For various reasons, I had to spend four days in London last week. I also had the privilege of watching the school production of High School Musical. Well done to all involved! At the same time, the school had to and continues to navigate its way through the Coronavirus ‘situation’. The reality of this came home to me on the train; I sat down next to a passenger who donned a facemask, I then gave a little cough and splutter and she then decided to wrap her scarf around her head. Then earwigging, I heard a fellow passenger lament, referring to the current Convid-19 virus as, “it’s a plague”. Well I don’t think so! At school we are doing all we can to help the public ‘hygiene’ campaign. All schools have been given specific advice from the DfE and Public Health England, which we have been following since the beginning of this issue.
Before I ventured into the world of teaching, I had another life; I worked in construction. The company I worked for were responsible for a number of significant infrastructure projects in London and other parts of the country. Their successes included the second Severn crossing, the British Library and the Millennium Stadium. Like many of us, I am an occasional visitor to our capital, last week though, four days commuting to and from gave me time to reflect on how the capital has changed since I worked there 25 years ago.
London is bigger and appears richer than ever, with more than 8.8 million residents – and is on track to add two million more by 2050, despite the Brexit issues. Our Geography students would recognise its journey towards becoming a mega city.
Growth undoubtedly has been fuelled by a building boom that includes several of the largest regeneration projects in Europe. The Thames is being re-plumbed below with a super sewer and London’s skyline has been redrawn, at least compared to my 20 year old vista. Crossrail will eventually ease the congestion on the overburdened London Tube – the world’s original subway system.
Sections of the city are being knitted back together, as redundant industrial sites are remade into neighbourhoods designed for the future. If you travel in from Portsmouth to Waterloo your eyes are drawn to the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station. Apple will occupy the boiler room of the historic generator, alongside thousands of homes. Planners and leaders have realised that courageous decisions are necessary; elements of the past are not suitable for the future, and may even hinder opportunity, painful though that is for some to hear.
There is of course a flip side with the usual set of urban headaches. Traffic is worse than I remember as is the pollution; London has a distinctive city smell. It is a city that time-after-time has demonstrated great reliance, point to its survival through plague, the Great Fire of 1666, and the Blitz, as evidence it has a habit of remodelling itself. The city has a rich stream of DNA that, despite the challenges it has and will face, cannot be rewritten.
London has changed and it changes to survive. It holds on to core beliefs. It does hang not on to the past if it is evident that it won’t serve the future. The dinosaurs dropped out of the picture not because they were beaten by any other type of creature but simply because they could not respond successfully to the challenge of a changing environment.
Whist I accept the comparison is not perfect, there is a lesson in London’s regeneration that the church could learn from, not least how it holds on to tradition but does not let that same tradition undermine its ability to move forward. London has worked out that survival is not compulsory and to paraphrase Winston Churchill, ‘to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often’.