Council turns back on tourism and town’s heritage

Gloria De Piero Mp enjoys Annesley Old Church when she visited on Friday. With her are  Denis Hill, Steve Carroll and Joan Bray.
Gloria De Piero Mp enjoys Annesley Old Church when she visited on Friday. With her are Denis Hill, Steve Carroll and Joan Bray.

‘Short-sighted’ councillors have axed the Heritage and Tourism Officer role causing an outcry amongst Hucknall groups.

In a review of community services by Ashfield District Council, it has been decided to ditch the role, held by Denis Hill, and spread the responsibilities over a team of people.

The move has put the future of many groups at risk and could sound the death knell of Hucknall’s event of the year - The Byron Festival.

“This is devastating news,” said chairman, Ken Purslow. “Denis is the lynchpin of the festival and sits on the committee.

“We fear this could spell the end as without his vital help, advice and expertise I’m not sure it will run next year without him.

“Our funding was already cut significantly this year and thankfully the three county councillors stepped in with some cash to keep it going but this move by the district council is a move too far.”

The festival is the biggest event on the Hucknall calendar and attracts thousands of visitors to the event which last year stretched over 10 days.

“I fully understand the council’s problems and it’s easier to cut a post like this as it doesn’t affect front-line services,” added Mr Purslow. “But Denis’ advice is instrumental to many groups’ success and he is a vital cog in the wheel.

“He has inspired so many people over the years and is the one person to go to for expert help. This decision has upset a lot of people and we will all miss him greatly.”

Ashfield Council moved this week to defend its decision.

“A recent review of the council’s community empowerment services, which includes tourism and heritage, proposed a restructure which will deliver area focused improvements to improve local knowledge and help build strong sustainable relationships to support future inward investment,” said a spokesman.“Specialisms such as heritage and tourism will in the future be shared across the team to enhance the skills and expertise of the team in general. Therefore, Tourism and Heritage support will continue to be provided where it is identified that these are local area priorities.”

The reasons given for the shake-up has proved a hard pill to swallow for Hucknall’s Tourism and Regeneration Group.

“This is a very short-sighted decision,” said Sheila Robinson, group treasurer. “Denis has been our group’s life-line because of his expertise.

“He knows everything about Heritage Lottery funding and assists with applications, attends all our meetings, sits on the committee and gets everything going.

“He is an expert in his field and we don’t know what we will do without him.”

As well as assisting with the Byron Festival, Hucknall Tourism and Heritage groups, running the Ashfield Tours in the past as well as the Ashfield Show, Denis played his part in the Annesley Old Church Project and was a founder member of the Eric Coates Society and organised the first concert. Not to mention helped secure over £1.5m in Heritage Lottery Funding and circulated over 320,000 leaflets.

“We keep hearing from the council that they have to save money but they should look elsewhere,” added Mrs Robinson. “We do our best to bring Hucknall into everyone’s vision through the festival and our bus tours but this will make it so much harder.

“We should be investing more in tourism. This just wouldn’t happen in Stratford with Shakespeare.”

David Singleton was the former chairman of the tourism group in the town and said he too was ‘flabbergasted’ by the move.

“This is the worst thing Ashfield could do for the region as Denis is tireless in his work,” said Mr Singleton. “Volunteers from many organisations rely on him for his knowledge. This is a bad move.”

Sherwood MP Mark Spencer said the county as a whole is ‘shockingly poor’ at promoting the attractions and investing in tourism.

“Not enough is done to plug into Byron and Robin Hood in order to get more people visiting the region,” said Mr Spencer. “Other areas do a much better job and yet our local economy including shops, pubs, restaurants would benefit from it.”

Mr Hill will be leaving his role on 27th April and in an email sent to groups he said:“It has been great working with you all over these past few years and will indeed miss working with you.”