Closing time: Greenwich Park’s midsummer misery

Greenwich Park, 20 June 2013
There’s something special about Greenwich Park at this time of year, when it’s open beyond 9pm. The usually-packed viewpoint from the General Wolfe statue is peaceful, left to immediate locals and more adventurous tourists. And so it was just after the sun set on Thursday, the shortest night of the year.

Greenwich Park, 20 June 2013
And so it was as the clock approached 9.30pm, official closing time for the park, as a handful of people took photos and took in the smoggy view over the capital.

Greenwich Park, 20 June 2013Then, more or less at 9.30pm on the dot, the security van came along. “The park is closed… please leave the park,” it garbled.

Not satisfied that the tourists, still taking photos, were moving fast enough, the guard then got out to shout at them. It was 9.31pm. Some words were exchanged. There was no need to bellow at people for staying sat on a park bench for 60 seconds behind its official closing time

Now, obviously, the park has to close, but there’s ways of dealing with people and ways of not dealing with people. Readers with long memories will recall the job used to be done by the old Royal Parks Constabulary in a big van with a megaphone. These days, it’s done with a harsh recorded message by a private security van in a hurry – I could hear the van doing its rounds five minutes before the park’s closing time.

“You don’t know how hard this job is,” the security man told me when we met again on my way out of the park. And yes, turfing people out of the park straight after a glorious sunset isn’t going to make you Mr Popular. Ask anyone who’s ever had to get people out of pubs at closing time.

But when you’re dealing with people from around Europe and around the world, barking at them to leave isn’t going to make them feel welcome in this area. Talk to people, for heaven’s sake, engage with them. (Jangle a set of keys, even – tell them you’re locking up, even if it’s only for show.) And re-record that bloody message in the van. How about thanking them for visiting the park? Anything other than a bloke shouting at you to leave.

I’ve always felt that in Greenwich, we’ve always treated tourists badly – happy to take their money but only grudgingly looking after them. But it’s the small things that count. We should be working harder at making sure people leave with a smile, not a scowl – getting closing time in the park right would be a start.

6 comments

  1. Steve

    Similarly, I was padlocking my five year-old son’s bike to the railings outside the Observatory last week and got told that I couldn’t park there as it was against “company policy”. When I politely asked to be directed to their visitor bike racks, the security guard couldn’t tell me where there were any. I know it’s a different set of people but the point is the same as the one you are making – instead of welcoming visitors, the people who work in these places seem to have a mindset of “enforce the rules” rather than “be helpful to people”.

  2. Rational Plan

    Maybe it could be done better, but on the other hand if you are too subtle people will take their own sweet time in leaving or just ignore you.

    An alternative would be post signs that the park closes at a certain time, and just lock the gates, and have the guard come around half an hour later to let any stragglers out.

  3. Alan Burkitt-Gray

    More constructively, as it’s clearly still light (and a lot lighter than it is at closing time in December and January), maybe the Royal Parks could decide to stay open late at midsummer. Even stay open right through the night for one or two nights. What would be the harm in that?

  4. Darren

    Probably worth remembering that the security guards (or at least some of them) cant go home until those tourists and keen locals actually leave. I work in a job with unpredictable end times and it can be very frustrating, especially if your pay ends regardless of whether the work for the day has.

  5. Joe

    To be fair, I’ve worked in places where you need to ask people to leave at the end of the evening and you don’t get paid any extra if they take their sweet time, so I sympathise with the security guy. Of course being polite is still the best way, but I can understand how at the end of the night he might have got a bit impatient, he’s only human! As you say, jangling keys or something like that would probably be a good idea. Not sure about the idea of leaving the Park open all night for some nights in the summer – nice thought in a perfect world, but in reality it’ll just be full of Stella cans and broken glass the next day.

  6. mt

    I was leaving the park today with my children, I was at the play area when I heard the notice the man in the van then stoped and I was told harshly leave! I was told to go to the main entrance of the park. I pack up my picnic gathered my children and began to leave the park. ( I suffer from a number of medical conditions in my back mainly including sciatica which makes it difficult to stand up and to walk so I walk a little slow due to pain which i explained to all the spoke with me.) the man shouted at me half way out of park as I was making my way and said he was calling the park police who arrived just as I was near the exit point. They cared not for my difficulties took my details and said i now maybe taken to court and fined £250 the said its against the law to leave the park after 9.00pm on the dot and all people are treated in the same manner as I was today. which I know for a fact is a lie as I have lived 10 minutes from the park for 20 years now and have never seen this practise. i have been trying to find park regulations on this issue however i have come up short on this issue if anyone knows what i can do regarding my warning or fine please inform me. I am shocked and upset by my experience.