Lavenham Tourist Information Centre earmarked for closure this autumn

HAPPIER TIMES: Lisa Francis, Veronica Cowlin and Shirley Cates at Lavenham Tourist Information Centre, which is now earmarked for closure.
HAPPIER TIMES: Lisa Francis, Veronica Cowlin and Shirley Cates at Lavenham Tourist Information Centre, which is now earmarked for closure.

The Tourist Information Centre (TIC) in Lavenham is set to cease operations after the tourism season, with the future of its staff uncertain.

The facility in Lady Street is one of several tourist information offices earmarked for closure in the autumn by Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils, along with the Stowmarket TIC at the Museum of East Anglian Life.

It is understood the closures could lead to savings of £150,000, and 11 paid jobs may be lost between the two TICs.

A spokesman for the two councils emphasised the TICs will remain open throughout the summer, and explained the decision is part of a review of how to modernise Babergh and Mid Suffolk’s overall tourism strategy.

Lavenham Parish Council stated it is saddened by the announcement, while opposition councillors at Babergh described it as “short-sighted and silly”.

But Cllr John Ward, Babergh District Council’s leader, said: “We want to work with others about how best to tell visitors about all that is on offer.

“We’ve got to ask whether a fixed TIC in Lavenham meets the changing needs of our visitors, or whether there are other options that will better help visitors get the most out of their trip.

“That’s a conversation we want to further with our local partners and visitor destinations. Whilst that is underway, we will ensure the TIC in Lavenham continues to operate throughout the tourist season this year.”

Carroll Reeve, chairman of Lavenham Parish Council, told the Free Press they did not receive prior warning of the decision, but they are committed to working with Babergh District Council on alternative provisions.

He added their priority now is to secure the TIC building for community use, suggesting it could potentially be turned into a sub-Post Office, to replace the village branch that closed a year ago.

“It’s sad that the TIC should close, bearing in mind we are a tourist destination,” Mr Reeve said.

“I’m confident that alternative arrangements can be put in place, but they won’t replace what’s there now.

“It will require some co-peration. As ever, there’s going to be a degree of bureaucracy that we have no control over.”

Babergh’s Independent Group said they are appalled by the closure decision, arguing tourism is the biggest source of income in Suffolk.

Cllr John Nunn, district councillor for Long Melford, Lavenham’s sister village for tourism, said: “The loss of such professional and dedicated staff at Lavenham TIC would be a serious blow to the local tourist industry, an industry that brings in millions of pounds per annum to the local economy.

“I do not believe that ‘modernising’ TICs by replacing experienced Babergh staff who have a vast amount of local knowledge by putting it over to volunteers yet again is the right way forward.”

Cllr Richard Kemp, who also represents Long Melford, added: “The silly season at Babergh still goes on, with the latest proposal to close the TIC at Lavenham.

“Just to remind people – tourism is the biggest income source to Suffolk.

“The savings projected are miniscule compared with all the wastage of moving headquarters to Ipswich and the proposed mergers of authorities. Come on, wake up, Babergh.”