By the time 12 April arrives, I’ll be happy if I never see another park again. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but if the prime minister’s roadmap out of lockdown goes to plan, in a matter of weeks we’ll be released from our local areas and carefully unleashed back into the universe.
For more than a year now we have sought sanctuary from the confines of our living rooms in woodlands and green spaces. Parks across the country have never seen footfall like it. Families have flocked outdoors in unprecedented numbers (sorry, that word again), gym goers have kept up their fitness regimes, jogging in droves, and newly purchased lockdown puppies have been indulged with daily walks
in Instagrammable hotspots.
Like many city dwellers, lockdown has forced me into developing a new love for the outdoors. I have spent more time in green spaces in the last 12 months than I have in my entire life – and it really has been lovely.
When I saw the first signs of daffodils and snowdrops growing in my local park last month I could have cried with relief. The wondrous natural world and its little signals and gentle reminders that the earth is still turning have been a great comfort at a time when our lives have been put on pause.
But after a year of state-sanctioned exercise, where the only thing to look forward to has been a walk in the park and a takeaway coffee, I’m ready to put my wellies into storage and embrace towering brick buildings and concrete paths once more.
From next month, we will officially be allowed to sit outside a cafe with a friend. We’ll be invited back to gyms, libraries, hairdressers and shops. We’ll drink our first draught beers of the year and eat pizza by the slice. We’ll see the faces of people who don’t live in our households.
And as the country opens up again, perhaps it’s time for parks and green spaces to enjoy a well earned rest from our trampling feet, as our new collective love of the outdoors hasn’t come without its consequences.
Sheffield City Council recently told the Sunday Times that increased use of green spaces has shown itself in worn grass, new desire lines in woodlands and a rise in waste. Manchester’s local authority told the paper visitors to its parks had risen by 30 per cent during the lockdown, and the litter collected there, excluding the city’s biggest green space, Heaton Park, is expected to fill 30,000 extra bags – a 28 per cent increase on the four-year average.
Our much loved green spaces have been a lockdown saviour but, like most of the things we decided we quite liked at the start of the first lockdown – Zoom parties, exercising in the living room, cooking, crafting and baking banana bread – maybe it’s time to give it all a rest for a little while and reacquaint ourselves with the world as it was.
Trees are lovely and all that but, after the dark, cold, endless days of the third lockdown, I’m ready for a break from the natural world. Bring me streets packed with strangers, live music, museums, real life Pilates classes, afternoons in the cinema and meals out with friends.
Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy
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