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Crime and the Damage Done

Another two coincidences, this time of a completely different nature took place recently. Both were crimes of separate types, taking place within a few days of each other, in parks in my local area. They show how fragile the concept of safety and security in green spaces can be, and how long-lasting and devastating the effect a few minutes of madness can be. Persuading people to be more active and use parks more is difficult enough without these incidents, perceptions of security are easily shaken and some people are likely to avoid any sites which make them feel vulnerable or ill-at-ease.

The first incident took place in our local park, Fog Lane Park, Didsbury, Manchester when a young lady out jogging was viciously attacked by a white male in his thirties. The incident, which took place at 3.00 in the afternoon, could have been more serious if he hadn't been disturbed by passers-by. The park is reasonably well-used by dog-walkers, joggers, parents and children in the playground etc., but with the site being quite a large area visitors can be dispersed thinly, or concentrated mainly in the ‘honey-pot areas’ around the sports and play facilities, leaving large parts of the park isolated.

Like most local councils, Manchester has tried hard, despite huge budget cuts, to protect parks and promote their use. Until a few years ago this park had its own ranger and a ranger base, so the site felt supervised and safe. The park is in a generally affluent area not normally associated with anti-social behaviour problems apart from night-time economy, alcohol-related ones. It is difficult to calculate what effect this might have on the park's usage, but a week later a large group of gutsy residents staged a ‘run towards not away’ running event in the park at 3.00 pm in defiance of the crime. Let’s hope that the attacker is caught and shadow cast by this appalling attack soon fades and the park remains a place of fun, not fear.

The second incident took place in Wythenshawe Park, and made the national news after police and fire services dealt with a fire at the Grade II*-listed Tudor timber-framed manor house on March 15, at around 3.30 am. Up to 50 fire-fighters were involved at the height of the blaze. Arson was suspected and it was reported that a local twenty-six year-old man, Jeremy Taylor, was charged, appeared the following day at Manchester Magistrates Court and was bailed to appear at Manchester Crown Court on Wednesday, April 20.

The damage to the building was extensive but apparently not devastating. Part of the building’s roof collapsed, timber beams were left exposed, charred or destroyed, with serious damage to the historic bell-tower and the withdrawing room. The make-safe and repair work is already underway.

Roof collapse and Bell-Tower damage

The Hall on the day following the fire

The manor house partly dates from 1540, and has been altered and added to over time, partly re-built in the 1790s and enlarged and further altered in the 19th century. It is a timber frame and brick construction, with green slate roofs and many fine features. The hall had been a museum/art gallery, with a gradually diminishing collection until its closure in 2010.

Fire-place and panelling prior to fire

It stood empty and uncared for until 2012 when The Friends of Wythenshawe Hall took it on, raising thousands of pounds and spending countless hours restoring the building

The Hall before the fire

The hall is the central feature of a much-visited park which served a densely-populated area in south Manchester and Trafford, including me, family and friends. Maintaining such a historic building and large park, completely open to the public, with limited resources is always going to be problematic and risky. Heritage Lottery funding for the hall and park would be well-deserved, but there are many hoops to jump through over many years if Manchester City Council are required to follow the normal application process. I'm sure that the council teams dealing with this will do their best with the limited resources available, and we all hope this dreadful incident will be turned into a positive, with public attention being drawn to the call for the restoration of the hall and the need to halt the declining status of this outstanding building and its popular park.

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