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New heritage and culture strategy aimed at boosting Sudbury’s tourist appeal

PUBLISHED: 10:54 31 March 2016 | UPDATED: 10:54 31 March 2016

HIVE OF INDUSTRY: Silk weavers in the 1950s. Photograph courtesy of Stephen Walters & Sons Ltd

HIVE OF INDUSTRY: Silk weavers in the 1950s. Photograph courtesy of Stephen Walters & Sons Ltd

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Sudbury’s “rich and diverse heritage” is to be celebrated in a new initiative aimed at attracting more tourists to the historic market town.

While the work of local artist Thomas Gainsborough is internationally renowned, few people are aware that Sudbury is one of the UK’s only remaining centres for silk weaving.

The town’s silk and textile industries prospered during the late middle-ages and funded many of its most notable ancient buildings and churches. And according to a new draft document compiled by Babergh District Council, focussing on Sudbury’s heritage and culture - including the still thriving silk industry - could also be the key to its future prosperity.

While Bury St Edmunds has seen a big increase in visitor numbers over the past three years, Sudbury has failed to boost its footfall, with Gainsborough’s House the only attraction benefiting from an increase during that time.

The strategy document presented to members of the town’s leisure and environment committee this week aims to sell the ‘story’ of Sudbury to tourists, both from the historic view point through the life and work of Gainsborough and its current role as a centre for British silk production.

It will be used to help formulate an action plan delivered by the Babergh-led Sudbury Steering Group. An action group will be created linked to the district authority’s broader destination management framework.

Ideas suggested in the strategy include a silk festival and other fashion related events, art festivals and painting classes linked to Gainsborough and Constable, and town trails with both urban and rural elements. The aim is to eventually make Sudbury the “focus” of tourist trips to the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley.

At the committee meeting on Tuesday night, steering group member Nigel Bennett said: “The focus of the strategy is about promoting the side of Sudbury that’s to do with the silk industry and the Gainsborough countryside.

“The silk industry is a very important part of our heritage and it is also very successful today.”

Fellow councillor John Sayers, who worked in the silk industry in Sudbury for more than 50 years, said they needed to find a way of “bringing the silk industry alive” for visitors.

He added: “We could perhaps use it as the basis to create a silk museum in Sudbury.”

The strategy also supports growth in Sunday trading to promote Sudbury as a leisure and relaxation destination, and it aims to boost the night time economy.

Committee member Linda Gregory said: “Sudbury is very much a day town so would be nice to have something going on that brings people in during the evenings.”

The strategy suggests increasing hotel bed space provision to encourage people to stay in the town. Premier Inn is believed to have put in a successful bid for the Babergh-owned Belle Vue House, which is likely to be demolished and replaced with a hotel.

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