Urchfont Parish Council Turn Down Youth Art Display

Further to my article reflecting on black history month, and our chat with BLM in the Stix organiser Gurpreet Sidhu, I said I had a local issue to raise which could be conceived as the perfect example of the message I’m trying to get across regarding rural racism so ingrained we fail to recognise it, or simply don’t care to consider it as such. I was waiting for a response from relevant sources in order to give an impartial valuation. In the meantime, the good ol’ Gazette & Herald beat me to it!

In all fairness they didn’t make a bad job, but it’s the reactionary and presumptuous comments flowing on social media where the story warps out of all proportion and skewers the facts; keyboard warriors tend to do that.

Urchfont Parish Council’s Chairman, Graham Day explains, “at its meeting on 8th July, Urchfont Parish Council discussed a proposal for a possible use of the High Street telephone box which is owned by the Council. A lengthy debate on this matter took place, with substantial public input both from those present at the meeting and others who had submitted comments to our Clerk.”

As with many rural out of service phone boxes, the community has gathered to find alternative usage for it. Many have become community hubs, noticeboards and others rural self-governed lending libraries. Urchfont’s phone-box was adopted by the Parish Council in 2018, “to protect it and to provide an unusual venue to promote village events and,” here’s the biting point taken from the phone box’s own Facebook page, “showcase work by local groups.”

So, members of such a group, Youth Of Urchfont, moved by recent racial injustices, proposed a display presenting art and literature on the theme of racism. Immediately the goalposts are moved, and the ethos of the phone box altered by councillors, stating, “the telephone box should be used only for local community purposes, as such this proposal covering the wider issue of racism should be rejected.”

For the first few minutes of the agenda’s proposal by the teenagers everything seems to be going well. But as the discussion flowed, it appeared an assumption the idea was linked to black lives matter, which rather than a slogan, is perceived by villagers to be an organised political movement.  Intent to maintain the Parish Council is a non-political body, it rejected the proposal five votes against three.

Spirally out of control, social media comments claimed all manner of fabrications, such as the youth wished to paint the phonebox. It hardly constituted any such vandalism, just a display of art and literature on the subject of racism, rather than a paint job, or even a salute to the BLM movement. What is a given thing for the Parish Council, is that the youth are someway promoting BLM, when really, they’re simply reflecting on racism in general; a fair observation? I asked one of the parents, David Kinnaird.

“They had never suggested painting the phonebox!” he stated. “Neither did they ever suggest any support for the BLM movement. When they first messaged the community bell to say they wanted to do something they immediately said BLM might be too political, and so the kids knew that this was off the table.  Sadly, and predictably, most of the opposition stemmed from perception of what the movement represents, and not to what was actually proposed. In fact, they didn’t really know what they wanted to display, no idea at all really, just wanted to do something. It was lockdown, they hadn’t been to school for months and wanted to do something…”

One of the youths, Polly, explained to the Parish Council, that she is really passionate about the proposed display. She questioned the fact that the kiosk had been previously used for political displays, citing the VE day soldier, for example. Wiltshire Council had expressed solidarity with BLM movement, protests had taken place in Wiltshire highlighting human rights, and racial inequality issues. Polly believed that the display will highlight all of these issues, adding it could link with other charities and be a great show for the Village. The Chairman then closed the meeting for public participation.

Councillor Mr Kemp made a statement outlining the ethos of the usage for the phonebox, including “local residents had an opportunity to exhibit artisan skills, workshops or art work,” and “it supported the interests of the community as a whole.” He strongly objected, virtually pitchforking the idea, stating “BLM, a patently political movement, is clearly the catalyst, a movement that is demonstrably contentious and of itself offers little, to enhance the lives of the Urchfont community. Unfortunately, a mood of ‘if you are not with us then you must be against us’ currently prevails and it can be easier to acquiesce in the face of public demand, against the better judgement of the individual or organisation, when that position is both emotive and forcefully declared.”

“It is clear from additional comments that the BLM movement and the (sometimes offensive) rhetoric associated with it resonates,” he continued waffling, “while these may be the legitimate expressions of personal views, the politically divisive nature underlying the issue as a whole is clear and cannot be ignored.” And, democratically, it wasn’t.

Here comes the opinion part, watch out! Ah, you know me well enough by now, not to possibly or in any way suggest this is concentrated prejudice on two parts, race and agism, and allow you to be the judge of if it’s concentrated prejudice on two parts, race and agism, or not, though it’s certainly possible it could be conceived as concentrated prejudice on two parts, race and agism.

The irony is, rather than allow a display organised by enthusiastic youth of their own village, encourage and support free-thinking from young people in an idyllic but humdrum Wiltshire outpost detained in lockdown, the alternative is nothing, and the phonebox currently and since the time it was suggested back in June exhibits such, absolutely nought, nothing, nada.

Nothing until these last few days, where the annual event “candles around the pond,” was reduced to “candles in the phonebox,” and raised funds for the church. And there was me thinking in Christianity the candle represents the light of God, and their ethics endorsed virtuous behaviour within its moral theology, as is their duty put in Leviticus 19:18 to love thy neighbour as thyself, and extend an unconditional hand of friendship that loves when not loved back, that gives without getting, and ever looks for what is best in others.

And here, their own children were rejected an art display as if they were suggesting a riot. To me, that is a sad reflection on today’s blinkered and hypocritic rural society and the very reason we need to openly discuss an issue most would wish to be eradicated many moons ago.


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