Border Lines

From London to Berwick: Culture shock? Oh, yes!

In praise of civic pride – and a pioneering spirit

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I blooming love Berwick. I really do. No, I haven’t knocked back too much egg nog. And, no, the shorter days have not made me take leave of my senses.

So what has caused this surge of civic pride? Well, there’s something about Christmas in Berwick – and something about this winter in particular. Last winter was marked by the great snow–in – and an almost biblical rush of neighbourliness, good deeds, and bonhomie in the face of icy adversity.

This winter the Christmas trees around Berwick town centre have stood proud and glorious – albeit slightly askew after a battering by the 100mph winds. In fact, the 10–Year–Old asked in awe, “How many Christmas trees does Berwick need?” I felt a shiver of delight that our town can impress her with its largesse. The festive lights have looked gorgeous, merry and welcoming on the Royal Tweed Bridge, along Castlegate, Bridge Street and on the high street itself – not to mention the glorious sky carpet on West Street. And, unlike London’s West End, not a sell–out sponsorship deal in sight – just an appreciative doff of the hat to the Rotary Club and the town council.

The sky carpet

But it’s more than just lights, isn’t it? It’s the healthy optimistic glow that illuminates the positive: that shines out despite the lack of money, the unpredictable weather, the potential for things to go wrong, and the not always helpful hand of the Morpeth Moguls – and proclaims that we won’t be doom mongers; we can and will make something special of our town.

It’s the campaign to bring the colours of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers home to the Barracks  – and the wider issue of keeping the Barracks functioning as a museum implicit in that campaign. It’s Miles Gregory standing up at his farewell bash at the Maltings and acknowledging that a vibrant centre for the arts is not just a success story for him and his team – it’s another notch on the belt of civic pride for Berwick, something we can all be proud of. It’s the marvellous Dickensian Market attracting more people to the town than ever – and encouraging people to dress up in mad costumes, have fun, and spend money at the same time.

It’s the Berwick Male Voice Choir singing proudly and loudly at St Andrew’s Church accompanied by a choir from a local school – and successfully pulling off a repertoire that included Bridge over Troubled Water, Pirate songs, and Morte Criste.  It’s the slightly barmy Santa and his Reindeer parade in Spittal – with the mellifluous Norham Village Band playing carols bravely in amongst the stalls of local festive produce. And, while we’re at it, it’s having a local newspaper which gets along to all these events, writes supportively about them and takes pride in being part of the local colour and culture. It’s even the still only part–functioning lights on the Royal Border Bridge.

Because all these things – and the many other amazing events and functions during this season and throughout the year are often testament to the vision of one or two people and the hard labour of a good team – and none of them is perfect. We can all look at them and see how they could be better organised, better publicised, more dynamic, more textbook. But in this season of good cheer, and at the beginning of a brand new year, let’s not knock – let’s celebrate and remember how much duller Berwick would be without them. Personally I am thrilled to be part of a community that’s brave enough to try things out – to campaign, to work together and to love its town enough to want others to see it at its best and to love it too.

A version of this article first appeared in The Berwick Advertiser on 5 January 2012

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