Border Lines

Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Archive for the tag “Planning”

A playground and somewhere to hang out

The 10–Year–Old wants a playground where she can climb, swing, slide and spin. She says there’s nowhere in Berwick and that in London there were great playgrounds. I don’t always bow to the wants or will of my offspring, but I think she has a point.

When we first moved to Finsbury Park, North London the children’s playground was a desultory affair. A couple of battered swings creaked limply when not being mistreated by spotty youths, a crooked tin slide kept them company. The nearby peace garden was popular. Encircled by trees, it had brilliant rocks for climbing. And offered perfect shelter for junkies and drinkers. A battered café which opened sporadically looked reproachfully over the whole sorry affair.

This amenity served a catchment of some 34,500 people.

In 2003 the park was transformed with Heritage Lottery Funds, strong leadership and joined–up vision. It’s now a hub for the local community – a safe oasis despite the massive issues of gang culture and social deprivation. The boating pond was dredged and prettied, new play equipment – climbing frames, swings, roundabouts, and a sand pit with pulleys and levers – was installed. Overall, it met children’s need for danger and entertainment and parents’ desire for safety and a sit down. Perhaps the weakest area (and I’m going to whisper this) is the splash bit. It’s prone to breakdowns and is so seasonal that it’s not really open long enough to say, ‘wet T–shirt’.

The rebuilt café is lovely to behold, with tables outside, reasonable menu, and the all–important ice cream window – and it’s open all day. The adjoining loos are no longer frequented by cottagers. The whole place is constantly heaving with families and school parties. Children want to go there to catch up with their friends and, quite simply, because it’s fun. There’s easy parking nearby and those who drive, willingly pay to enjoy the facilities. Parents chat over tea and coffee while their offspring frolic, argue and make up. Also, there’s space and facilities alongside for older children to kick ball, skateboard and hang out. Older children will always seek and create entertainment, much of it good – take the mountain bike track under the Walls by the tennis courts – but guiding them to positive outlets has to be win–win.

The bike track by the tennis courts is an example of older children creating their own entertainment - of course it's probably wearing for those living over the Walls

Personally I think there are loads of fun open spaces in Berwick and when I was a gal in Suffolk, Mum opened the back door after breakfast bidding me not to return until tea time. I’d roam fields, climb trees and do dangerous things with airguns. But that was then and this is now. Times have changed and good play areas should be available to children. And they can and should be safe and fun rather than havens for antisocial behaviour that make neighbour’s lives a misery. So regular security checks by community police officers or somesuch may be needed.

But more importantly – and probably most off–putting for those looking to get up to no good – such amenities have to be heavily used by the people they are intended for. Which means getting location, equipment and facilities right – including parking. The Spittal playground ticks most boxes.

The playground at Spittal ticks most boxes

So, in the interests of promoting The 10–Year–Old’s fantasy, I’ve identified potential sites in Berwick. The playground above Greenses Beach could be revamped but isn’t great if you’re just passing through. Accessibility is an issue for the sad swing site by the rose garden. What about that paddock over the railway bridge on North Road? Again, parking’s not easy.

Sad swings

Here’s the masterplan: the end of the long stay car park by the Co–op. There’s space and parking. We could even pop in a basketball court for older kids. Surely English Heritage might allow a café in the gun emplacement? Such an amenity could well draw more visitors into town and do something to address the pull of out–of–town free parking and shops. Let me know what you think.

By the Co-op - loads of town-centre space with playground and cafe potential as well as areas to create somewhere for older children to hang out and not lose their cool

A version of this article was first published on November 3rd 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser

Colin Firth: a glorious eyeful

You want Berwick to look its best when you welcome visitors. On a recent sunny Monday, en route to the station, we weren’t disappointed. The Tweed was dressed in sparkles. Our London Friends were in for a treat. And then, the good Lord laid on an even more thrilling sight: Colin Firth!His visit to Berwick is now legend. But, I’d just like to say – WE SAW HIM FIRST! The Husband wondered momentarily why his three female companions flushed (naturally rather than hormonally), whispered and giggled “’Ssss Colin Firth!” One London Friend apologised to Colin for staring. He smiled graciously and, if The King’s Speech had not already done it, our hearts were his forever. How easily we are influenced by what we see – even if it is just a glimpse.

I suggested that we ‘take the scenic route’ dropping down from the station to the path above the Tweed. Colin and his three companions opted to follow our example. I know it’s pathetic but we were thrilled! The moment arrived when all eight of us were enjoying that marvellous view back to the Royal Border Bridge, the sun warming our faces. We left Colin and his companions taking photos and to their onward journey to visit local hero Eric Lomax for lunch.
Sunset: The Royal Border Railway Bridge from our garden

And that is when I panicked. Colin had glimpsed the very best of Berwick. But what else lay in store? I mentally checked off the various derelict buildings – the old school and that pot place round Palace Green, the Youngman’s building on Hide Hill, the many apartments above the shops, the neglected quayside, City Electrical Factors on Chapel Street, Kwik Save by the library, the old Playhouse site. Like a proud parent knowing they’re going to have to sit through an under–rehearsed school play and keep on smiling whatever, I felt my stomach churn.

Don’t look Colin! The abandoned City Electrical Factors

And then I felt pretty angry. Have we learnt nothing? Here are all these brownfield sites crying out for attention, for sympathetic development, and all I seem to read about are planning proposals for greenfield sites that will continue to suck the heart out of Berwick.

As recent London ex–pats it’s something we are familiar with. How many years did it take the government to take longterm action after the 60s/70s decline in manufacturing and the transport revolution left warehouses, factories and docks abandoned and decaying? Too many. But, finally, riverside regeneration has happened. And what a difference! Vibrancy and heart have been returned to communities that were all but forgotten for nigh on half a century. Parks and green spaces have been nurtured and tended and made family friendly. Perhaps the jewel of that process is Docklands. Its thrusting vision of white collar ambition and city life may not be an inspiring image to all. But the idea – the impetus to take a derelict wasteland of an area and regenerate it into an active heartland, making the most of its natural surroundings and resources – now that must surely inspire even the most ambivalent.

So, back to the view of the Tweed and Berwick that I shared with The Husband, London Friends and, oh, did I mention Colin Firth? One of its major attractions is the lack of urban sprawl. Of course it’s easier to slap up houses and supermarkets around the town than it is to tackle the unwieldy and difficult issues of dereliction and decay of buildings and areas within the town. But here’s an idea: let’s not erect one more building out of town until we’ve sorted out the centre of Berwick. Then, when visitors come, they won’t just get a glimpse of something special; they’ll get a glorious eyeful. After all, if the heart ain’t beating, the body won’t function.

A version of this article was first published on 6th October 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser

Town centre trials

Parking – don’t get me started! London parking is a drag. A few weeks ago, as I scratched away the umpteenth silver patch to reveal the umpteenth date, year and time (hours and minutes) on a visitor’s parking permit, I yearned for the simplicity and ease of Berwick parking.
Now, I’ve heard a lot about the lack of parking in Berwick, how hard it is to park, how expensive some parking is…yet to me there seems to be loads of parking – apart from, perhaps, at the station.

There is plenty of parking in and around Berwick - but it can be expensive if you just want to 'pop' to the shops - so out of town shops with free parking are a big draw

I have to be careful because we’re lucky enough to have off-street parking. However, the town is encircled by car parks and streets without parking restrictions. We’ve found it straightforward to get reasonably priced permits for friends when they’ve turned up. Yes, from a newcomer’s perspective there seems to be adequate – even ample – parking for Berwick’s current situation.

Admittedly, our arrival in Berwick is post town-centre and on-the-bridge parking, and it must be wearing not to park outside your front door. But relative walking distances are small. I have heard it mooted that some would rather have a coffee out at the retail park in Tweedmouth at M&S than come into Berwick because of the parking. I just don’t get it. Are we going to be campaigning for Park & Ride next? Controlled Parking Zones? Please, no! I’ve experienced the latter and, trust me, it’s just an additional road tax – in London it cost £100 to park outside our own house for the year, add £130 for a second car (up to £200 for larger cars).

Parking enforcement in Berwick is positively friendly. In London I was slammed with a £60 fine for having one wheel very slightly on the edge of the pavement. It would have been £120 if I’d missed the half-price payment deadline. £120! In Berwick your car can kick around on a double yellow for an hour or so without having some jobsworth swoop; and you don’t get a gratuitous ticket if you run four minutes over time on pay and display.

Stooging around on a double yellow – although more wardens seem to be invading Berwick from county central Morpeth and since I wrote this article many elderly churchgoers found themselves ticketed in the empty car park outside the Parish Church on a Sunday morning. That would be considered harsh – even in London!

Do parking issues stop people coming to Berwick? Well, out-of-town facilities are still being built despite the well-documented ‘doughnut effect’ – the lifeblood being sucked from town centres by outskirt developments. I guess the easy parking at such areas must reduce footfall and spending in the town. But are there other reasons?

In Berwick, there are some lovely cafes, great butchers and a variety of appealing galleries and niche shops tucked around. The Catch 22 is that the centre itself is not totally appealing. There, I’ve said it. It’s brilliant to have stores where we can make our pennies go further. But we also need more shops that stop – outlets that are different and exclusive to Berwick and its area. The ‘let’s find somewhere to park’ shops.

There are secret streets and alluring shops in Berwick….

…and buildings that make you want to shut your eyes

Recently we met an Edinburgh family who, after a day in the country, planned to explore Berwick. We later heard that Berwick looked so unalluring they’d driven on to Lindisfarne. Given that it’s difficult for anywhere to look charming on a grey, wet afternoon – even with welcoming bunting and festive flowers – a more mixed and vibrant high street would potentially attract more passing trade and lure people in from outlying areas. And that’s a bigger challenge. Berwick is not the only northern town to be suffering from the impact of financial downturn – and slightly lacklustre town centres is sadly a common feature. But we do have the intrinsic advantage of great historic features and a brilliant location. So whilst talk of facelifts for car parks is positive, perhaps we should take a long, hard look at how we give the high street a facelift and attract some more buzzy boutique shops and cafes to jostle companionably alongside what we already have.

Then maybe we will have a serious parking problem – and maybe we’ll be delighted to wrestle with ways of solving it.

(This article was first published on 7th July 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser

Post Navigation