Question Time guest speakers share their vision for Berwick

Berwick Civic Society recently held another of its popular Question Time sessions under the title A Vision for Berwick.

Sunday, 12th March 2017, 7:21 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:22 am
Berwick Civic Society

The speakers were Julien Lake, chief executive of Berwick Community Trust; Mike Fraser, of Berwick Literary Festival, and Maurice Ward, a former chairman of The Maltings Trust.

Mr Lake is involved in the newly-formed Coastal Community Team. He pointed out that the challenges faced by coastal communities are often different from those in the hinterland. While some are wealthy, more tended to be poorer with a lack of both people and economic activity.

It is hoped the work of the Coastal Community Team could unlock funding for urgent needs, such as the £2million required by Berwick Harbour Commission for work on the pier and groyne.

So far, the Coastal Community Team has been awarded £10,000 to draw up an economic plan for the town by March 31.

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Mr Lake reminded members that there have already been quite a number of plans for Berwick which have not had any really significant impact. Rather than being disheartened by this, he felt these plans provided a useful information bank from which to progress.

Mr Fraser’s first subject was William Beveridge. He was elected an MP for Berwick but it seemed strange that he only survived as such for 10 months in view of his national reputation following publication of the Beveridge Report.

Mr Fraser has been asked by Beveridge’s grandson to write his biography and played a prominent part in the mounting of the recent Main Guard exhibition.

Unlike Beveridge, it is not possible to speak to anyone who knew Sir Edward Grey, nor are there any private papers as they have been destroyed. That makes it harder to get any real sense of his rather elusive personality.

Mabel Philipson, he suggested, is worthy of future study. After winning the Berwick seat for the Conservatives after the unseating of her Liberal husband for over-expense by a careless agent, she was only the third woman to be elected to the House of Commons.

To those members well aware The Maltings has had serious financial problems without knowing much more, Maurice Ward’s talk proved enlightening. Problems in the past have included the lack of a lease, bad relations with the town council and the prolonged absence of a chief executive.

If the response to financial difficulty was simply to cut costs and run an increasingly tight little ship, the theatre would eventually fizzle out.

The answer is to do the opposite. Put on more shows, stay open seven days a week and get the place fizzing.

Miles Gregory, a great theatre man, was induced to come to Berwick by the promise of complete artistic freedom, Mr Ward attending to the business side of the programme. During his tenure, the rather functional interior was converted into a warmer arena with the sort of red plushness to be found in West End theatres.

The closing of the cinema was regrettable but did open up another opportunity. Additional funding was obtained by taking on the Gymnasium and the Granary. Having a big name might fill the theatre but was not usually good box office.

Matthew Rooke, the current chief executive, is very much an opera person.

As a result of the excellent recent work, The Maltings is now known in London. The continuing problem is to persuade good people to stay.