|Information Board at Thorpe Meadows|
UPDATE: On Tuesday 6th October 2016, following a 7th attack on Nene Park, I appeared on the Paul Stainton Show on BBC Radio Cambs to talk about the things I mention in this blog post.
I woke this morning to the news that several of the information boards at Thorpe Meadows, a beautiful area close to our ward that I visited only recently, have been vandalised with extremely offensive graffiti.
I've written about Peterborough's graffiti on this blog a couple of times already. Firstly, I spoke of the graffiti that had appeared on a wall in Orton Northgate and compared this to the 'Vote Leave' graffiti that appeared in Stanground just before the EU Referendum. More recently, I wrote about the graffiti that has appeared opposite St Mary's Church in Orton Waterville.
However, I don't need to write about graffiti for residents to know about it. A group of people have been defacing Orton for months now. Elsewhere in the city, graffiti has moved on from 'tagging' to being racially offensive and deliberate in its intention to destroy public enjoyment of our natural spaces.
|Information Board at Thorpe Meadows|
So What's Going On?
Well, the tagging at St Mary's Church is communication. It may be deeply anti-social, but it is neither mindless nor thoughtless. Because graffiti takes effort. The person doing the spraying needs to have paint to spray, a certain amount of 'skill' with a spray can and the ability to be organised enough to make their mark without detection. This is the opposite of mindless. It is, however, done without seeing the bigger picture. It is done without an appreciation of the stress and misery that graffiti can cause to people living in a community. It is inconsiderate. It is an act that is 'separate' to the community. But it is still a form of communication. To dismiss it as vandalism is to over-simplify it and if we over-simplify and ignore it how are we ever to fully address it?
|Tagging opposite St Mary's in Orton Waterville|
I also wrote recently about how Peterborough City Council had taken a decision without consulting the local community to paint the 'blue bridge' green. I love green, but I can well understand why some residents felt that the council had 'vandalised' a landmark without even asking them how they felt. To some, that paint job felt like a 'mindless' act.
I see a common thread running through all three of these instances: communication. Or, more specifically, communication breakdown.
So what of this horrible mess that has appeared overnight at Thorpe Meadows? Is this communication too? And if it is, how do we respond to it? Do we put CCTV everywhere? Or do we try to find out why this was done? These are the questions that divide communities.
One might say 'give the graffiti artists a place to do their tagging and they will stop doing it elsewhere'. There may be some truth in this, however, the mess at Thorpe Meadows is not the same as the mess in Orton Waterville. The vandalism at Thorpe Meadows is deliberate in its intention to cause offence. It is still communication but it is not communication between graffiti artists. It is communication to the rest of us. It is saying something about human misery. It feels hateful and violent and provocative. It is painful screams, not simply 'I was here, please notice me'.
Graffiti and vandalism are as old as humanity itself. The generations that preceded ours did not succeed in stamping it out and nor will we. But I wonder, when our most precious and beautiful areas are attacked and destroyed, whether communication has broken down completely, or whether we're just not listening to one another intently enough.
As a local politician, my role is to listen and to communicate. But I'm well aware that not everyone in our community is a skilled communicator. I wasn't exactly brilliant at school, but I had a good English teacher who nurtured and pushed me. Not everyone has the ability to express how they feel in language, through speech or through writing. Effective communication, where the person expressing the idea does so in the way they intended and is fully understood by the audience they wished to reason with is really complicated stuff. This is why so many residents approach people like me to help them write letters, fill out forms and talk to people in authority on their behalf. It is difficult, it takes real skill, and the more any of us can do to help other people to express themselves and be heard is a very good thing. I know many community volunteers who do exactly this. They are our angels.
I have no idea why the person who has vandalised Thorpe Meadows did what they did because communication has broken down. There is no message, only questions and despair. But the message I will CHOOSE to take from this is to listen harder in our community, especially to those people who find communication difficult and frustrating. It may make absolutely no difference to those who would cause this kind of harm to us, but it might make those of us who reckon ourselves to be effective communicators and who put ourselves forward to serve in our communities a bit more aware of residents' needs to be heard.