This has been one of the hardest years of my life. I experienced a major personal crisis during a pandemic. The trauma of that and the isolation of lockdown has taken a toll on my mental health. I have been struggling with both depression and anxiety during this past year. I know I’m not alone. I know many people have been suffering, too. And like so many, I struggled sometimes to get the help I needed in an overstretched NHS. When we talked in staff meetings about a reflection on the past year which we are launching next week, the prospect of remembering seemed like an exercise in bleakness.
Then I looked at my photos from the past year. There were images of early lockdown baking, my gardening efforts (as we left the Spring lockdown my garden had never looked so good), but the common happy thread was public parks and outdoor spaces. Even during the darkest times, taking a walk in the park or even my local cemetery provided that much needed fresh air and a reset. Councils and other organisations, like the National Trust and Royal Parks, provided me with a place to go, exercise and restorative green spaces.
I’m sure I’m not the only person whose made much more use of my local public spaces and appreciated them even more than before. They were places for quiet walks, for getting a break, but also places for family fun as once the initial wave hit we haven’t taken our respective children to any indoor spaces, barring one museum visit in the summer. My partner and I rented a bicycle built for two in a Southwark park, got ‘banana bikes’ for the kids (recumbent bikes were super fun, tandem bikes were a good experience, but one I won’t be repeating). We played table tennis in a Wandsworth Park. We recently visited Nunhead Cemetery – one of the ‘Magnificent 7’ victorian cemeteries, abandoned by the private firm who ran it and re-opened as a Lewisham nature preserve and cemetery. We make regular visits to the Wandle nature park – an area which spans a number of South London councils. All of these public parks were a huge part of the good memories I’ve had in the past year and I am so grateful for the work of councils in the past in creating or preserving these spaces and especially their work in the last year keeping them open.
As part of our week of reflection –Unlocked: local stories from a global pandemic, we’d like to celebrate public spaces – please share your images by Tweeting us at @LGIU or sending photos to email@example.com – we will share them in our gallery Unlocked: Parks and Public Spaces.