Thought for the Week: 5th August 2012
Looking to the future
It is always a delight seeing people coming into church who are on holiday, and one of the tasks of the stewards is to make sure that they are welcomed, but also shown other areas of the town and the vicinity which are worth seeing.
This week we had visitors from 3 of my former parishes. One of the visitors was from Herne Bay in Kent where we spent 8 happy years at the main town church before going to Lincolnshire. It was a very special time because by then we had two children and a vast church, with a large congregation, and we lived by the sea.
However, Herne Bay could certainly teach Fakenham a few tricks about town management. Although I love Fakenham I have felt that during my 11 years here that it is a place that is just ready to come alive but has not quite got there yet. My predecessor thought the same.
Years ago I visited York with the Mayor of Herne Bay to see how the City of York was organised. We found out that it had a town manager who made sure that everything in the City Centre was tidy, well cared for, buskers were regulated, and a diary of events was created throughout the year to attract and retain tourists. Back in Herne Bay this was eventually put into operation and the town was transformed from a rather drab former Victorian sea-side town into a thriving tourist centre, with a new esplanade and marina. The town is tidier and now attracts many more visitors.
This week we saw hundreds of members of the Harley Davidson Club camping at the Racecourse and yet they had their parade in Sheringham. Fakenham missed out in many ways from this, and I have seen these missed opportunities occur on a regular basis.
So what is this to do with the church? My belief in Herne Bay and here in Fakenham is that the Church should encourage all town events and to be at the centre of life and not on the edge, and to see opportunities when they arise.
Having recently visited 16 market towns in the north looking for a place to retire, I do believe that many town parish churches and market towns themselves are going through a tough time. The days when visitors could simply be expected to arrive in towns, or attend services especially during the holiday season are long gone. That we are having a very welcome spurt of new businesses opening in Fakenham is most welcome, but we still lag behind in welcome signs to the town, activities in the Market Place especially on a Saturday; as well as publicity. Trying to get publicity out of some groups for the Parish Magazine is like trying to get ‘water out of a stone’.
I would love to retire as Rector here and be the town manager. I dream about every Thursford coach coming to Fakenham to shop, to eat, to see the Church. I dream about every visitor to the North Norfolk coast shopping in Fakenham. On Saturday I asked the few bikers that came into church, ‘Why can’t we have a special service for Harley Davison bikers in St Peter’s Garden?’ They will come back with an answer if they come next year. Why can’t we have more publicity for the Thursday Market and Farmers’ Market? Why can’t we have more co-ordination between the 3 sports centres in the town and have our own sports Olympics weekend. And I could go on. The fact that we have an empty Market Place on Saturday does not give me much hope for the future of the town.
But with new housing planned for the town, a new community centre complex, a developed church, things could look up. The answer will be co-ordination between all town groups and churches, and with a little vision the town will come alive. It could become a thriving shopping and tourist centre.
By the way having planned so much, all the changes in Herne Bay took place well after I had left – so don’t worry about the future.