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Hebden Bridge tops list of towns with most local identity

Monday, June 6, 2005

Hebden Bridge once again features in the national media - for topping the list of towns with the most individuality - at a time when many of our well known towns and cities are turning into clones with the same high street branches of chain stores in every high street.

"Of the 33 per cent of towns to escape censure, Hebden Bridge, in the Yorkshire Pennines, scored the highest for best retaining its individual character." The Independent (See below for more from The Independent)

Hebden Bridge, a market town in West Yorkshire, is, however, named the most characterful shopping centre. The Times

Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire scored 48.6. This was the best example of what the foundation called a "home town" - one retaining its individual character. Others included Peebles, Lewes, Whitley Bay and Monmouth. Guardian

Chris McCafferty MP has told the Hebden Bridge Web:

"I am pleased that Hebden Bridge has been singled out as a vibrant shopping town with high numbers of independent traders. The quality of shopping in Hebden Bridge is extremely high and the town supports two butchers, two bakers, two greengrocers, delicatessens, cafes and more! Hebden Bridge was one of the first Fairtrade Towns and this has worked because local people as well as tourists support and patronise their local shops. Being different is the norm in Hebden Bridge and as a resident for over 30 years I know how the shops and cafes complement local people."

The Yorkshire Post quotes the Mayor of Hebden Royd, Coun Stewart Brown (Labour), as saying that the transformation of Hebden Bridge had been "fantastic". "It used to be known for ley lines more than anything but now I think it's known as much for its lattes," he said. "It's got lots of great little shops. We have the largest lesbian community in the country and they have helped transform the character of the town."

The Halifax Evening Courier reports Councillor Nader Fekri (Calder Valley, Lib Dem) as saying he does all his shopping locally. "There is nothing you can't buy from Hebden Bridge," he said. "And we are very proud of our business community. I start each day with a coffee in one of the many quirky cafes and then buy my fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, sausages and other necessities from all the little butchers and bakers. It is second to none for local produce but also boasts good shoe repair shops, nice clothes shops, dry cleaning services and other good stores."


"Set on the Yorkshire side of the Pennine Hills, Hebden Bridge has made a remarkable comeback afterstruggling in the 1960s and has become a haven for those wanting to escape cities, and experience instead a mixture of the urban and rural. In contrast to Exeter, Hebden Bridge prides itself on having “a good range of small shops, which deliver the resident and visitor alike that same friendly service”. Hebden Bridge achieved the top home town score from the survey, with 48.6. Out of the shops counted, only three are chain stores. "

from Clone Town Britain, the survey on the bland state of the nation carried out by the New Economics Foundation

Andrew Simms, NEF policy director, said that the survey was a warning that historic towns were under threat from poor planning controls. He said: “The key parts of our towns, which should be the beating heart of a community, have been hollowed out by the big chains.” Mr Simms believes it is time for communities to fight back.

Of course, Hebden Bridge is individual in many others ways apart from its shops: creative people with a radical tinge, acclaimed Arts Festival, fascinating history, alternative technology groups . . . and its independent and distinctive website!

See also: Hebden Bridge: 4th funkiest town in the World!

Update: Tuesday, June 7, 2005

The following is from today's Independent

Hebden Bridge: the best?

It was business as usual in Hebden Bridge yesterday. When you have once been nominated the fourth funkiest place on the planet as well as the lesbian capital of Britain, being acclaimed for the individual quality of your shops was, well, pretty much par for the course.

Not that it was entirely unexpected either since this small, former mill town in Yorkshire is, as Stewart Brown, the local mayor, put it yesterday, as much known now for the qualities of its lattes as it was known for the mystical powers of its ley lines in the 60s and 70s when the alternative community first began to move in, attracted by cheap property and the glorious surrounding countryside.

Nevertheless, there was a quiet sense of pride about the fact that the report from the New Economics Foundation had singled out Hebden Bridge as the best in the country for retaining the individual character of its shops and remaining free of the stultifying influence of the global and national chains which have, says the report, turned many town centres into "identikit" high streets.

And, purely by coincidence, this was something bitterly understood by Elaine Lawrence, 42, strolling through Hebden Bridge after visiting her acupuncturist. "I run a furniture store in Macclesfield and I am going to have to close down in the near future because its no longer economic," she said. "Our city centres are dying, crippled by the out-of-town supermarkets, high rent and rates and parking restrictions - there will be nothing left for our children."

She looked enviously around the pleasant centre of Hebden Bridge: 'There's no large supermarket on the outskirts of town to take away trade, so of course there are good specialist shops here - but you have to look at the carrier bags to see whether they are actually buying. "

And specialist shops there are in plentiful supply, created by a combination of the residual hippy ethos of the 60s and 70s and the more recent "New Agers" and middle-class incomers, who, attracted by all the quality of life indicators, either downsize or commute to Manchester, Leeds or Bradford. Its status was confirmed in a recent survey in British Airways' magazine Highlife, which ranked Hebden Bridge as the fourth funkiest city in the world, though not quite as cool as Daylesford, Australia, which won, Tiradentes in Brazil which took second and Burlington, Vermont, which was third.

But the town also has a respectable tourist population, attracted by the walking available on the nearby hills, the town's proximity to Brontë Country, and the home of the late poet laureate Ted Hughes. Sylvia Plath, his first wife, who committed suicide, is buried nearby.

It is this mix of the present and the past that gives the town its distinctive character. Apart from a couple of small supermarkets - a Spar and a Co-op - the streets are dominated by independent shops: grocers, butchers and delicatessens, selling a combination of local delicacies, olive oils and such essentials as kaffir lime leaves and Fair Trade coffee. There are also organic juice bars, shops selling antiques, books and artists materials, picture framers, a clog shop, and a place that claims to be "Britain's number one manufacturer of juggling equipment." There is also, as one person pointed out, "every kind of New Age treatment" available.

At Studio Seven arts shop, in Market Street, proprietor Peter Harvey, said the town had always had strong artistic links. "I come from an artistic family - my mother's a potter and my step-father's an artist. There are several studios in the town. It's that kind of thing that makes it a nice place to live and work. All the shops seem to have remained in private hands."

That is something remembered well by one of the area's more famous former residents, Sir Bernard Ingham, the former spokesman for Margaret Thatcher who still writes a column for the local paper. He said: "It is a small town which has managed to resist the influx of supermarkets. In my youth I remember it for the quality of the individual shops like the butchers, with a whole cow's head in the window." The local speciality, Sir Bernard said, was dock pudding, made with dock leaves, spring onions, oatmeal and bacon.

There wasn't much evidence of oatmeal at the Mooch café and bar in Market Street yesterday afternoon, where they were serving tapas, wine and the aforementioned lattes to a soundtrack of David Bowie and world music amid a relaxed mix of children, magazines and potted palms. It was set up by Sami Rose and Geoff Kerouac, their first venture into catering.

Ms Rose said: "There are a few bars in the town, but we wanted some where with a more chilled-out feel, with good food at good prices. We chose Hebden because we both knew the place as being a small place with a nice vibe, in the middle of lovely countryside, while its easy to get to Manchester or Leeds."

Among the customers were Catherine Groves, 40, a literacy teacher at Bradford College and her daughter Hana. "We moved here from Reading five years ago because we wanted a different pace of life; we knew the town anyway because my husband's father used to manage a writing charity set up here by Seamus Heaney. I like all the shops because you can get almost everything you need here - perhaps apart from teenage clothes," she said, nodding to Hana.

"You don't need to go out of the town and you end up knowing everybody - just don't expect to be on time for an appointment, you can't arrive on time because you keep bumping into people. It's that kind of place."

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