This last sunday was one of our spare holidays at BCLC (remember that from earlier posts?…) so it was a good chance to get out of the building and do something a little different. So we did. We went to the park, Alexander Park in Edgeley to be precise.
I don't know if you know Edgeley, I am guessing some do and some don't, for those that don't, Alex (pronounced Alec) park is right in the middle of it. For anyone growing up in that area the park is filled with a hundred memories.
Walking around the park it is sad to see something that was so central to my world for so long looking so knackered. The play area has been completely rebuilt since I smashed my front teeth on the roundabout. The paddling pool where we used to soak our hot feet in the summer or played a wierd game of hexagonal footy in the winter is now filled with soil and weeds. The tennis courts where I never managed to beat Glenn once have all been replaced, partly by a footbal pitch, partly by basketball and partly by nothing at all. You would have to be totally barking to attempt to play crazy golf. The rose garden is grassed over and the 'sensory garden' doesn't smell, look, feel or sound like anything and the whole experience leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
This wasn't meant as a trip down memory lane and yet everyone there had a memory of this place that was so much better than the reality. We all did things in this park alongside the other good people of Edgeley. If the sun shone we would go to the park, if we took the children out in the push chair we would go to the park. The first place I ever went when we moved to Edgeley was Alec park. If I had moved there now it would be the last place I would go to.
So why am I telling you all this? Well the walk round got us all talking about the reasons why the park should be in such a neglected state now. Shortage of council money has to be high on the list. No parkkeepers means that the kids with a mind to make mischief can now do so with alacrity. At least we had fat Bob the parky to avoid when we rode our bikes where we shouldn't. These kids can now do pretty much what they want and there's no one to challenge them. But it is more than that. Thatcher famously claimed "There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families". The remnants of Alec Park are a testament to how much people have taken that to heart and lived it in the past 20 years. People aspire to be something better and parks and libraries remind them of a time when they couldn't aspire, when they had to make do. The sad truth is that whilst many can't actually afford to do much more than enjoy the council amenities, many more believe they can. These people don't want to 'waste' their time and their money on something that doesn't make them upwardly mobile, the things that will always be just out of their reach.
How much happier would they be if people would only open their eyes and see what they have in themselves and each other and not look for what they think they need.
This is where churches should be. We need to provide safe spaces where people can find who they are and be themselves. If that is in the park then that is where we should be, if it's hanging around on street corners then go there as well. We have to stop pretending that if we could only jazz things up a bit, use a bit of power-point, sing some moderns songs, people will somehow get it and come looking for themselves in our churches. They won't.