A Walk In The Park

A Walk In The Park

Facebook has been full of complaints about people drinking in St Peters Church Gardens and, after a photo of a lady sleeping on a bench was posted triggering another long debate, I popped along this afternoon to walk through again and see what was going on.

The Gardens were busy.  Every bench had people on it and there was a person asleep in a heap near the entrance to the Church Hall.  I walked along the path talking to people as I went and trying to take an unbiased look at the situation outside of my own perspective.

I will admit, I rarely feel “threatened” in Wisbech, and if people are sitting and having a beer outside it doesn’t particularly concern me as long as they are not behaving antisocially while doing so.  But other people feel strongly about it and I tried to put myself in their shoes.

So the first two benches were filled with Eastern Europeans.  It was a mixed crowd of many and women, adults of varying ages.  They were smoking, chatting and a few were drinking from cans.  Nobody was acting antisocially and there was no litter.  But with the benches facing each other across the path you did have to walk through the middle of them.  I can see that some people might feel intimidated walking between two groups of adults who had cans of beer and were speaking a different language.  I personally felt fine about it, but I can appreciate how somebody vulnerable, or perhaps older, or of a nervous disposition would not.

Which is a shame, because when I spoke to them they could not have been friendlier.  I asked them if they were enjoying the sunshine – really just to talk to them and get an idea what mood they were in – and they were surprised and pleased to respond.  They told me they were glad it was the weekend and were looking forward to relaxing.  None were very drunk, though some had the enthusiastic manner you associate with a few jars.

The middle benches had a young couple and a child in a pram, also Eastern European.  This bench was surrounded by the discarded husks of seeds eaten as a snack.  I know this annoys some people.  The couple weren’t drinking and were just sitting and enjoying the sun.

The benches around the pond featured an elderly couple eating sandwiches and two young English girls talking on their mobile phones.  Nobody was unfriendly.

Near the ‘Spoons end of the Gardens a large group of Eastern European men filled most of the path.  I did already know some of these guys, having met them while out and about before.  They all said “hello” and wanted to shake hands.  None were very drunk, but again a few had that “first couple of pints” energy about them.  Again there was a pile of discarded seeds here.  I noticed that these guys were putting their litter in a carrier bag.  The seed husks didn’t appear to be theirs, but had been left from some earlier visitor.

Overall the park was clean and mostly litter-free and looked great.  I did not encounter anybody who was breaking the law, they all just seemed to be enjoying the sunshine and the gardens.  Talking, laughing, smoking and yes, drinking.

I made my way to the bench outside the Gardens where the photo had been taken but the mysterious sleeping woman was gone.

I then circled back around to check on the person who was asleep on the grass.  I woke her to check she was okay, and immediately recognised her.  She was an English lady who is quite well known, she is usually seen with her partner (well, I think he is her partner, I don’t know for sure) around the Market Place area and often at Town Events and was also living in a tent near Asda not so long ago, I think.  Funnily enough, while I was checking she was okay, an Eastern European lady and gentleman rushed over.  At first I wasn’t sure why, but then it became clear they were worried I might try and rob her while she was sleeping and were making sure she was okay.  I explained I was doing the same and all was well.  It’s fair to say she was clearly very drunk and was planning to lay quietly on the grass and snooze for a while yet.

So – what are the issues?

Well, obviously, there’s a sizeable number of people who just don’t want to see anybody drinking outside, ever.  They don’t like it.  They will never like it.  And they want it to be illegal.  it isn’t illegal, at the moment, and they are very unhappy that the law isn’t changing fast enough.

There is a smaller group of people who primarily don’t want to see people drinking outside if they are Eastern European, but are relaxed otherwise.  I don’t have any time for those people.

There are people who think that being asleep on a bench or on the grass is disgraceful and don’t want to see that either.  The fact that its quite legal to lay on a bench or on the grass is not good enough and those people would like to see that banned too.

Again, there’s a smaller group of people whose issue seems to be primarily the nationality of those who are asleep.

Then there’s this business of the seeds that are eaten as snacks and the husks discarded.  Although that doesn’t seem the same as non-biological litter to me, I can see no reason why the FDC litter officers can’t issue on-the-spot fines for that too.  After all, it’s not that hard to put the husks into a plastic bag rather than on the floor.

The forthcoming PSPO will solve a number of the issues here, providing it is enforced.

There is a part of me that wishes people would just talk to each other, though.  I cannot stress strongly enough how friendly the people I spoke to in the park were.  Instead of feeling intimidated by people sitting on a bench, or drinking from a can, if people would just say: “Hi!  Nice day, isn’t it?” I think they’d be surprised how their outlook changed.  But maybe that’s just my rose-tinted glasses at work again.