15 April 2017

Planning for Sundials

My recent blog about proposals for two sundials in Aldridge Village caused a little controversy.  This is good. My aim was to draw attention to the project because so few people in Aldridge were aware of what might happen. That aim has been fulfilled with the post becoming my most viewed ever.

I am pleased to let everyone know that there is good news with regard to democracy and accountability. I have been in correspondence with Councillor Tim Wilson and he informs me that Mr Cooke has been informed that a planning application will be required for any proposed sundials. This means that should any applications be made, then everyone who wishes to make a comment either for or against the proposals, will be able to do so.

Good news indeed.

Other issues have been raised through research into this subject and I shall revisit them with you all. We all need to participate in local decision making if we want what is best for our local community.

Thank you to everyone who supported me through the less than savoury aspects of attempting to ensure that accountability and democracy are promoted.

31 March 2017

Sundials and Democracy

First two warnings. There are people who will be upset by the contents of this blog. No personal offence is intended however, when the local democratic process and possibly planning laws are being circumvented then someone needs to speak out. A debate is needed. People need to be informed about decisions that are being made behind their back by a small number of people who belong to several local groups, in my words a cabal, about a much loved local green space and then to be allowed their say. Secondly, this is dry, very dry. Sit down with a drink whilst reading!

We can all agree that The Rotary Club of Aldridge working with Aldridge Croft Community Group, Aldridge Village Partnership and Walsall Council have brought about some lovely improvements to the environment of our 'village' centre. The Peace Garden by the Elms Island, the lovely improvements made to the Croft a couple of years ago and the Ellie (Simmonds) Sculpture have enhanced the village. The Aldridge Volunteer  Gardeners are out there in all weathers creating beautiful floral displays through the village and I cannot applaud them enough. They have brought honours in the forms of various awards over the last few years and long may they continue.

Alas, a proposal brought forward by the Rotary Club working with Aldridge Croft Community Group to install two sundials on what they call 'the crofts' (there is only one croft but the grass adjacent to the war memorial outside the church is being referred to as the 'little croft' by them, not a name that may be familiar to many) is probably not something you may not have heard about, let alone been able to express a view about and I believe, brings into disrepute the local democratic process. There appears to be a local cabal that is involved with all the local groups in Aldridge, that feel they are empowered to make decisions that affect the wider community and the village environment without reference to the community at large. Their intentions may be for the local good but the avoidance of true consultation and the democratic process means their intentions are meaningless.

The story begins nearly two years ago now. A proposal for the sundials project was put to a meeting of Aldridge Village Partnership by The Rotary Club. This proposal was never put to the vote but apparently was 'widely approved'. I take issue with this. How can something be widely approved if it hasn't been voted upon and has not been brought to the attention of the general population of Aldridge? The correct way for discussing changes to common and public areas of our village and in particular the Conservation Area around The Croft is to put it out to WIDE consultation through various methods including VISIBLE displays within the shopping centre, a display in the local library of several weeks and wide advertising of those events through local newspapers and social media. This is not an all encompassing list because there are other ways to consult with the people who live in Aldridge but you get the general idea.

Without wide consultation at any level and without discussion with the people of Aldridge about how money of the magnitude granted could be used to better the environment say for our young people, an application was made to the Tesco Bags of Help community grant scheme (this is where  your 5 pence for plastic carrier bags goes to) by the Aldridge Croft Community Group and they were granted £10,000, yes ten thousand pounds, for a proposed project for which no consultation had been carried out!

This is where the steam rollering begins in earnest. A small stall was set out in the shopping centre one Saturday last month to 'consult'. It must have been small and hidden because I went into the Village that grey and rainy day specifically to make my opinions known. I didn't see it. Following that there was a few weeks of non-publicised 'consultation' in the library where people were invited to make comments about the scheme. I am told the majority of comments were against the project however there is no proof either way because the evidence remains the property of one person.

So what is this project? Here's a leaflet:
Their plans seem to be changing and it is now believed that the first sundial will be located adjacent to the Children's Playground on The Croft and will be in situ by June this year. The information about that in their own words is as follows:

It is proposed that the Sundial be located to the side of the existing pathway that connects the Children’s Play Area to Little Aston Rd. This is in an area where some very old and diseased trees were removed and where the feature Tree Sculptures have been added.

We will use pavers, together with local red clay brick for the special features. These will include a selection of brickwork imprinted with verse, dates of significant conflicts and two sculpted brickwork features, set in the ground.

A white Peace Post will display words of Remembrance.

Single-leg information Lecterns will include Remembrance Poetry from local schools, information on the purpose of the sundial and acknowledgement of the sponsors.
The Peace Post and the Lecterns will be the only features that will be above ground level."

By June 2017? What has happened to Planning Permission? Surely changes to be made to what is a Common within a Conservation Area should be subject to planning permission? When a direct question about planning permission was asked at a recent Aldridge Village Partnership meeting of Bob Cooke, who is the sundial project coordinator, replied that no planning permission is needed. Really? The local planning department when asked the same question by at least two different people, replied that planning permission was most definitely needed.

So you may ask, why is planning permission so important. Under circumstances such as this where a scheme has been dreamed up, funding obtained and plans put in place for implementation with only lip service paid towards any consultation and discussion as to whether an enormous sum from a community charity should be used for such a scheme, it is the only avenue open for the general public to actually view the plans, consider the plans, to ask questions and to consider do we really need and want this. Apparently if anyone does have any questions, comments etc then they can contact Bob Cooke. Who is Bob Cooke I ask myself and how is he accountable to the local community. Point is he isn't. At least if a planning application is made and considered our local councillors and the planning committee can take into account the views of their constituents and be held accountable at the ballot box for any decisions made.

If you lead people to believe that the powers that be have already been consulted and that permission has been granted then just like in the George Orwell novel 1984, it becomes the truth. A search on the council web site for any such planning applications produces a big fat zero. That is the truth.

Do we need two sundials? They are apparently inspired by the analemmatic sundial located at The National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas. Aldridge is not Alrewas, nor a destination for those who wish to remember. It remembers its own in its own way. Aldridge already has a beautiful war memorial adjacent to the Parish Church, that is cherished by the local community and is the scene every year of an extremely well attended memorial service by both young and old. The young in particular are conspicuous in their presence because there are so many of them from various different groups. The local schools in the area have always held events for their students to inform of the role of local men in world wide conflict, I know because I have two children that have gone through the education system in Aldridge at different schools. Even Year One pupils are led to the memorial each year to begin the process of learning to pay your respects for those who have walked before them.

Alas the local services held each year may possibly be under threat but the memorial will still be there inscribed with the names of those young people from Aldridge who served and died. Many do not keep their visits to just a November Sunday. I go regularly as I do to the Commonwealth War Graves in the cemetery. I am not the only one and groups of school children can often be seen with their teachers taking something new from their surroundings. History projects abound, researching individual names on the memorial, the children learning that these young people had families who loved them just as they do.

I show you my card here. I personally see no need for sundials around the village centre. The children and young people of our community already learn and are educated about remembrance. They don't need something else to prompt them such as plastic poppies, bricks and posts. The older people don't need them either. There are benches there right by the memorial where weary legs can be rested and thoughts allowed to formulate. I don't need to see the grass right behind the memorial scarred by an unnecessary and totally inappropriate sundial. The clean run of grass gives a perfect setting to see the memorial in all its glory. Placing obstacles before it will merely obscure the present majesty.

Furthermore I do not wish more of the green space of the Croft, our village common, taken up by something that is so unnecessary. Let us spend that money obtained under what I believe are false pretences because there was no consultation with local people prior to asking for the money for a proposed project, on something that the young people of Aldridge really need. Consultation really should be carried out before a project seeks funding and not afterwards or even at all!

Let us close the gate on the local cabal horse race that gallops rapidly on making decisions about the future of the village with no meaningful consultation and a complete disregard for democracy. Let us also insist that no work is started on any project until it has been properly debated and discussed at all levels. Let the voices of Aldridge be heard. You don't have to agree with my point of view about the sundials. I just want everyone to be allowed their say.

14 November 2016

Village People

My (already) well thumbed copy!
 I was very happy last Wednesday to attend the launch of a new book about Aldridge at Aldridge Library. The book "Our Village" is written by Sue Satterthwaite and Len Boulton.

As you may know both Sue and Len are the stalwarts and leaders of the Aldridge Great War Project. The ultimate aim of the project is to create a permanent historical record of people from Aldridge who served in World War I and they and other volunteers are busy  tracing and recording everyone they can. It is hoped that a hardback book will be published detailing all the information but this is an expensive project, especially if the cover price of the hardback is to be kept at an affordable price.

"Our Village" has been published with the hope that valuable funds will be raised for the project, so get your purses out! The book is available from Aldridge Library, Simply Delicious, Croft News, Covent Garden, Lynda's Pets and Plants and The Thomas Project. It will also be available in Walsall at The Local History Centre and Waterstones. Price is 5.99 and it's value for money! I have read the book from cover to cover, examined the maps and enjoyed the photographs. There are some lovely stories and memories and some rather tantalising trivia. As usual when Sue is involved with a book, it is well written, well researched and interesting, written in a way that appeals to everyone. This will make a lovely Christmas present.

If you now live far away from Aldridge and would like a copy then get in touch with Sue and Len at  aldridgegwp@outlook.com  and they can arrange for a copy to be posted to you. Postage will be about 2.00.

If you know of anyone who served or lived in Aldridge during the Great War do contact the project on the above email address. Sue and Len would be very happy to hear from you.

17 June 2016

An Aldridge Echo - secrets of my childhood

As you walk over the railway bridge on Dumblederry Lane towards where the BRD once stood, you may notice on the right hand side, a small gap between the bridge and the shrubs that line the road. Two, now rusty, dilapidated and downright dangerous iron bars preventing motorcycles from gaining access, stand at the top of a steep embankment. If you check out an OS map there is clearly a footpath right of way down there. When I was a child that embankment was the entrance to a mythical land, a land of enchantment and fairy tales and also of very scary monsters.

Of course, back then the embankment had not been worn away from years of use, it was a gentle little run for small legs to the bottom, nor had fly tippers dumped their unwanted rubbish encouraging rats to set up home in desirable sofa's with a ready made food source from rotting rubbish in their garden. There was just the footpath leading through the long grass and alongside the forbidden world of The Swamps where gruesome creatures could rise up from the black depths, so keep to the right and keep walking. Following the path through the forest that was there in my head would lead to a gravel pathway, which ran alongside the railway line and then past the old mortuary, where one had to be careful of the ghosts for they would reach out in even in daylight to take possession of a young child and there at the end was a gap in a fence where a gate had once been, and Anchor Road and the railway bridge were there.

Everyone I knew on the Redhouse called that fairytale playground 'Echo'. I do not why and I do not know how the name came about because it was not a place an echo could be heard, not unless it was echoes of the past and of those long gone, who knew the area as a very different place.

My siblings and I were born within four years of one another, which may explain why I never remember being pushed anywhere as I was the eldest. My sister lay or sat, in the enormous pram, the sort now associated with Norland Nannies, then she was ejected following the birth of our brother from that comfort to sit on a tiny seat on top of the pram, just behind the handlebar and I walked. There had been no little seat for me! Every day my Mother would take us from Bonner Grove, via the 'big garages' (so called to distinguish them from the 'little' garages - the garages were all the same size, it was the number of them that determined the description) turn right into Dumblederry Lane, left onto Station Road and then the long slog down to Anchor Bridge and then on to the village. The one bright spot of this interminable walk was stopping by the station to watch the steam trains stop at the station. I loved watching them refill their tanks with water from the enormous water tank right by Anchor Bridge. Often there were people I knew standing on the platforms waiting for a train to either Walsall or Sutton Coldfield and I would shout and wave to them much to my Mother's consternation. The station closed on 18th January 1965, three months before my third birthday and yet these memories are vivid to me and full of colour and steam and a thirsty mouth and tired legs.

Photograph taken by D J Norton of Birmingham.The bridge in the background is Dumblederry. Echo would grow to the right of the bridge
After the station closed and the line became goods trains only, the buildings associated with the station were demolished as were the sidings and the sheds. The old line that once branched off and ran over Middlemore Lane and had once serviced the collieries in the northern part of Aldridge and Walsall Wood, was taken up and the bridge over Middlemore Lane was dismantled. Nature slowly started to reclaim the area. The 'Swamps' were already established, their blackness a  reminder of Speedwell Mine that had closed around 1880 although the venting apparatus and an opening to the shafts can still be seen on the site of what was Greenhams. Gradually the whole area became a green corridor from the Redhouse to the Village and a playground for a generation of children.

By 1970 'Echo' was established and my mythical land took root inside my head. There were imaginary games to be enacted down there where we would be chased by monsters rising from the Swamp, hiding behind the old spoil heaps now overgrown with grass and shrubs, making our way through the enchanted forest (in truth small willows and silver birches) and never ever entering the old mortuary for we knew that only death dwelt there.

Echo was also a place of natural discovery. I caught my first tadpoles there, saw my first field mice and newts there and wonder of wonders watched the first kestrel I had ever seen. I pulled apart horsetails and then put them back together again, collected wild flowers and grasses and then decorated the garden shed at home with them. As I got older explorations Dr Livingstone style would take place into the darkest depths of the swamp, wellies smuggled out of the house so that mom wouldn't know what we were intending to do but all we ever found were the secret dens the boys didn't want the girls to find and further on, the railway line. We never sank into the old underground mines as we warned would happen if we carried out such follies. We just got very wet and extremely dirty and then had trouble explaining to parents how this had happened if we had only been playing around 'the block' of Bonner Grove.
The Swamp

The one thing about Echo that made a difference to my life in terms of time, was that if you walked swiftly along Echo you could be in the village well inside ten minutes instead of what seemed like years if you walked along Station Road. That walk would have saved my tiny legs miles when I was not even of school age but alas it's birth came later. To have walked there then would have proven impossible unless dodging trains was something your Mother enjoyed doing! When I was 21 I moved back into my parents home for a few months whilst I was working in Birmingham. The 357/8 bus stop by McKechnies was closest for me but many a morning I would walk over Dumblederry Bridge only to see the bus rising over the canal bridge just before the bus stop. I discovered that if I ran like the wind down Echo I could beat the bus to the stop by Portland Road. Only one morning did I come a cropper when unbeknown to me someone had been working heavy machinery at the part of Echo that is directly at the back of Greenhams. I ran in the dark until I hit the mud and lost my shoes. Not recommended. The Swamp monster nearly got me that morning!

Echo is still there, just follow the pathway through Westfield Drive, head across the wilder part of Anchor Meadow, taking time to glimpse at the real forest now growing on what was the railway embankment leading to Middlemore Lane diagonally to your right and you will see a gap in the shrubs and trees. There you will discover the Swamps. Don't try getting down from Dumblederry Lane unless you are young and nimble. I am neither!


16 June 2016

Aldridge Remembers the Great War - A Whistle Blow

I have written many times about the wonderful work that The Aldridge Great War Project has and continues to do, to commemorate the contributions made by the people of Aldridge, men and women, to the First World War 1914 -1918. Sue Satterthwaite has managed the project and the volunteers with amazing results.

I have also written about my own personal journey in researching my own family members who were involved in the war. For me, remembering World War I is deeply personal but then it is for so very many people as there is scarcely a family in the land, who do not have a connection to someone who fought and perhaps died in that war.

Photograph courtesy of The Aldridge Great War Project
On 1st July 2016 it will be 100 years to the day that the Battle of the Somme began. A devastating battle that raged for 141 days claiming the lives of 420,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers, 200,000 French soldiers and 500,000 Germans. 

Aldridge will remember the anniversary of the commencement of battle in two ways.

Firstly at 7.15 am on Friday 1st July at The Aldridge War Memorial, there will be an act of remembrance followed by the blowing of trench whistles at 7.30am, the time the battle started and then two minutes silence. I sincerely hope that Aldridge will turn out at this early hour for this. 

A little later in the morning at Aldridge Library at 10.30 am, there will be a talk and powerpoint presentation from The Aldridge Great War Project featuring 'Voices from the Past'  read by pupils of Aldridge School. The presentation will use words, archive film, images and music to remember those who died, those who survived, the effect on the military convalescent hospital at the Manor House and the day the whole village came together to watch Geoffrey Malins' film of the battle. Original items will be on display. The event is free but booking is essential either by calling 01922 655569 or emailing  aldridgelibrary@walsall.gov.uk . Refreshments will be provided.

Again I sincerely hope that this event will be fully booked. I am only sorry that I cannot make either event due to prior commitments.

23 May 2016

The Birmingham Book Burnings

Birmingham is rightly proud of its new library. Opinion on its design is divided but I like it. The library opened on 3rd September 2013 and people come from far and wide to see it and use it. It has become an award winning visitor attraction in a city that is full of wonders,  and is, these days, proud of itself and so it should be. 

Not only is the library there for lending purposes but it also houses an amazing reference library and the city archives, both jewels for those who study and research academically and for those like me, who research their own interests there and also for family historians.

Not long after the library opened cutbacks were announced, opening hours were reduced from 73 to 40 hours per week and the staff of 188 was cut more or less in half. The cuts are hardly the fault of Birmingham City Council who have a massively reducing budget to juggle and were mildly embarrassed to say the least that their brand new beautiful library was to suffer so publicly but can be laid firmly at the door of the austerity politics of our government.

It seems though that the library has now been left in a perilous position and due to the cuts in staff numbers the City of Birmingham is in danger of valuable reference books being disposed of, in the dark with nobody watching to witness the secret bonfire of profanity.

I am a member of a wonderful Facebook Group called Birmingham History Group. If you want to know anything about Birmingham, it's history, and it's people, it is a one stop shop, especially for the amazing photographs. My attention was drawn to a post by Jan Ross made today. It said:

"As some of you will have read I have been searching for a set of books, in the new reference library that I used to access in the old Birmingham Library. They were not in the catalogue. After writing and emailing and actually visiting the library, I was informed that they had been "dumped" in a skip in accordance with Birmingham Council Criteria. 
I pursued this, and eventually the books were found. 
The facts apparently are that a large number of historical books could not be placed in the library due to the vastly reduced amount of shelf space. 
Those historical books are not catalogued and are in the basement of the library. The library has no librarians available to catalogue them and the hope is that they will be forgotten and then thrown out. 
This will be an enormous loss to the people of Birmingham and beyond.
I ask that each and every person write or email Birmingham Library and c.c. Birmingham Council to save these books. 
Don't let them go in a skip!"

There has been quite a discussion about this and Jan has since added:

"The problem is achieving communication of the problem. It needs to be highlighted. All media likes to show off the new building but what is the point of having a fantastic new building if massive amounts of historic books are lost"
"The Man in Charge did not want to acknowledge the books were even there. He told me they had been put in a skip and gone. 
This applies to many historical books. We can't ask for the books to be fetched as we don't know which books are there, we don't know how many there are. They are not in catalogue. It's appalling and the people of Birmingham need and should do something about it.
I have written a letter of complaint and I'm asking every other person to do the same.
Thank you"

All of the above is reproduced with Jan's very kind permission and also that of the Group Administrators. 

So OK, I exaggerated, Birmingham Library is not burning its books just yet but disposing of them,  without giving people the opportunity to volunteer to catalogue them or perhaps offer them to other libraries for safe keeping, is akin in my opinion, to book burning.

If you live in Birmingham I urge you to contact your local councillor and ask them to look into this. Everyone who has a connection with Birmingham whether you live there now or not, should email Birmingham Library and ask that this problem be dealt with by not disposing of the uncatalogued books that are currently stored in the basement. They and their value is not forgotten.

The library email address is  enquiries@libraryofbirmingham.com

Local councillors can be found here http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/members

From the group discussion it seems that there is an army of volunteers out there who would be more than happy to help with this problem.

19 March 2016

Regret, grief and care

Five years ago this very night my Mother spent her last night at home. The next morning she was taken to hospital with breathing difficulties and died there just fourteen hours later.

The GP had earlier in the week diagnosed a chest infection when reluctantly attending her at home. She said she didn't want to go to hospital and he didn't insist. A few days later she could not resist. Hospital treatment had become a necessity.

Mom was so very poorly. She barely ate during her last week of life, nor barely moved. I did my best trying to make her comfortable but it was not enough. She must have been in agony what with all her existing difficulties and with what we discovered afterwards to be multi organ failure. Slowly throughout the week her vital organs all began to shut down one by one.

When I left the ICU late on Sunday evening with my Dad and Brother I knew I had said my last goodbye to her. I would dearly have loved to stay but as a single parent of two, one only eleven years old, I could not. Regrets.

Mom had been ill for eight years and although I tried on many occasions, she would not let me fight for her; for better care, better pain relief, better everything. She insisted that all was fine. It was never fine and I always felt so helpless and now I feel that I let her down. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing.

Dad wouldn't let me fight after Mom had died and there was an inquest. The Coroner did adjourn to ask more questions of those who were supposed to have cared for her in a medical sense but when it came to the second hearing Dad wanted peace and he wanted closure and so I let it all go for his sake.

The frustration and regret I have is difficult to live with but I do as you do.

My daughter suffered an accident nearly five months ago now and remains seriously affected by that event. If anyone wants to know why I fight so hard for her to get the treatment and consideration she needs and deserves, they only have to look to my past experiences plus the love a Mother has for her child. I let Mom down. I will not let my daughter down.

Don't judge me. You haven't walked in my shoes and I judge myself far more harshly than you ever could. I cannot change the past but I have learned from it.