A friend said “ You should go to this – you can say all the things you rant about in your column!”
So I went! It was Broadstairs Town forum and it was supposed to be a meeting of the great, the good, and the grumpy – well that was me – to discuss the future of the town.
Me and my mate Jackie went along as representatives of Access Thanet, in our mobility devices, up the new ramp into the council chamber in Pierremont Hall to share our ideas with a diverse range of bods, from Mocketts Wood, fireworks, Thanet College, town team, town councillors, neighbourhood engagement, University of Third Age, tourism gurus, Charles Dickens, donkey botherers etc etc.
The keen new councillors had done some work already and divided up the topics into three categories as their ambition for the future: SAFER, CLEANER, KINDER.
We were put into groups to discuss what those topics meant to us. We all lobbied for our particular interests but when it comes to “safer” I’m afraid being a wheel user trumps the people who think we just need extra lighting or more cops on the streets. For us it’s not just unsafe, it’s actually life threatening trying to negotiate our neglected streets with their cavernous potholes and absent dropped kerbs, or residents with innovative ideas about where they have a right park -across the pavement, on double yellow lines on a dropped kerb etc etc. The opportunities are endless to plunge the unwary wheelie into oblivion….
But what became clear before long was the level of passion in the room. Shouting became the only way to be heard – and older men seem to be specially keen on this form of debate. We were all supposed to get our say but getting it sometimes involved arm waving and note passing… if only I’d had one of those fireworks they were going on about. (Or a small cruise missile maybe…)
I heard some really good ideas, like food outlets having their own bins for their packaging so they were responsible for reducing litter. Jackie suggested that any company digging up our roads should be asked to include more dropped kerbs when they restore them. No cost and big social benefits,
But there were some really bizarre ideas too – like keeping Broadstairs cleaner by making residents responsible for the street in front of their own houses, sweeping the pavement and unblocking the drains. How do you think I’d do that? I asked. The shouty man who was so proud of his idea was flummoxed.
It’s not a new idea!
I remember from my forties childhood living in Railway Terrace, named because it was next to the railway line, housewives scrubbing their front steps to fight off the worst of the dirt and smoke from passing trains.
If we’re going back in history, how about small boys with brooms? There’s a crossing sweeper in a Dickens novel isn’t there? Meets a tragic end. They swept the road in front of you for a gratuity. Now that would be a suitable Broadstairs institution.
Of course we should take some personal responsibility, but isn’t the main problem the big companies fouling our seas and beaches, and the meanness of not paying people properly to fill in our potholes and clean our streets?
I’m sure all the people there were extremely well intentioned, but there is a limit to what we can do as individuals as opposed to what we can expect from the local and national purse.
One suggestion was to have billboards around the town saying BE KIND! Well, tell that to the great, the good and the government!
Christine is a founder member of disability campaign group Access Thanet