By Deborah Wroe
We are blessed in the UK to have so many public parks. Contrary to what many think, we actually only live on 2.7% of England’s landscape* which is all the more surprising when you consider how much coverage nimbies get when much needed house building is curtailed by vocal locals. I absolutely love parks, I get a real kick from nature; the ever-changing landscape, the baby ducks at this time of year, the birds in general (yup I’m a closet twitcher as well as a tweeter), and the wild garlic which this year I’ve picked for the first time and used in my cooking. I’m always looking for new parks to explore and I recently discovered a park which is simply stunning; acres of open space, magnificent trees, frolicking lambs, stunning views, but a downright annoying ‘Please keep off the grass’ sign.
‘Please keep off the grass’ is a very British sign, and very British thing, a trait we have, a culture of telling people what not to do. Contrast this with Sydney Botanical Gardens, 75 acres of space in the CBD, and right on Sydney Harbour, which has signs saying ‘Please walk on the grass’. How utterly refreshing, and welcoming, particularly to poms who are more used to the British way. The signs instantly put a smile on your face, well they did mine.
Back to Blighty, and the ‘Please keep off the grass’ sign in my most recently discovered park just reinforced for me how off-putting this British trait is, as it literally stopped me in my tracks. I focused for a minute on what I couldn’t do rather than what I could. Acres and acres of space but this one spot I couldn’t walk on irked me.
It would have been a much more positive experience if there were massive signs saying ‘enjoy’, ‘roam’, ‘run’, ‘skip through the tulips’ (there were no tulips, just making a point) and then maybe one saying ‘apart from this bit, please, we need this bit for xxx’.
Ditto a local swimming pool and spa I have recently been visiting. It’s a fabulous pool, with a wonderful steam room and sauna, and hydrotherapy pool – all accompanied by signage of ‘don’ts’. Admittedly ‘don’t stay in longer than 15 minutes’, ‘don’t enter steam room within one hour after consuming alcohol’ is a step up from the ‘no heavy petting’ signs at my local baths when I was a child (Oldham was not unique in this by the way – we didn’t have a monopoly on swimming pool snoggers).
But again, they miss the opportunity to outline the benefits. ‘Steam rooms benefit you by xxxx’, – see I can’t even fill in the xxx as I have no clue what the benefits are.
Yes we need rules, but there are ways and means of informing people of the rules (and avoiding being sued, which is the rational behind some of these signs I’m sure).
Extolling the virtues of taking a sauna is more likely to convert a new visitor to enter the sauna….and come back again…and tell others, than to dismiss it out of hand. A lack of information is as bad as negative information and can make a customer turn around and give up on you.
Shake off that British modesty, that love of rules and lists of don’ts. Be bold, kick off your shoes, run barefoot through the grass and never miss an opportunity to tell a story.
* Source: Mark Easton, The Great Myth of Urban Britain http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18623096