[AD] I was recently involved in a day of filming in and around Melbourne in South Derbyshire. I grew up nearby and have always had a soft spot for Melbourne. This picturesque market town in the heart of the National Forest has so much going for it, but like many places, has suffered from a loss of visitors since the lockdowns.
I’ve never done anything like this before and am really quite nervous about appearing on camera. Here’s how on earth I roped myself into this, and what I discovered about Melbourne post-pandemic.
How I got involved
I was approached by a local PR and communications agency, MIH Solutions to ask whether I would present a promotional video for Melbourne. Thanks to Government money granted specifically for supporting the recovery of local businesses post-COVID, MIH Solutions had been commissioned by South Derbyshire District Council to try and increase footfall in Swadlincote and Melbourne town centres.
I grew up in Castle Donington, a neighbouring village and know Melbourne relatively well. I have so many happy childhood memories of walking around Melbourne Pool and over the years I have returned to Melbourne for one reason or another because it’s such a lovely place.
Despite that, my initial reaction was a hard no. I am not a presenter. I would go as far to say that I hate watching myself on video and actively avoid being filmed. But then I had a word with myself. The reason I was approached is that the video is all about showcasing and supporting the independent businesses of Melbourne. And that’s something I am totally on board with and very passionate about. Probably like many people, I knew I loved Melbourne, but I hadn’t ventured back since lockdown.
I think as women we place so much pressure on ourselves to look a certain way. Would I like to be slimmer? More stylish? Younger? If anyone is waving a magic wand then yes please, absolutely! Does that mean I shouldn’t undertake what is essentially a work project? Would a man be doing these mental and emotional gymnastics about accepting a work project based on his appearance?
So, I accepted. And then I have spent the last few months wondering why on earth I was doing something so far out of my comfort zone… On a good day I knew it was the right thing to do. Many other days I really doubted the decision.
What was one constant through this was the lead videographer, Michael Wood at MIH Solutions. Michael was just as passionate about the importance of supporting small businesses. And from the get go he was an absolute pleasure to work with, as was his assistant, Charlie Hayes.
The big day of filming
We met bright and early at the Market Cross. It was gloriously sunny; we could not have ordered better weather. The plan was to film the opening sequence here. First hiccup of the day was a huge articulated lorry and very noisy building work. I had no conception of how important background noise (or the absence of it) is when filming, but even I could appreciate that a pneumatic drill wasn’t the ideal soundtrack. And we spent a good portion of the day waiting for lorries, motorbikes etc to pass.
The videographers also spent plenty of time being very patient whilst I fluffed my lines.
The morning was a whistle stop tour of some of the loveliest parts of Melbourne. We walked through the pretty streets, marvelled at the historic church, filmed at the Melbourne Pool. We were even given special access to Melbourne Hall and Gardens which opens to the public in April.
The afternoon was spent interviewing a range of local businesses. I found it fascinating talking to the business owners, all of whom spoke so passionately and eloquently about Melbourne. Sadly all of them agreed that Melbourne visitor numbers were struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels. It hammered home to me just how important it is to eat, drink and shop locally.
In my naivety I think I expected quite a cushy, easy day, drinking coffee and mooching about. It was actually pretty intense. I honestly have a whole new level of respect for actors, film crews, production teams… there is so much more involved behind the scenes. It was a very tiring day. My poor feet were actually bleeding by the end of it (don’t look too closely folks! Turns out, if you wash your white pumps you should probably wear them back in before wearing them for a whole day on your feet. Who would have thought?!). But I drove home that evening shattered but feeling very proud of having pushed myself to do something beyond my comfort zone, and something I think is important.
Why visit Melbourne in South Derbyshire?
As I said, I have been coming to Melbourne since being a very young child. I remember sunny walks by the Pool, and Christmases in the courtyard. And as an adult, pubs and restaurants… But like many people, I hadn’t ventured back since lockdown.
History and heritage
I was surprised how much Melbourne had changed. It’s obviously still got the history and heritage of being a beautiful Georgian market town. And the lovely open spaces of the pool. But what I noticed was how vibrant the town centre is. Literally jam packed with fabulous independent businesses. There’s a wonderful selection of shops, cafés, tearooms, pubs and restaurants.
There were too many to mention and it would be unfair of me to pick out any favourites, but each contributed to the town’s stunning and unique offering. Suffice to say I cannot wait to return to Melbourne and sample more of what’s on offer.
Fabulous independent shopping
In general terms then, there are plenty of interesting shops. You could buy pretty much anything here. In particular there are lots of gorgeous gift and lifestyle shops. Left to my own devices, one of my favourite things to do is to wander round shops like this. You could spend a very happy morning or afternoon perusing Melbourne’s high street, stopping for a coffee or perhaps a cheeky glass of wine.
In addition to the town centre and surrounding streets, don’t miss Melbourne Hall Courtyard. Just a couple of minutes’ walk away, this attractive courtyard is full of artisan producers and craft shops. Situated next to Melbourne Hall and opposite the beautiful old church, this is a particularly pleasing place to relax. Grab a barista coffee and soak up the ambiance, or venture through the courtyard for the tearooms. It’s worth noting that there are also some public toilets located in the Visitor Centre near the entrance to the gardens.
Family days out
In the warmer months, Melbourne Hall Gardens opens its gates to visitors and is a wonderful destination for a relaxing family day out. Thought to be the best surviving early 18th century English garden in the manner of acclaimed gardener, le Nôtre (also responsible for Versailles!). There is an impressive yew tunnel, an absolutely stunning magnolia tree and beautiful planting at every turn.
What I didn’t realise is that there is also a small farmyard area where you can see beautiful varieties of chickens, pigs, pygmy goats, rare breed sheep and alpacas, miniature ponies and more. Animal feed can be bought from the entrance hut. Visitors are welcome to pet the animals, on the understanding this is at your own risk. I was having a lovely ‘moment’ with one of the goats until they nibbled my jacket! View opening details here.
Open all year round, and totally free to visit is Melbourne Pool. It’s a brilliant place for a delightfully traffic free stroll. There are beautifully smooth tarmacked paths, just perfect for a pushchair or pram friendly stroll, or to take a younger child with a scooter. It would also be perfect for wheelchairs. There’s not a huge distance that’s pushchair friendly, but the views and general ambiance are unrivalled. There are plenty of benches to stop and have a natter or even a picnic.
Food and drink
Melbourne has established itself as somewhat of a foodie hotspot and there are numerous eateries dotted around the town. From takeaway sandwiches from lovely bakeries, to cafés and tearooms serving up everything from breakfasts and brunch to lunch and coffee and cake, there is literally something for everyone and every taste.
For its size, there are a good range of restaurants in Melbourne too. From established British and European stalwarts to good pub fare, from Thai to Indian, or to graze from stunning platters in the most Instagrammable quirky little café bars to contemporary restaurants there is something to satisfy every appetite. Drinkers are also well catered for. There are traditional, cosy pubs, contemporary gastro style pubs as well as cocktail and wine bars.
For a small town, Melbourne has so much to offer visitors. It is just as pretty as anywhere in the Peak District. And yet delightfully less touristy. I feel really lucky to have been involved in such a great project and have loved reacquainting myself with Melbourne. There is so much to discover here and I genuinely can’t wait to come back!