The Big Park

The “Big Park” and the Lake District

After being asked to write a blog about green spaces I got to thinking about how my enjoyment of green spaces is influenced by how safe I feel in that environment, and as with most of us it goes back to experiences as a child.

I grew up on a deprived housing estate on the east side of Birmingham, living on the top floor of a low-rise block, with my mum and 2 younger brothers.  The only outdoor space was a communal, concrete drying area at the back of the block or the street out the front.  We were given strict instructions by my mum that we were never to go to the “Big Park” without an adult.  The “Big Park” in question was Babbs Mill park, which at the time consisted of an often-vandalised playground surrounded by concrete, some playing fields and an ominous looking lake.  Even when we ventured there with my mum, or friends and their parents, it wasn’t a place that we found particularly attractive, but we could burn off some energy before going back to our flat.

Compare this to a week in the Lake District with the school when I was 10 years old.  I can still remember the five-hour coach journey with 60 other children, every mountain we climbed, the dormitory we stayed in and even the fact we watched Police Academy (the first one!) at the cinema in Keswick on the Wednesday evening.  I loved that holiday, and only years later did I realise that it was provided by Children in Need, and had kick started my relationship with green spaces and nature.

After reliving these memories of outdoor spaces, I started to give some thought to why they had such an impact, and why my mum didn’t think we should go to the local park, but we could travel to another part of the country without her.

It came down to one simple feeling, of being safe.  The local park attracted anti-social behaviour and graffiti, the swings were always thrown over the frame so we couldn’t play on them and even as kids we knew to stay clear of anyone that looked suspicious.  Whereas the Lake District was beautiful, with lots of greenery and fresh air, and even though we were often miles from anywhere there was never a fear of us coming to any harm.

Roll forward 35 years, and I love green spaces particularly as we move from Autumn into Winter and all the bright colours disappear to be replaced by bare trees waiting for the warmth of Spring.  I get out for a walk every single day for my physical and mental wellbeing, and we’re lucky to have woodlands at the back of our house, so we get lots of wildlife in the garden.  However, I still sometimes get drawn back to those childhood feelings, and even as an adult, won’t venture anywhere where I feel unsafe.

As part of my role I have the privilege of working with housing tenants across the city, and a common theme for many of them is again having a safe space for their children to play.  I’m excited about all the collaborative projects happening across Birmingham, and being able to build on these partnerships, to establish community gardens for residents will be a fantastic achievement. 

For me personally we’re not just giving people the opportunity to enjoy and explore green spaces and parks we’re helping them to create memories.

Louise Fletcher

Senior Service Manager – Tenant Engagement, BCC Housing Management

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