I recall thinking, the Garden Quarter will be a pretty good place to live through a Lockdown.
That was back in the early days of mid-March during the strange in-between time when the Prime Minister advised that we avoid non-essential travel, contact with others, and suggested that people should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and work from home if possible, without actually taking powers to close establishments.
In the Garden Quarter, we have a strong community, ready access to open spaces, essential shops, and a pharmacy. Looking back after more than 100 days that initial thought doesn’t feel far wrong. Living in a community where people know each other, stop to chat and say hello, albeit from the other side of the road, has meant a lot at a time when interacting with other people has been a rare privilege.
The sense of community was especially strong on the VE day bank holiday when we woke to watch our near neighbours on Cambrian Road featuring on the BBC Breakfast show – recognised by the BBC for the excellent “We’ll Meet Again “movie devised by the residents (watch it here). There followed a very relaxed safe day of socially distanced garden parties around the Garden Quarter. Following the TV appearance, Cambrian Road featured on the front pages of the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times during the bank holiday weekend. This emphasised how during this strange upsetting time neighbours had come together, pooled their talents, and found a way to get through these troubling days. The Garden Quarter nailed sociable distancing, neither tabloids nor Twitter could dig up a troll wishing to snipe that these people were too close together!
VE day was a high point of community spirit but as May and interminable June rolled by it was the many small acts of neighbourliness which fed the soul through these strange times, brief hellos and check-ins during the weekly clap for carers, offers of help with obtaining supplies, tip-offs about reliable sources of essentials such as loo roll, flour, and eggs. Our local independents have worked hard to provide a service whilst navigating through the minefield of inconsistent and vague government regulation. Sunny afternoons of gardening have been fuelled by a quick visit to Garden Lane: A barbeque of goodies supplied by Farmer’s Meats accompanied by take-out beers from the Goat and Munch.
As expected, the proximity of open space has been a great benefit in this part of the City where the community garden on Orchard street provides a tranquil stopping off place on the way to the shops and larger green spaces such as the Countess of Chester Country Park, are a short walk or cycle ride along the Canalside or Greenway paths.
A very special shout out must, therefore, go to the countless volunteers working tirelessly to maintain these priceless community treasures which have helped keep many locals mentally and physically fit. Hopefully, as Chester begins to move on from the pandemic, we will continue to value the natural resources which have proved so precious during the lockdown. Voluntary organisations might be given more formal recognition either through funding, should any monies be available following the crisis, or else policy priority in local plans might be given to the increased conservation of open spaces through rewilding and improving access to lands such as Blacon Meadows and the former Mollington golf course.
Alongside the Countess Country Park, these areas integrated with the millennium greenway could provide an extensive country park accessible from the city centre and populous suburbs including Hoole, Blacon, and Upton.
This thing is still far from over, Covid is likely to be in circulation for some time. It may be necessary to learn to live with that if we wish to leave the house. Although, as I write lockdown is loosening. Throughout the city, newly equipped with wider pavements, pedestrian one-way systems, and hand sanitisation stations, it is increasingly apparent that the dedication and ingenuity of the Council, traders, and organisations such as Storyhouse, are likely to find a safe way to get the city moving again. Yes, the Garden Quarter has been a good place to spend lockdown but I am beginning to suspect that Chester will be also a great place to learn to adapt to the post lockdown world.
What can you do?
Have your say about the importance of Open Spaces in the on-going consultation into the housing development at the former Mollington Golf course close to the country park here.