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Which War? Don't Mention The War!

Council at War with the Baron of Prestoungrange

....thus blares the headline in the East Lothian News this week. Of course like all fantasies of sub editors dreaming up headlines the copy that follows bears little relationship to the claim. But it certainly led more than a few to read the rest.

To set the record straight, the saga began when the Sunday Times Ecosse asked Clare Sawers to meet the said Baron [and others] at The Gothenburg in mid April and to write a very substantial feature article on what has been going on at the reopened Gothenburg and in the Arts Festival since the Baron took the initiative to get them both launched.

As 'bad' luck for the Pans would have it, Clare Sawers had holidayed as a youngster at Port Seton and has to this day got relatives living in Tranent so she has 'memories' of 'images' of the Pans which she alluded to in her piece.

Newspapers Thrive on People Stories

As most observers will have noted the Barons Courts at large have employed professional help and managed to create a shrewd PR campaign running from the Arts Festival and The Gothenburg over fully 5 years now. Its pivotal strategy is to seek to' avoid the Baron Angle' on everything and get the real action discussed and shared. By and large that is what has happened, and indeed the Sunday Times piece also told a lot about what is going on i.e. the tales we want told. But alas to add spice to the whole piece two factual errors intruded and they put the full monty Baronial Spin on it with a vengeance - robes, baronial crown, Good Lord et al. They said it was a fairy story. But to the factual errors:

1. The Baron's family which has held the Lands since 1998 hails from Musselburgh, has been five times winner of the Open through Willie Park Snr and Jnr and Mungo Park, worked in the local coal mine, and had two ancestors die in the Inveresk Combination Poor House. It was never the case that they reclaimed feudal lands they once owned. The Sunday Times published a correction on this point.

2. The Baron was characterised by Clare Sawers as the saviour of the Pans from a desperate fate. Nothing is further from the truth and it has never been suggested by the Baron or his colleagues that they thought it to be the case. The characterisation of course was a journalist's opinion. The Baron has since contradicted it, not to recover from an embarrasing 'tall poppy' claim he had made, but because it is neither his opinion nor a correct statement of the facts of the matter. Truth is that the Pans has been on a recovery track ever since it hit rock bottom in the mid 60s and hundreds of folk and millions of external funding have helped the town rebuild.

Overheard from the Community Council

One of those long time contributors has been the Community Council. Quite naturally they took exception to the opinions expressed by Clare Sawers both about the state of the town when she was a youngster and the notion the Baron was a saviour. A similar message had earlier arrived at Barons Courts from the Kirk Session of Prestongrange Church, another indeed long time contributor in the Pans. Their views were simlar with added Christian concern about the Arts Festival's handling of the Witches' Pardon and the carving of Totem Poles.

Such opinions are perfectly acceptable but one aspect of their communication was not, and the Baron has already indicated on behalf of his colleagues and his own family, that he considers it uncharitable and hurtful. That has been that more than a few rightly annoyed folk leapt immediately to the conclusion that Clare Sawers opinions were their opinions! And as a consequence to make demands that the Baron gets her 'insults' and her 'opinions and youthful images' retracted, and personally publishes his own repudiation.

We all know the Pans is a Great Community

To state the obvious, the Pans is a great community and proud of itself. Fashioned over hundreds of years and reinforced by the straits in which it found itself by the pit closures of the 60s, there is much going on everywhere.

What the Prestoungrange Arts Festival and The Prestoungrange Gothenburg have brought to that is a very great deal of sparkle ... icing on the cake ... with a lot more to come! They are having fun as are the thousands of guests and visitors who have been to The Gothenburg and gongoozled the murals. They are enjoying themselves publicly. They have created top flight hospitality jobs in the Pans that have given talented local residents the chance to work in and for their own community, drawing many back from great jobs in Edinburgh. They have triggered art classes and exhibitions like there is no tomorrow. They have created murals that are bringing the Global Murals Association's 6th Conference to the Pans in August 2006. They are serving great Sunday Carvery Lunches, Bistro and fine dining to kill for, microbrewing Fowler's Ales again as well as sponsoring the footie. The James Fewell Bar has been restored as a work of art and offers excellent music. They have placed the name of Prestonpans in the national and international media in a positive light on more than 100 occasions and brought BBC TV Scotland to the Pans four times with positive stories.

So, always tell us when we are wrong about something or indeed about just about everything ... but don't doubt us. That hurts. Don't wish rain on our parade. And when someone else expresses a personal memory or opinion of the Pans from 20 + years ago don't 'do a Dr Who' and blame the Baron as though Clare Sawers is talking about today. She was honestly recalling her memories and images of yesterday.

The 'official' response from Barons Courts to all this hubris has been to redouble our PR efforts to tell today's and tomorrow's good news about the Pans; and to accept yesterday's visitors' opinions as what they are, just distant personal memories that might or might not be the same as our own.

We commend precisely the same strategy to the hundreds of other activists in town.

Published Date: May 19th 2005

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