I am an Aberdonian through and through and proud of it. I love my city. But as we move through this pandemic I ask myself where has our civic pride gone?
Walking round our streets I see an increase in food wrappers, paper coffee cups strewn on the ground and, increasingly, discarded protective face masks.
On our buses fewer people – and it’s usually younger people – wear face coverings. In supermarkets and shopping centres the usual “rules don’t apply to me” folk are ignoring the new way of shopping.
It’s as if some people believe Covid-19 is nothing to do with them. It’s for others. All part of how we see and promote Aberdeen. It was with great shame that our city was returned to lockdown through the callous and irresponsible behaviour of a minority.
A group of privileged footballers let us down by disregarding the rules we all have to follow. They were lambasted by the first minister, fined by their ruling body and no doubt have suffered much verbal abuse from their peers. It’s a great pity no one thought to involve those role models in promoting the Covid-19 restrictions. It would have resonated more, especially with young people.
But we can’t blame the lockdown on the football players. Nor on one pub; because anyone walking down Union Street that Saturday would have seen undisciplined crowds gathering. Any police car or officers on the beat would have seen a potential problem, but did nothing. Perhaps if we gave enforcement powers to traffic wardens it might be more fruitful.
The clubs, pubs and restaurant owners also have a responsibility to ensure their staff know the rules and more importantly, that they are being adhered to.
I find it reassuring that in Aberdeen a number of them have got together to ensure exactly that.
A colleague told me only last week that at a restaurant in Pitlochry they saw groups of holidaymakers walk right past the table with hand sanitiser and the record of their visit, without face coverings, calmly sit down, then place their orders. Not the best advert for tourism. So it does happen elsewhere too.
No one likes being told what to do, but many people have suffered from isolation, anxiety and other problems. Breaking the Covid-19 rules is very disrespectful to those families and friends who have lost loved ones due this dreadful disease.
There is little point in passing emergency laws then claiming they are unenforceable.
Thankfully, new stringent conditions have been brought in for food and drink outlet licensees. But I do wonder why any government would open pubs and clubs before everyone has returned to work? Pubs and clubs by their nature are for socialising, not social distancing. That’s the difference between a pub and a library – ideal for social distancing. Restaurants also have a more controlled atmosphere.
It would have been sensible to have a group co-ordinating all these actions, rather than everything coming down to us on tablets of stone from the government. A bit of co-ordination would prevent the recent problem with emergency vehicles having difficulty accessing someone in distress.
I saw a good example of poor co-ordination as I walked past Pittodrie Stadium. Cars were coming down that road and suddenly at the Kings Links were confronted by barriers from public utilities with a sign saying “road closed”. So the traffic all had to reverse back the way they came, causing chaos. What was wrong with putting a warning sign before the traffic reached the blockage at the links? At least they would then have had options.
I recall that at the start of the millennium RGU and Aberdeen University principals Bill Steveley and Duncan Rice, chamber of commerce representatives, the then-dean of guild Bill McKimmie and other key figures were encouraged to engage with local business leaders.
These were people like John Michie and Charles Skene, who not only ran successful businesses and provided jobs, but also believed in our city. They wanted to invest in Aberdeen’s future and make it a desirable place to live. It was part of a civic pride campaign organised by the council.
We held lunchtime briefings with community leaders who were crucial to the success of such a campaign, as well as schools and workplaces to encourage civic pride. It was all about doing simple things that make us all take responsibility for making our city look good, feel good and show others what a great place this is to live.
The council even gave councillors a small budget for their wards so, for example, if they had a tenement block with a faulty entrance system they could pay for it to be immediately repaired and the residents didn’t have to wait for some rolling programme to arrive.
Many councillors used it to spruce up their areas with flowers and tree planting or had grass verges cut and buildings cleaned up.
It worked well for a couple years but never ran its full course as it became a casualty when Labour lost the election.
We have an opportunity now, post Covid-19, with so many changes and uncertainties, to seize the chance to reinvigorate our city and once again encourage a sense of pride in a new generation.
It’s worth remembering all the goodwill and volunteers who kept and continue to keep this city working by giving their time and energies. Now is the time to build on that
Positive, helpful attitude. A spirit of good neighbours, taking pride in our city and the many good things that happen here.
Is civic pride worth pursuing, or is it an old-fashioned idea whose time has passed?
Len Ironside is a former champion wrestler who served as an Aberdeen councillor for 35 years, four of them as council leader