by Tommy Tonkins
That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.
The night is dark, the drive long. But the thought of home sustains me. Returning from the south, winding my way up the lonely M5, I think of home.
I am returning for a funeral. A joint funeral of two close relatives. Memories and the past bubble up from deep within and mix with the present. It’s a heady mix.
The night is dark.
I leave the motorway and begin the last five miles back to my home. To Stratford-on-Avon, the town I grew up in.
There is a light on the horizon. It’s in the periphery of my vision. At first I don’t think anything of it. I’m tired, it’s late. The light grows bigger.
What is it? Christmas lights, is my first thought, but no, they wouldn’t be that bright. That big.
As the car eats up the road the shape begins to form in the darkness. The lights are high, too high. They are lights on a huge crane.
It had been the best part of a year since I’d been back to Stratford, and seeing something so out of place shocked me.
Such stuff as dreams are made on…
This is all part of World Class Stratford. A joint initiative between a number of bodies to, ‘transform the town’s image in a variety of ways to enable it to truly fulfil its role as one of the world’s most iconic locations.’
World Class Stratford ties in the £100 million redevelopment of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
The ultimate goal appears to be to achieve World Heritage Site status.
According to a report published by PricewaterhouseCooper for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in December last year, it costs £400,000 to apply for World Heritage Site status and £150,000 per year to maintain it.
The report also found that benefits of tourism and regeneration arising from WHS status have been overstated, with very low percentages of visitors being aware of such status or even, in fact, motivated.
It further noted that while additional funding often follows, it comes from UK heritage or conservation bodies. Therefore, benefit for WHS is to the detriment and at the expense of heritage sites elsewhere.
Never was there a tale of such woe…
The Bancroft gardens in Stratford, next to the theatre, are being re-landscaped. This is costing in excess of £3million. The gardens may have required some work, but not to the tune of more than £3 million worth of work.
And with this amount of money being spent on the gardens, the £100 million being spent on the theatre, the money to apply for and maintain WHS status, how are World Class Stratfrod trying to reach one of their other aims of providing an adequate supply of affordable housing?
Surely providing affordable housing for all members of the town, the community, is more important, more ‘world class’, than landscaping? It doesn’t appear that way though does it?
In all honesty the whole World Class Stratford website (here if you missed it the first time) smacks of gross ignorance and of the town’s ruling class hideously out of touch with the people they are there to serve.
You have to wonder who came up with statements like: “Create an environment where visitors and residents can readily wander without experiencing conflict with road traffic.”
And: “Create an area capable of responding to the needs of the evening economy and cafe culture activities; and make the river front and its surrounding environment and economic catalyst to the town.”
Cafe culture? Stratford? I’d urge them to go out after dark in Stratford, to the places where the majority of people go to enjoy themselves, and think about cafe culture.
There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt in your philosophy…
The night is dark but the day’s light is stark and cold. At present, Stratford is a mess. And the people who the public charged with running their town, have betrayed those they are meant to serve.
This is as far away as possible as being something that will benefit Stratfordians. The town’s character is being replaced by something designed in a studio, by a face lift.
Give me the scars any day, give me the rough around the edges. At least then it feels real, it feels like home.
But it’s too late, this will rumble on and, undoubtedly, there are some people you will become very rich from this. But they won’t be the people of Stratford.
Maybe, through Macbeth, Startford’s most famous son, said it best of all.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The Nose will be sniffing around for more on this and are in the process of trying to secure interviews with the main players behind the scheme. When we know more, so will you.