In my business life I know that most people don’t like, and many are even afraid of, change. As people we have an inbuilt mechanism that urges us to maintain the status quo which is driven by a sense of optimism and a feeling that what served us well in the past will serve us well in the future.
We are in that place in Ashbourne. The consensus on the Housing Consultation appears to be that we don’t want new houses in the town. The impression I have is that for many they would like an Ashbourne of 20 or 30 years ago – an idyllic time when there was housing for everyone that wanted it in the town, there were good levels of employment and so everyone was happy in the town.
I really believe that the status quo isn’t the right approach. We live in a Darwinian world which supports those who fight for their survival. Over the years Ashbourne Hall disappeared, the railway station went, the cattle market disappeared to Belper, the airfield came and went and the character of the town was changed forever..but the town clearly adapted to survive. We operate in a market economy and Ashbourne is competing for resources:
- with local Towns for Council funding
- with national towns for businesses to locate here
- with national and international locations for tourism
Quite simply, those who rest on their laurels thinking they have the best product or who chose not to compete: Lose.
Look at Kodak and learn from them. They were founded in the 19th Century and rode the wave of the new and coming photography industry. They build up an enormous empire which was part of the Dow Jones Industrial Index for more than 70 years and were an instantly recognisable international brand. In the 1970s they had a 90% market share in the US. Then they became fatally complacent. First Fujifilm saw the margins that Kodak were making on film and aggressively entered the market. Secondly, although Kodak invented much of the technology for digital cameras they completely underestimated what would happen in future. The point was that no-one chose to buy Kodak cameras, film and paper based on what they had done in the past and Kodak failed to understand what their customers wanted – they chose to ignore the market. Today Instagram is a $1 billion photographic business and Kodak have filed for bankruptcy. Ashbourne Plc is in danger of being a Kodak – it may feel good to talk about past glories and the heritage but it’s not so great when companies move their offices elsewhere, young people can’t buy houses and have to move away and the High Street becomes deserted.
Personally, I’d rather take nothing for granted about my Town. I’d rather tell people about it and welcome all-comers. I was in a local independent retailer last week and overheard a conversation where a customer had come into the shop with his family and wanted to know where there was some longer term parking. The person at the till told him there wasn’t any and that the traffic wardens were particularly attentive. I stopped the man on his way out and told him about the long-term car park on the Recreation ground. These are opportunities that happen every day. Belper has a scheme of training retailers to be ambassadors for the town. Retailers display a sticker in the window and anyone visiting the town knows they can get their question answered – the Tourist Information Centre can’t do it on their own. Success for the local economy is about persuading families like that one to spend the whole day in the town rather than just two hours – and making it easy for them to do it. It’s about asking people whether they are planning to stay locally and helping them find accommodation. When they do park up it’s about bombarding them with the things they can do today in Ashbourne – they won’t always find them on their own. If it’s raining they need to be told about Sticky Fingers and what sessions are on at the Leisure Centre. They mustn’t be allowed to leave through ignorance!
Over the last couple of days I’ve visited Malton in North Yorkshire. I had no plans to but we wanted to stop off somewhere on the way back from Scarborough. Malton is a similar sized market town to Ashbourne. I looked them up on the internet just as we were leaving Scarborough and a website told me:
Malton – pretty market town and one of Yorkshire’s top destinations for food lovers. Come, Stay and Taste Malton now!
Have a look yourself at http://www.welovemalton.co.uk/ . It’s fresh bright and full of energy. A group of local people got together and decided to make the town the food destination in Yorkshire – instead of spreading the energy too wide they decided to aim at a very specific target and tell the world about it. They won an award from Action for Market Towns (did you know the Town Council and Ashbourne Partnership are subscribers?) for their initiative.
While the golden days of people’s memory may be generally be accurate the erosion was evident then and mothballing the Town is not an option.