Consultation needed over leisure centre name

Sometimes a news item arises that I know we need to comment on, even though it’s delicate and might upset people.

As a local paper, we have a voice in the local community, and sometimes that means raising sensitive issues.

This time it’s the renaming of the revamped Congleton Leisure Centre in honour of the late Peter Mason, a topic that needs discussion for a number of reasons. Not least because Cheshire East Council appears to have arbitrarily decided that it’s going to happen. No consultation with the public about what a much used public building should be called is being proposed.

I should first say that the whole idea of naming buildings after people, at least locally, is not something I buy into. Generations of politicians have felt the same, too — we have no major named public buildings that I can think of (though Congleton has Carter House).

From experience, all journalists will tell you that there are (roughly) two types of people in public service: those in it for self-promotion and those (the larger group by far) in it because they believe public service is important. They’re not doing it for self-aggrandisement.

The first lot shouldn’t have anything named after them, the second group don’t need it. Peter was one of the latter group, a committee man who did many years’ sterling service for local government, because he wanted to, and because he enjoyed it.

It’s true I recently had a spat with Peter but anyone who says these comments are motivated by that is reflecting their own pettiness, not mine: for 20 years prior to that I knew of Peter as a hardworking local councillor and Conservative Party stalwart.

And it’s for the latter reason that I suspect Cheshire East wants to name Congleton Leisure Centre after him — not because he was a keen participant in sport or the politics of sporting provision but because he was a Tory grandee. It’s a political party rewarding its own.

Before anyone jumps in, I’d be saying the same if it was proposed to be the Margaret Williamson Leisure Centre, though admittedly, it’s hard to raise the same objection against the Margaret Williamson Memorial Garden, which I suspect will soon come into being.

There’s also the fact that if I think of Margaret, I remember a dotty lady driving her car erratically with a fag in her hand; a chain smoker is not the right person to be naming a leisure centre after. Similarly, if I think of Peter, my first mental image is of an amiable cove propping up the bar in the Moss Inn.

***

Deciding whether to even raise this subject, I took to Facebook and asked what people thought.

Despite Coun David Brown, Cheshire East’s deputy leader saying that “it goes without saying” that everybody in Congleton was very supportive of the idea, most people had never heard of Peter and practically everyone thought Congleton Leisure Centre should remain just that.

After all, that’s what everyone is going to call it anyway (just as we still have Raphs and Woolies Wall).

A typical comment was: “If there has to be a name, at least make it one that a majority of Congletonians will recognise. I can’t speak as to Mr Mason’s work as a councillor but I had no idea who he was until you explained.”

Another person commented: “I’m sure he was a decent man but it’s inappropriate to suggest that a publicly owned building is named in his honour. There are families in the town who have given generously and provided plentiful employment to the people of Congleton: the Sebires, Bossons and Hankinsons to name a few.”

One person pointed out that four notable former councillors/Mayors have died recently — David Martin, Margaret Williamson, Arthur Smart and Eric Gill — and all contributed a great deal to Congleton. Arthur was Town Mayor three times and borough Mayor once.

Readers suggested several living people, pointing out that we had a former captain of the British Olympic team in Robbie Brightwell as well as Daniel Sturridge, the England, Liverpool and Chelsea player, himself a former Olympian.

But as I say, most people agreed with my sentiment, that it should remain as Congleton Leisure Centre.

***

Happily, several people suggested a solution that gets round the problem completely: call the revamped centre Congleton Leisure Centre but place a large plaque recording Peter’s contribution to the town in the foyer.

The revamped building could be opened by his widow and family members, and the plaque unveiled. No-one could have any problems with that.

An even better solution would be for Cheshire East Council to actually consult the town before deciding who we get our public buildings named after.

The Government is keen on localism and council leader Michael Jones is always saying how important consultation is to him, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

We’d be quite happy to run a voting form in the Chronicle and on our social media pages (which currently have 10,000 followers), so public opinion could be thoroughly canvassed.

How about it Cheshire East? The current leisure centre has served us well for decades, so whatever name we give the revamped centre, it’s going to be with us for a long time to come.

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