The Friends of Belair Park have always punched far above their weight, have acted as a catalyst to prompt other groups into action, and have been aware of the broader picture beyond the confines of the railings and oak paling fence that defines the Park boundaries. Our organisation has a contribution to make at both the local level and in a wider world.
We have a duty to pick up the torch carried here in South London by pioneers such as Ada and Alfred Salter whose work in the early 20th Century for public health and community green space was inspirational. We do not have to follow every aspect of their philosophy, which sometimes reflected the age in which they lived, but we should seek to emulate and to pass on to future generations the public-spirited impulse behind the causes to which they devoted their lives.
The recent collapse of the Civic Trust, the U.K.’s umbrella body for amenity societies, underlines the fact that we live in a changing world. The time has come, we believe for a re-consideration of the role of organisations concerned with local affairs. This Century brings with it new responsibilities and tough challenges. There is much commendable in amenity societies, particularly amongst older residents who possess a wealth of local knowledge and an ethic of work and dedication. Sadly, however, some groups have neglected recruitment on estates created originally as social housing, some are stuck in the mentality of the post-war building boom, and some simply fail to understand the sobering dangers and opportunities that lay ahead. The Friends are calling for a revolution around three key issues, namely ecology, education and social justice.
As urban infill continues apace, green open space becomes an ever more essential public resource. We must get the message across that ecology is not just the fringe interest of a minority of devoted wildlife enthusiasts, one interest amongst many in the broader picture. Ecology campaigners are concerned with safeguarding the Earth’s natural life support systems, the foundations upon which all else, including the prosperity of our civilisation depends. That is as broad as it goes. There is no choice between people and ecology. The United Nations has recognised that the well-being of human communities is linked to the health of what, to emphasise their value, are being called “ecosystem services”. Education will be essential if electorates are to understand enough about the world in which they live to be able to make informed choices, and to be able to distinguish real issues from pseudoscience, political spin and conspiracy polemic. Through its work together with the New Leaf project, based beside West Dulwich railway station, the Friends are committed to social justice. Many of the youth offenders passing through that project have seized the opportunity to participate in positive work for the environment and the community, and some have become committed to that ideal. At the same time, we shall assert our identity as a socially inclusive organisation committed to celebrating diversity and to encouraging the positive contributions which may be made by all sections of the community.
We shall pursue those Belair Park issues with broader implications through the online Eco-Focus publication (ecospheresproject.moonfruit.com – check it out under Earth Campaign). The Newsletter will deal with Belair Park from the perspective of Park users, who are concerned with Park issues in close detail. Our network of supporters is growing rapidly, and we have attracted hundreds of people.
In recent years, however our active membership has fallen, because several secretaries have been thwarted through the pressure of health issues from taking a pro-active role in communicating with members or in boosting membership. In order to achieve those goals, we shall, from 2011, make full use of internet social networking facilities.
Martin Heath, Vinnie O’Connell, Helen Saunders, Friends of Belair Park. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org