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Are you sitting comfortably? The tale of Newbury benches



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In Newbury, there are 123 benches.

You sit on them. Drink coffee on them. Meet friends on them. Cold War spies once used them for letter drops. Some of them have a plaque affixed to them, so you are sitting on someone’s memories as well.

Quite often, benches are adopted to remember a relative or friend who has died. Or on occasion, a pet.

Dedication plaque on the replacement bench sorted by Martha Vickers for an elderly resident in memory oif her mother (51636785)
Dedication plaque on the replacement bench sorted by Martha Vickers for an elderly resident in memory oif her mother (51636785)

There is one up on Greenham Common which has a poem on it.

In Victoria Park there is a seat in memory of John Albert Steele Osborne, who was born in 1941.

His family had it dedicated in 2016. At the time, his partner Linda Fordham said: “John and I used to spend a lot of our time sitting in Victoria Park enjoying being together. This is a lovely memorial for a lovely man.”

Martha Vickers is on the town council. She has spent more than 30 years trying to make a difference for the people of the town.

Martha Vickers on the replacement bench at West Mills (51636777)
Martha Vickers on the replacement bench at West Mills (51636777)

She was even the first mayor back in 1997 – and was a health visitor all her professional life, before retiring ten years ago. She modestly accepts that she has probably pricked the heels of most of the babies in town.

She is responsible for making the latest bench happen.

It is a replacement one at West Mills. It joins two others overlooking the canal and it commemorates Elizabeth Lee, 1908-1991 – the mother of an elderly resident, herself in her 90s.

“She is an amazing lady,” said Mrs Vickers (Lib Dem, West Fields). “She lives nearby and this is her route into town. She loves walking along here and seeing people sitting on this bench. And she will talk to people sitting on it. It makes her feel really good.”

As we approached the bench, a couple sat arm in arm watching the ducks on the canal.

Keith and Carole Salmons were on a weekend away from Ashford in Kent.

Keith and Carole Salmons sit down and enjoy the view on a trip to Newbury (51636764)
Keith and Carole Salmons sit down and enjoy the view on a trip to Newbury (51636764)

“We both really enjoy sitting here,” said Mrs Salmons, on her second visit to Newbury. “It is so peaceful and relaxing. But they are usually full – they are very infrequently free to sit on.

“I never walk by here and not find somebody sitting on them. People who have been walking and cycling, or who have popped to town for some shopping and find a nice place to sit down.

“You can doze off. Meditate. Have your lunch. Whatever really. Maybe Covid has made people appreciate being outside more.”

Ben Baggerman, a local financial advisor, and Max Romer slid in to the recently vacated seat left by Mr and Mrs Salmons.

“I just found out recently that my friend here works in the same area, and I haven’t seen him for a couple of years,” said Mr Baggerman.

“So we decided to sit on the bench and have a chat.”

Ben Baggerman and Max Romer meet up after two years (51636755)
Ben Baggerman and Max Romer meet up after two years (51636755)

Mr Romer works in marketing and has his office near the canal.

“I sometimes just come and sit here and think and have some peace and quiet away from the office,” he said.

“I’ve never really considered who puts the benches here really, but I’m glad someone is responsible for it.”

The town council is responsible for the benches – they cost about £2,000 each, once made and set into the concrete.

If a resident contacts the council and asks to sponsor a bench it arranges to meet to see if a space can be found at their preferred location.

The sponsor is asked to pay for the bench and provide the plaque, although the council decides on the design.

The benches, with their invite to sit down after a walk, also throw the state of the town’s paths and pavements into sharp relief.

Something that Mrs Vickers and her fellow town councillors are keen to improve.

“Along the canal here the path gets a little rough, and it’s hard for the older people to use," she said.

“So I’m asking the residents of the elderly people’s home to get together and write a letter to us, so the council officer can use that in their bid to hopefully get it fixed.

“That's the important role of a councillor really. To be an intermediary with these things and try to make things happen.”

A plaque on another bench at West Mills (51636789)
A plaque on another bench at West Mills (51636789)


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