Those good people at Advantage West Midlands have commissioned a poll to find the most popular tourist attractions in the region. As with all polls, there is a built-in margin of error and this error can be the only explanation as to why the West Midland Safari Park in Bewdley was voted the top attraction instead of the Norfolk Place Engineers` Canteen in Walsall.
Birmingham might have its Thinktank, Sealife Centre and Kraft World – sorry – Cadbury World, Kidderminster and Bridgenorth might have the Severn Valley Railway, Staffordshire can boast Alton Towers and Drayton Manor, Dudley has a zoo and a living museum and Ironbridge has, well, an iron bridge but these are mere sideshows when compared to the magnificent spectacle of the Walsall Illuminations.
Ah, yes – perhaps the margin of error in the poll is too narrow to include the fact that the illuminations have been cancelled to save money. But there are a multitude of other cultural wonders to delight and entertain the literati of Walsall. If recently published figures are to be believed, the New Art Gallery attracts crowds similar to the Pope at an airport. The cultural influence of the Art Gallery is confirmed by the fist-fights between young men in Burberry caps and hoodies desperate to view the Garman-Ryan collection and the informed discussions between 16-year-old mothers on the merits of the later works of Matisse as they manoeuvre pushchairs around Poundland.
Buried deep in the impenetrable Walsall Council website, you may be lucky enough to stumble upon a list of Leisure and Culture Service Standards. The document sets out what the service does and what we can expect of it. It aims to:
“Facilitate a wide range of leisure and cultural
opportunities (sports, arts, green space, events, facilities
and experiences) which inspire people to choose a more
active, enjoyable and happy life in Walsall.”
A quick glance at the list shows that the Leisure and Culture Service “encompasses” various jewels in the crown including Bryntisilio Outdoor Education Centre – still under threat of closure to save money, all 5 leisure centres – under threat of closure to save money, the Grange Golf Course – closed to save money.
Parks and play areas are also within the remit. Half of George Rose Park in Darlaston has been given to an evangelical millionaire wishing to convert the heathens of that town. The Playbuilder scheme, funded by the previous government, has been met with fierce opposition from locals who object to having half-hearted token schemes plonked on them without adequate consultation.
But, on the plus side, we have Walsall and Darlaston Town Halls and the Forest Arts Centre for all our cultural needs. Coming up at Walsall Town Hall is an evening with The Bachelors and then you have until July to calm down until we have not one, but two Elvis impersonators at the Forest Arts Centre. The programme of events at Darlaston Town Hall is even better – there isn`t one.
Those thirsting for knowledge might consider a visit to our wonderful museums and libraries, but don`t go on Mondays, they are closed to save money and visitors to the Leather Museum, now almost cut-off by the preposterous ring-road, take their lives into their hands when crossing the road.
A museum devoted to Jerome K Jerome, arguably Walsall`s most notable citizen, closed because funding was withdrawn to save money and the council were more than happy for the Black Country Living Museum to take control the Willenhall Lock Museum. At one point there was a proposal to move the Locksmith`s House, brick-by-brick, to Dudley.
Curiously, lumped in with the Leisure and Culture Service Standards are catering services including school meals. More and more schools are opting out because the service and food is so poor. Soon, all that will be left on the leisure and culture list will be the Town Hall restaurant and that magnet for the tourist dollar, yen and euro, the Norfolk Place Engineers` Canteen.
Heritage tourism is a money-spinner and Walsall must be irresistible to culture vultures. The historic markets in Brownhills, Willenhall and on the bridge, wonderful ancient pubs like the Bell in Willenhall and the lovely old church on Mellish Road are right up there as attractions along with the Saddlers Centre, the Tameway Tower and the Hatherton Street car park.
In the early 1930`s, the cunning people of Inverness cashed in on the inter-war popularity of motoring holidays by inventing a monster to attract thrill-seekers and money to their remote and struggling town. After being too busy closing things to make any claim on the now Birmingham/Stoke Hoard, perhaps Walsall Council should invent something that will draw visitors and encourage them to part with their cash.
With the lottery funded improvements to the Arboretum hopefully imminent, invented sightings of a hippo in Burberry cap and bling on Hatherton Lake in Boudicca`s chariot carried by a Viking long ship will have the crowds flocking to the refurbished tea-room and place Walsall as the most popular tourist attraction in the region.
Until then, it may be advantage West Midlands, but it`s game, set and match to the philistines that run Walsall.