|Yuppies find peace in hippie hub|
2nd June, 2004
HEBDEN BRIDGE - If you're going to Hebden Bridge, you no longer need to wear flowers in your hair.
From Reuters news agency
Times have changed - but although the beads and incense have gone, the spirit that has made this town a hub of alternative Britain remains.
For three decades, the former mining town in West Yorkshire has been a trend barometer: home to waves of hippies, modern pagans, lesbian single mothers and lately, downshifting professionals.
Urban slickers in search of the slow lane are switching city life for love, peace and friendship in a town where all their green needs are met.
"Now it's people with money moving here: different-thinking professionals - teachers, doctors and architects," said Dave Brooks, who co-founded the town's housing co-operative.
Nestled between lush green hills, Hebden Bridge is home to about 5,000 people who are served by three organic shops, a recycling and environmental education centre, a tree-planting charity, a housing co-operative, and countless healers, yoga teachers and civic action groups.
Squatters turned its deserted tourist information centre into a "people's information centre" in April, proving Hebden Bridge's rebel spirit is still strong. Designer shops on the high street target the more affluent newer arrivals.
"In the 70s when we were all hippies it was being sustainable, eating well, wearing cotton. Now we are watching all those things going mainstream - alternative medicine, alternative energy, organic food," said Polly Webber at the town's alternative technology centre.
"It makes sense to use energy that isn't going to pollute the earth and isn't going to run out. It makes sense to eat good food. It's about improving your life," she added.
Webber saw her task as convincing ordinary people to take up a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, rather than working with green groups - or, as she called it, preaching to the converted.
Yet if they just wanted to satisfy a craving for organic lentil stew, young professionals would not need to leave the big cities.
Hebden Bridgers believe what makes their place different is the opportunity to take greater control of one's own life, in a world where globalisation and growing corporate influence can make people feel powerless.
Sitting in Hebden Bridge's Organic House, engineer Tomas Remiarz said it was typical for the town that if something needed doing, a local initiative would be formed to deal with it.
His charity Treesponsibility had prevented the excavation of an open cast mine, and he found such activism existed at all levels. Local teenagers successfully lobbied the council for a skateboard park.
"People say the anti-capitalist movement is dead because there hasn't been a big riot on May Day. But that's rubbish - changing your community is just as valid a form of protest as throwing a brick into a McDonald's window," he said.
While they welcomed the influx of young professionals, Remiarz and his fellow residents also said the newcomers were making life more expensive for the original drop-outs.
In the 1970s, the first hippies settled in Hebden Bridge because houses were cheap after unemployed young miners had started leaving for the cities.
Now, house prices are rocketing, and projects such as the housing co-operative, a group that buys and restores derelict property, are as much about affordable living as the communal spirit.
So if you're going to Hebden Bridge, forget the flowers - bring a large pile of cash for the down payment and a quirky project idea that will make life even better.
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