John Bone: Time to take a leaf out of Ely’s book

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I trust someone at Forest Heath who has Newmarket’s happiness at heart is keeping an eye on what is happening at Ely where after four years’ patient planning a multi-million Leisure Complex nears completion this year. Masterminded by East Cambs District Council, Ely Leisure Village is cinema-centred and has already signed up five big names in the restaurant industry. Sadly, Newmarket, for centuries the capital of the region’s leisure industry, has lately hitched its wagon to the sometimes seamy scene of naughty nightclubs. Meanwhile, what most of us would prefer is a proper picture house and decent places to meet and eat.

Let’s face it, compared with most towns of similar size, Newmarket and its near neighbours are scarcely famous for the arts unless you count pole dancing. Our music scene is vanishingly modest, we have a smattering of writers and painters but for some unfathomable reason we are saved by our stage-struck young people. There are such a lot of them and they are so good.

Look at Viva, Soham’s brilliant stage company now at the Edinburgh Fringe with “Fame!”. Look at Newmarket’s King’s Theatre summer school production of Midsummer Night’s Dream; ambition crowned with success. Newmarket Nights bring international showbiz glamour to the Rowley Mile, many of our young people get involved in some form of theatre at Bury or further afield, a surprising number establish themselves in the tooth-and-claw competitive professional scene nationally and our own dear Nomads always have something special in the pipeline. Let us pray that after a setback Mildenhall manages to reassert 
its role in original stage work.

And, let us pray even harder that our love of drama is rewarded with a proper cinema. Why is it that in the arts we are so often so good and so active on stage while still so lacklustre in other media? Beats me. Maybe you disagree but if you see the scene my way, do you have an answer?

Eighty years ago a somewhat eccentric Cambridge University student called Arthur Lainson set up his own bus business. As a result we can now celebrate one of the great commercial successes of our region – Premier Travel. The modern high-tech international travel firm has kept alive the entrepreneurial drive of that student long ago so that Premier Travel, unlike many of its rivals who have gone to the wall, triumphs in a challenging on-line world. Their local branch is a valued neighbour to the Journal in The Guineas and long may we share the scene.

The boss of the nation’s school inspectors has mildly scolded but failed to sack one of his staff who described a whole area of the country as a ghetto given to inbreeding. I find this typical of the entire Ofsted mind-set. Suffolk schools have suffered from a string of arrogant and merciless verdicts which seem aimed not so much at improving students as breaking the spirit of teachers, while holding them up to the ridicule of students whose own confidence in their schools is then broken. It is a hateful system There must be a better way.

Of course, it won’t happen but wouldn’t it be wonderful if what’s left of Newmarket’s much-loved hospital and its associated medical facilities moved from their present rambling and largely wasted site and went to the soon-to-be vacated Beech House in the Fordham Road leaving all that lovely space back in the town to be used for desperately needed housing? Wonderful but, like I said, it won’t happen.

The post-referendum uncertainty supposedly putting a ball and chain on the national economy shows no sign of affecting Newmarket’s racing scene. A confident Jockey Club have vowed to run a crammed-full programme at both courses next year with an astonishing 39 meetings plus the evening shows. Nothing timid or hesitant about that and 
reassuring news for the town.

Much as I grieve to hear how badly Ladbrokes did at big race meetings at Cheltenham, Ascot and Aintree, it is good to know the bookies went on to up their profits by 61 per cent. Even better, they are successfully using mechanical gambling to draw in younger people who like machines that go buzz, bleep and ping. It’s all quite heart-warming for the poor people of Newmarket who daily seek to redeem their lives in this way.