Open Benches — more than just a data-collection exercise

Alan Turing Memorial Plaque (photo credit: me!)

I’ve watched Terence and Elizabeth Eden’s openbenches.org develop over the past few weeks (and done some testing..!). OpenBenches is a site for capturing information about memorial benches — ‘A quiet reminder of the people gone but not forgotten’.

Up to now — there were no benches recorded for Manchester. Today, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and nipped out at lunchtime to see if I could get one to add to the site. What I thought was going to be a quick snap turned into a surprise moment of reflection.

Manchester’s Gay Village (photo credit: http://www.unlockmanchester.com/quarters/the-gay-village---canal-st)

In Manchester, we have a fabulous gay village — a collection of clubs, bars, restaurants and saunas around the famous Canal Street — a couple of hundred metres west of Piccadilly train station. Sackville Gardens is a park on the edge of the Village, where a memorial bench / sculpture of Alan Turing was unveiled in 2001. Alan Turing the codebreaker, mathematician, logician, and father of computer science, who sadly committed suicide 2 years after being convicted of gross indecency (actually homosexuality). This would be a great addition to the site — a memorial for a true hero/martyr from the past.

Alan Turing Memorial (photo credit: me!)

So, I decided to powerwalk from the Northern Quarter to Sackville Gardens at lunchtime, to get a couple of photos so I could add them to OpenBenches. When I got there, there were around 10 benches in the park (as well as Alan Turing’s memorial), 3 of which had plaques on. I got the photos of Alan Turing’s plaque, the bench, and even a 360 panoramic shot. And then I decided to get photos of the other plaques in the park to add them as well.

I’ve seen plaques on benches for as long as I can remember, and I’ve read them. But I don’t think I’ve ever really *looked* at them. Documenting (!) the benches meant that I paid extra attention, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that I connected with the people mentioned on the plaques, the process of photographing and then typing up the inscriptions made me think a bit more about the people mentioned.

My overriding thought was that each of them died when they were younger than I am now. This is pretty sobering. I stuck around for a bit, but there was an odd photoshoot going on in the park, and I had to get back for lunch, so I left.

One odd-photoshoot subject in the park (photo credit: me!)

As I powered back through the Village to my office, I was caught up thinking about these people — whether they were frequently at the Village, whether they might have been there when I used to go out there in the early 2000’s, and what were the circumstances of their premature deaths.

Maybe it’s just me that hasn’t paid attention to these things in the past — but these people’s loved ones have deliberately created these plaques as a way to remember them. Doing this exercise has made me think about these people, and the lives they may have led. Which I suppose is the point of memorial plaques / benches.

This has maybe been a weird, rambling post, but I guess what I’m trying to say is get out and find some of these benches. It’s not just about contributing to a great opendata set, but it’s an opportunity to actively think about the people that these benches are dedicated to, rather than just passively sitting on them.

So here’s to OpenBenches, and the fact that it’s given me cause to actively think about other people.

Here’s to Alan Turing, genius, treated shamefully by this country.

And here’s to Kevin, Rowan and Matty, remembered in Sackville Gardens, and now on OpenBenches.

See the OpenBenches pages for Alan, Kevin, Rowan, and Matty by clicking the links.