I don’t think the most ardent Redditch enthusiast could claim the town is beautiful. It has a lot of trees, and they are very lovely. Some of the parks are nice, and there are views over Worcestershire and Warwickshire that are good. If you walk out into the villages, it is pleasant. The town itself is unremarkable, through to banal, dominated by a rather ugly shopping centre. I spent ten years there, and I can say that it did not feed my soul especially.
The first time I left my Cotswold home and headed into Birmingham (big city just down the road from Redditch, for readers who are further afield) stays with me. Seeing the remnants of heavy industry, the ugly, brutalised urban landscape shocked me. I was just a country girl, used to small, attractive cities like Gloucester. Nothing had prepared me for this. It seemed like hell, I felt soul-scarred by it.
Where we are affects us profoundly. If our environment is ugly, uncared for, degraded etc, then that brings a person down. Grim modern developments, poorly made and badly designed, do not encourage health or happiness. It all comes down to money of course, and those who have it do not seem very inclined to spend it on places that will be lived in, and worked in, by those who do not. Cars dominate too many places, public spaces centre around commerce more often than beauty. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we let people put cheap functionality before quality of life?
Beauty is a blessing. It nurtures and enriches us, improves mental health, inspires and brings so many benefits. Not everywhere is inherently beautiful, but plenty of places could be more so if more thought went into it.
Right now, I am very fortunate. I’m in a lovely part of the world. There are hills and woods of remarkable beauty. I watched the sun come up last week, touching the trees with a blood red sheen. In the sunset tonight, the hills are glowing golden in the fading light. It is so beautiful I have to remind myself it is also real. I am not dreaming this. The landscape here feeds my soul, works a magic on my heart that I do not know how to explain. There is peace, and healing. At the same time, I am aware that the majority of people are not so lucky. Far too many folk are trapped in places made ugly by human stupidity and cost cutting.
Beauty should not be a perk reserved for the wealthy. It shouldn’t be something you try and tack on at the end. Instead, the idea of beauty should be an integral part of everything we make and do. Functionality and beauty are not incompatible. Nor does beauty need to be prohibitively expensive. I look at the new build out here, where people are bothering to try and make it fit, and its good stuff. So much urban development is samey, unimaginative, ugly. Redditch is terrible for it. The new bus station is a memorable exercise in being visually unappealing, and it is a gloomy, chilly sort of place not ticking boxes for functionality either.
We can do anything well. As individuals and communities, we can go into anything with a bit of style and an eye for what looks good. Or we can make cheap, lumpish messes that grind people down. And really, it’s our choice, and we almost certainly can do something about it. At the very least, we can talk, protest and demand better.