How Aylsham is ahead of the lockdown slowdown

PUBLISHED: 09:00 15 July 2020

Aylsham gets together. Photo: Aylsham Town Council

Aylsham gets together. Photo: Aylsham Town Council

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Aylsham celebrates 15 years of being a Cittaslow town, where quality of life is the important thing

Aylsham gets together. Photo: Aylsham Town CouncilAylsham gets together. Photo: Aylsham Town Council

The year of lockdown has been a shock to the system. It’s removed many freedoms, but also forced society to slow down. As the scourge of coronavirus has swept across the planet, we’ve been compelled to re-evaluate our lifestyle.

The horror of the mounting death toll, the loneliness of isolation and fear of the unknown has stalked our daily lives as we watched the heroic efforts of the medical teams do battle with Covid-19. And all around was silence. Desolate cities, towns and villages, empty roads, clear skies. Time stood still.

Except, there was bird song in the air that, itself, was somehow fresher, sweeter. Parents have spent more time with their children, people have discovered neighbours and neighbourliness. Many of us started innovative home cooking, supported local enterprises and learned about ethical consumption.

Lockdown has been somehow liberating. We’ve all adjusted to a new way of living. There is a sense of how a greener world might feel.

Aylsham farmers' market. Photo: Pat PrekoppAylsham farmers' market. Photo: Pat Prekopp

This year of lockdown is also the 15th anniversary of Cittaslow Aylsham... part of a cultural trend known as the slow movement, which was set up to promote quality of living and to help combat the stress of modern life. 

In recognition of this anniversary, the International Cittaslow Committee, based in Orvieto, Italy, planned to send a multi-national delegation of members to Aylsham in November. Unsurprisingly, this high profile event has fallen victim to Covid-19 and has been postponed until next year. Although it’s disappointing that the visit won’t take place in this anniversary year, it’s a measure of Aylsham’s standing in the international community that the event was organised in the first place.

The principles of Cittaslow focus on building a sense of community by challenging all interventions into town life which impact on the quality of urban living. This includes environmental, transport, infrastructure and hospitality issues. So while we contemplate a radical fresh start for when the pandemic is all over, Cittaslow provides a route map on how that could be achieved, and how we might organise ourselves very differently.

GF White Butchers. Photo: Chris TaylorGF White Butchers. Photo: Chris Taylor

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When life was slower and simpler

Patrick Prekopp, chairman of both Cittaslow Aylsham and Slow Food Aylsham, says that quarantine was an opportunity to reassess and re-prioritise what’s important to us.

GF White Butchers. Photo Chris TaylorGF White Butchers. Photo Chris Taylor

“Cittaslow is all about the wellbeing of residents, local businesses and traders, and we in Aylsham aim to reinforce its principles - especially in the new climate when people are coming to realise there may be another way of living,” he said.

“By embracing the Cittaslow principles 15 years ago, Aylsham was really ahead of its time.”

Aylsham, through Cittaslow, pioneered the plastic bag-free revolution in the UK in 2008, leading the way in trying to change shopping habits. Other environmental initiatives include a regular litter-picking programme and clearing public walkways and cycle routes. There is a focus on encouraging people to grow their own and to expand their knowledge of seasonality and local food. The local economy is boosted by sponsorship of the monthly farmers’ markets and weekly general markets – and the town’s Slow Food Festival, which attracts a wide range of interest from near and far.

The anniversary comes at a time when the town is again facing many challenges as a result of urban expansion, increasing traffic volumes and now the impact of coronavirus on the economy.

Bread Source, Aylsham. Photo: Rosie Annabelle Mills-SmithBread Source, Aylsham. Photo: Rosie Annabelle Mills-Smith

“To sustain the environmental and economic principles that underpin Cittaslow requirements, Aylsham has prepared a discussion document – ‘Aylsham: shaping the future’ - and is asking everyone who has an interest in the town to respond and help us shape a vision for the town,” said Patrick.

“The government has recognised that transport has a critical role to play in restarting the economy in the wake of the pandemic, so we will be looking to benefit from these investment opportunities. Now is the time to recognise the favourable impact that a simpler lifestyle has had on us and we should not go back to ‘normal’. A slower pace of life need not be a bad economic choice.

“It took a virus to give us pause for thought – we must learn from it.”

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