As many of you will be aware we held a public discussion last week in Calderstones Park to discuss the future of the Mansion House and the Stables Block. The meeting was called because a very small number of local residents and park users were convinced that the Reader Organisation and by implication the Council had deceived local people and had secret plans which they were determined to force into the open.
In fact the way that the council approached the decision on how to use the building was exemplary and could not have been more open. In June last year the Council formally decided that it was surplus to requirements and needed to be disposed of as together the blocks cost almost £500k per year. They are large buildings and listed so most people can understand that the money floats out through the window. As local councillors we took our concerns to both the officers and to Cllr Malcolm Kennedy the Labour portfolio holder for asset disposal.
The council listened to our concerns. They heavily amended the proposed ‘brochure’ and excluded many uses of the buildings which we knew would be totally unpalatable because they would destroy the spirit and feel of the Park. As the proposals developed we ensured that the Friends of the Park Group were heavily involved in discussions and we circulated details to all 50+ groups in the area.
Before a final decision was made Lib Dem circulated 8,500 surveys in the three wards around the Park and got more than 1,000 relies. People made it clear to us that of the options left –n educational establishment and a commercial hotel/functions suite type operation they favoured (by more than 80% the education option.
That is what they got when a panel composed of Cllr Kennedy, the 3 Lib Dem Cllrs for the ward and the Chair of the Friends unanimously supported the Reader bid. Lib Dems then included details on the front page of the next Focus to 18,000 homes in the area and the Reader had an open day which 1,200 attended. The building is now is use with many activities taking place all linked to reading, oral activity and on Saturday will be hosting community fun day.
What was really sad about the meeting though was the fact that a very small group of people came to that meeting with an aggressive approach in which people who supported the scheme were ‘lying or had conflicts of interest (unspecified!); they could not accept that the tender procedure had been robust; could not accept that the local Rector who we had asked to chair it could be neutral and was not just a mate of mine; could not accept assurances that many of the things that they were claiming just were not true and conducted themselves in a very aggressive way. “A bit of a lynch mob”, was how one park user described it next day.
What was really good though was the fact that the toleration and basic common sense of the vast majority of people who came saw though all that and got increasingly annoyed at the behaviour of this small minority. The most telling intervention of all came during some heated exchanges about mentally ill people being helped by the Reader Organisation in the Park. “You are talking about people like me”, said one lady who had obviously screwed herself up to speak and was visibly shaking throughout her intervention.
We were indeed. 10% of us well suffer from chronic depression in our lives and need help. 30% of people who live longer than 65 will suffer from at least minor dementia. People who are mentally ill are not axe murderers. They are people like you and I and indeed could be people such as you and I.
There were about 125 people at the meeting. My guess is that about 85% of them left assured or reasonably assured about the proposals. About 10% had questions still but would want to pursue those questions in a proper manner with much more facts to assist them come to a view point. About 5% didn’t believe a word that they had been told.
When it comes down to it most people who run charities like the Reader Organisation; most councillors like Malcolm Kennedy and I; most officers of the Council; most voluntary committee members of the Friends of the Parks, and the Friends of Allerton Library get involved because we want to contribute to the creation of a stronger, healthier happier society. Most people do it for nothing or very little.
It’s very sad when allegations are sprayed out about motives without substantiation; when people think that faceless people are out to shaft them; when outrageous comments are made totally unsupported by facts for people’s own personal purposes.
Some people tried to do that last week. Many more people prevented them. So for all its faults the good old British public came, saw and decided. Long may democracy and transparency flourish!
There will be a community fun day in Calderstones Park run by the Reader Organisation this Saturday 31st August between 12 and 5. As well as all sorts of fun things local councillors will be present to answer any queries about the Park or any other local issue.