Paul Miller believes we all need to have a little bit more civic pride.
BARRY Pearson wrote an excellent column in the Ashbourne News Telegraph a couple of weeks ago about pride. Pride is incredibly powerful as an emotion when used effectively. It made me think: are we proud of Ashbourne and, if not, why not?
When I talk to people around the town I sense a strong identity with Ashbourne: what it stands for.
I'm still a newcomer with just 10 years here but I think the Ashbourne identity boils down to basic family values: hard work, personal responsibility, decency and honesty. Its greatest demonstration is the turnout for traditional events – Shrovetide and Remembrance.
What I sense is that, while Ashburnians are proud of being born in the town, many don't have the same pride in the way Ashbourne is today. There is a mismatch between the expectations of people organising things and the people who live here.
There are well-attended events but they are attended disproportionately by tourists, not by Ashbourne residents.
The news that Aldi is possibly coming was greeted with almost universal relief – at last perhaps something that is going to benefit residents. Finally, there is a recognition that not everyone has money to spend and that there is a younger generation with opinions here too.
Compare that heartfelt response with the apathetic and critical reaction to Marks and Spencer's, the new toilet block or the library.
There is a real frustration that the true voice of Ashbourne is not being heard. I would guess that very few of our residents have spoken with Patrick McLoughlin, our MP.
The town council minutes are available online – they show that most meetings have no members of the public present. The district council only has the reputation as the bringer of bad news.
I personally have never been asked my views by either my town or district councillor and so we vote on political rather than personal lines when it comes to local elections too.
Our town councillors do an astounding job with unsocial hours and a tough legal and budgetary challenge. They must be frustrated at having to do it on their own by relying on their own personal experience and knowledge.
There is a lot of creativity and wisdom in the town which is just waiting to be tapped in to if we can re-ignite civic pride.
You can take virtually any of the hot Ashbourne topics of the moment and get some really interesting and insightful views.
I have discussed traffic, markets and housing recently and learned more in five minutes from talking face-to-face or through social media with Ashburnians than I have read in the previous few weeks.
The more people you talk to, the more the points of view come into light and success comes from understanding the detail. There is no shortage of opinion but part of the Ashbourne identity seems to be a browbeaten feeling of inevitability. That it's a done deal. That money and connections talk. That it won't happen because ... That there is no point in speaking up because no-one listens anyway.
This is unfortunate, not least because our democratic system works on the principle that silence is agreement.
Our repressed opinions actually support the flawed policies and wrong decisions that seem right to our politicians and so the cycle continues.
There are still grievances which run deep which have little to do with money: the ugly wall by the park, footpaths, the closure of Coffee Stop, potholes, control of shop colour schemes – and yet "we" are seemingly happy to spend lots of money on a new library and a toilet block.
"They" are spending lots of money on things we never asked for and not doing the things we really want.
There are rational explanations I am sure but, fundamentally, we as voters are not doing a good enough job of telling our decision makers what will make us happy.
Currently they are having to guess.
Coming back to my original point, I sometimes think that I am prouder of Ashbourne than many of those people who have lived here from birth. I have no right to be and I may be proud of the "wrong" things.
Civic pride is about higher things than who has a badge, title, longevity or money. It is belief that there is something worth telling the world about our town; considering ourselves some of the lucky few to live here.
The general perception of people I talk to around the country is that I live in a beautiful town in a beautiful part of the country. With pride comes a confidence that your views are as good as anyone's and woe betide the person who puts money or personal gain ahead of our legacy.
I think that, at the moment, for many people, the process is broken and something radical is needed to fix it.
As an example, some time ago it was mooted that Ashbourne could be branded as Britain's Most Beautiful Town. We have a lot of natural assets which could form the foundations of that claim.
If we could get our councillors, our voluntary organisations, district support and, most importantly, our residents behind that objective or a similar big idea, we may be able to restore our civic pride and recreate the great place to live and not just to visit.