Haverhill: Town bites back after 40-year wait

BACK in the 1960s a hard-hitting documentary claimed one west Suffolk town had no future.

And now, more than 40 years on, a group of amateur film-makers from Haverhill have decided to put the record straight.

The town sprung to national attention in 1968 when the BBC broadcast a critical documentary as part of the Man Alive series about the town’s expansion.

Londoners who had moved there attacked its high-density housing, lack of infrastructure, poor amenities, employment issues and council leadership, and predicted a gloomy future for the town.

When Haverhill resident Ron Walker was asked by a school to help get a copy of the programme to work, he grew angry remembering just how negative it had been.

The infamous documentary reopened old wounds to the extent that the father-of-two felt he just had to put the record straight.

He said nothing had been broadcast nationally since the Man Alive programme aired to counter the criticisms.

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So, the 62-year-old decided to make a documentary himself, under the Haverhill Man Alive banner, to show how the town has recovered from a bad start to become a successful, dynamic, vibrant community.

The new documentary – which was created with the support of his wife Linda, a small group of like-minded individuals and some of the town’s councillors – will be premiered as part of the Haverhill Arts Festival at the Haverhill Arts Centre on June 27.

Mr Walker, who is Haverhill born and bred, said: “We are a group of enthusiastic amateurs – we are not professional film-makers. But we felt the need to stand up, be counted and stop the incessant carping, innuendo and destructive criticism about the town.

“We believe it portrays Haverhill in a positive light, with many of the benefits, brands and facilities that you would expect in any other successful town.

“We know there were challenges with the original town expansion – we were all here then – but we believe we were unreasonably and unfairly written off as doomed to failure – and we have set out to set the record straight once and for all.”

Prior to its ’60s expansion, Haverhill was a small market town of less than 5,000. Today, the population stands at more than 23,000, and further expansion is on the cards as part of the St Edmundsbury ‘Vision 2031’ proposals.

He said a key message within the new film was not to repeat the mistakes which were made in the ’60s when it came to new development for the town.

The film, which has taken two years to produce, features a number of interviews, including with Sir Eldon Griffiths, the town’s former MP and who also appeared in the original documentary, and Adrian Graves, son of the late Canon Eric Graves, who was both vicar and an independent councillor during the period of expansion.

Mr Walker said the making of the documentary really took off when David Hart, of the Haverhill News, and Adrian Graves, son of the late Canon Eric Graves, came on board.

The project has already gained a strong following, with friends on its Facebook page running into the hundreds, and scores of people have also revisited the original BBC Man Alive programme on You Tube.

Details of the free screening of the new film at the Haverhill Arts Centre will be released in the near future. Advance booking will be required.