Urban foraging: Food that’s wild and free

Being a bit of a hippy at heart, I’ve really quite fancied the idea of doing some proper foraging for a while now.

 

On the one hand, if Armageddon were to strike, I’m sure being able to identify which plants are edible and which are likely to kill us off would be a fairly useful skill to have.

 

But on the other, it’s just a lovely, satisfying thing to do – to roam around in nature and truly know what it is you’re communing with at every level. In other words, being familiar with the culinary use of your chosen shrub or flower, its medicinal purpose and even its spiritual meaning, as they all have one. So it’s about getting to know the beautiful, green world around you and truly being at home and feeling part of it.

 

The most amazing foragers I’ve come across, it must be said though, are the Iban, a tribal people who live in the rainforest in Sarawak in the Malaysian part of Borneo. My Beloved and I went on holiday there a dozen or so years ago before the destruction of the forests by loggers and palm oil producers really started taking hold.

Iban longhouse
Iban longhouse

Sarawak at that time was known to be one of the six most biodiverse regions in the world and, amazingly, a hectare of rainforest there traditionally had more tree species in it than all of the European countries put together – until they started being ripped up to plant palm oil monocultures, that is, in order to feed the developed world’s apparently insatiable lust for the stuff.

 

Palm oil, it turns out, is a key ingredient in nearly half of all our mass-produced goods, ranging from cosmetics and toothpaste to cakes and sweets and we seem just as dependent on it as we are on black gold – and at a similar cost to the environment too.

 

Anyway, while we were in Borneo, we were lucky enough to spend a couple of nights in a longhouse with the Iban people in order to find out a bit more about where and how they lived. One fascinating morning, we went out on a rainforest walk with a guide who showed us plants to cure every kind of ailment, including one thought to have potential in the fight against AIDS.

 

But even more amazing was a canoe trip upstream into the rainforest. On stopping the boat at some apparently random spot, an Iban man threw a jala (throw-net) into the river and ended up with an impressive enough catch of pretty silver fish to feed our little party for both lunch and dinner.

 

Then on disembarking, our hosts started poking around in the fecund undergrowth and began pulling up what I would have sworn was a bunch of weeds, but which turned out to be the most delicious savoury accompaniment to our meal. This was cooked together with the fish in long bamboo poles buried in a hastily dug out pit by the water’s edge. It was gorgeous – and all the better for being devoured outdoors.

 

So suitably inspired on returning to the UK, I bought myself a “Food For Free” guidebook and dragged my Beloved out for a couple of Sundays on the trot to see what we could find.

 

To forage or not to forage?

 

I even did a foraging course in deepest Essex in a bid to get up close and personal with the help of a guide rather than simply try to work things out from a book. Sadly though, I could barely hear a word of what was said, let alone get near enough to spot the various plants under scrutiny as there were just too many people in the group. The only thing I gained from the experience, in fact, was a rather nice nettle soup at the end.

 

And so it all kind of fizzled out – until the end of last year, that is, when my parents asked what I’d like for Christmas. And it struck me that what I’d really like to do was go foraging with an expert again as a way of sparking a somewhat more sustained interest.

 

So one short Google search later and I’d unearthed Robin Harford, who seemed to come highly recommended – and with good reason. His enthusiasm and obvious passion for his subject proved infectious – despite the bitingly cold wind gusting through the somewhat desolate and deprived environs of Westbourne Park where our adventure took place.

 

Although Robin offers foraging courses up and down the country in plenty of rural hotspots, I’d been intrigued by the thought of what he might be able to conjure up in the great metropolis of London and so had signed up for a morning’s session there instead.

Westbourne Park
Westbourne Park

And I wasn’t disappointed. Although somewhat less than prepossessing at first glance, the Park proved to offer a veritable cornucopia of wild food that most of us, bar a few dogs, would simply pass by and not even notice. Traversing from one end to the other, we uncovered everything from chickweed (salad greens) and ransoms (wild garlic) to the flowers of Japanese ornamental quince (for salads and decoration).

 

It was just a pity that some of the residents of the dreary and alienating high-rise tower blocks didn’t get a chance to join us too as such nutritious free-of-charge additions to their diet might have proved welcome. One for Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food healthy cooking gang to think about maybe.

 

Or maybe not, if the likes of Bristol City Council has its way. Because the Council is proposing a series of 34 new by-laws to cover the 212 parks and green spaces around the town that, it is feared, would effectively put paid to foraging in the area – and possibly elsewhere if other local authorities follow suit.

 

The by-laws, which were put out to a consultation that ended on 20 March this year, include a ban on removing “the whole or any part of any plant, shrub or tree”, a stricture that could mean traditional activities such as blackberry-picking, scrumping apples and even pulling mushrooms are effectively outlawed.

 

Although the Council insisted that it was not trying to do any such thing, it also pointed out that it had received more than 3,000 complaints about “nuisance in parks” between 2011 and 2013 and so was trying to protect plants from damage as a result.

 

The problem is that, while it undoubtedly means well, a failure to think through the implications of its proposals in a thorough and careful fashion could have serious ramifications for us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Holistic medicine: All in the mind?

I’ve been a huge fan of holistic medicine for some time now, I must admit. It’s not that I dislike the NHS or anything because I don’t – in fact, I think it’s one of Britain’s greatest inventions and one that has done wonders for the health of the nation in general, and women’s health in particular, since it was set up in 1948.

 

Having lived in California for a couple of years around the turn of the Millennium, I saw first-hand what not being able to afford healthcare via a private insurance scheme meant. And the concomitant fear of getting sick, or losing your job, and not being able to afford help made me value the Health Service even more – although things have undoubtedly got better over the pond since the introduction of Obamacare, otherwise known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, in 2010.

 

California poppies, California
California poppies, California

Only 9.2% of the US population are now not covered by any health insurance compared with 15.7% when the Act was signed into law, although the Medicaid scheme continues to be available for the most vulnerable and those on the lowest incomes.

 

Anyway, one of the reasons that I started looking for alternatives to allopathic medicine was the fact that, in many instances, it seemed like a sledgehammer to crack a nut. And the side effects, in my experience anyway, were sometimes almost worse than the original condition.

 

A more holistic approach taking in mind, body and spirit also made intrinsic sense to me seeing as each of us comprises all of those things and all of them inevitably interact with each other.

 

So over the years, I’ve tried a goodly assortment of natural or complementary health remedies ranging from homeopathy and Five Elements acupuncture to applied kinesiology and Reiki energy healing, generally to positive effect, no matter what the sceptics say.

 

But there will always be a special place in my heart for herbal medicine. Not only do I love plants, but the practice has also been part of our culture and heritage since time immemorial, handed down from generation to generation long before pharmaceutical drugs came on the scene.

 

Moreover, many of these drugs are simply the synthesised versions of active ingredients found in plants anyway – only they don’t usually contain the range of compounds that buffer and counteract some of the worst side effects of chemical pills and potions. Examples of such active ingredients include aspirin (to treat pain, fever and inflammation), quinine (for malaria) and ephedrine (to relieve asthma and hay fever).

 

Herbal medicine

 

But I’m not the only herbal medicine fan, it seems. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 20% of the British population opt to use herbal products at some point in their lives, while around three million people consult herbalists each year.

 

Anyway, I recently decided to take it just that little bit further and start a home-study course on the subject, which although difficult to squeeze into a hectic work and social schedule, has so far proved fascinating.

 

Herbal medicine
Herbal medicine

Sadly though, herbal medicine does seem to have been a practice under siege for some time. The introduction of the European Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive in 2004, which took full effect in the UK some seven years later, required all mass-produced herbal remedies to be authorised for sale by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority, which also licences pharmaceutical drugs.

 

The move followed reports of harm having been done to people by herbal products manufactured on an industrial-scale as they were believed to have contained dangerous herbs, the wrong constituents or toxic contaminants. This situation led to the banning of specific herbs and the licensing of mass-produced products, although trained herbalists were still permitted to create and dispense their own concoctions – if they had the facilities in place, that is.

 

The next inevitable step though was to explore whether herbal practitioners should be regulated or not and whether it made sense to list authorised personnel on a statutory register. But an enquiry led by Professor David Walker, former deputy chief medical officer for England, concluded in a report published in March last year that they shouldn’t.

 

The quality of research around herbal medicine was insufficient to prove that it actually worked or not, he attested, making it impossible to set standards of good practice. But opinion in the herbalist community and elsewhere was split over whether the outcome was a good or a bad thing.

 

Some worried that, because any Tom, Dick or Harry can currently set themselves up as a practitioner, failure to regulate could put public health at risk and/or bring the profession into disrepute. Others were concerned, on the other hand, that it could act as a stepping-stone to banning herbal practice entirely.

 

Just before Christmas though, it seems, the government chose to quietly drop the entire matter rather than make a ruling one way or the other – and so that, for the time being at least, is that.

 

Homeopathy and the placebo effect

 

Another complementary practice that is also seemingly under threat, however, is homeopathy. Ministers are now planning to hold a consultation later this year on whether to place it on a blacklist of treatments in order to prevent GPs in England from prescribing it.

 

The move followed warnings last year from the so-called Good Thinking Society, a campaigning group that promotes “scientific scepticism”, to take their vocal case against homeopathy to the courts – at which point Department of Health legal advisers told the BBC that ministers had decided a consultation was in order.

 

Homeopathic medicine chest
Homeopathic medicine chest

But the NHS itself is sceptical as to the efficacy of homeopathy anyway, it seems. On its website, the body cites a 2010 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report, which stated that such remedies perform “no better than placebos”. The report also claimed that the principles on which homeopathy are based are “scientifically implausible” – a view likewise held by chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies.

 

But, even if the Good Thinking Society were to get its way, the result of any consultation would only have an impact on the small number of GPs who currently prescribe homeopathic drugs anyway. These cost the NHS an estimated £110,000 per year, a tiny fraction of its overall whopping £15 billion annual drugs bill.

 

It wouldn’t make any difference to the people who either buy homeopathic treatments over the counter or go to private practitioners or homeopathic hospitals, which make up the bulk of the sector’s trade today.

 

Just to return to the concept of the placebo effect for a moment, however. Although it is generally talked about in a rather sniffy way, it always seems to me that it doesn’t actually matter too much where healing comes from as long as it’s effective.

 

In fact, I’ve often thought that one of the reasons complementary medicine possibly does work so well for so many is that practitioners actually take the time to talk to and nurture people who are all too often lonely, unhappy or simply don’t feel listened to in lives that often demand much and seem to give little in return. It’s a much broader definition of caring than is often dished out, but in my experience a smile and a kind word can go a long way to promote healing.

 

Another consideration is that if people believe they are getting pill-shaped help, it can often have a massive impact on their physical health. Thoughts and beliefs, it appears, can materially change our physiology and make a huge difference to our physical wellbeing for positive or negative as we effectively start to heal ourselves.

 

Which, perhaps counter-intuitively for some, does actually make a strong case for a more holistic mind, body and spirit/emotions approach after all.

 

 

2016: The year of the great British icon

There must be something in the air. Because since the start of this year, British icons of great repute, not just at home but also abroad, have been hitting the headlines willy-nilly, serving to emphasise our stature in all things musical, literary and design.

 

The biggest event was the shocking but not altogether surprising death of David Bowie from liver cancer. I say not surprising because, while I, and undoubtedly others, hadn’t necessarily put two and two together at the time, when he released his melancholic “The Next Day” album in 2013, it did come across as a sort of nostalgic summing up of a glittering musical career. A kind of review, in fact, encapsulating and echoing all that had gone before. Which, given what we know now, does makes sense.

 

And then there was the subsequent “Blackstar” album and its “Lazarus” single in particular, which Bowie recorded as a final farewell to his millions of fans throughout the world, releasing it on his 69th birthday just two days before he died on 10 January. “His death was no different from his life – a work of art,” as Tony Visconti, his producer on Blackstar, “Young Americans” and his seminal Berlin trilogy, “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger”, aptly put it.

 

While maybe not quite on the same scale in terms of international stardom – unless you happen to be a punk/heavy rock fan, that is – Motorhead’s founder and frontman Lemmy also passed away last month too, only 48 hours after being informed that he too had an aggressive form of cancer, which was a mere four days after his 70th birthday.

 

Lemmy
Lemmy

What did make me smile through the tears though was the news of a petition, launched by his fans on activist website change.org, to name one of four newly-discovered heavy metal elements that are due to be included in the periodic table “Lemmium” in his honour. A tribute of which I’m sure Lemmy would have been proud. A tad surprised maybe, but nonetheless proud.

 

But famous pop stars aren’t the only British cultural exports being mourned at the moment. Another is motoring legend the Land Rover Defender, a 4×4 off-road vehicle renowned all over the world, which will, as of Friday 29 January, roll off production lines no more, having fallen foul of modern day emissions and crash test safety standards.

 

Something approaching two million of the iconic rattletraps have been made since first emerging on the scene in 1948 to be purchased by such high-profile personages as former Beatles singer Paul McCartney, actor Sean Connery and even video game star, Lara Croft – despite the fact they were originally designed for use by both the armed forces and farmers and were themselves based on the US Willys military jeep.

 

But it was actually Queen Elizabeth II who really made the alluring gas-guzzler synonymous with the UK when she was first spotted bouncing around behind the wheel of one in 1952 – and she’s understood to have owned quite a few of the things since.

 

 British cultural exports

 

Anyway, on a slightly more cheery note, it turns out that Landrover aficionado Sir Paul McCartney and the rest of his Beatle chums – yet another British cultural export of the music-making variety – have actually ended up giving quite a lot back to their local community of Liverpool, whether they particularly intended to or not.

 

Some 46 years after the Fab Four split up in 1970, a report commissioned by the City Council on the contemporary value of their legacy to the local economy, has revealed that it is worth an impressive £81.9 million a year and is growing at a rate of up to 15% per annum. Currently supporting more than 2,300 tourism-related jobs, the aim is to build on this foundation by relocating the British Music Experience, a museum of UK popular music since 1945, to the iconic Cunard building on the banks of the River Mersey from the O2 arena in London – once a third party operator can be found, that is.

 

But there is also talk of redeveloping Strawberry Field, the site of a Salvation Army children’s home in Woolton. It was in this garden that John Lennon apparently used to play as a child and after which he named his psychedelic rock song, ‘Strawberry Fields forever‘.

 

And such developments would appear to make sense too given the apparently rising popularity of The Beatles among young music fans both from the UK and as far away as Brazil and China, all of which is fuelling a new-found tourist boom.

 

Beatrix Potter's favourite characters
Beatrix Potter’s favourite characters

Just as popular elsewhere, meanwhile, has been the recent discovery of a long-lost manuscript by children’s author, Beatrix Potter, famous all over the world for her tiny illustrated books of whimsical characters such as Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck.

 

Fittingly, seeing as this year marks the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth, the manuscript for “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots” was tracked down by publisher Jo Hanks after she found a reference to it two years ago in a letter that Potter had written to her own publisher in 1914. As well as three manuscripts of the story, which according to Potter centres on a “well-behaved prime black Kitty cat who leads a rather double life”, Hanks also found a rough colour sketch of Kitty and a pencil rough of arch-villain Mr Tod too.

 

The new book, which is due to be published in September, likewise features some of the author’s best-loved characters such as Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and an “older, slower and portlier” version of Peter Rabbit.

 

Illustrated by cartoonist, Quentin Blake, amazingly, or perhaps not, it is already a bestseller, merrily topping Amazon’s book charts months before its official appearance – an impressive fact which just goes to show that once you’ve got it, you never really lose it.

 

 

 

Discovering British pantomime

I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but I do love a good pantomime. Oh no you don’t, I hear you cry. But I do. I really do.

 

So it was with great delight that my Beloved and I took ourselves off to Saffron Walden town hall last weekend to view the annual festive season Spectacular in all its camp glory. And this year, it took the form of Beauty and the Beast – an esteemed work that I must confess I wasn’t previously familiar with. Dick Whittington, yes. Aladdin, yes. But Beauty and the Beast, no.

 

Saffron Walden market and town hall
Saffron Walden market and town hall

After swallowing the mild embarrassment of being more or less the only people there without young kids in tow, we quickly got into the swing of things and settled down to enjoy a fine selection of Carry On-style innuendo and the usual “he’s behind you” tomfoolery.

 

My favourite character wasn’t so much the hero and heroine of the piece though but the cocky but ultimately thwarted suitor of Beauty (or Belle) named Jean-Claude (it was all set in a French village, which might have been random or could also have been in honour of the French woman who originally wrote the fairytale down in the 18th century, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve – who knows?) who modelled himself on surreal TV comedy the IT Crowd’s Douglas Reynholm, boss of Reynholm Industries.

 

I was also quite taken with Madame Cruella, who seemed to have made a surprise appearance from 101 Dalmations and did a cracking job of being evil, keen as she was to get her sinister claws into young Prince Ferdinand aka the Beast. All very entertaining.

 

But, despite the consummate daftness, it turns out that pantos are actually a pretty old form of musical comedy theatre – and one that, as it happens, is unique to the UK, although it does make an imported appearance in former British colonies such as Ireland, Jamaica, and even Canada and Australia now and then, apparently.

 

Traditionally performed over the Christmas and New Year time, pantomimes are believed by some to have their roots in the so-called Mummers Plays of the 13th to 16th century. These consisted of a kind of processional dance and mime show, to which dialogue was added over time. They were performed during the festive season by troupes of amateurs known as ‘mummers’, a word thought to be derived from the eponymous old German term meaning ‘disguised person’.

 

Ancient traditions

 

The name was assigned to them as many of the performers wore hats or painted their faces red or black to obscure their features out of fear of being recognised (this custom is also associated with English Morris dancers). As mumming was a means for agricultural labourers to raise extra money for Christmas, they went from big house to big house in the area to do their thing. But they didn’t want to be associated with begging – hence the disguises.

 

Nonetheless it seems to have been a lucrative business – it was said that they could raise as much as a whole month’s wages by performing for as little as three evenings.

 

Mummers play
Mummers play

The performances themselves, meanwhile, were broadly-speaking short comic dramas with themes based on duality and resurrection. Generally involving a battle between a couple of characters who are believed to have represented good and evil, one would inevitably be killed and then brought back to life by a doctor wielding a magic potion – an activity that some believe has pagan symbolism relating to the death and rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice.

 

Others hotly dispute the notion, however, attesting that a lack of extant Mummers Play texts prior to the mid-18th century can only mean that they did not exist in drama form before then. They believe that while mummers may have cavorted around in masks, it was actually “guisers” who performed the traditional folk dramas, which were themselves actually influenced by early versions of English pantomime rather than the other way around.

 

Whatever the truth of the matter though, the plays seemed to contain a bunch of elements similar to today’s pantos such as stage fights, coarse humour and gender role reversal (the lead male role generally being performed by a young woman and the dame by an older man).

 

Incidentally, this role reversal, although a later Victorian addition after it went out of fashion for a time, actually reflects a tradition relating to Twelfth Night. It marked the end of a Medieval winter festival that started on All Hallows Day (now Halloween) and ended at the conclusion of the Twelve Days of Christmas. It was presided over by the Lord of Misrule, who made his first recorded appearance at the end of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain and who symbolised the world turning upside down.

 

Samhain, which is celebrated today as Halloween took place from sunset on October 31 to sunset on 1 November. It was a period when the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds was said to be thin and the natural order of things reversed.

 

Pantomime history

 

Interestingly though, mumming and guising were also a key part of this festival too. People went from door-to-door dressed up in costumes or disguises as a way of hiding and protecting themselves against the spirits of the Other World, often reciting verses in exchange for food – all of which suggests to me that the whole symbolism of the thing could be much older than it is generally given credit for.

 

Anyway, it seems that during the 16th century, English folk drama, whatever name or form it took, began to be absorbed into a form of Italian travelling street theatre called the Commedia dell’arte. Productions, which had become really popular by the middle of the 17th century, included music, dancing, acrobatics and general buffoonery and were put on in fairgrounds and marketplaces around the country. They were based on a repertoire of comic, and often satirical, stories that contained moral lessons and also included a series of stock characters.

Harlequinade poster
Harlequinade poster

 

From the 1660s onwards, these stock characters began to appear more and more in English plays, until by the first couple of decades of the 1700s, actor-manager of the Lincoln’s Inn Theatre, John Rich, made one of them in the shape of Harlequin the star of his shows.

 

Rich, who has been dubbed the father of pantomime, was also the inspiration behind the chase scenes that became a key part of an early version of panto called a ‘Harlequinade’. These Harlequinades, which dominated the scene for the next 150 years, saw two eloping lovers, Harlequin and Columbine, being pursued by other adapted Commedia characters including her father Pantaloon and his comic servants, Clown and Pierrot. And the pantomine traditions of slapstick, chases and transformation are still based on Harlequinade antics to this day.

 

By the 1870s though, the Harlequinades began to die a death and were replaced by dramas based on fairy tales and nursery rhymes such as ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ and ‘Babes in the Wood’. These productions became so popular and elaborate, in fact, that they sometimes lasted as long as five hours and boasted up to 600 performers.

 

The most extravagant were held at the still thriving Drury Lane Theatre in Covent Garden, London, which was responsible for adding many of the panto elements we still know and love today such as principal boys and pantomime dames, the appearance of celebrities and the use of popular tunes – in those days, Music Hall songs, but today pop ditties.

 

All of which appears to imply that what goes around does seem to end up coming around eventually too.

 

 

The great British high street: Tune in, turn on, pop up

Contrary to popular opinion, the Great British High Street isn’t so much dead as changing, it seems.

 

It’s true that the recession saw lots of big brands, including the iconic Woolworths of pick-and-mix sweeties fame, go to the wall. But, although it may not always feel like it, there are now more retail outlets in the average town centre than there have have been since 2011 apparently, with vacancy rates standing at about 9.8%, a drop of 0.3% on last year.

 

On the downside though, the actual number of people visiting them has fallen by 2.2% over the last 12 months. But surprisingly, given that shopping centres always seem to be heaving whenever I make a rare venture into one, footfall there was hit even more, tumbling by 2.5%.

 

Everybody, it seems, was too busy buying stuff using their mobile phones or iPads in the comfort of their own living rooms, a phenomenon that has led to the UK being crowned the e-commerce capital of Europe. Or careering off to enjoy the sterile pleasures of giant out-of-town retail parks, which had the good fortune to see shopper numbers rise by 3.1%.

Ecommerce
Ecommerce

So in the face of such apparently mixed statistics, just how is the high street changing, you may query? A fascinating report by the University of Southampton entitled “British High Streets: From Crisis to Recovery” posits that in the wake of a six-year period of economic crisis and austerity (2008-2014), many town centres have survived by becoming more diverse.

 

One example of this diversity is that independent retailers have survived the recession more happily than many of the chain stores and still make up 65% of all shops in the UK – despite having had a bad year in 2015 when more outlets closed than opened in the first six months for the first time since 2012. Often quirky pop-up shops are another interesting phenomenon here.

 

According to a study conducted by the Centre for Economics & Business Research for telecoms company EE, the sector grew by 12.3% over the last year, valuing it at £2.3 billion, the equivalent of 0.76% of the UK’s entire retail turnover.

 

Although most commonly seen in London, this kind of store now employs a huge 26,000 people across the country. And, interestingly, nearly a third of all new retail businesses launched in the UK over the next two years are expected to start life in this way as they are considered a good vehicle for gauging interest, testing ideas out and reaching new customers.

 

Diversified high streets

 

Anyway, going back to the idea of diversified high streets, change is also happening in the shape of a growing shift towards service providers like hairdressers, beauty salons and tattoo parlours as well as such havens of leisure as pubs, cafes and restaurants.

 

In fact, these are now the fastest growing categories of business on the high street and really do seem to make all the difference. Not only do they encourage more people to visit, but they also induce them to stay longer and spend more. In a world in which rising numbers of people either work from home or travel around a lot, cafes and bars can also end up assuming an important social role, becoming hubs that are used for both working and networking.

 

But what this all seems to say to me is that the high street’s most obvious means of differentiating itself is by packaging up all of its attractions into a neat little bundle and offering them to shoppers as an “experience”. And an experience that, with the best will in the world, they simply can’t get online due to the inherent nature of the thing.

 

So Saffron Walden, the charming little market town in north Essex where I live, for example, could play on its attractiveness as an overall tourist destination, something helped by its proximity to London and Cambridge, making it an ideal day-trip for international tourists from both as well as more local people from Essex and other nearby counties.

Saffron Walden market and town hall
Saffron Walden market and town hall

On offer here is an aspirational classical music venue the Saffron Hall, loads of unspoiled historic buildings, beautiful Grade 2 listed gardens (my personal fave), a couple of mazes and a goodly number of independent shops, cafes and restaurants, all of which make it a lovely destination in which to while away a few happy hours.

 

And this, it seems, is exactly what the Saffron Walden Town Team are hoping to do with their #MySW campaign. Launched last week, the campaign is to act as the basis of the town’s entry into the ‘Great British High Street of the Year’ competition next year. The aim of the competition, meanwhile, is to recognise and celebrate innovative regeneration work going on in town centres across the UK and the winner receives £50,000 to help it on its way.

 

As part of its efforts, the Town Team has come up with an advert that will run on Cambridgeshire’s Star FM radio station until Christmas Eve as well as a new promotional video, work on which was coordinated with the local Tourist Information Centre. But there’ll also be a Summer of Arts and Culture fiesta, which will include an event to celebrate community cinema Saffron Screen’s 10th anniversary as well as a Maze Festival in August.

 

All of which just goes to show that a few ideas and a lot of enthusiasm can take you really quite a long way.