Whit a Cock-Up!

Chaos turns traditional event into procession of witless

Wright StreetLite SN14 EAX, Armentieres Square, Stalybridge
Whit a Fiasco! Wright StreetLite and an Enviro400 crawling behind the Whit Walkers. Now, couldn’t they have diverted the 236 via Portland Place and the 408 via Caroline Street?

Farmers Market stallholders and cost cutting measures were blamed for the shoddy organisation of Stalybridge’s Whit Walks yesterday afternoon. In a spite of a good turnout and warm weather, Whit walkers:

  • Ran the gauntlet of avoiding local traffic due to lack of marshals;
  • Saw little or no police presence, stopping motorists;
  • Struggled to participate in the service with one church leaving early.

Its slipshod organisation attracted the ire of locals on the day, and also on a community message board. One church arranged for the arrival of a lorry with a public address system. On arrival at 1.30pm, this was met with friction from the farmers market stallholders. It had been stated that traders were to vacate Armentieres Square, though some carried on beyond 2pm.

As a consequence, Armentieres Square was unable to accommodate all of Stalybridge’s churches. Therefore, Holy Trinity Church put aside its differences and allowed the service to take place there. This led to half of Stalybridge’s churches stood on the northern part of Armentieres Square and a two stage service, one for churches inside the Holy Trinity Church, and another for churches on the square. Tameside Community Voices were the bright spot of yesterday’s shambolic procession granted great applause for their singing. Owing to the lack of room, led out by Mossley Hollins Band, Stalybridge Congregational Church returned to their church at great speed, with their Whitsuntide service ‘back home’.

Most of the ire was directed at the lack of marshalling and police presence. The majority of which blamed the lack of care and respect given to Stalybridge’s traditions, and a perception of ‘none of this would happen in Ashton’. This year’s walks saw a marshal from each church – a role which would have been done by police officers prior to May 2010. These were augmented by one senior marshal marking part of the route, instead of police. This too was implemented at Dukinfield’s Whit Walks, though with sounder organisation. Given the busier traffic in Stalybridge, what may have worked on Crescent Road doesn’t necessarily work on Acres Lane.

East of the M60 Comment:

The Ridge Hill resident who saw his or her bus service cut back; the Brushes Estate family grappling with benefit sanctions; the Stalyhill pupil unable to study at the Astley Cheetham Library on a Friday; the rest who could just drive away with a ‘to Hell with the rest’ attitude. Among all this, you wonder where the Whit Walks fall into this.

The Procession of Witness unites all classes. It doesn’t enable us to assume differences between the 73 year old on Ambleside or the best off on Mottram Old Road. Like the Carnival, it is a showcase for the town of Stalybridge – again classless, in unity, as One Stalybridge. Some of these people may vote for a living wage, or for fewer councillors and further cuts. No matter where they stand politically, they may well be correct to deem yesterday’s walks as an almighty cock-up.

Yesterday was an object lesson on the self-defeating nature of the cuts imposed on its citizens. Cuts to Greater Manchester Police’s workforce and some front line staff have affected the event’s marshalling. The lack of a Sunday Markets Superintendent meant the omnishambles on Armentieres Square. It would have been easier to move the Farmers’ Market onto the next week – and allow stallholders to sell Father’s Day gifts. Here’s hoping we don’t repeat this blunder on the 09 June 2019 – five years from now!

If the old market ground behind Corporation Street wasn’t built on, the Farmers’ Market and the Whit Walks could have co-existed peacefully. Shopkeepers would have continued to trade as normal. Like yesterday if the Farmers’ Market was switched to next week.

Yesterday, thanks to the cutbacks, we made several young boys do a man’s job. As Ian Brown said on BBC Two when The Stone Roses played Made of Stone was interrupted, ‘Amateurs’.

Let’s hope we can learn from this next year. Seriously.

S.V., 09 June 2014.

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