So, we’re back in lockdown. It’s at times like this when we truly recognise just how invaluable our parks in Southport really are.
What a place to live – we’re spoiled for choice. We don’t have to travel too far to enjoy one.
The new rules of the Prime Minister’s full Covid lockdown ask people to Stay Home, Save Lives and Protect The NHS, but they do allow us to escape for one period of exercise each day.
Thank God we have places like Botanic Gardens, Hesketh Park, Victoria Park, King’s Gardens, Ainsdale Village Park and Bedford Park here. Where would we be without them?
We have past generations to thank for their foresight and impressive planning in creating these magnificent green spaces.
They are our community’s green lungs, our green ribbons, our safe havens.
They are our form of escape from the stresses of working in the outside world, working from home, supervising home schooling, studying for exams, trying to keep ourselves and others safe, and wondering when and how we’ll see a return to normality again.
At his TV conference on Tuesday 5 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that approximately £12billion had already been spent on NHS mental health care with around another £19-£20million contributed towards mental health charities in the UK. The aim is to help steer people through the uncertainty of the Covid pandemic and our third significant lockdown.
It would make tremendous sense to allocate some of that money to our parks and greenspaces for the mental health benefits that they bring.
Walking around the Botanic Gardens this week, you could see the joy the place brought people of all ages.
There were lots of young children, riding their scooters, kicking a ball about, or feeding the ducks and swans. Many were enjoying the swings, roundabouts and other play equipment, with playgrounds among facilities which are allowed to remain open, unlike the first lockdown. Sports pitches, golf courses, outdoor gyms and others have had to close.
For our senior citizens, the park is a Godsend. It’s a beautiful place to sit and watch the world go by, perhaps next to the spectacular Fernery or overlooking the Serpentine lake. For some, perhaps living on their own, a stroll around the Gardens is the only opportunity to see other human beings in a safe way (and at a safe distance).
Before the new lockdown restrictions came in, the Settle Inn and the cafe were both popular settings for local families, with lovely spaces to sit outside safely.
The grand Botanic Gardens Museum, once a hugely popular venue but closed for a number of years now, surely has huge potential for the right investment. Perhaps the much-loved boats will return to the lake one day too.
The floral displays that visitors can enjoy each year are magnificent. They include a poignant tribute to the RAF which you can find near the entrance.
The Botanic Gardens Aviary is also a popular and well looked after facility.
Events such as the Victorian Gala are a great focal point for the local community.
In terms of boosting our collective mental health, parks like Botanic Gardens, Hesketh Park, Victoria Park, King’s Gardens, Ainsdale Village Park and Bedford Park are vital. A visit to any of them is better than any prescription.
They have gone through a difficult few years. Six years ago, council cuts which followed the 2008 recession saw a number of parks staff in Sefton sadly lose their jobs.
A small and very dedicated army of volunteers have since stepped up, working alongside the few Green Sefton staff who remain, to ensure that we have these superb facilities to enjoy. They selflessly put in thousands of hours’ work every year, in all weathers. The hard-earned Green Flags which fly near our park entrances are testament to their expertise and their dedication.
They need help, and our parks need investment. The Botanic Gardens Community Association recently put forward a modest funding plea to clear out the Botanic Gardens Lake, restore the two ornamental bridges and install aerating water features to improve the water quality in the lake. Other parks in Southport are also eager for more investment. It would be money well spent.
Lockdown is making us realise just how lucky we are to have our local parks. We’re fortunate to live here in Southport, with all this greenery and fresh air on our doorstep, rather than in the grey smog of a big city. Our parks make us smile. They help us to relax and unwind. They allow us to enjoy our local wildlife. They are refuges which take our minds off all the madness going on around us.
At a time when billions of pounds are being distributed to improve people’s mental health, perhaps looking to improve our parks is something which really would reap the benefits.