Yesterday was known as Blue Monday – apparently, statistically speaking, the most depressing day of the year.
I must admit I spent most of yesterday (and the weekend) feeling a little blue myself. Not because of any statistics or anything, but because of a meeting I attended in Armley on Thursday evening.
The meeting was about the future of the now demolished Whingate primary school building site. Some residents wanted a play park on the site (most of the houses don’t have a garden and there’s no immediate play equipment locally). Others wanted housing (preferably private rather than social housing).
The meeting, attended by about 30 or so residents, came down strongly in favour of housing. You can read the full report on proceedings here.
I respect democracy and I wholeheartedly respect the views of the people who live there. They’re facing problems I don’t, and I don’t envy them. But there was something about this meeting that was worrying.
Firstly the main reason for immediate residents not wanting a park because they were worried about anti-social behaviour from bored youngsters.
Their decision wasn’t made out of a burning desire for more housing, it’s because they couldn’t face any more problems with anti-social behaviour. Some felt they’d already been through enough with vandalism of the old school building. You can understand what they’re saying. I don’t live there and it can’t be easy living with those kind of pressures.
Councillor James McKenna (Lab, Armley) also told the meeting about problems with a play park in another part of Armley that led to the play equipment being removed, such was the consternation about anti-social behaviour and vandalism from residents. The council couldn’t, he explained, police the park as it doesn’t have the resources.
I have an in-law who lives down by the jail – she has similar worries about anti-social behaviour and crime in her part of Armley. So I understand that people live in fear of it.
Besides, who would build and maintain a park the site? Given the financial hits the council’s taken from central government over the years, it isn’t going to be the local authority.
What hope is there if we only imagine the worse behaviour of people and guide all our future solutions based on that fear? @WLDispatch
— Emma Bearman (@EmmaMBearman) January 16, 2016
Secondly. It turned out forty minutes into the meeting that in planning terms you have to give 20 metres distance between play equipment and nearby housing anyway, so having a play park there was never really a goer in the first place. Perhaps a pocket park in the middle?
Reading between the lines, was a park – as nice as it sounds on paper – ever a realistic option? Even if you put aside the concerns over anti-social behaviour, I suspect not.
Sports pitch or facility?
Thirdly, there was an idea to have some sort of sports facility or provision there. Again, there were concerns about noise and nuisance from the youngsters.
@WLDispatch It is a sad reflection upon our society that people don't want a play area in case it provides a space for loiterers. 🙁
— A Grumpy_Old_Man (@Hairyloon) January 15, 2016
New community centre?
Fourthly. Could a community centre be built on the site, asked one resident. Cllr Alison Lowe (Lab, Armley) – and experienced CEO at a local charity – explained that the council couldn’t afford to build a new centre and explained the lengthy and difficult process residents would have to go through to form a group and secure funding. The idea never gathered momentum.
Doctor’s surgery? Specialist sheltered housing?
The area’s reasonably well served for doctors and is specialist sheltered housing something local residents are really going to champion? Probably not.
Always going to be housing …
Given the council officers admitted there was pressure to provide more housing in the city to meet targets (and that it’s easier for the cash-strapped council to sell the site to a housing developer than any other developer) commercial pressures were always going to win through.
Maybe I live in cloud cuckoo land, but is this really what things have come to? Decisions based on fear of anti-social behaviour? I don’t know about blue Monday, but that really is depressing.
Where are the kids supposed to go? Where will they play? When I was growing up we used to go on local school playing fields and spend hours there playing football. School fields are all fenced off now for security reasons.
Remaining spaces have ‘no ball games’ signs because of fears of anti-social behaviour. We’re all frightened, you see? But doesn’t that help to contribute to the very anti-social behaviour we’re all so frightened of?
There is good youth work happening in the area. West Leeds Juniors football club were at the meeting to put their case. Just down the road the folks at Armley Juniors doing a great job with local youngsters. And I know there’s a lot more besides that, but little of this came out at the meeting.
Too often I hear the words ‘that might be difficult’ coming out of Armley.
I don’t know what the answer is myself, but as one resident put it at the meeting:
“Why should the idiots and lunatics … run the asylum?”
She raised a good point. Sadly that was the conclusion I took from this meeting. The lunatics, louts and yobs who cause the problems ARE running the asylum. Decisions are being taken based on fear of them and that isn’t healthy if we’re ever going to have stronger communities.
How can a community break the cycle of deprivation or improve itself when there aren’t opportunities to do so? How do we turn it around and tackle anti-social behaviour? How can members of a community have the confidence to be able to dream of a better future? What are the answers?
I don’t know what they are. I wish I did. But we need to have the conversation about it.
Feel free to have your say in the comments below. Armley Forum also meets at 7pm tonight (Tuesday) and will discuss the site.