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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 7th August 2009
Could slowing down help to solve Ripon’s problems? asks David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society

There used to be a craze for ‘slow cookers’, where you dumped the ingredients in a pot as you went out in the morning, and returned in the evening to a delicious casserole that had cooked away on low power throughout the day. Slow cookers are still available, and may yet have their day again.

And then there’s fast food – and we all know what that is; convenient when you’re in a rush, but not always the most satisfying gourmet experience.

To counteract what many people saw as the inadequacies of fast food, the Slow Food movement was started in Italy in the 1990s. In the UK the Slow Food movement writes of its aims being to ‘raise awareness about good, clean and fair food. People in Britain are increasingly aware of the social, economic and environmental impact of our daily food choices. Slow Food UK works to bring people together to create change . . . We want to connect people around the country to their food and those who produce it.’

From the Slow Food movement grew another, wider impulse – to make whole communities aware of the benefits of standing back from the rush of modern life and really to think about what makes their town a place worth living in. This movement is known by the rather difficult title of Cittaslow – the movement began in Italy, hence the ‘citta’ – town – part of the name.

The Cittaslow website spells out its message: ‘Cittaslow is a way of thinking. It is about caring for your town and the people who live and work in it or visit it. It is about protecting the environment, about promoting local goods and produce, and about avoiding the ‘sameness’ that afflicts too many towns in the modern world.’

Ludlow in Shropshire was the first of the Cittaslow towns in the UK, and it is where Cittaslow UK is based. Others include Aylsham and Diss in Norfolk, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Cockermouth, Mold in Wales, and Perth, Linlithgow and Blairgowrie in Scotland. All of them have had the vision to see that becoming a ‘Slow Town’ is much more advantageous to them than trying to outpace an urban lifestyle.

So what does being a ‘Slow Town’ mean? Of course, coming out of the Slow Food movement it can help to promote all the decent restaurants that a place has – and that’s a box that Ripon already ticks. But it’s much more than that. The original manifesto for Cittaslow says ‘We are looking for towns brought to life by people who make time to enjoy a quality of life. Towns blessed with quality public spaces, theatres, shops, cafes, inns, historic buildings, and unspoiled landscapes. Towns where traditional craft skills are in daily use, and where the slow, beneficial succession of the seasons is reflected in the availability of local produce, in season. Where healthy eating, healthy living and enjoying life are central to the community.’ All these are ideals that we should be ready to accept in Ripon – not to show that the city is a slow place but to celebrate our uniqueness and strengths.

So how do we start? Cittaslow has a list of criteria that a place needs to be on the way to meeting before a community can start down the ‘Slow Town’ road. They encompass all aspects of life, and all are aimed at ensuring that the town is aware of its own advantages and can set about striving to correct any shortcomings.

Above all, Cittaslow needs the active cooperation of the local authority; it has found from experience that the concept cannot work without it. This brings us to what might be one of the hurdles for Ripon – but could also be an immense opportunity. The Mayor has recently spoken of all sides working together for the common good of Ripon – a sentiment which Ripon Civic Society heartily endorses. The question is, how is this to be brought about when there are so many diverse groups with entrenched positions? In Ludlow, says the Cittaslow case study about the town, there was an equally difficult situation, with feuding among councillors and no agreement among local groups. But gradually the town turned itself about, helped by the common goal of attempting to achieve Slow City status. And once you know that a great part of the problem – eventually solved – was based around traffic and parking, its relevance to Ripon becomes even more clear!

Being a Slow City could give Ripon a new lease of life – where we have time to appreciate our environment and our local food, and where, for the first time for several decades, we are all working to the same purpose. It’s worth some slow thought.

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