A fo­cal point for the thirsty?

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - SPEAKER’S CORNER / ROTARY CORNER - Barry Warne of Peter­bor­ough Green Party.

Many of us will re­mem­ber the days be­fore plas­tic be­came the scourge it is to­day. Neigh­bour­hoods were not lit­tered with dis­carded plas­tic bot­tles. To­day, it is thought one mil­lion plas­tic bot­tles of water are bought ev­ery minute around the globe.

Fifty years ago, thirsty Peter­bo­ri­ans wouldn’t have been able to reach for a plas­tic water bot­tle to quench their thirst. Nor would they have needed to. In­stead we would hap­pily have taken a drink from one of the city’s pub­lic drink­ing foun­tains.

Pub­lic drink­ing foun­tains fell out of fash­ion when plas­tic came along, but it seems they may be about to en­joy a re­nais­sance. This year, 20 new pub­lic water foun­tains have been un­veiled in Lon- don.

They have proved so pop­u­lar that plans are afoot to in­stall a fur­ther hun­dred or so. The need to re­duce plas­tic waste has led many coun­cils to give se­ri­ous thought to how they sup­ply pub­lic drink­ing water.

Drink­ing foun­tains date back to Ro­man times when they were con­sid­ered a civic sta­tus sym­bol, and a sign of a thriv­ing town. Lon­don’s first water drink­ing foun­tain was built on Hol­born Viaduct in 1859 and re­mains in situ to this day. At its peak it was used by 7,000 peo­ple daily. Built by the Metropoli­tan Drink­ing Foun­tain and Cat­tle Trough As­so­ci­a­tion, it was to be: “The only agency for pro­vid­ing free sup­plies of water for man and beast in the streets of Lon­don.”

Soon drink­ing foun­tains ap­peared in other towns and cities, pop­ping up out­side pubs to dis­cour­age the drink­ing of al­co­hol as a thirstquencher, or in church­yards as a demon­stra­tion that the church wanted to help the poor.

Peter­bor­ough has never been a city to lag be­hind. In 1874, the Gates Memo­rial was un­veiled in what is now Cathe­dral Square. It was built to com­mem­o­rate Henry Pear­son Gates, the first Mayor of Peter­bor­ough. Like many pub­lic foun­tains it was won­der­fully or­nate, a re­splen­dent statue in­cor­po­rat­ing sev­eral spouts. It can still be seen in Bishop’s Road Gar­dens where it has been lo­cated since 1967.

Over the past 40 years, pub­lic drink­ing foun­tains have largely dis­ap­peared thanks to the mar­ket­ing of bot­tled water and lack of in­vest­ment by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. There have also in­evitably been con­cerns about risks to pub­lic health, although im­proved de­sign has made foun­tains safer to drink from, the main source of con­tam­i­na­tion be­ing from the knobs and but­tons on foun­tains rather than from the spouts them­selves.

In 2010, foun­tains re­turned to Cathe­dral Square in the form of or­na­men­tal jets that rise up from the ground, a project that cost the city coun­cil £6mil­lion – and you can’t even drink from them!

The ben­e­fits of ac­cess to free, clean water in city cen­tres are enor­mous. Chil­dren can have water in­stead of sug­ary drinks, older peo­ple can avoid de­hy­dra­tion, run­ners and cy­clists can re­hy­drate with­out hav­ing to carry plas­tic bot­tles, and foun­tains can have lower out­lets for chil­dren and wheel­chair users.

Just imag­ine: Cathe­dral Square could be­come a fo­cal point for the thirsty once more.

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