Sunday February 22nd 2009 saw the Trentham Protesters gather after a highly publicised campaign in the local media and via the internet through such mediums as Facebook, local blogs and Twitter.
For those Stokies who don’t live their lives on the internet or have spent the last two months out of the country or living in cave, the protesters were there to voice their anger over plans to charge visitors to walk around the lake at Trentham Gardens.
Credit where Credit’s due
Since St Modwen took over the crumbling Trentham Gardens they have steadily been improving the facilities by adding and improving the walks, adding a Monkey Forest, Garden Centre, Cafes, Restaurant and of course the Italian Gardens with its Ruins, Barefoot walk and Treetop climb. Furthermore, the development of a large retail village with wooden Cabin-like shops and bistros has been a hit with both locals and visitors.
Given that St Modwen has clearly made a considerable investment in the Trentham Estate one might be tempted to ask what all the fuss is about. Well, Many local people feel disgruntled that one area of the Trentham experience, The Lakeside Walk is being unfairly commercialised. Up until now the Lakeside Walk has been free, easillly accessed by a small path near to the Visitor centre. Literally thousands of visitors every week pour into Trentham and choose to take this free walk.
We are not ignorant freeloaders
Never let it be said that these people are taking Trentham for a ride. The majority of them, many with young families will complete their walk and then spend money on drinks and food at the Lakeside Cafe, or back at the retail village, not to mention rides across the lake or on the miniature train which runs alongside the footpath. The Garden Centre Cafe serves up a mean slice of cake and delicious hot chocolate and has good facilities to let younger children play whilst mum and dad chill with their coffees. All in all, the previous arrangement has seemed to be a most “perfect union”, a little slice of heaven in an otherwise increasingly unfriendly and moneterized world. This symbiosis has served the Trentham retailers with a literally massive footfall past its doors, a footfall made up in the most part of local people from Stoke on Trent, Newcastle, Stafford and the Staffordshire Moorlands.
Imagine now then the feelings of anger and betrayal across the community when it was recently announced by St Modwen that charges for the walk were about to come into force. Adults will pay £5, pensioners £4 and children will cost £3.50 during the winter season. As if this wasn’t bad enough, and in spite of the public outcry St Modwen saw fit to salt the wound by announcing that between May 2 and November 1, adults must pay £7, pensioners £6 and children £5.50. An annual adult ticket will be £37.50, whilst an annual family ticket, for two adults and up to three children, will be £75.
The vast majority of people who attended today’s protest walk are not stupid or ignorant. We can all see that the offer that St Modwen is presenting is good value for Money if the adult or family tickets are purchased. However, the real anger comes from the fact that many families are facing money worries in these times of economic hardship. £75 per year to access all the amenities at Trentham would be great value if we were all in clover. The trouble is we are not. Furthermore, the annual fee is not the end of the costs for the average family, is it? When spending a day out with your family you spend a considerable amount of money on refreshments and gifts.
Counting the cost
My family of three previously visited the gardens about once a fortnight. Even when spending the minimum amount, an average visit for us is as follows Petrol £5 Drinks (1 each) £7, Cakes £6, Ice Creams £4. Our £22 may not be much but it’s all we can afford.
Many other people have larger families, and others will have more disposable income. So if a family of 3 visited Trentham Gardens religiously every fortnight for a year, with an average spend of £22, the yearly cost would be £616, and St Modwen want me to slap another £75 on top of that? That is why I feel that the levee-ing of costs for the lakeside walk is excessive.
So after the Facebook campaign gathered literally thousands of supporters and signatures of an online petition, and received lots of local publicity it was arranged that the concerned parties would meet on the 22 of February for a “no spending” protest. The basic aims of the protest is not to harm the small traders who have their businesses in the retail village but to send a clear message to St Modwen that the costs are too much for the average person or family to pay. There have been of course voices of dissent appearing in the local press, but whether these are 5th columnists or real Trentham sympathisers remains to be seen.
Taking the fight to Trentham
Today should be only the first stage of what could potentially be a long stand-off. The organisers of Today’s walk need to keep up momentum and pressure to ensure that the campaign stays alive. Each and every participant of the walk today needs to enlist the support of at least one other person. All those who couldn’t make it today but support the cause can still add weight to the campaign by writing an email or letter to the council, Local Newspaper, radio stations or Trentham Gardens themselves. Better Still, those who are tech-savy can keep the cause alive by posting photos and video of the protest online, on sites such as Facebook Flickr or Youtube.
Only by sticking to our principles will we achieve our aim of having the charges removed. We must still attend the free walks but boycott the Italian Gardens. Should we buckle, should we cave in and start slowly sneaking back to Trentham and handing over the £5 or £7 fees, the we will have lost and the free walk really will be history.
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