As a born and bred Londoner I am proud of my city. It’s vibrant, full of character (and characters), steeped in history, with a quirky charm. Everyone has their own version of London, like the blind men describing an elephant, we all have the bits of London we know best, our own secret haunts and favourite spots.
But this isn’t a post about grand buildings, iconic bridges, of world-class museums and galleries. This is a story about a drain. Yep. You read that right. A drain.
Anyone who spends a decent amount of time in London takes a bit of London with them when they leave, and together, the mix of people makes this city what it is. People make their mark on this place in all manner of ways – some briefly, and some with more permanent additions to the skyline.
My mark on London, my piece of London pride? It’s a drain near Euston. I like to call it “my drain” because I am convinced I’m the reason it’s there. I made it happen.
During my time working at the Wellcome Trust, I spent many a morning leaping over, or walking round a “mega-puddle” which became a frequent hurdle between Euston tube station and my office. Now don’t get me wrong – I like to add a spring to my step as much as the next person – and a little hop over a puddle can be fun, but this was nearing lake status at times. It was around 15-20 cm in depth at the centre, and the edges spread much further than the crossing’s dropped curb.
Given that this was the key pedestrian route between a mainline station and a large hospital, not to mention the (fab) Wellcome Collection, I was concerned that this poorly angled bit of tarmac effectively made the crossing inaccessible to people in wheelchairs or with buggies on rainy days. Of course, it was also a massive pain on my commute any time it rained for more than five minutes, so I decided to do something about it. I started taking photos, sending them to TfL and the local council on Twitter and on email. Over the course of 18 months I sent various messages with no response. Eventually I struck lucky and got a response to say that they were going to check it. A week later they confirmed that they had checked it, and told me exactly what I’d been telling them, that there was an issue with the camber of the road, causing water to pool at the pedestrian crossing.
Another few months of intermittent contact and promises that they were looking into how to fix it but that it needed to wait for other roadworks. Eventually the time came and – lo-and-behold – they added a drain!
It’s not perfect, there’s still a little puddle that forms, but it is only a tiddler in comparison to the boating lake of old. You can now cross at the correct crossing point come rain or shine. Hooray!
I’m sharing this because it’s so easy to think that we are too small to make any difference, or just hope that someone else will fix things for us, but this (albeit small) thing is proof that if we take a moment, take action, we can make a difference. We can improve things – and not just for ourselves, but for everyone.
As Margaret Mead’s quote reminds us: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.