It's very easy as a local councillor to get bogged down in some of the negativity about Bearwood that appears in the social media. Yes, people frequently feel things could be better, but If you took everything to heart you'd imagine we live in a spiral of declining slums, packed to the rafters with junkies, shoplifters and feckless beggars, surrounded by swathes of fast food outlets, litter, empty shops and rats the size of cats!
The reality is, we have a small shopping centre, with most of the empty units concentrated in one block of shops owned by London-based landlords who couldn't give a flying fig for Bearwood. Most of the rest of the shops are occupied, and although we don't have Harrods, nor even Waitrose, we are going through the same high street shopping trauma that lots of traditional high street centres are suffering.
On the plus side we live in a place that is surrounded by wonderful greenery, and where there is a great sense of 'community'. The Bearwood Shuffle, the Pantry, the Friends of Lightwoods and of Thimblemill Brook, the Warley Woods volunteers, the Tapestry craft events, the dozens of things that happen every month courtesy of Julie McKirdy (legend) and her team at Thimblemill Library, the Mayday Festival, Bearwood on Ice, the Picnic in the Park, the skate park, the drive-in cinema…countless hours, more often than not by volunteers working for nothing, these are the things that make Bearwood a great place to live.
Ok, we don't have a multiplex cinema, a retail park with a Next, Homebase and JJB sports, nor a multi-storey car park, a bowling alley, a lap dancing club or a mainline railway station. Like most, I reckon, I'll learn to live without them. It would be great to have more independent shops, an organic vegetable shop, a pavement cafe culture, a fresh fish shop too.
But we have a community that helps itself, that pulls together when a blind chap has his house burgled and his iPad lifeline stolen, or take it upon themselves to organise a street collection when they hear about an elderly woman being mugged in the street. Those actions are priceless.
According to my old dad, nothing was as good as when he was young (although what the appeal was in being up to his neck in muck and bullets, he never got around to telling me). But according to my grandad, everything was going to hell in a handcart around the time of the General Strike in 1926. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, you know.
So, let's lift a glass to those who 'do their bit' and more, and also extend a welcome to those who want to do even more. In my book, this is a damned good place to live and anybody prepared to chip in and help improve things further should be encouraged to do so.
In the words of Theodore Roosevelt on citizenship…
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Photo by the great Simon Lea.