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It’s warm today. Really warm. British summer like it used to be warm. I’m sat on hot granite with the sun on my back at Heartlands in Pool, Cornwall. It’s empty. It’s Wednesday lunchtime and term hasn’t quite ended, so I wouldn’t expect it to be heaving. But empty?
A free Cornish tourist attraction in July should at least have some people milling around – using the cafe, weaving through the botanical gardens, looking at the exhibits. Is it indicative of the pop-powered, wired-up, globally accessible, quick-fix world we now live in that a space dedicated to the heritage and experiences of Cornwall’s mining community doesn’t have the draw it should? Maybe. But I suspect there’s more to it than that.
Even making it free hasn’t driven the traffic they may perhaps have hoped. There’s no charge for anything at Heartlands except the parking. I guess it’s through the parking they intended to make the money to keep the attraction going, but from the state of the car park today I can’t imagine that’s working out quite as well as planned.
And it’s a shame because once you’ve paid your £1.80 it’s good. There’s real thought and ingenuity behind the exhibition, telling the tales of the people who worked in Cornwall’s mining industry in an honest, evocative way. You can hear the thud of the balmaidens’ mallets and heavy cogs chinking as you wander the old minehouse at the heart of the site. Projections bring the cumbersome equipment to life and mounted handsets let you hear the stories of miners in their own words. Men like Mark Kaczmarek talk about how in the boiling heat of a mine your boots literally fill with sweat, or how a collision with a flying shard of rock could leave you with a gaping wound in your neck you could put your hand inside.
It’s in listening to Mark’s recollections that it hits me. He loved it. Despite the heat and the danger, he loved mining. It was part of his life, part of Cornish life. And now it’s not. Despite the clever interactive displays, the 270 degree projections and the landscaped walkways, Heartlands is not part of Cornish life. Because the community don’t love it, talk about it, care about it the way they should. The way Mark did.
In the height of summer, once schools are out, I’m sure it will be busier. But for me, Heartlands needs to be about more than attracting out-of-towners or happy holidaymakers. It needs to be adopted and supported by the local community in the same way mining was. It needs to engender pride and enthusiasm from the people who live here. Which means local visitors need to spend time on the green, drink in the cafe, explore the spaces and pay their £1.80 for parking rather than pulling up in Tesco down the road and walking.
“If it could forge a sense of ownership around the site and the story it’s telling, Heartlands could build an army of advocates to spread the word, show their support and drive its success.”
And that won’t happen overnight. You can’t just convince people Heartlands is worth supporting. Support needs to come from the people themselves. It’s needs to be sincere, it needs to be real to work. Maybe surviving as a tourist attraction in the 21st century is about more than hiding your income in your parking charges, all veiled behind a ‘get in for free’ mentality. Maybe instead it’s about rallying the community to come on board, creating a brand, an identity, a reality they want to embrace.
Heartlands should be about empowerment, about creating something that locals are not only happy to have on their doorsteps, but actively want to be a part of. If it could forge a sense of ownership around the site and the story it’s telling, Heartlands could build an army of advocates to spread the word, show their support and drive its success.
Mark Kaczmarek described his passion for tin mining in a way that really resonates here. He said, “If it were the right way round, tin would be the precious metal and silver wouldn’t. Silver tarnishes. Tin doesn’t. Tin always stays shiny.” There must be a way of keeping Cornwall’s tourist trade shining like tin. Could inviting the people that live here in be the way to go?