Ronnie Hughes is a good egg. I mean, I don’t know him personally like, but I often dip into his blog A Sense of Place (about “Liverpool, life, and what really matters to me“) and he strikes me as the kind of good egg that every town and city needs: someone who cares equally about past and future, preservation and moving forward, and most of all, its people.
I always think of his as a real blog; I love his photographs, experiences and views, and I especially enjoyed reading about his canal walks recently. I’d urge you to dip in whenever you get chance (into the blog, that is, not the canal – even Ronnie’s wonderful way with words can’t make it that appealing).
So it was no surprise that Ronnie’s recent tweet about the Beautiful Parks Project caught my eye, and I thought I’d feature it as this week’s Feel Good Friday topic just in time for readers’ ideas to be submitted in early November.
The project itself is Liverpool-based but if you’re further afield, keep reading; I hope that the ideas will help inspire us all to get the best out of our green spaces.
The project is simple in essence: submit your ideas to get people using and enjoying your local park, and supporting and growing new businesses.
I tweeted Ronnie with my vision of making bandstands a thing again. I’m definitely someone with one foot in the past and one in the future, after all. But did you know that there’s still manufacturers out there making them – some in the traditional style with ornamental wrought ironwork – and these days they can include fireproof roofs, solar panels, power supplies that can restrict too loud volumes, and lighting?
I love the idea of bandstands – somewhere where anyone and everyone can have a turn. It seems appropriate in a musical city like Liverpool. Where brass bands can remind people they exist, where kids can perform without having to rely on their school or dance clubs to organise shows, where buskers can play to an audience who isn’t rushing past from shop to shop with their heads down, and where wannabe singing sensations can perform to a crowd without having to wait for the X Factor auditions to next come to town.
I love the idea of bandstands being more than a musical focal point but also as meeting points – not just for teenagers playing shit music through their phones – but for running clubs, tai chi, early morning yoga, buggy walks. Some of the big parks have it right – Stanley Park is a great example of a park with loads to offer the community beyond its landscape.
I love the idea of parks being home to forest schools for kids, urban allotment spaces, gardening lessons (yes, lessons!), sensory gardens and bug hotels, outdoor art and media, geocaching hotspots, social and creative hubs – of parks being a place for people to do stuff not just see stuff.
I love the idea of parks being for all ages. Kids get a lot out of parks, don’t they? But do we, as grown ups get as much? We take our children there, we walk our dogs, we take shortcuts through it, or ride our bikes. We might have the odd picnic or go to the occasional food festival or yearly fireworks – but do we really get the best out of them? And do we really put the best in?
I love the idea of people claiming their local park as their own. Parks have been so integral to civic planning over the past couple of hundred years – whether as a village green, botanical garden, or children’s playground – that we almost see them as a right, not just a privilege. The right to fresh air, exercise, and open space – all for free. Do we take them for granted? Most of us would be outraged if they were taken away from us but look what they’ve done to the libraries; look what they’re doing to the NHS. Is it really so hard to imagine that if we don’t utilise parks to their full potential that there could be the privatisation of recreational services in the not so distant future?
Parks can often be offputting or intimidating places for many people – groups of teenagers (soz, kids), smashed glass, dog dirt, lonely open spaces with few visitors, vandalism, drug paraphernalia, sexual activity in public, fly tipping, or offensive graffiti. But to combat any of these anti social issues you have to bring more people into the parks, not avoid them.
When I tweeted about my bandstand dream I acknowledged the threat of vandalism. Yes, a new bandstand could get wrecked within a week but so could anything – a park bench, a litter bin, a tree. We can’t just not have nice things because we’re afraid the minority of people will damage it. As the good egg Ronnie himself said “Trust always, repair if necessary” – and I think that encapsulates the whole community ethos of parks.
To get more inspiration for submissions to the Beautiful Parks Project, or for getting the best out of your local green space, take a moment to enjoy Ronnie’s story which allows readers to visualise all positive changes their ideas could bring about:
Listen, he’s telling you a story – about beautiful ideas.