4 May 2015

Sins of the Fathers: A Rant against laziness and an apology

I want to apologise to the young people of Aldridge. It isn't my fault because I didn't vote for any of them but I feel the need to apologise on behalf of those who are of an age to exercise their right to vote (and not to vote) for our local councillors who purport to represent the community of Aldridge Central and South.

Last Wednesday I emailed our local councillors, John Murray, Timothy Wilson and standing for re-election on Thursday, John Rochelle, as reported here. The email is reproduced once again:


Dear Councillor,

At the Hustings held at Aldridge Community Centre last Friday I asked a question regarding the future of the youth service in Aldridge and also about the sale of what is currently used as a community asset; Aldridge Manor House.

I was rather hoping that one of you would get in touch with me (I have emailed you on this subject before) in order to offer a helping hand in attempting to save the youth service in Aldridge. Alas this has not happened and so I am emailing all three of you in the hope that one, if not all, will step forward and help the parents who have children who attend Aldridge Manor House Youth Centre to assist in getting the wheels in motion to save this vital service.

When Walsall Council announced that much of the Borough's youth service would be closing, following the setting of the budget for 2015/16 I was most impressed with the way your party colleague and fellow Councillor, Garry Perry sprung into action to help organise and help those who wanted to save the youth service in Pelsall. All credit to Cllr Perry for his support of his local constituents.

There doesn't appear to have been any similar reaction in Aldridge. The young people who attend the centre would like to see it saved and there are parents of those young people who are prepared to go that extra mile to save the service. I can give you contact details if you so wish. One of the reasons that the parents and users of the youth centre have not come forward yet, is that they need constructive help, advice and organisational capabilities plus someone on the inside so to speak, to argue their case. I understand that with appropriate support and advice there is a possibility that this service could be run by the community. 

Furthermore, it is reasonable to say that many inhabitants of Aldridge would be sad to see the actual sale of the Manor House and more likely to be angry if it was bought and then used for a purpose that would not be of benefit to the local community! There is a possibility that the Manor House could be declared a community asset and for the local community to own and manage the building. This would also mean that the Youth Club would have a home as the council were unable to identify any building that was appropriate in the area when they searched for a new home for the youth centre! Again though, residents and those who care about this historical building need help, guidance, advice and some organisational application in order to go through the process if indeed it is a feasible proposition. It may not be. However, first a true temperature test of the strength of feeling would be helpful. If after all there is not enough interest in saving both the youth centre and the building then fair enough, sleeping dogs can be left in peace. I have to say from emails that I receive that there is interest, which is why I am pursuing this with you. Someone has to.

Would any of you be prepared to call a local meeting for the people of Aldridge in order to ascertain if there is sufficient interest and enthusiasm in forming a community committee that could perhaps in the future become a charity to help save Aldridge Manor House as a community building and asset run by local people for the local community?

I appreciate that this is a lot of hard work for one person which is why I am emailing all three of you. You have as Councillors, access to resources, help and guidance that the local people need. As councillors you are effectively facilitators.



Councillor Tim Wilson was good enough to respond within a couple of hours. This is what he had to say:



Good afternoon Linda,

Thank you for your email.

I was unable to attend the hustings on Friday and was therefore unaware that you had raised the important question of youth services in Aldridge.

Youth service provision in Aldridge is important to all three ward councillors and we have been monitoring what IYPSS propose for our young people and have voiced concerns where appropriate.

I think the best way forward is for IYPSS to provide an explanation of their plans for providing the youth service and then we can meet to discuss it if that would be acceptable to you?

Regards,



My response was swift (so apologies for any incoherence, it was bashed out in an angry manner) and to the point as I did not consider the response to be adequate to the requests for help that had been made:



Dear Councillor,

Thank you for responding so swiftly.

The plans for the Youth Centre have been well publicised as have the plans for all but one Youth Centre in the Borough to be closed, hence my reference to Cllr Perry. It was to close on 31 August 2015 but has been reprieved once again and will now close on 31 December.

The closures are down to the budget cuts.

The sale of The Manor House was agreed by the Council in 2011.

IYPSS searched for a suitable alternative premises but none that were suitable could be found in Aldridge. The Youth Centre was therefore to close with or without budget cuts! The decision was made by the Conservative administration!

IYPSS don't really have much input when budget constraints mean that virtually all youth centres are to close, so I see little point in prevaricating especially when the Centre has lived under the shadow of closure for some considerable time. IYPSS were not even willing to follow up on their promise of a further public meeting with the local community although they did consult with the service users and young people in the locality.

Are you willing to help through direct assistance or not? I don't personally want to get heavily involved although I am willing to be involved. I'm better serving as a campaigning mouth piece as my blog has a reasonable readership. However, I can supply details of one of the parents involved who would like the sort of support and help that Cllr Perry has provided to his constituents. Or perhaps you could attend the Youth Centre and talk to parents and the young people? Or both?

Kind regards



There has been no further communication from Councillor Wilson but at least he tried even if he failed miserably to take on board what the situation is and what help was requested. This is more than can be said for either Councillors Murray or Rochelle. To give them their due, they are merely being consistent in not responding to correspondence from me. 

I'll make no bones about naming and hopefully shaming the three conservative ward councillors for Aldridge Central and South. They each pick up an expense allowance of £10586 per annum to cover costs and help reimburse them for their time and trouble in the onerous job of representing the ward. That's over £200 per week! Now I know that there are Councillors out there that really do help and assist their individual constituents and local communities. They are out there visiting the elderly, the disabled and those that are neither but are needy, to assist with problems that a local councillor can help with and lending a sympathetic ear for problems that perhaps they cannot help with. They are worth every penny and I take my hat off to them and acknowledge the wonderful job that they do. However, Councillors Wilson, Rochelle and Murray have not covered themselves with glory thus far in  helping the young people of Aldridge and also  all the  people of Aldridge that would really like the opportunity to at least try and save the building for the local community. With help, a start could be made but we need that help and it is entirely appropriate for a local councillor to provide it and as I said in my original email, if the interest really isn't out there, then fine. Subject closed. The subject of provision for young people is not however, closed. The majority are not of age to cast a vote but I really hope that they have some influence over their voting parents and grandparents and ask them to NOT VOTE for the lazy, lazy councillors that currently represent our ward. 

No, I don't think calling them lazy is strong. It is my personal opinion based upon my own experience. When Tim Wilson was seeking election for the first time in 2013 he did pop into the Manor House Youth Club during the campaign period. He hasn't (so I've been told) returned there since his election.

Is this really what the people of Aldridge Central and South want? Councillors who are happy to take the generous allowances paid (and funded by us the ordinary people) but who ignore members of the local electorate, ignore the young people of the ward and do not give tuppence about the future of one of the few historic buildings that remains standing in Aldridge?

So I am sorry. I've tried. I asked a question at Hustings and Wendy Morton told me that the issue was of a local council nature, so I once again approached our local tory councillors and have been effectively turned down there too. There you have it. The Tories in Aldridge (unlike those in Pelsall) do not want to know and whilst I think about it, is Wendy Morton even registered to vote from the address given on her nomination form or does she remain on the electoral register at 'home' in Yorkshire?

I imagine that come Friday morning we will have another tory MP who does not engage with all of the electorate, her failure to respond to tweets (on this very subject) is proof enough of that but who in the eyes of many appears to love a photo opportunity more than any super model and come Friday tea time, we will have the same tory councillor who as reported by me along time ago, thought the sale of the Manor House was a good thing. Is that what we really want? Is that what we should be inflicting upon our young people?

Wake up people of Aldridge before it's too late.

3 May 2015

Sitting, waiting, wishing....

To Aldridge Central and South Conservatives. I'm still waiting. Very politely but getting impatient just like the young people of Aldridge.


29 April 2015

Returning to the Manor

In my last blog I mentioned that I had been able to ask a question at the Aldridge Brownhills Hustings that was held last week, about the future of both Aldridge Manor House Youth Centre and The Manor House itself. The question although causing a  dispute between two of the candidates was firmly marked as a "matter for the local authority"

In the hope that someone somewhere might actually want to help the constituents of Aldridge Central and South I have today sent an email to all three local Councillors, who all happen to represent the Conservative Party; Messrs John Murray, Timothy Wilson and John Rochelle, who is seeking re-election next Thursday.

The email is self explanatory and is reproduced below. I have informed the Councillors that I would be publishing my email and any responses. When/if I get a response I'll let you know! This is after all a subject that should be open to all and although it's me asking, I am merely a mouthpiece attempting to get some help.

Dear Councillor,

At the Hustings held at Aldridge Community Centre last Friday I asked a question regarding the future of the youth service in Aldridge and also about the sale of what is currently used as a community asset; Aldridge Manor House.

I was rather hoping that one of you would get in touch with me (I have emailed you on this subject before) in order to offer a helping hand in attempting to save the youth service in Aldridge. Alas this has not happened and so I am emailing all three of you in the hope that one, if not all, will step forward and help the parents who have children who attend Aldridge Manor House Youth Centre to assist in getting the wheels in motion to save this vital service.

When Walsall Council announced that much of the Borough's youth service would be closing, following the setting of the budget for 2015/16 I was most impressed with the way your party colleague and fellow Councillor, Garry Perry sprung into action to help organise and help those who wanted to save the youth service in Pelsall. All credit to Cllr Perry for his support of his local constituents.

There doesn't appear to have been any similar reaction in Aldridge. The young people who attend the centre would like to see it saved and there are parents of those young people who are prepared to go that extra mile to save the service. I can give you contact details if you so wish. One of the reasons that the parents and users of the youth centre have not come forward yet, is that they need constructive help, advice and organisational capabilities plus someone on the inside so to speak, to argue their case. I understand that with appropriate support and advice there is a possibility that this service could be run by the community. 

Furthermore, it is reasonable to say that many inhabitants of Aldridge would be sad to see the actual sale of the Manor House and more likely to be angry if it was brought and then used for a purpose that would not be of benefit to the local community! There is a possibility that the Manor House could be declared a community asset and for the local community to own and manage the building. This would also mean that the Youth Club would have a home as the council were unable to identify any building that was appropriate in the area when they searched for a new home for the youth centre! Again though, residents and those who care about this historical building need help, guidance, advice and some organisational application in order to go through the process if indeed it is a feasible proposition. It may not be. However, first a true temperature test of the strength of feeling would be helpful. If after all there is not enough interest in saving both the youth centre and the building then fair enough, sleeping dogs can be left in peace. I have to say from emails that I receive that there is interest, which is why I am pursuing this with you. Someone has to.

Would any of you be prepared to call a local meeting for the people of Aldridge in order to ascertain if there is sufficient interest and enthusiasm in forming a community committee that could perhaps in the future become a charity to help save Aldridge Manor House as a community building and asset run by local people for the local community?

I appreciate that this is a lot of hard work for one person which is why I am emailing all three of you. You have as Councillors, access to resources, help and guidance that the local people need. As councillors you are effectively facilitators.

25 April 2015

A Hustings We Will Go

Storm clouds gather over Aldridge Comm
Last night we attended a Hustings for Aldridge Brownhills. Firstly I would like to thank Russell Smith and his team at Aldridge Community Centre for organising the event. They did a grand job and around 100 or so attended, making it a worthwhile exercise. I hope that it is something that could be done for local elections and not just national and I also hope that more ordinary local people could be encouraged to attend such events rather than just party activists.

Five of the six candidates standing for election attended, the only one not there was The Monster Raving Loony Party candidate, which was a pity because his manifesto although perhaps written with tongue firmly in cheek does contain elements of local problems that do need addressing.

It was successful, however my evening was spoiled by the malevolence of a couple of people seated behind me. Fortunately the majority did not have to hear the nastiness and hatred that was being spouted towards those who are not the most blessed or fortunate in society. During a discussion about carers and the elderly words were uttered about how caring should be done for free and no allowance be paid. That's lovely if you can afford to do it for free but the majority of carers in this country cannot afford to do it freely no matter how much they love the person they are caring for. One candidate on the platform mentioned that some carers do not claim Carers Allowance because they do it out of love and respect for the person cared for. Love and respect do not put food on the table or pay the rent. Many carers now have young families in addition to an elderly or disabled relative that they care for. They give up jobs and careers in order to care for a friend or relative for the paltry sum of  £62.10 per week and to receive that, you need to care for someone for 35 hours per week! That's a maximum of £1.77 per hour, far less if you care around the clock. Carers save the government millions of pounds that would otherwise have to be spent on social services and the NHS and yet they are treated with contempt. Furthermore I am concerned that if the Tories do form the next government that Carer's Allowance will be further restricted as there are indications that it will be included on the list of benefits that are to be reformed. It is already a taxable benefit. How thoughtless and uncaring can people and political parties be?

Another piece of bile from behind me came when food banks were discussed. One candidate pointed out that it is not a case of if you build it (food bank) they will come. This time the voices were a little louder, "oh yes they will" came the response, "can't resist free food whilst they're standing outside the food bank smoking their cigarettes". I doubt these people even know where the food banks in Aldridge Brownhills are, let alone stood outside one of them and seen the people that are forced through dire circumstances to seek assistance. Nor were they believing of the evidence that was quoted at the meeting about the food bank schemes being run on a voucher basis and that people are restricted to a maximum of three visits. No, they were firmly ensconced inside their own little world where those who need help are scroungers and should be looked down upon. They left a very nasty taste in my mouth which is why I'll not detail all of the other ill informed comments that they made.

I got to ask a question. Unfortunately I was asked to rewrite my question and make it briefer so I was unable to impart within the question that I do know that the provision of youth services and the sale of council owned buildings are a local government issue. Does it matter though? The question was aimed at seeking out which of the candidates were prepared to help the local community. It became clear that most of the candidates knew little about local issues and one did have the courage to admit this. The question I asked (with apologies made to the people of Brownhills, Pelsall etc for it being an Aldridge centric issue) was;

"In 2011 Walsall Council decided to sell The Manor House in Aldridge. Unfortunately the resident youth club couldn't be found a new home and will now close at the end of the year due to the cuts made to youth service provision in Walsall. What support would the candidates and their parties give to the local community in saving this important and historical community asset and its youth club?"

None of the candidates addressed the historical importance of The Manor House to the people of Aldridge. One candidate pointed out the reason why the Manor House was identified for sale; it will realise a good capital sum. Another candidate talked about other buildings being found for the youth club, clearly not knowing that Walsall Council searched in vain for a year in an attempt to find another suitable building in Aldridge and discovered that there was no such building and also mentioned other youth provision in the area. Where? Yes there are a couple of church groups but that's it. Not every young person wants to attend a club that has a religious bent, some find the thought of doing so abhorrent. Ignorance of important local issues is not good enough if you're standing to be an MP and are not familiar with the locality. If you want the job, if you really do care as opposed to saying that you care, then you need cramming sessions on the locality about the issues that matter to ordinary people as opposed to the issues that matter to your local and national party and the political dogma you carry.

My question did provoke a very heated debate between two of the candidates, when remarks about the cuts that have been made to local authority budgets (the cuts being responsible in effect for the decimation of youth services in Walsall) being neither equal throughout the country nor fair, made by one candidate led to red mist descending and the gloves coming off with another candidate. It wasn't pretty to watch the party political animal appear.

In brief, the majority answer to my question (with one exception) wasn't positive.

I have deliberately not named any of the candidates in this blog because I am not entirely sure that any of them are really fit for the purpose of representing the people of Aldridge Brownhills. I listened to a lot of statements that were effectively a regurgitation of their own party mantra. I didn't hear a lot about what they can do for the area they wish to represent. Another reason for not naming is that although I am very political, I am not by nature a party political person and yet the choice before me is about party politics and not about service to a local community.

19 April 2015

Missionary Position Cycling

Lying down on the job
It is a pleasure to say that Aiden has managed to get over the problems he encountered shortly after purchasing his recumbent. So much so that on what was a gloriously sunny Tuesday earlier this week, I accompanied the laid back rider for the first time on a ride up to Chasewater.

It was an experience, not always pleasurable as I also bore witness to his virgin tumble and although there wasn't blood everywhere, there was enough to soak a hanky.

I decided to ride at the rear, I could see him and via his mirrors, he could see me even when I was miles down the road/tow path. This proved interesting when vehicles gave me the usual cursory one foot clearance when overtaking only to slow down dramatically when they caught sight of the unusual cycle in front of me and then proceeded to wait to overtake when there were no oncoming vehicles, giving Aiden full lane clearance. All except two. For some reason the majority of Audi drivers like to live up to their stereotypical reputation for being the most inconsiderate drivers on the road and therefore never cease to disappoint. The other was a driver of a van owned by local company SPV who between the junctions of Westbrook Avenue and Station Road on Paddock Lane Aldridge (a huge distance of maybe 100 meters maximum) decided to overtake me with a few inches clearance just before the junction where he had to stop to give way, only to slam on his brakes when spotting Aiden virtually forcing me up the kerb. SPV, you don't ask how your company vehicles are being driven. Cam't think why!

Potholes are bad for cyclists but they are positively lethal for recumbent cyclists. The amount of potholes however is decreasing at present  due to the imminent local elections. It is the only time I see them disappear as opposed to open up with ever increasing depth through the rest of the year. Thanks to Aiden being upfront I was able to anticipate the few remaining dangerous potholes well in advance.

The one thing though that I was able to observe with a smile, was the unanimous reaction by ordinary folk but particularly schoolboys and young men on seeing a cyclist doing it in the missionary position: hilarity. Without fail, everyone stops and looks, young children point, young women giggle but schoolboys and young men feel the need to stop, point, laugh out loud and then shout all sorts of inane comments. "Wot yow ridin maite?" is one of the publishable comments. It is good that Aiden is bringing joy and happiness to the young males of Walsall!

I have to admit that I watched Aiden purchase the recumbent with a heavy heart. I was worried that such a cycle was even more unsafe to ride on busy urban roads than a normal cycle. To a certain extent some of my fears have been allayed. The bike is such an unusual site that drivers do slow down and give more than any usual courtesy. Aiden also has the advantage with his mirrors of always being able to see what is happening behind him. What I hadn't bargained for was the opposite reaction from fellow cyclists. With one exception, throughout the ride, all of them forced him into bushes, walls etc along the canal, not slowing down, not giving some leeway. Cyclists, it is much harder to  BEGIN cycling on a  recumbent than it is on a conventional cycle, so if you see someone doing it lying down, give way!

I enjoyed the ride, I loved the laughter even if it wasn't always meant in a good way but most of all I am pleased that Aiden is once again enjoying cycling. The problems with his arm and his back melt away when he's doing it missionary style. So far, he's adapting well. Long may he do so.

21 March 2015

A moment that changed my life

Back in August 1996, I stood outside an electrical retailers shop on Ealing Broadway.

I knew that I needed to buy a PC because I was setting up business on my own account having been made redundant but did not have a clue as to what I needed, what specification I needed and whether or not I would be taken for a ride by the sales person. My personal acquaintance with PCs or indeed computers of any type were strictly limited although I had been on courses to learn how to 'do' excel and word. The little card by the PC I was looking at helped my decision; full technical and other support package available for £12 per month. A price worth paying I thought and so I entered the shop, decision made.

The salesman went through his patter even though he didn't need to. The last few sentences caught my attention. Something about AOL and CompuServe already being pre-loaded and so the PC was internet ready. I asked him which he though was best. He used AOL and said it was simple for an internet novice to get to grips with.

A few weeks later I signed into AOL for the first time. Those pings on the dial up became oh so familiar. I 'met' the man who would become father to my daughter and my partner for nine years not so long afterwards in a chat room called The Pub. I also met many other people there and thought nothing of meeting up with those people I had only knew online. Many real life friendships were formed in those innocent days of the internet when the dangers that now lurk for the unwary are ever present.

My life really did change by that decision to enter the shop

20 March 2015

Bonner United

 There wasn't a great deal of fuss this morning but it was a fitting ceremony. As part of a national programme to honour all those awarded the Victoria Cross during World War One, a paving stone was unveiled in Aldridge honouring Charles 'Gus' Bonner VC.

I was brought up in a house in a road in Aldridge named after Gus; Bonner Grove. I had no idea as a child that the grove was named after someone brave until one day when visiting the cemetery  in Aldridge with my Dad, I noticed the large dark shiny stone by the lychgate, where Gus's ashes are buried. I asked Dad who he was. Dad being ever helpful told me to research the name in the library, which I duly did.

Back then Sue Satterthwaite was years away from writing her excellent book Bonner VC; The biography of Gus Bonner - VC and Master Mariner which would have made my quest a little easier. I didn't manage to ascertain much information. Aldridge has never been any good at shouting something to be proud of from the rooftops!

I can now say though that Gus Bonner was a man from Aldridge. He was...

"Awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition of his conspicuous gallantry and consummate skill in action with an enemy submarine. This officer, after being blown out of his control station by the explosion of a depth charge due to shell fire, crawled back into the 4 inch gun hatch with the gun's crew. They there remained at their posts with a fire raging in the poop below. When the explosion took place the gun shifted bodily and the gun's crew blown up in the air, one man being blown overboard, but fortunately none of them were killed and only four wounded. Lieut. Bonner, although wounded himself, did what he could for the two who were with him in the wardroom."

The paving stone has been erected in a small garden designed and created and to be maintained by Aldridge Volunteer Gardeners, who do a wonderful job all year round in making Aldridge look at its best with colourful displays of flowers, plants, shrubs and trees. The garden is quite lovely. It stands opposite The Compass Suites that were erected on the land that the Bonner family home of Manor Farm, originally stood. Older people from Aldridge may remember the farm that stood next to The Manor House with the pond right in front of it.

I'm surprised that more publicity wasn't given prior to the ceremony today. Yes there were a decent number of people there but I would like to think that there might have been hundreds present, just as there are on Remembrance Sunday, to honour Gus had they known what was happening. For those interested I have scanned the Order for the ceremony. Click the photographs below to see an enlarged version.

Now the great and the good have left, you can take a stroll across the Croft to the Bonner Garden and view the memorial.

A commemorative leaflet has also been produced marking the events of today by The Aldridge Great War Project. This project aims to help local people to discover their own family's Great War History and there will be a display and research facilities available at Aldridge Library in a few months time. Full information is included on the web page highlighted above but you can also email the project aldridgegwp@outlook.com