Sunday, 26 February 2017
616 Open Space : Power in Your Hands
First viewed : 5 July 1983
This was a bit of an oddity. BBC2 wanted to drum up some response for their new Community Programming Unit vehicle Open Space ( although a number of episodes were already in the can ) so they sent Julie Walters, hot on the back of her appearance in Boys from the Blackstuff , to England's most battered community i.e Liverpool to tub-thump for it.
Open Space was really just a re-launch of the 1970s programme Open Door which had fallen into odium after an infamous episode where they let some anarchist group plonk a potted tree in front of the camera and recite slogans offscreen for half an hour.
Resplendent in a garish shell suit, Julie wandered around estates and playgrounds arguing that communities should't wait for writers to come up with once-in-a-lifetime dramas like ..Blackstuff to highlight important concerns but use the opportunity provided by the CPU to make their own documntaries. How a half-hour programme buried on BBC2 in a midweek evening slot would bring about lasting change was never really addressed.
Still, Julie's evangelism did inspire me to write to the programme suggesting they come to Littleborough and cover the Coach House Project.. This was instigated at a public meeting convened by Littleborough Civic Trust in November 1979 as a response to the lack of community facilities in Littleborough ( partly down to the parsimonious policies of the old Littleborough UDC and then the tendency of Littleborough to elect councillors of a different political hue to the majority group on Rochdale MBC to which it's been tethered since 1974 ) . Rae Street and Don Pickis ( chair and vice-chair respectively of LCT ) had identified a seventeenth century building in the town centre that an ironmonger was about to vacate as a suitable site for a community centre and invited representatives from all the local voluntary groups to come on board with the project. I was at the meeting and there was a unanimous vote to green light the project with Nan Dearden the formidable chairwoman of the Townswomen's Guild nominated as chair of the steering group ( not. I suspect, an entirely agreeable surprise for Rae and Don ! )
In addition to the cost of taking on the lease for the building, which was owned by the brewery for the pub it once served , the old coach house required considerable work to make it fit for purpose and all the constituent organisations were involved in fund raising activities to various degrees. My mum's playgroup was involved, despite her reasonable questioning of what they stood to gain when they served the interests of parents in Dearnley and Smithy Bridge, a good mile away and already had premises there, By the time the Walters episode was broadcast, the Centre was still not open for business.
Besides being involved in the Civic Trust's fundraising activities, I had also made over 50 % of the proceeds from two raffles held by the Littleborough Rambling Club ( much criticised by some of the other members ) to the project . Still , there was no invitation for me to join the steering committee and quite rightly so ; they needed some specialist expertise or someone who could open up doors to further funding, not the impractical ideas of a teenager. The approach to Open Space , made without any consultation whatsoever, was probably another attempt at self-advertisement.
The reply is below :
I heard nothing more. The Coach House partially opened its doors that October and continues to this day without the benefit of my services.
The earliest subsequent Open Space programme I definitely recall watching was broadcast on 9 October 1986 titled B & B the Real Scandal which highlighted that local authorities in London were having to put homeless families into bed and breakfast accommodation , usually a single room with a shared bathroom , because of the government's restrictions on public house building.
Next came Strip Searching - Security in the Raw on 13 April 1987. This was a programme made by a number of females who had experienced strip searching at different locations. It didn't actually show any but the testaments were shocking enough. I recall an attractive young woman who'd gone down to Greenham Common, got arrested and then been strip-searched including vaginal examination in front of a gaggle of male officers who'd gathered to watch. She'd told one he was old enough to be her Dad. Thankfully, the laws regarding the procedure were considerably tightened up not long afterwards.