2 March 2018

Donating: a few links

People are generous. No doubt about it. I help admin a few groups on Facebook and it is amazing to see how many times people ask where they can take donations of various items. I thought it might be helpful to put a page together with a few links and a little information. The information and the links are not intended to be comprehensive and I apologise for any omissions. I do not intend a slight to any organisation or charity. If you are reading this and feel you should be included too please post full details as a comment and I will update this post. Thank you.

To anyone who wants a home for their donations just click on the links!

Food and more.....
The foodbanks are always looking for donations. A go to page is The Black Country Foodbank. They have over 20 locations and there are three in Walsall and one in Aldridge. Current shortages can be found HERE and a full list of items that they would like to receive as donations HERE. Please note that they do accept a wide range of non-food donations. Just click the link for more information.
For Aldridge people THE THOMAS PROJECT is part of the Black Country Foodbank and donations can be taken directly to them.

The Thomas Project as well as accepting food donations also take donations of adults clothing, children's clothing and school uniform. Their Facebook page gives full details of their opening times.

The Glebe Centre in Walsall is part of the Black Country YMCA Group. The Glebe Centre is a multifunctional hub from where a variety of services are delivered that serve vulnerable adults in Walsall. They cater to help with homelessness, mental health problems, drugs and alcohol addictions and problems and also unemployment. They also accept donations of food including fresh in date food. The Glebe are also always grateful to receive donations of small sized adult clothing, toiletries, female sanitary products and also money! Oh and don't forget any unwanted make up. Their Facebook page can be found HERE.

Connected to The Glebe Centre in terms of raising cold hard cash for them is Hands to the Homeless a Facebook Group. They also accept donations that go to help any people in need in the area. They will take donations of furniture. It's always best to contact one of the Admins first to arrange delivery especially for large items. It also gives them chance to arrange a suitable home for larger donations.

Perhaps you fancy donating a pizza or fish and chip supper to some youngsters that have found themselves homeless and are now living in supported accommodation? If so, then the YMCA Sutton Coldfield is the place to go.

Toy donation can be a bit of a problem now due to health and safety concerns, which is understandable. Your best bet is to donate toys and games to one of your local charity shops.

The Pathway Project in Lichfield provide invaluable services meeting the needs of adult, young people and children affected by domestic abuse. They take a vast array of different types of donations, a list of which can be found HERE. Their Facebook Page is here.

Finally, as I write this there is a blizzard raging outside and temperatures have been sub zero for a week. Many people are having to make decisions as to whether to eat or heat. Some people are homeless. Donations to the foodbanks and homeless charities will be most welcome at this time. Here are few details of people who help people week in week out and are successful because of their volunteers.

Walsall Night Shelter is now open for another month. Donations for them can be made through The Glebe Centre. 
As -Suffa Outreach provide assistance to the vulnerable irrespective  of race or religion. They provide hot meals week in week out to those who need them. Their Facebook page is HERE where you can find details of how to donate and they also have an Amazon Wishlist.
Walsall BME Welfare & Advice Centre (WBWAC) provides a dedicated service to individuals from disadvantaged communities which include Black Minority Ethnic groups, new migrants, homeless and vulnerable individuals living in Walsall and surroundings. They run a community kitchen for the homeless and those in need. Their Facebook page is HERE

I hope this proves useful to anyone looking for somewhere to donate items. My only plea is please make sure your donations are in a good usable condition and are clean. Thank you

1 March 2018

Labouring at The Manor House

It's been a while since I last blogged about Aldridge Manor House but last night I noticed something in Walsall Council's planned and now agreed capital expenditure programme for 2018/19 that fair blew my breath away!

As many of you know following the closure of the much loved youth club, the Manor lay empty for a little while and is currently occupied by residential tenants keeping it safe from vandalism.

It appears however that Labour led Walsall Council has some big plans for the Manor and the land that surrounds it and are to make a whopping investment in the building and therefore Aldridge.

The detail I happened upon lies on pages 7, 54 and 74 in this LINK. Basically in the budget passed by full council last night, £4,766,000 has been earmarked for capital expenditure during 2018/19 and a further £83,000 in 2019/20 for "Aldridge Manor House – development into a commercial opportunity for the Council to fund and own, and one that will create a rental income stream for the Council in addition to the generation of business rates and council tax". This will be funded by the Council borrowing £4.77 million in 2018/19 and £0.08 million in 2019/20.

The figures are mind boggling and so I attempted to gain some clarification on Facebook last night. Unfortunately, fine details of the proposal are commercially sensitive however, Councillor Lee Jeavons, Portfolio Holder for  Regeneration did kindly answer my queries and he had this to say:

"The development is a mixed use development which would be a great addition to Aldridge. There will hopefully be a Quality retailer, living space and a restaurant type development. The investment involves some land assembly but will provide us with rent, business rates and council tax and bring back into use a grade 2 listing hopefully in a sympathetic way, that adds to Aldridge and benefits the borough as a whole"

He added:

"The outline of this project is available in cabinet papers but the fine detail on finances is subject to private session and I cannot comment on that. Planners have been involved on pre-app advice and I believe that this scheme is an addition to Aldridge."

I have tried to find the appropriate papers on the Council's web site but have been unable to locate any further information.

I have to admit I have some reservations about how the land surrounding the Manor House will be developed however, I am positive that any restoration of the actual House, will be sensitive due to its Grade II listed status. Hopefully, all will become clear as more information and plans are published. I also admit that although I may be a little skeptical until more information is known, I am also impressed that a Labour led Walsall Council is making these plans and investing in Aldridge. 

I suppose this is a similar type of scheme that the Labour led Council came up with for the Saddlers Centre in Walsall. I just wish more information about what is planned was available in order that the incessant rumour mill that surrounds The Manor House would cease. Watch this space!

5 January 2018

Dial D for Democracy and N for no Sundial

A Dawn Redwood
Last night the application for planning permission for the proposed sundial on The Croft in Aldridge was heard by the Planning Committee at Walsall Town Hall. I am pleased from a personal point of view, to report that the application was refused unanimously. The decision was mainly based on The Croft not being a suitable location for the 'artwork'. I am not the only person who was there last night who had to reach for a tissue due to suddenly discovering leaky eyes when the vote had taken place!

Going back to when I first started blogging on this subject it was the democracy aspect  or lack thereof, that really enraged this Mad Old Baggage. Slowly, democracy began to fight back against those who thought they could circumvent it. Firstly  the proposers were told that Planning Permission was required. Secondly, following the application being made, people were finally allowed to comment upon it. There were a large number of objections to the proposal. Finally it all came together last night in the Council Chamber, where the full application was heard, considered, questioned and debated by the Planning Committee. Even if the application had been granted, at least Democracy would have been seen to be done and for that, I am pleased.

There are events that have been uncovered during this episode that are unpalatable and that I have not brought to public attention. These will have to be followed up, as will an application for Village Green Status for the part of The Croft that is not protected. I sincerely hope that Walsall Council will be amenable to this. The Croft means an awful lot to the Aldridge community and it should be protected.

The application was presented by a Planning Officer. Details of the proposal outlined, details of objections outlined and the reasons why it was considered that the objections were not always material when considering planning law given. Two speakers from each side of the divide were allowed. Against the proposal, local historian and author, Sue Satterthwaite and community champion and Charity organiser supreme, Karen Ross MBE, spoke. For the proposal Bob Cooke from the Rotary Club and Vice Chairman of the Aldridge Branch of the British Legion, Mr A Smail spoke. All four did themselves justice for their points of view.

With the kind permission of Sue and Karen, their statements are reproduced below:

 "As the site is in a conservation area, the Unitary Development Plan requires that proposals should preserve or enhance. This memorial, in removing grass in favour of metal, resin and stone, clearly does not preserve, so does it enhance?

When the trees are replaced the sundial becomes a non-working ornament. Will this enhance The Croft?

The path on which it is proposed to site the sundial is only used for the purpose of accessing the play area so children will have to pass a memorial which lists 24 military conflicts and wording associated with loss and death. This will fundamentally affect the character of an area used for play.
The leading authority on the subject advises that such structures should not be located close to play areas. It may afford those with an unhealthy interest in children an opportunity to linger. *

There are other sites available. The U D P highlights a significant opportunity to improve leisure and community facilities on council-owned Anchor Meadow and to that end a councillor suggested Anchor Meadow as an alternative but the applicant insists it must be within sight of Aldridge War Memorial. Why? I have been writing on the proud military history of our Borough for 25 years, including 3 books for Walsall Council, and can say with confidence that this memorial has no specific local relevance and does nothing to celebrate our unique military history. Aldridge already has four war-related memorials. Will another enhance the Croft?

The proposed wording is factually and historically inaccurate, contains religious text and the words attributed to schools are in fact quotes from famous people. Who will be legally responsible for obtaining copyright permission and paying necessary fees, the proposer or the Council as landowner? In the absence of a robust evidenced legal agreement it will be the latter."

And Karen: 
"The sundial simply won’t work on the Croft. By law Walsall council has a duty to replace trees in a conservation area. These must be replaced near to the original site.

Clean and Green will shortly be replacing the removed trees adjacent and to the sundial. The trees will block the sun.

What school, organisation or business would wish to be involved in producing a sunless sundial that will harm the Croft and be of no public benefit or provide any enjoyment?
A more meaningful location would be the community centre making it part of the remembrance parade between 2 memorials, rather than taking up space in a children’s play area that would be better served for inclusive play equipment.

At the heart of many objections is the lack of consultation with the community on the project and location. If more community involvement had taken place, Aldridge Blue Brick, used across the world, wouldn’t have been carelessly disregarded.

The officer’s report makes it clear that a verbal agreement between the applicant and the council cannot be relied upon. Without a legal agreement in place the council will be liable for maintenance Costs and should anyone injure themselves …… compensation. "

Following the statements put forward by Mr Cooke and Mr Smail, questions were taken from Councillors and then the proposal opened to debate by the councillors. All those that spoke acknowledged the work that The Rotary Club does for the Aldridge Community, as do I. Aldridge is a better place because of The Rotary Club's support  for the Aldridge Volunteer Gardeners, The Peace Garden and the many other projects they have been involved in. Just because I thought that the sundial proposal had been brought forward in an undemocratic manner and was just plain wrong, does not detract from my appreciation of their many good works and efforts. Simply, what it all boiled down to in the end was that the proposal for the sundial to be sited on The Croft, was wrong. For me the words of Councillor John Rochelle were most poignant. Forgive me for paraphrasing here  but in a nutshell he said that the best memorial for the people named on the War Memorial was for The Croft to be left as it is, recognisable by those who gave their lives when they left the Village for War. 

I do not know if The Rotary Club will appeal. The Planning Officer made it clear that there would be grounds for defending the decision against appeal. If they do I'll let you know!

And now for some good news. I am so very pleased to be able to report that Rosie's Helping Hands has donated a replacement tree for the Croft, to replace one of the diseased ones removed a few years ago. The tree chosen in conjunction with the tree expert at Walsall Council, is a Dawn Redwood.  Rosie's Helping Hands have also donated fully inclusive play equipment in the form of a swing and a roundabout and these will be installed in the play area at The Croft in the near future. This really is such wonderful news for the children of Aldridge and a wonderful legacy for a charity that has done so much to help young people in Aldridge and further afield, in the last 16 years. Play equipment for all abilities and a beautiful tree to shade part of the playground from the harmful effects of the sun.

Sue and Karen along with Len Boulton have all worked incredibly hard on opposing the sundial project, putting in hundreds of hours of their own time, voluntarily, in order to attempt to preserve The Croft in its present state, as a Village Green. On behalf of many people I would like to thank all three of them for their unceasing efforts and also say well done to you all.

I would like to finish this blog with a quote from Karen Ross which is totally appropriate and for which I do hope people take to their hearts.

"With people power sweeping the world it has in a small but  significant way touched Aldridge. This is the turning of the tide for the people of Aldridge, hopefully, encouraging others to challenge those who have no right to exclude residents from a say in what happens in their village.  The people of Aldridge will reclaim the croft, as it is rightly theirs by the status of being a Village Green – a gift to the people of Aldridge."

9 December 2017

Cuckoo's, their Nook with Dingles, Heads and Pits

 There are few better walks in an urban area than my favourite local walk. I have waxed lyrical about this walk many times but it never ceases to please me and set me at ease with my soul. Where else in the country can you be just a few miles from a busy town centre, in this case Walsall and yet be wandering in a rural setting?

I walk up to Barr Common Road, Aldridge and then take the track through the fields to Cuckoo's Nook and then on to The Dingle, through Hayhead Wood, join the canal at Longwood Bridge and then stroll down to Park Lime Pits.

 At any time of the year it is a beautiful walk but on a crisp winter's day when there has been a small sprinkling of snow, well you cannot beat it. The light plays through the trees. The wildlife plays amongst the trees. I walk through the trees and I smile. It is a privilege to be able to wander the pathways. Today was perfect for my walk.

Cuckoo's Nook is old, very old. It was once, part of the Ancient Forest of Cank, now known as Cannock Chase. Of course, if you stand at any of the high points in Aldridge you get a clear view of the Chase, particularly from the top of Whetstone Lane and so you know it is not so far away. Cuckoo's Nook and The Dingle are a delight in spring with wild garlic and bluebells. Heavy duty pleasure for the senses!

The Nook and The Dingle lie on a geological fault line. Underneath The Dingle lies limestone, indeed you can actually see exposed Silurian Limestone beds. For anyone who doesn't know, find the cross and then look up. There's fossils to be found in that steep embankment!

Not far below the surface of the Nook lies coal. Both have completely different soils and as a consequence they both support completely different plant life and trees.

For anyone interested there is a geology trail through both and The Beacon Way runs through both too. Leaflets explaining all and the routes are available from local libraries.

The bird life is a joy in both. Woodpeckers, both Green and Greater Spotted, tits of all persuasions, treecreepers and nuthatch, finches galore and the usual blackbirds, thrush and robins.

Normally at this time of the year there are ephemeral pools in The Dingle but not today. Just mud underneath the snow sprinkle and ice.

The Dingle soon melts into Hayhead Wood via a field or two. I love watching the buzzards in that gap, soaring high above, usually being mobbed by  a group of other birds such as crows or magpies or even smaller birds, en masse.

Hayhead Wood was originally the site of Hayhead Works and limestone was extensively mined there. There is evidence that limestone was being worked there in 1593. If you know where to look (there's a lot of undergrowth now even at this time of the year) there are still remains of the old pit entrance there along with the foundations to the old pumping shaft.

The canal came later and that is still clearly visible along with foundations to the old wharf buildings. The undulations that can be seen are where lime kilns were sited. There are old industrial remains throughout the wood and that large hole near Longwood Lane just before you get to the car park? That's the partly filled shaft where limestone was raised from the mine! For me though, I love that you can always see Goldcrests and Jays in Hayhead. Just look up!
Over Longwood Bridge and onto the canal which was finally finished and opened in 1800. This was the section specifically opened to serve the limestone workings of Hayhead Wood and also Park Lime Pits.

It is a lovely stretch of 'cut'. Rural in an urban setting. My only grouse with it is that for cycling, it is difficult at times, getting thoroughly rutted in wet weather and having a very uneven surface a left over from the working days of the cut. Cyclists would be well served if someone, somehow would find the money for this part of the canal to be resurfaced. Walkers would benefit too.

This tree is completely inaccessible to the general public which is a good thing because there are two residents there that need protection from nefarious individuals. I'll say no more but if you're local you'll probably know who the residents are and if you're not, or don't know, just stand in front of it and watch.

Beautiful reflections today

At Riddian's Bridge I always stop and remember Roger Jones. Roger could always be found on top of the bridge, with his scope and binoculars, watching the local bird life and what life there is on this stretch. Lapwings in summer along with Swifts and Swallows. Reed bunting, siskin, finches of many types, yellowhammer and the ever present buzzards. I miss meeting Roger there.
And finally I reach Park Lime Pits. Again this beautiful and tranquil local nature reserve was once a heavy industrial area, a thriving limestone quarry. It is possible that the Romans  used limestone from here to construct Wall and Watling Street.  The limestone from Park Lime Pits was apparently prized because when highly polished it looked like marble. The extraction of limestone ceased 160 years ago, the quarry flooded and the land gifted to the people of Walsall as a nature reserve. Park Lime Pits is also known as Walsall Bat Central due to the presence of Daubenton's bats, which can be seen flying over the pools and along the canal at dusk in summer months. We now have resident ring necked parakeets there, probably enticed by the plethora of availability of nesting sites because there are a lot of woodpeckers at PLP!

Sadly one of the oldest trees at PLP looks as though it may not survive for too much longer. This is the trunk of an Ash tree thought to be about 200 years old. Successive generations of vandals  have lit fires in the trunk and I fear that the damage is now too severe for it to be healthy. Leave it alone!

The view over the small pool at PLP. This is a must stop for me on every visit. I sit or stand and wait. Today I was rewarded with one of the resident kingfishers giving me a very close fly by but I've often seen willow tits there and a few years ago there were nesting Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers.

I hope you've enjoyed my walk through a part of  Walsall Borough that is still well blessed with its green spaces and nature reserves, even if some parts really do need some tlc now. 

1 December 2017

Oh Christmas Tree....

 My photographs don't do these beautiful trees justice but they give you a flavour of the Aldridge Village Partnership Christmas Tree Festival that started today at The Methodist Church in Aldridge.

Entrance is free and you can vote for your favourites by purchasing tokens for a pound. All profits go to St Giles Walsall Hospice and Aldridge Volunteer Gardeners.

Open today (Friday) until 6 pm and Saturday 10 am to 4 pm, Sunday Noon to 4 pm.

Please go along and support this event and get into the Christmas spirit!

24 November 2017

Sundialing Troubles

The Croft
Back in  March for the first time and surprise to many, I published a post bringing attention to plans involving sundials on the Croft and at the War Memorial in Aldridge. A lot has happened since then including the insistence that planning permission was indeed required and now revised plans have been submitted.

It's worth bringing things together and telling the story one more time in order that people can make any submissions, comments or objections prior to 4th December 2017, which is the date the consultation period closes. It should be noted that even if you have made a submission to the original application, you are perfectly entitled to make a further comment or submission on the amended plans.

Protected (shaded) and unprotected areas of The Croft
The revised plans can be found by going to https://go.walsall.gov.uk/planningsearch pressing search and then entering the number 17/0704. The revised plans are on page 2.

How much do you know about The Croft? Many people wrongly believe that all of the Croft as outlined in the aerial photograph at the top of the page from StreetMap is protected either as Common Land or with Village Green status.  In fact the area that is not shaded by those little dots on the photograph aside, is entirely unprotected. This means that any sort of silly plans could be submitted for any sort of silly means and for that area of unprotected Croft to be built upon! If you want to see that photograph in more detail, just click on it.

If you feel that Walsall Council made a bit of a mistake by not having all of the Croft protected when it applied for Village Green Status for The Croft then please let your local Councillors, the Council and MP know!

The application for the Sundial has been amended in order to bring the whole structure within the unprotected area and therefore avoid the extra scrutiny required for planned structures on a Village Green, in a Conservation Zone.

Two and half years ago the local Rotary Club in the guise of a sub group called Aldridge Croft Community Group (ACCG) brought a proposal before Aldridge Village Partnership (AVP) for two sundials; one for The Croft and one to be placed next to the War Memorial.  AVP is in fact a company limited by guarantee to which Walsall Council provided funds from its budget for Aldridge that can be used for many purposes. AVP is run by company directors. Some directors are also members of the Rotary Club and also ACCG. Despite AVP being a limited company there are some meetings held that are open to the public but I personally have never seen these meetings advertised. That doesn't mean that they are not advertised but it would appear they are not widely advertised.

The proposal was apparently accepted by AVP with enthusiasm, although I have seen a document that confirms that it was never voted upon, and without wider consultation. On this flimsy basis and with the agreement and signing off by an Officer of the Council, an application for a grant was made to Tesco Bags of Help

Despite the fact that one of the criteria set out by Tesco Bags of Help is that any planning permission required should have been obtained prior to applying for the grant, which it wasn't and still hasn't been, the application was accepted and shoppers in various local Tesco stores voted with their tokens. A grant of £10,000 was awarded for the sundials project.

Following that there was indeed some local consultation in the form of a stall one Saturday in the shopping centre and a display at the library. This consultation was neither independent or timely, coming after the grant from Tesco had been awarded.

The project supporters were then told that despite their protestations to the contrary, planning permission was indeed required. Plans for the sundial next to the memorial were dropped and a planning application for the sundial on the Croft was finally submitted in May 2017.

You may be wondering why this proposal has not been discussed by the planning committee before now. Well notices were not served or displayed correctly, so the consultation period had to be extended and also plans have been variously amended by the proposer as the objections to the project came in.

You are warned before reading further, that any impartiality I have, is now laid to rest, so if all you wanted was a summary and details of where to obtain information, please do not continue reading. Thank you

The revised plans bring the sundial into the area of the Croft that is unprotected. They also state that the sundial is not a memorial. If this is so, why is the word 'memorial' used all over the planning application? Why is the fact that the War Memorial is just a few yards away across the road, still referred to in the revised plans? In my opinion the references to the National Memorial Arboretum make it quite plain what the proposers think their sundial is; a memorial. They now refer to it as a public art project. Yes, it always was in one way but in my personal opinion a nasty, tacky piece of public art if the drawings that accompany the planning application are anything to go by and unlike the beautiful sculptures presented as art at say the National Memorial Arboretum. That is a personal opinion though, after all art is a very personal thing.

What isn't personal however, is expansion of the play area on The Croft. There are people in Aldridge who are working to try and get the play area expanded in order to install suitable play equipment for children in our community that have disabilities. What a wonderful idea and from what I understand there are organisations that would be happy to provide funding for such a project. Unfortunately if you have a sundial you cannot expand the children's play area as the space on the unprotected part of the Croft will not be available any longer. So, a public art project or a play area for ALL children?

The other problem as I see it, is if we allow a tacky art project to be built on the unprotected area of The Croft, is how many other projects are going to come out of the woodwork? By allowing the sundial, you set a precedent for other projects that are a good idea in their eyes, are enhancements in their eyes and not just a precedent for the unprotected area of the Croft but for the protected area too. Precedence is a dangerous thing.

I have other objections to the project but they will go into my submission to Planning.

You may not agree with me and my mad opinions but at least you know about this now and can make up your own mind and make submissions to Planning if you so desire. The sundial could have already been installed on the Croft, without planning permission or consultation, had it not been for the dogged determination of some local people who refuse to bow to the cabal that likes to run Aldridge, preferably without consultation.

16 November 2017

Christmas Presents

Christmas is coming and our thoughts turn to, well whatever your thoughts turn to I do wish you all a very happy one, whatever you do, however you celebrate and with whomever you do it with.  May I however, ask you spare to just £1 for The Glebe Centre in Walsall?

Recently I launched this appeal 

The Glebe Centre provides many services for vulnerable people in Walsall, from the unemployed to the homeless, those who have addiction problems and those who have mental health problems. Services include breakfast, lunch, showers, clothing plus information and help in training, looking for work and so on. The centre is lifeline for many people and no doubt when the Night Shelter opens very shortly it may see increased usage during the day too.

The Walsall Night Shelter is a joint effort between YMCA Black Country Group (who run The Glebe) and Walsall Council and it will provide a bed for the night for rough sleepers in Walsall for three months this winter.The Shelter although having one full time worker will be run by volunteers and they are still needed so if you feel you may be able to help please use the contact details on the Facebook page

Back to my appeal. The aim is to provide people who use The Glebe with breakfasts, lunches, snacks and treats for a week over the Christmas period and also to contribute to a buffet lunch during The Glebe's  12 Days of Christmas period. If enough was raised it would be nice to think that we could contribute hot chocolate drinks and festive treats for those using the night shelter too.

All I'm asking for is one pound. If everyone who reads this made that one pound contribution we would easily exceed the target.

Please click on the picture above of HERE to view the appeal and make contribution and put a smile on the face of someone you don't know this Christmas who isn't perhaps having the best of times at the moment.

Thank you