Having the luxury of an hour to spare today, while waiting for my wife who had an appointment, and as I was in the vicinity, I decided to spend it in Churchill Gardens, just across the road to Southend’s Civic Centre. This is a little known miniature paradise that I have visited on a number of occasions and have enjoyed, from soon after it opened to the public in 1966. To the credit of the original architects of the garden, and to the Council who lovingly maintained it in its earlier years, it is still a beautiful oasis that has done well over time and where I still felt some semblance of peace.
But the experience was far from idyllic. Putting aside the fact that walking on the ground was very soggy, no doubt as a result of recent wet weather, I did feel some basic improvements were needed, without which people would be less inclined to visit (and maybe they already are). The water aspects, long one of its main features, had a layer of green stuff on its top and loads of vegetation on its bottom – making what ought to be a lovely feature more like an eyesore – so a good clean up would be in order. The waterfall that gave the water features vitality is no longer operating (I’m told it hasn’t for some time as a result of previous Council cuts) and, worst of all, in and around the waters was litter (not massive amounts but enough to spoil the experience). Why people should inconsiderately discard litter when there are bins continues to bemuse me!?
I met one man who told me there this was a favourite haunt he visits regularly, which is for him a place he can reflect and enjoy tranquility, but we both lamented that things would be much better if the gardens were to be restored to its earlier splendour. I’m pretty sure with all the austerity cuts the Council has to implement this is not a priority issue but I got thinking that a group of volunteers, working alongside the Council and expert horticulturalists, could work wonders without incurring too much cost. It also occurs to me that this is also true for many other resources and facilities (branch libraries is one obvious example), which are always among the first to suffer when local government has to make cuts. I recall a couple of years back lots of talk about the Big Society, and in fairness I do see some of this happening, but there is always room for more.
One of my hopes when I wrote Outside the Camp was that it will inspire future community activists to serve their communities in a wide variety of ways, including taking up projects like restoring a garden such as this to its former glory. While I feel on balance this isn’t the project for me to initiate at this time, given I already have my plate full with projects that relate to my own areas of special interest, such as poverty, social justice, homelessness and faith, but it would be something I would like to support were there to be someone who is prepared to take the lead. I recall a few years back the Council strapline was “Creating a Better Southend”, which some would have seen as empty words, yet there would have been others, of which I have no doubt, that would have wanted to make their own contributions to doing this very thing.
There is a meeting this coming Sunday that invites us to “imagine if those who’ve had, or are having, the greatest difficulties in life were the instigators of a flourishing society” that I hope to attend (see southendsoup.wordpress.com for details), and while recognizing there are many possibilities, perhaps offer the above as my input to any discussion, including the thought that it is the folk at the bottom of society’s heap that could well create something beautiful we can all enjoy. Surely, a project such as I am suggesting here, could be one of the many ways of making all these things a reality?