The fact that the Westgate Hall in Canterbury is under threat, is not news to me. I have known this to be the case for over 6 months or more, and I will admit that I didn’t think much of it at first. So, you may be wondering at this point, what has made me finally take notice and reflect on the potential consequences this could have for me and of course, many others in the area.
Before I go into what those reasons are, I want to talk about what my intentions are in writing this. I am not someone who believes in demonstrating or even in trying to change others; I think there are enough tyrants in the world already. So it might seem strange as to why I would even bother writing this. I believe that the reasons I am going to put forward, as to why the hall should be kept open, are not just beneficial to me or others in the area. I believe these reasons are as important to our sustenance, as eating and breathing are. Upon close inspection of what those reasons are, I felt, that I had a responsibility to do something, to play my own part in all of this.
Now, whether the hall is potentially going to be closed because of the need for more parking spaces, to build flats or due to high maintenance costs, my perspective is the same.
The Westgate hall not only provides an area for people to attend social clubs and events, it also fulfils very important emotional and mental needs. These needs as I see them are; a sense of belonging, acceptance and connection. Which are all extremely important when it comes to psychological health and a sense of wellbeing.
Before I go into the benefits of these needs, I shall focus on what can happen, as a result of not getting these needs met.
I will keep these examples brief and will not go extensively into what I believe happens when these needs are neglected. In today’s society there is a constant call for more police to be deployed on our streets, to crack down on crime and to control the use of drugs and alcohol that is spiralling out of control. Due to the scale of the problem, it is creating a lot of problems, not only for police but also for the safety of people in society and the increasing amount of money that is spent to deal with the consequences that all of this creates. This is obvious to many people and doesn’t need me to create awareness when it comes to this point. Through my own understanding and through the research of others, I have come to see that very often it is the individual that feels alienated and disconnected from society that is motivated to participate in crime. And that alcohol and drugs are very often a way for people to escape their emotions and to feel emotionally whole again, to feel how they truly want to feel. There is also evidence that shows depression is on the rise, with feelings of isolation and neglect often being involved.
In today’s world there are many ways to stay in contact with people, through the internet and the latest phone’s, however what these don’t provide is human contact. So although our ability to connect with people is better than it has ever been, there is also a real sense of emptiness when it comes down to experiencing deep connections with people.
So it seemed like I had gone completely off topic there and although you might have been wondering what has that got to do with the Westgate Hall!? I believe in order to understand something; we need to not only look at the advantages of something, but also the disadvantages and the absence of that very thing. This should enable us to gain the right perspective and achieve a balanced conclusion.
Very often our attention can be placed on what is not working and at the same time we can neglect and ignore what is working. Constantly focusing on the problems and often overlooking the very things that are making a difference to our community and to our world.
This why I believe the Westgate hall’s benefit and influence on the community is being largely ignored. Of course I am not suggesting that the Westgate hall has the power to make people feel emotionally whole or is some kind of miracle worker, but what I do believe is that it plays a vital role.
Living in a city can be a daunting task for anyone. Although Canterbury is not a large city, it is a place that consists of many different nationalities, backgrounds and creeds. All of which have a right to feel welcome and part of the city. I mentioned above that a sense of belonging, feeling accepted and connected to others is important to our own wellbeing and in our ability to function in the world. This is especially true when we are new to an area and know very few people.
The Westgate hall provides the fulfilment of all of these aspects and more. My empirical observations are based on attending salsa there and yet I am sure there are numerous other activities that provide the same benefits.
When I first joined the Salsa class at the Westgate Hall, I soon realised that it was a great place for me to meet people from all walks of life and from all over the world. As I saw this, I soon recognised that the benefits of this were not only experienced by people who attended the classes; they were also benefitting the whole city. Whether we are new to the area or have lived there for a while, we all like to feel a sense of connection to others, to feel as though we apart of the larger community. When people feel isolated, they can easily become depressed and believe that they are all alone in the world. What is great about the salsa class at the Westgate Hall, is that anyone can join in and experience the connection of being around others and learning about different people. I, for example, often get so caught up in conversation, that I forget I am doing salsa.
I also believe that many friendships and relationship have been formed over the years and this will have allowed people to feel connected to others and to also feel accepted by people. I don’t believe this is limited to the class, I think it has greater potential and creates acceptance within Canterbury. This of course will lead people to feel as though they belong in the area and are not just on the outskirts of the community.
As the class is pressure free and there is a real sense of safety about the place, because of where the building is situated and what the class stands for, it provides people with an environment where they can relax and be themselves.
This is a valuable option to have, with peoples stress being at an all time high. I believe it is a great way for people to let go and release tension, with no harm being done to themselves or to others.
Of course people could go to a club or to a bar instead, but let’s face it, how many people do we usually talk to when we go to these types of places? They are also not the types of places where people of all ages can go or feel comfortable going. And this is what the Westgate hall provides, an environment where people all ages, backgrounds and creeds can join together.
To remove the Westgate Hall would be like removing a hospital to make way for more houses or shops. This might sound completely out of proportion. However when it comes to a balanced life, we all realise that we need a bit of everything. We have to eat well, sleep well, keep fit, and take care of our emotions and other things. If we see the city as we see ourselves and use it as a metaphor, straight away it is clear that we need balance in a city, just like we need a certain amount of balance in our own life.
I am not suggesting that the Westgate Hall is more important than a hospital and neither am I suggesting the hospital is more important that the Westgate hall. It is clear that no one in their right mind would allow a hospital to be removed, just to replace it with something else. To me, it comes down to having the right perspective about what a city needs. As although we have to deal with the problems, I also strongly believe that effort needs to be put into what is making a real difference in the community. It would be a severe case of tunnel vision and I believe it would be a grave mistake to remove this building which brings the city together and makes such a difference in the community.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver J R Cooper