The Communities Forum had not met in a while, with 2012 being a particularly busy year for the Team with extra work arising from, amongst other things: the Olympics; having to deal with funding issues; and helping build the capacity of the Jurassic Coast Trust. That coupled with the loss of funding for a dedicated post to work with communities made it really difficult to service the Communities Forum. It was thus with great pleasure that we were able to meet on Friday 14th December in Bridport.
Bob Gillis, Town Clerk of Bridport welcomed us on behalf of the Town Council and explained to us, with well deserved pride, the wonderful renovations of the Town Hall, a Grade I listed building.
Attendance represented the whole length of the coast and there was a genuine sense of pleasure to be able to join together to share experiences over the extended period. Indeed there was so much to catch up on that it was difficult to fit in all that we did in one short morning.
The community representatives were very positive about the forum and when discussing the role and purpose of the forum identified areas of importance to them where they would like to see more engagement with the Jurassic Coast. The positive mood indicated to me that the ‘buy-in’ to the Jurassic Coast is very strong along most parts of the coast. They see the Jurassic Coast designation as an excellent quality brand which helps us all with our custodial role for the area, our marketing of the area and creation of employment and economic development which suits the area. The extension of the tourism season creates a more stable and sustainable economic base, providing that the pressures of traffic and increased tourist population is well managed.
Lessons had been learned from the LOCOG-led marketing campaign to warn people about possible traffic congestion prior to the Olympics. This was generally seen as having had a negative impact, preventing the area from optimising the maximum economic impact from the Games. The impression I obtained from the comments was that we should never again mount a campaign based on worst case scenarios and should ensure we welcome visitors with positive messages about the options for travel.
We talked about the West Dorset Fossil code which many had not heard about. Each community had its own particular issues with respect to collecting, e.g. Budleigh Pebbles, Fossils at Charmouth etc. It was felt that it would be helpful if the Fossil Code could be used as a template to tailor for communities where locally based advice and guidance could be given to people to ensure that if legal and appropriate, collecting was carried out in a responsible way and where certain activities were not allowed, then it was clear to the public.
It was suggested to that we should revisit the Unique Selling Points of places along the coast as originally reviewed by the Natural History Museum to help with local stories and marketing of the key points relevant to each area.
It was agreed that the Forum helped communities to understand what was happening along the Jurassic Coast in each place. Hearing about other projects would help to ensure that schemes were complimentary to each other and avoiding duplication.
Concern was expressed about the removal of the X53 Sunday service which was considered to be an important economic generator for the area. It was suggested that more needed to be done by the Local Authorities World Heritage Sites Forum to identify these issues and lobby for more central recognition which was considered to be lamentable in this country.
We heard about the work being done along the coast from Exmouth to Swanage and since the last meeting it was heartening to hear how much had been achieved. Budleigh Shelter adopted for interpretation, Sidmouth shelters interpretation, Durlston Castle, Chesil Beach Centre to name but a few.
The Forum then heard about the Marine Links project and the Events programme for 2013. The representatives appreciated being brought up to date with this work and were generally enthusiastic about the opportunities being presented. The idea of improving the range of transport options was welcomed which it was thought would particularly enrich visitors’ experience of the area.
We did not have enough time to spend on Volunteers and the HLF funding application. Needless to say, with all the voluntary community action we heard about at the meeting, it only served to emphasise the need for a full time employee to pull all this together. He or she would create a joined up volunteer effort which would provide opportunities for many more people to become actively involved in protecting the coast; providing education and promotion; developing business and therefore employment opportunities; and generally being available to help make the story of the Jurassic Coast accessible to all.
The next meeting will be on 19th April, hopefully at the new Chesil centre, and we hope to help to continue to strengthen the facilitation role of the Team so that they can feel less pressured and more able to empower others to tell the story of the Jurassic Coast and to touch even more people across the world than ever.
John Wokersien, Chairman, Jurassic Coast Communities Forum