Bobbie Heavens and her Herefordshire life

PUBLISHED: 11:45 14 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:03 20 February 2013

"Hereford is now my village but even our lovely historic city needs to move forward"

For nearly 25 years Bobbie Heavens was at the forefront of promoting Herefordshire tourism. Recently awarded an MBE, she tells Rachel Crow why she has retained such a passion for her home county

Heavens sent for Herefordshire

For nearly 25 years Bobbie Heavens was at the forefront of promoting Herefordshire tourism. Recently awarded an MBE, she tells Rachel Crow why she has retained such a passion for her home county
Pictures by Anna Lythgoe

Tourism is one of Herefordshires key economies worth more than 400 million annually and supporting an estimated 8,500 jobs in the county. Yet in the mid-1980s when Bobbie Heavens became involved in helping private sector tourism businesses there was little evidence of the county being marketed as a whole.

As the former Managing Director and Company Secretary of the Association for the Promotion of Herefordshire (APH), now absorbed within Visit Herefordshire, Bobbie, together, with a team drawn from all walks of life, was tasked with marketing and supporting 400 businesses in the tourism sector.

There was nothing before, really, to promote the whole county. A lot of agriculture was branching into tourism and Herefordshire was way ahead in a lot of initiatives such as the emphasis on using local produce, but there was just not the recognition of how important it was to push things forward, she explains.

Twenty five years ago Bobbie set to work tackling all that needed attention in the tourism sector, from producing brochures, exhibition management and promotional activities, to working with a wide range of bodies and funders to access support for the countys industry.

I still have boxes full of all of the brochures and leaflets produced and work done. It serves as an archive for Herefordshire and its tourism industry and is a wonderful picture of the county and how its tourism has developed up until now, she says.

Bobbie recently stepped back from the front-line of tourism but has no intention of slowing down. Retirement is not a word that appears in her vocabulary and when not abseiling from buildings to raise money for charity, her advice is still regularly sought, drawing on her knowledge and experience and natural instinct for what is needed. I can still bubble underneath and have an input here and there, she says.

With an extensive background in international travel and tourism industries, Bobbie and her late husband, Tony Heavens, moved to Herefordshire in 1959 and alongside raising their two children, built up the Hereford-based Yeomans Miller coach tour and travel operation, which grew to 34 offices throughout the UK and became part of the P&O Travel Group.

It was following the death of her husband in the mid-1980s that she turned her attention to tourism in Herefordshire. We both had a deep love for the county and so it was a natural progression, she explains.
Working in international tourism gave me a broad vision and I brought all that with me to the Herefordshire scenario. I always had to bring up the word competition and the need to keep up with the competition.
There was, initially, political resistance as residents felt threatened by the word tourism because to them it meant lots of people swarming in and threatening everything. But we have this lovely landscape and it was appreciated by people who wanted this unspoilt destination. I am very keen Herefordshire does not become like many other destinations with an over-emphasis on standardisation, but support a willingness to aim for high standards in whatever the county offers.

Twenty years on, Bobbie can see where her support of all the start-up and small businesses spread across the county has paid off. These were people thinking of doing a B&B or other initiatives who needed someone to sit down with them with a cup of coffee and counsel them on the pros and cons of business and point them in the right direction and also get them involved in what we were doing. Now they are really successful, which is lovely, she adds.

With the Visitor and Eating Out Guides initially all self-funded by the businesses in the industry, Bobbie was instrumental in developing and driving a partnership between the private businesses and local authorities and supported the evolved Destination Management Partnership, Visit Herefordshire, which now handles the promotion of the county.

Everyone realises they need to work with partners and no one can do it on their own. With the internet it is easier now for individual businesses, but there still needs to be co-ordination and partnerships to meet the competition.

Believing in the importance in gaining a wider perspective of the industry, as well as acting as the voice for Herefordshire on a regional level, Bobbie served on the Board of the original Heart of England Tourist Board and Tourism West Midlands.

It all feeds into each other. Because I was working at grass roots level with businesses, I represented them at various important forums regionally and was able to bring the reality of business to the table. Also, going to Birmingham every month for Tourism West Midlands meetings ensured Herefordshire was included in their thinking. You do need to be part of the bigger picture all of the time.

Bobbies tireless work and contribution to the county have not gone unnoticed.

Awards have followed each other along the years: Outstanding Contribution to the Region from the Heart of England Tourist Board; a Lifetime Achievement Award from Hereford and Worcester Chamber of Commerce; an Excellence in Tourism Gold Award from Tourism West Midlands and finally an MBE for services to the tourism industry, which she collected in April.

I was absolutely stunned to receive the MBE and very touched because it was really all of these people and businesses Ive worked with and bodies Ive been part of that had supported it.

A recent Chairman of the Hereford City Partnership, Bobbie was able to contribute to the future of the city she now calls home. She has moved from her countryside home near Ledbury to a beautiful apartment in the heart of Hereford with views over the cathedral spires and is actively involved with life in the city as a Rotarian at the City of Hereford Club and Patron of the Courtyard Centre for the Arts.

Hereford is now my village but even our lovely historic city needs to move forward. Its heritage is very important but we cant ignore the economic argument of jobs and better facilities for those who live here.
Nothing stays the same. The key thing is to embrace change while preserving the history.

Ive always been a forward-looking person and so while Ill look back on what we achieved as a good example, we still need to look forward.

Bobbie Heavens
My Herefordshire Life

What do you enjoy most about Herefordshire?

Its just a wonderful mix of rural landscape and life and clusters of market towns and villages based on a Real England.

How would you advise a visitor to spend a weekend in the county?
Choose a very good quality farmhouse, either bed and breakfast or self-catering, ensure you have details of all the things you can do activities and cultural events and enjoy the food and drink.

What still needs to change?
As a Hereford city resident, I want better access to the River Wye. In most cities you can walk along the river and here you can but you have to go over to the other side and there are no facilities really for visitors and residents. There also needs to be a better offer of accommodation and facilities in the city.

What would help the tourism industry in the county?
We have a very low population, which is why we suffer with lack of Government money, but there has been a realisation there is nothing like rural Herefordshire. There needs to be more cross-border work and partnerships, working with Worcestershire and Shropshire.

Where do you like to go and eat in the city?
I enjoy the Cafe @ All Saints, All Saints Church, High Street, it has some wonderful vegetarian dishes and The Stewing Pot on Church Street.

Which town or villages do you regard as quintessentially Herefordshire?
Of the Black and White villages Ive always loved Eardisland and Eardisley. They are unspoilt and not dollied up for the tourists; they are very natural as they are.

Which three items of Herefordshire produce would you take to a
desert island?

Bodenham wine from Broadfield Court; Williams and Dunkerton chocolates (Dunkertons Cider Mill, Pembridge) and some Herefordshire beef, a nice beef wellington stuffed with local pt.

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