Don’t sweep change under the carpet
As I gaze at the wreck that was once my house, I’m beginning to ask what madness possessed us to embark on updating and modernising the home we fell in love with a few years back. Could we not simply have let be? Or just slapped on a bit of paint? You know things are bad when you start making decisions about fixtures and furnishings by drawing lots – using breadsticks because the drinking straws are under a pile of dusty boxes.
Do the lovely people who owned our house before us shake their heads in wonder at our need to meddle? They lived here for umpteen years happily and comfortably. Actually, I suspect they are totally cool with what we’re up to.
But often change is seen as a criticism. Imagine for a moment that you have been in charge of a shop window for some time. Your display has been effective – the shop has kept going even in these straitened times. Then someone rearranges it. Some of it you like; some you don’t. But generally it is now more alluring. Even so, it would be hard not to take it as a personal reproach.
And I’m wondering if there isn’t a little bit of that going on in Berwick.
I see that it can get people’s backs up when incomers coo over the delights of the place and then follow up with, ‘what’s wrong with Berwick’, and ‘what Berwick needs’. Often as if no one had ever had such thoughts and ideas before.
The truth is there are no new ideas under the sun. But, on the other hand, that is not a reason not to try things twice or even three or four times. New people do often bring fresh approaches and energy. Plus, let’s face it, the difference between a successful initiative and one that falls flat can be a simple question of timing and luck.
We seem to be at a moment when real change is within the town’s grasp. There’s the Portas money – match-funded by the county council. There’s an ambitious Berwick Plan being developed by Arch (established by Northumberland County Council to stimulate regeneration and growth in Northumberland). Additionally, there are grassroots groups such as Berwick Deserves Better – chiselling away to improve Berwick bit-by-bit for the people by the people.
Most people I speak to agree that Berwick needs more than just a springclean. Each person usually has their own gripe or hobby horse – parking is a popular one, so is the sapping of the town’s resources by a distanced and uninterested council, and ‘the state of the town centre’ is high scoring too. My own is the lack of a decent and accessible children’s playground.
It would be marvellous if we could achieve a thriving town centre, lower shop rents, improved facilities for families, more jobs, renovation of derelict buildings, and better upkeep of open spaces by doing nothing. But we can’t.
So we do need people who are prepared to put themselves on the line and take action and try things out. And no doubt there will be some duff decisions and some unexpected strokes of genius – though none, I hope, made on the basis of the shortest breadstick; there will be some changes that some of us love and some loathe – and, hopefully, some areas of total harmony.
Which, in some marvellous and symmetrical way, is what I expect with the renovation of our house. But I’d like to state that the genius decisions were mine and the less good ones The Husband’s. Because I do love him, and he is perfect, but…
A version of this article was first published in the Berwick Advertiser on 4th October 2012