RESPONSE TO JEFF JONES' ARTICLES
THE COUNTRY'S TOP
VISITOR ATTRACTION OF THE YEAR
English Tourist Board - Visitor Attraction of the Year 1998
Yorkshire Tourist Board - Visitor Attraction of the Year 1998
Sorry to hear that you are receiving opposition towards the preserving of Hut 9.
When Stan Johnson, the owner of Eden Camp, first bought the site his intention was also that of demolition - he was going to bulldoze all the huts down in order to build a crisp factory, or a depot for his haulage business.
Once the idea of creating a museum was planted (by three ex-Italian PoW's who returned to Britain in order to re-visit their old 'home') the main opposition that Stan faced was from the 'experts' in the tourist industry who told him his idea was ridiculous; no one would want to visit a PoW camp. He was derided in the national press - including featuring on the front page of the Sunday Times.
It was hard work in the beginning, but after opening to the public for the first time in 1987, Stan won his first Yorkshire Tourist Board award in 1992(Yorkshire is the largest county in Britain and therefore we probably have more tourist attractions than any other county, so competition was very strong)
The Yorkshire Tourist Board gave the Camp further support and backing by awarding us 'top attraction' awards in 1995,1996 and 1998. As a result of winning the Yorkshire Tourist Board's Attraction of the Year in 1998, Eden Camp was entered in, and went on to win, the English Tourist Board's Attraction of the Year - the highest tourism accolade in the country.
Since then, and for the time being, we have withdrawn from actively entering such awards - to give our competitors a chance!(although we do not really see other attractions as competitors - we all support each other to ensure we attract as many visitors to our region as possible). Unbeknown to ourselves we were nominated in the' Best Small Attraction' section of the Group Travel Organiser Awards in 2001 - eventually coming second to the London Eye.
Attracting approx. 270,000 visitors a year from all over the world, of which 100,000 are school children, we are now a multi million pound business and contribute significantly to generating a considerable income for the tourism industry in our region. Many of our 'non-Yorkshire' visitors now stay in the area and spend their money in other sectors of the local economy - food and drink, retail, transport etc. Traditionally, North Yorkshire's main industry use to be agriculture. With the national demise in the agricultural industry in Britain, North Yorkshire's main industry is now tourism. The accommodation providers(hotels, guest houses, farmhouse B&B's) are reliant on the attraction providers to create attractions that will encourage holiday makers to visit the area. Without the attractions, the hotels would be empty!
Since opening as a museum dedicated to telling the story of the Second World War we have never had any trouble with Nazi minded people or suffered Racist abuse. We are non-political and simply try to present the events and facts of World War Two as they happened. Part of one of our huts is dedicated to the rise of the Nazi Party where we try to show our visitors how and why Hitler was able to gain the backing of the majority of the German population, whilst a section of another hut is dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust.
If our displays glorified or showed any support of Hitler and the Nazi Party I am certain that we would not receive the 100,000 school children and 100,000 veterans of the Second World War that visit annually.
Our newest display is the 'Life of a PoW' exhibition which we are still currently working on. When finished, we hope this will be the most comprehensive display about PoW's in the world - representing the 'true' story of what it was like to be a Prisoner of War.
I suppose it has been easy for us to preserve Eden Camp without receiving adverse publicity because Pow Camp 83/250 was a low security camp. There are still many local people who met and worked alongside the prisoners and who are prepared to acknowledge them as being honest decent human beings - many genuine friendships were formed. The prisoners at Island Farm however, by their very nature, were higher security and there were Nazi's amongst them.
However, after visiting your website and corresponding with you on this subject from the outset, I am convinced that the focus of you determination to preserve Hut 9 and create a website dedicated to Island Farm was not/is not one driven by Neo-Nazi motives of preserving and glorifying Island Farm's former inmates. What you have done is create a most thorough website about a facility within the British Isles that is historically important and significant in relation to the events of World War Two.
Appreciating the trouble that we have had in trying to obtain official documentation in order to write a definitive history about our own camp, in a way, you were fortunate in that Island Farm housed PoW's that you have been able to identify and research. The majority of Eden Camp's prisoners, were and will remain, tiny anonymous cogs in what was, at one point in modern history, a massive magnificent military machine. I think it wholly acceptable that after spending time carrying out this research, you wished to share the information, and therefore produce a comprehensive site that people would appreciate and spend time looking at.
I do hope that English Heritage will give you their full backing. They have been able to identify the historical significance of Hut 9 and the Island Farm Site and they should be your most powerful ally. You may be interested to learn that they have recently classified a complete PoW Camp - Harperley near Crook, Co Durham which has been bought by a couple who hope to preserve it, so English Heritage do now see the preservation of PoW camps as important.
I would hope that the public of Bridgend will visit your website and make their own minds up about it. I am convinced that they will see that the leader of Bridgend Council's labelling of it as being Nazi sympathetic is totally unfounded - the true reason for attacking your site appears to be so obvious, to use a military analogrism, that I would certainly never wish to follow such a 'leader' into battle being that his true strategy and intentions are so transparent!.
Good luck with the campaign,