It was clear that the project was about local identity, pride and cohesion rather than just tourism.
In the heat of the summer of June 2012 the author Louis de Bernieres officially opened the Waveney Valley to a packed and excited audience of local and district councillors, tourism business owners, local food producers, historic architects and members of the public. It could be argued that the Waveney Valley had actually existed for thousands of years before that date, so what was the big deal now?
The Waveney river valley is situated on the Norfolk and Suffolk border in East Anglia. It feels remote, the Chilterns and London are far away. It could be a place on the way to somewhere or from somewhere else more exciting. However the people living and working in the area recognised the location’s landscape qualities, character and local distinctiveness, including a fantastic food offer, wildlife, walking, and water sports.
In the tourism industry, a location, however wonderful, without a clear identity or purpose will never become a visitor destination. Think of the “Cotswolds”, “Lake District” or “Dales” and an image comes to mind – all well resourced and well established destinations. The Waveney Valley was unknown as a distinct destination in it’s own right, and possibly only existed in the psyche of local people. That’s quite a hill to climb.
Nick Phillips, LEADER* Programme Manager arranged with Paul Mace and Local Action Group (LAG) Chair and instigator of this project, Pat Holtom, to visit with a team from the Chiltern Tourism Network (themselves striving to put the Chilterns on the map), and see how they turned an idea into reality.
“The Waveney Valley Identity Project aims to promote the Waveney Valley – as not only a destination to visit, but also somewhere to sample and buy from the Valley’s local producers. The one cannot function without the other. The Rural Development Programme LAG for the Waveney Valley is leading on this three-year scheme and has worked with local authorities in Waveney, South Norfolk and Mid Suffolk to develop a logo as a way of re-branding the area. The project will primarily help to develop links between all of the local market towns, to encourage tourists to extend their visits by touring each,” explained Pat.
Paul introduced the Chilterns team to food producers, gardeners, publicans, visitor centres and others actively involved in the project. What became clear to the team was the value of drawing businesses together under a common set of “values” around what they know and love. There was a real sense of “Team Waveney” and collective promotion of shared values, even though some of the businesses struggle with poor infrastructure provision, not least of all shocking broadband connection – one having to go out into the road to make phone calls and for the credit card machine to work! This is not a problem confined to East Anglia.
What was particularly noticeable was the intimate knowledge Pat has of the landscape and how it’s well-being impacts directly on the food that is produced from it. For example; the local fields needed to be grazed in order to manage the vegetation. The cattle selected to do this important job were also chosen for the quality of their milk which is used by the cheese and ice-cream producers in the production of their products. Amazing! But you need the knowledge.
The businesses were also found to cluster; again supported by the project, but then able to support one another. There have been too many failed projects that have left small producers high and dry in a distant barn miles from anywhere and miles from the market.
It was clear that the project was about local identity, pride and cohesion rather than just about tourism.
Key features of the visit:
- Located between the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, the area suffered from communication issues and differing public sector priorities. Previous tourism strategies related to either Norfolk or Suffolk council priorities and were not seen as reflecting the needs of the business community. The LAG and LEADER team looked at the area cohesively, with the visitor in mind.
- Brand is critical. Does it say what you have to offer? Are the majority signed up to the brand values? The LEADER/Tourism team were convinced that the logo must reflect the values and have “buy in” from all network members. The brand being displayed in shop windows, on packaging and T shirts, the promotional literature too, was impressive and underpinned coherence of the brand.
- Quality control is not a done deal for those who adopt the destination brand. How do you know that the visitor is enjoying the same level of outstanding service?
- LEADER funds were important in establishing the brand and the initial marketing. The Waveney Valley project received £90,000 of LEADER funding. The Chiltern Tourism Network received £15,000 and put the funding to very good use including developing free marketing resources for business and developing VisitChilterns.co.uk A lot with very little.
- Networking is essential. The businesses owners visited had enthusiastic support for all other businesses in the network and recognised the value.
- A business champion to drive the project was recognised as really important to the project’s success. Waveney Valley Project champion is Pat, who has the personality and drive to have seen this through from concept to economic reality, although a business owner acknowledged that the long term success of the project depends on “businesses doing it for themselves’.
- The creation of business hubs was important.
- Local knowledge about the landscape was impressive. These ‘Hodmedods’ are peas and so have been packaged to sell far and wide with a distinctly local and quirky flavour.
What can your destination do to build a strong local identity, pride and cohesion?
- To attract tourists to an area there needs to be a cohesive brand and image supported by a significant number of interested, energetic business owners with good products that consumers want to buy.
- Routes to market have to be accessible to both business and consumer.
- The brand needs a simple visual image that can be effective across a range of applications and business needs.
- The network needs business champions who drive the values and can knock heads together in the common good.
- Recognition that the “brand” is wider than tourism. As tourism is itself not just confined to accommodation and tour guides. It is about collective working and pride in a place that is cross-cutting to include businesses that interface with the consumer but also those that do not – those that supply the goods and services that will keep visitors happy.
- The team recognised the importance of business hubs for micro businesses and the concept, where possible be part of the initial set-up. LEADER have a role to play being in contact with emerging rural micro businesses.
This article was co-written by Nick Philips, Programme Manager for the Chilterns Leader and Mary Tebje. August 2013
*The LEADER approach is a delivery mechanism under the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE). It uses local knowledge to promote an integrated “bottom up”, community-led delivery of RDPE funding. In England it is being implemented by Local Action Groups and is targeted on rural areas with particular needs or priorities.