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. 

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