Look At It This Way - December 6, 2013

Jacqui Morley at the top of Charles Court
Jacqui Morley at the top of Charles Court
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Been hooked on heritage for years now. It helps that I’m getting on a bit myself.

We’re immersed in it here in Blackpool. Social history, our story, your story, my story. All of it within easy reach for all the years and cultural shifts between us.

Times change, but what makes people tick doesn’t.

I remember the first time I saw the Mitchell and Kenyon films at the Grand Theatre – hosted by Professors Vanessa Toulmin and John Walton.

They lent gravitas but, in truth, the films needed little introduction. People smiled off the screens into the hearts of those watching well over a century on.

It gave the past a sense of immediacy. It made the present feel more grounded.

I left feeling part of that continuing story, rooted in a resort I’ve come to love and see as home.

I looked at the hesitant smiles of people unfamiliar with cameras let alone moving pictures. No selfies back then or super sized egos plastering pictures of every move onto social networks. Look at this pizza I’m eating! Look at this pint I’m drinking”

Their networks were truly social, not superficial. Extended families, workplaces, pubs, church, the annual gala, theatre, charabanc outings.

I found myself seeing shades of the familiar in the throngs on North Pier, booted,suited, hats on every head. Trouser legs rolled up as they fished for tiddlers in rock pools. Sunday best for the church parade.

I loved the little lads larking round desperate to have their image captured on camera.

There was some sense of that seamless thread of humanity that binds us all when I dropped by at the Winter Gardens ahead of this week’s open day and found myself unravelled by the small things that catch at your heart – rather than the grand architecture.

Two pigeons strutted their stuff on the ballroom having sneaked into the warmth through a gap in the roof – and where I last saw a couple of marvellous young dancers, teenagers being put through their paces under sponsorship of the Winter Gardens Trust.

I loved the 1920s spotlight that must have lit all manner of greats of old backstage at the Opera House.

I chuckled at seeing the Bible at the back of the wardrobe in dressing room one – had Bob Dylan tucked it there?

And the scrawled messages from stars on the stage door walls. Some lovely, others a bit starry and pretentious, but all bit players to the real star – the Winter Gardens.

But while buildings are the fabric of heritage people bring them to life, make them living, breathing, vibrant places to be, to protect, to pass onto the next generation.

That’s why it’s such a marvellous idea to run these access all areas open days regularly – and keep them as informal as possible. Let’s walk around at our own pace.

Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes it’s found where you least expect it as I discovered on another behind scenes visit to another building this week.

I spotted a tiny wild flower, a weed to most, atop Charles Court the other day. The teetering tower blocks of Layton represent a different chapter of social history.

Charles Court tilts improbably towards clouds over Layton, one of the first two skyscrapers from the 1960s to be deconstructed by degrees between now and March. Our skyline is falling.

That flower had grown from seed deposited by bird, or blown in on the wind. But it had gained a foothold in whatever passed for nutrients, and clung to the summit with all the tenacity of an alpine plant.

It lifted my spirits to see it up there on the roof, the 17th storey, where seagulls dare.

It was literally breathtaking after the desolation below, the empty rooms, the curtains flapping in the wind, the wardrobes opening onto a wasteland Narnia.

Half a century ago visionaries built up not out, little realising draughty corridors and temperamental lifts would never match the appeal of the closer knit terraced streets, those chats over garden walls, or when the washing was pegged out. What I didn’t know, until writing a piece for our Lost Archives today, was how the love affair with tower blocks was already being questioned in the late ‘60s. “Sociological misgivings” expressed by councillors. Child protection issues raised a few years later by the hazards of high rise living.

Not so much heritage as a failed social experiment, half a century in the making and eventual breaking.

Can’t get me I’m part of the union

Every month £40 of my hard earned cash goes to a very worthy cause indeed. Me.

You can’t get me – I’m part of the Credit Union’s Xmas club and savings scheme.

It’s an investment in my community as much as my own future – and my money couldn’t feel safer.

Nor could it be more timely. When I retire money will be tighter than it has ever been. My pension will be paid into my bank every month but I doubt I’ll get a look in if I go cap in hand asking for a loan for a new car. Or should, say, our temperamental boiler finally break down – and it’s been spluttering like an extra from Star Trek for the last two years, pressure plummeting or rising in direct correlation with my blood pressure.

‘Cap’n, we’re breaking up - and we dinna have access to grant aid, Spock!’

The location of the credit union has always delighted me – slap bang in the heart of Blackpool’s retail and finance zone.

It’s not far from several sky high interest short-term loan companies and what’s left of our mainstream banking industry’s high street branches.

It’s already on Birley Street but in a complex shared with Coastal Housing.

So it needs a proper stand alone base. Like a proper stand alone bank.

It needs to be where people can directly access all services, walk straight in from the streets, ask to see an advisor and either commit part of their income to the scheme, ask for help, or find out more.

It has already bailed out locals up to their neck in debt to pay day style loan companies of the type consumer watchdogs want curbed with tougher sanctions and more transparent policies and payment programmes.

In relocating to a former travel agents at ground level a little further along from its current base – as proposed – it will bring the battle for a better deal to the doors of doorstep lenders and banks.

One small step. One big difference...