us or loathe us, it attracts incomers like me –  is the amazing amount of goodwill within the town, a palpable sense that change for the greater good is not only desirable: it’s doable.

So I am looking forward to seeing how the Portas money is spent to benefit our town. £200,000 may be a drop in the ocean. But it’s drops that cause waves. I am delighted by the Berwick’s Park Project and intrigued to see what comes of Arch’s scheme for renewal and regeneration.

Because I still believe that a local community that works, shops, plans and parties together can find ways to buck the news trends, shrug off the winter greys, and put a spring twinkle into its own steps.

A version of this article appeared in The Berwick Advertiser on 7 March 2013

Drama & demos, fun & festivals, laughter & aching legs: Another fab year in Berwick

Calendar Girls at the marvellous Maltings – you can still get copies of the fab cast & crew calendar at the Maltings or on line here

As we’re approaching Christmas I thought I’d partake in that age-old tradition of ‘looking back’. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, looking back –  whether with a sense of yearning, a frisson of shame, or a wry smile – is an inevitable pastime. So, in this festive season, bear with me as I glance back over my musings in this column during 2012.

In January my post-holiday glow, gave me cause to celebrate the plethora of events and functions in and around Berwick. Many still to come this year – from the Dickensian Market (9th December), to the Spittal torchlit parade (December 14th), complete with camels this time! I gave three cheers for the pioneering spirit that ensures that treasured traditions continue and new things are thrown into the ring; the lights on the Royal Border Bridge, now fully functioning and gorgeous; and the colours of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, which, come August 1st 2013, will hopefully be central to a thrill-a-minute civic week.

February was the month when Scottish independence and broody hens made curious nest fellows. With a referendum due in 2014, Berwick’s claim as the Monaco of the North needs to be shouted loud and proud. As for hens, I managed to pop fertilised eggs under our broody hen who, miraculously, hatched two gorgeously cute chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick.

The chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick

The chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick

The inescapable inability to keep New Year’s resolutions slapped me reproachfully in the face in March. But, happily, so did the beauty of the surrounding countryside as charity and exercise collided in the form of training for the Edinburgh MoonWalk.

Mary Portas fever hit in April as the first-round bid for funding gripped the town. As in so many things in life, success came second time around. Hopefully uniting behind a coherent vision for Berwick will follow seamlessly.

By May training fatigue plagued me as did fury at the amount of litter that people insist on dumping – particularly from cars. June brought a train timetabling rant after a five-hour journey twice took eight hours – I am fearful that East Coast Mainline’s habit of dropping Berwick from key routes to regain time might mark the whittling away of what has been a fantastic London and southeast-bound service.

Will Berwick's train service be whittled away as trains sail straight through on some routes to save precious minutes

Will Berwick’s train service be whittled away as trains sail straight through our station to save precious minutes?

In July, following on from June’s Jubilee and Olympic fervour, I celebrated Berwick’s ability to lay on a jolly good day out. I hoped – and still do – that we might become a renowned town of festivals.

August was a month off for me – but the people of Berwick continued to plan, party and campaign – notably in the march to keep Berwick’s Maternity Unit open.

September: two more festivals! The Food Festival and Film & Media Arts. Plus October’s all-new Frontier Music Festival. All fabulous. All attracting a wide variety of people to Berwick. All back in 2013.

Change and its challenges were hot topics in October – brought on by our own lengthy building works and the many positive plans being hatched for Berwick. Deep down I know we are doing the right thing in updating and modernising our home – but the process is not always easy or without conflict. This, I mused, is a bit like keeping up the momentum for change in Berwick.

I wafted (rather bravely I thought) into windpower in November. Another brave move for me was appearing at the marvellous Maltings in Calendar Girls. Having marched round Edinburgh in my bra for breast cancer, it seemed only fair to walk the boards in – well, not much really – for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research.

I have had a fabulous year in Beautiful Berwick – thank you for letting me share some of it with you. And, as the windmill might say to its sails: ‘What goes round, comes round.’ So, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(A version of this article was published in the Berwick Advertiser on 6 December 2012)

Don’t sweep change under the carpet

‘I love you, you’re perfect, now change’:  Musicals may be clichéd and sentimental but they also have a knack of summing up aspects of the human condition succinctly and evocatively.

As I gaze at the wreck that was once my house, I’m beginning to ask what madness possessed us to embark on updating and modernising the home we fell in love with a few years back. Could we not simply have let be? Or just slapped on a bit of paint? You know things are bad when you start making decisions about fixtures and furnishings by drawing lots – using breadsticks because the drinking straws are under a pile of dusty boxes.

Breadsticks: the shortest straw?

Do the lovely people who owned our house before us shake their heads in wonder at our need to meddle? They lived here for umpteen years happily and comfortably. Actually, I suspect they are totally cool with what we’re up to.

But often change is seen as a criticism. Imagine for a moment that you have been in charge of a shop window for some time. Your display has been effective – the shop has kept going even in these straitened times. Then someone rearranges it. Some of it you like; some you don’t. But generally it is now more alluring. Even so, it would be hard not to take it as a personal reproach.

And I’m wondering if there isn’t a little bit of that going on in Berwick.

I see that it can get people’s backs up when incomers coo over the delights of the place and then follow up with, ‘what’s wrong with Berwick’, and ‘what Berwick needs’.  Often as if no one had ever had such thoughts and ideas before.

The truth is there are no new ideas under the sun. But, on the other hand, that is not a reason not to try things twice or even three or four times. New people do often bring fresh approaches and energy. Plus, let’s face it, the difference between a successful initiative and one that falls flat can be a simple question of timing and luck.

We seem to be at a moment when real change is within the town’s grasp. There’s the Portas money – match-funded by the county council. There’s an ambitious Berwick Plan being developed by Arch (established by Northumberland County Council to stimulate regeneration and growth in Northumberland). Additionally, there are grassroots groups such as Berwick Deserves Better – chiselling away to improve Berwick bit-by-bit for the people by the people.

Most people I speak to agree that Berwick needs more than just a springclean. Each person usually has their own gripe or hobby horse – parking is a popular one, so is the sapping of the town’s resources by a distanced and uninterested council, and ‘the state of the town centre’ is high scoring too. My own is the lack of a decent and accessible children’s playground.

It would be marvellous if we could achieve a thriving town centre, lower shop rents, improved facilities for families, more jobs, renovation of derelict buildings, and better upkeep of open spaces by doing nothing. But we can’t.

All change: building works – some of our alterations will no doubt be more successful than others. But we will be glad we did it. Eventually.

So we do need people who are prepared to put themselves on the line and take action and try things out. And no doubt there will be some duff decisions and some unexpected strokes of genius – though none, I hope, made on the basis of the shortest breadstick; there will be some changes that some of us love and some loathe – and, hopefully, some areas of total harmony.

Which, in some marvellous and symmetrical way, is what I expect with the renovation of our house. But I’d like to state that the genius decisions were mine and the less good ones The Husband’s. Because I do love him, and he is perfect, but…

A version of this article was first published in the Berwick Advertiser on 4th October 2012

Home: a place of dust and delights

Delightful Dorset. But…

It’s nice to have a break if only to enjoy that coming-home sensation: the one where your heart beats a wee bit faster and your shoulders relax as familiar scenery unfolds past the train or car window.

Since we moved up North from London we have often felt as if we are permanently on holiday. However, now we’ve been in Berwick for two years, the perspective is changing. When we come home, we also experience that familiar stomach tightening which indicates that you’re about to re-engage with all the commitments that have not evaporated during your carefree absence.

For us, the most immediate reminder that time doesn’t stop while you’re away is our on-going building work which is, well, on-going. Returning from the beaches of Dorset to wade through a house of dust and discover you have no kitchen (including no cooker or fridge) is an immediate reminder that home is not quite how you’d like it – yet!

Likewise, turn your back for a month, and it’s amazing how much happens in Berwick. Portas bids are won, parades pass by, civil disobedience takes place (here’s to all who marched to keep the Maternity Unit open!), tourists come and go, shops and cafés close and open – so many people working so hard to hang on to what we’ve got and to improve it all too. Good on yer, chaps!

Holidays also mean that the catalogue of upcoming events underscored in your diary for action has rushed ever closer without you actually doing any of the things you’re supposed to do. And, like the dust in our house, they will not be swept under the carpet.

There’s the Berwick Food & Beer Festival – this weekend – which is a source of excitement and anxiety for my family. We’re no longer litter pickers as we were that first weekend we arrived in Berwick. We’re involved in organising elements of it: The Husband a film tie-in – hope you caught Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia at The Maltings last night; and don’t miss Eat Drink Man Woman on Wednesday 12th September. As for me, the demonstration kitchen kept me entertained and out of trouble last year and looks set to do the same this. It’s so brilliant to welcome highly talented local chefs and producers cooking locally sourced produce –  the Wheatsheaf at Swinton, the Barn at Beal, the Fenton Centre, plus Denise from Peelham & Jimmy from Windgate farms will all feature. And, helping run the kitchen two brilliant foodies: local photographer Maggie Jary, and Lea Harris, the first person living in Scotland to appear on TV’s Great British Bake Off.

There’s no place like home…

I’ve also been fortunate enough to get involved with another great local community resource: Generate Radio, set up by two incredibly dynamic and creative young men, Kyle Alexander and Oscar MacAndrew. It broadcasts out of Duns to Berwickshire, Berwick, and the world via the internet, but hopefully will get an FM licence soon. The lads are gathering and training a group of volunteers who broadcast an eclectic and dynamic live schedule of music, news and chat shows from breakfast through the night. My show, Border Lines, goes out from noon ‘til 1pm on a Tuesday – it’s a mix of interviews, local news and general blether, plus a rifle through music drawers past, present, left-field and mainstream. It’s a brilliant opportunity to explore many things going on locally – from news and events, to people’s experiences and stories, and much more. I love it and am really grateful for the opportunity to try my hand at something new – but, my goodness, it takes time to prepare!

So, as the holiday wetsuits drip dry in the bright closet of irresponsibility, it is time to re-open the dusty (literally!) wardrobe of homely garments and deal with the day-to-day burden of real life. Pretty damn exciting, actually.

A version of this article appeared in the Berwick Advertiser on 6th September 2012

A jolly good day out in Berwick

A day out – at home!

I do love a good day out. And if it’s a good day out just outside my front door, so much the better. And, my goodness, we’ve had a couple of great Berwick days during the damp, bleak month of June – both garnished with lashings of community spirit and, miraculously, sunshine.

I know many staunch republicans absented themselves from all things Jubilee, but I confess that, despite my ambivalence towards the monarchy, I enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to partake in a bit of neighbourly togetherness.

And, oh, what fun we had. The Parade was packed with all sorts: superbly priced, efficiently delivered, deliciously tempting sandwich and cake platters; a charity raffle; a mega inflatable slide; marvellous entertainment from Norham Brass Band (loved the Abba selection and can-can!), the mellifluous Mamatones, the anarchic Berwick Broadcasting Corporation, and much more besides. Families supped, chatted, laughed and sunned themselves. How idyllic.

The following week the Olympics, another event from which I’ve kept my eyes firmly averted, made its presence felt in Berwick’s sunny streets. Again, despite my misgivings about the corporate handcuffs applied to the so-called ‘People’s Olympics’, I looked forward to a second opportunity to gather with the good folk of Berwick to wave flags and enjoy bunting and laughter.

The Olympic Torch enters Berwick – ready for mass flag waving

Two national events that, although perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, prompted two brilliant community days. Days that left me with a warm glow about my adopted town and its ability to put on a good bash. When it counted, people flooded into the town, lined the streets, found places to park, walked to where they needed to go, chatted to each other and cheered each other on. It didn’t matter that our high street can perhaps seem a bit grim, or that the parking isn’t ideal: people came and enjoyed.

We, as a town, are rather good at this sort of thing – the party or festival that brings the community together, piques the visitor’s interest and makes them welcome. And it’s that ethos of the ‘good-day-out’  that might well become a unifying factor as we wrestle with all the various elements that conspire to make things tough for us – from devolved administration to economic constraints.

Our streets teem with people trying to make a case for improving Berwick’s lot – or simply improving it bit by precious bit. By the time this goes to print, the first Town Tidy Up of the year will have happened. Organised by Città Slow and Berwick in Bloom, supported by the newly formed Berwick Deserves Better – the aim is to tidy, clean, mend and paint community areas such as Eastern Lane by the Maltings, around the station and Castle Vale Park, and deal with graffiti in places like Woods Wynd. Meanwhile, the Town Team is busy polishing the second bid for Portas funding. Additionally, Arch (established by Northumberland County Council to stimulate regeneration and growth in Northumberland), is hatching a methodical approach to developing ‘a programme for Berwick which will make a significant contribution to competitiveness, place quality and sustainability, but which is also realistic, pragmatic and deliverable.’  Which, hopefully, will bode well for a number of prime redundant sites in Berwick, including the Kwik Save building.

So, let’s hope that, in time, such initiatives coalesce to make a lasting impact on the quality of life for those who already live and work in Berwick as well as those who visit. As one person I spoke to said: Berwick is a quality town. We have the history and heritage that makes people want to call in; we have the boutique B&Bs that attract people to make Berwick a base from which to visit other locations; what we need are the add-ons that make people who visit linger a while –  and enjoy a jolly good Berwick day out.

(A version of this article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on 5th July 2012)

Berwick: a town of festivals?

A couple of weeks ago The Husband and I trotted along to a meeting at the William Elder Building.  The aim was to discuss ideas for a bid for £100,000 from a government grant scheme launched after the Mary Portas Review to boost ailing town centres such as Berwick.

In recent years, exhausting amounts of expensive research has examined the challenges Berwick faces. A baffling array of ideas, projects and events from various groups of dynamic people have followed. Some of these have run their course, others struggle to keep going. Separately, independent stand–alone events, like the Film Festival, attract international attention. But few projects seem to capture the collective imagination and support of all Berwickers.

Some 40 of us gathered – individuals, representatives from organisations and businesses and interested parties, all of whom would like to see Berwick booming and blooming. A place of cultural and historical stimulation: a vibrant, fun and happening town – on the map of places to go.

The meeting was ably led by Peter Watts (Trustee, Berwick Community Trust) who’d gathered valuable input from a range of Berwick people and stakeholders, including The Maltings Theatre & Cinema and Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival. We watched a great amateur film (which has accompanied the bid) produced by the Youth Project. It offered a thoughtful perspective from young people on how and why Berwick could and should be improved.

Facelift type projects were discussed at some length. But do they sustain a town centre? What we’d all love is a regular influx of interested and interesting people (with money to spend!) drawn to Berwick by ‘something’. But what? Of course we want pretty shops, lovely cafés, a flourishing market, acceptable parking, a decent children’s playground etc – but what’s the big draw?

The sheer breadth and depth of marvellous Berwick events was aired and admired…the Film Festival, Food Festival, the much mourned Tattoo, the Riding of the Bounds, the Minden Parade, the Dickensian Market. Great cultural venues such as the Granary, the Barracks, Gymnasium Gallery and the Maltings; natural delights like the river and coast, and historic landmarks from the walls to the Royal Border Bridge were dusted down and appreciated. But, let’s face it, regeneration for Berwick isn’t happening – even with all this.

In our little discussion group it quickly became clear that we were done with reports. We wanted action. But there are as many ideas of what action looks like as people in a room. Many of us were involved in different events. All beavering away, valiantly endeavouring to create ‘the’ event. Endlessly reinventing the wheel of licences, permissions, permits and local involvement with varying degrees of aggro and success.

So, how to move forward?

Well, as one person at the meeting said, “Can we agree that whether or not we are successful in this bid, we will get a working party together and, despite the barriers – insurance, absentee landlords etc – we will clean and tidy and decorate the town centre?”

And, as someone else pointed out:  there’s no deep historical reason that Hay–on–Wye is now ‘the town of books’. Richard Booth decided to pull a publicity stunt in 1977, it caught people’s imaginations, and the rest is very lucrative history.

I’d say that surely the ‘something’ to attract people is Berwick itself. Berwick with its glorious potential, amazing calendar of events and attractions. And the unifying factor is people acting together. A co–ordinated, independent town team, planning and making things happen, with a mission to promote ownership of Berwick by its people for its people.

So let’s hope the bid’s successful – but let’s hope even harder that we, as a town, get the momentum to work together effectively to make Berwick the place we want it to be – and that others want to come to. A town of festivals, perhaps?

A version of this article was published in The Berwick Advertiser on 5th April

Post Navigation