20 December 2013

Banking on Food

Late this afternoon, three of us went over to The Thomas Project in Lancaster Avenue, Aldridge to drop off our Christmas donation to the Black Country Food Bank.

I had always thought that any donations would be sorted and distributed centrally. Not so. If you take food and other donations to Aldridge they are used in Aldridge, unless there is a large surplus. For some reason this piece of knowledge touched me. Perhaps it's something to do with Aldridge being considered one of the more affluent areas of Walsall, not even worthy of a youth centre any more. Yet here we are in the 21st century and Aldridge has its very own food bank because there are people here that for whatever reason, find themselves in need of the emergency three day supply of food that is supplied to anyone who is given a voucher by certain agencies.

We had added lots of Christmas type treats to our donation and I'm so glad that we did because the sheet that I was allowed to take describing what is supplied to a single person as the basics for three days is not luxurious. Take a look and remember that say for a family of four then the amounts are multiplied by four.

Item Amount

Cereal 1 Small packet or 4 single servings
Soup OR Cup a Soup 2 std cans or pkts
Beans OR spaghetti 1 std can
Tomatoes 1 std can
Vegetables 2 std cans
Tinned potatoes/Mash 1 sml
Meat OR Veggie Option 1 small can
Ready Meal 1 sml pky/can
Sav.Rice OR pasta OR noodles 1 pkt rice, pasta OR 2 pkt noodles
Fish 1 sml can
Fruit 1 std can
Rice pudding or Dessert 1 std can/pkt
Biscuits 1 sml pkt
Sugar 250g
Pasta/Dried spaghetti/Rice Small – 500g
Pasta/Cooking Sauce 1 regular
Tea or coffee 20 bags/small jar
Fruit juice UHT 1 carton or 4 ind. Cartons
Milk UHT or powdered 2 x ½ litre or 4 ind. Cartons
Baby milk or food Dependent on age

Sauce or cooking ingredient 1
Chocolate/Sweets 1 sml
Healthy snacks 3 individual (1 per day)
Peanut butter/Jam/Marmalade 1

When Iain Duncan Smith walked out of the food bank debate the other night and when all those MPs voted against the motion, did they for one moment, consider what it is to find yourself in the situation where you are issued with a voucher to use at a food bank and also what food is then given to you. It isn't luxurious. It's basic and there's nothing fresh there for very obvious reasons.

If you've a few tins spare or pasta or rice or you've some home made jams, chutneys, mince pies, can I urge you to pop down to your local food bank, you can find details HERE for the Black Country, before Christmas Day and put a smile on someone's face at a time when they personally have little to smile about.

Thank you and a very Merry Christmas to all who read my mad ramblings.

12 November 2013

Sharing blessings

Snow Bunting at Titchwell
When I made the decision that I was finally ready to date again, after suffering the devastation of a relationship break up that all but broke me as person, I was in my late forties and to be honest was scared to death. When I had last dated the t'interweb and its plethora of sites for the purpose of, was in its infancy and was a far friendlier and more intimate place than now. On first dangling my toes in the water of such sites I discovered that many read 'late 40s' as meaning 'desperate' and 'ready to consider anything', neither of which applied to me, as was soon made clear to those with such uneducated thoughts!

What I lacked in recent experience though was made up by the fact that I knew exactly what I was looking for in a partner and wasn't prepared to compromise. Late forties meant that I had lived enough life and made enough mistakes to not settle for second, third or fourth best. Confidence in your own qualities and abilities is a powerful thing, as is the knowledge that you're happy enough on your own but that it would be nice to share once again, provided the strict criteria for doing so, was met.

Eventually I met Aiden and being honest, it became clear within days of our first date that he was someone who was going to become very special to me. Just how special and how lucky I am to have met him has become something that I have been reflecting upon in the last few weeks. Not for any other reason than we have shared some exquisite moments in those weeks.

Seal at Blakeney Point
As regular readers will know I have a deep love for the natural world, the bounties of nature and the beauty of this planet, country and town that we live in. To meet someone who shares and matches if not exceeds that love, who wants to do and share the same things that I do without any question whatsoever, is a lucky thing indeed.

In the last month I have seen and experienced  things I've never seen or experienced before. At every step and for every moment holding my hand and feeling the same as I did, was Aiden. We watched seals in Norfolk and saw otters playing at Leighton Moss and then on Sunday we witnessed a murmuration of starlings at Middleton Lakes. In between we did our usual bird watching at Sandwell Valley and further afield, made cider and have walked and walked. If I said that I valued every second of sharing a love for the wonders of nature with a wonderful man would you believe me? Well you should because I did. He is one of the reasons that all of this is so very special. And I wouldn't want to experience these things with anyone else. The shared peace and tranquility cannot be described. At one with each other and at one with the world.

I am well blessed and I know it.

Sunset at Middleton Lakes

4 October 2013

Further News on The Manor House Aldridge

I complained to Walsall Council about the break of promise in holding a further public meeting regarding the future of The Manor House and the Youth Service in Aldridge.

The response is below.

Couple of points. The so called minutes of the meeting are not minutes but a log. They are inaccurate and misleading. I was the person that called for a further public meeting and was told that there would be one. There are lots of witnesses to this including councillors. Furthermore, tweets from Walsall Council indicated that a further public meeting was being planned. Previous blogs detail all of this.

Someone is lying.

Yes, I shall be taking this further. I'll let you know the outcome in due course.

Oh and I saw no evidence whatsoever of 250 flyers. 13 people attended. I do not consider this to be because of apathy but because there was virtually no publicity. Walsall Council relies too heavily on their own social media for publicity. This meeting wasn't given any other publicity by local bloggers/twitterers prior to the event. With a few lines in the local freebies, the drop in session was doomed to failure before it began.

And perhaps I'm being a little cynical in noticing that the drop in session was arranged for a date when local councillors were all busy at a local community area meeting and therefore could not attend to face their electorate.

11 September 2013

Petition the current Lords of the Manor House

Please could you find 30 seconds to sign my new e-petition on the council's web site calling for the promised public meeting into the sale of Aldridge Manor House and future youth provision in Aldridge?

The petition reads:

We the undersigned petition the council to  hold a public meeting in Aldridge with regard to the sale of the Manor House in Aldridge and the future provision of youth services in Aldridge. This meeting should take place before the end of October 2013 and should be widely advertised and publicised using all forms of media and social media.

Press LINK to open up the page to sign.

Thank you.

6 September 2013

Pillage at The Manor: A Tale of Broken Promises

Forgive me for returning to the subject of Aldridge Manor House and Youth Provision in Aldridge once again but even I was surprised by the audacity of the lies and broken promises from Walsall Council, that were highlighted yesterday afternoon by a single tweet to this mad old baggage.

As I have recounted previously, back on 13 June this year, a hastily convened public meeting was held to discuss the council's plans to run the youth provision for Aldridge from the back of a van. A further public meeting was promised for the community of Aldridge, a promise made in front of five councillors including the Deputy Leader of the Council, who were present. It was clear from the meeting that people present were not only concerned with the proposals for youth provision but also about the sale of the building. The two subjects are entirely separate but also linked.

My attempts to chivy the council along in setting a date were detailed here and I continued to tweet them on a regular basis throughout the summer, even from holiday, mostly to a blank wall. However, any responses always led me to believe that a meeting would be held.

Earlier this week, the council issued a press release, praising themselves on their 'consultations' with the young people of Aldridge and their reassurances to the residents regarding the sale of the building and announcing a 'drop in' event to be held at the Manor House on 1st October. My instincts were aroused and so I asked a lot more questions. Yesterday afternoon the council confirmed in a tweet to me that the 'drop in' session is in the place of a further public meeting. How dare they and what justification can be given for the  such an important announcement has been made? They had the opportunity to make this clear in the press release but failed to do so, deliberately so in my opinion because this whole episode has been handled badly with not even lip service paid to the local community.

It is fair to say that the young people of the area have been consulted but confirming my suspicions from 13 June when I said there appeared to be no desire by the council to engage with the wider community, there has been very little attempt to consult with anyone else and what consultation that has taken place has been given very little publicity. The council have been keen to promote their view that it is the service users, in other words the young people, who are playing key roles in decision making about the future of youth provision but I know of young people who have snorted in a derisory fashion when asked if all of their opinions and views are being listened to. Furthermore when the council makes consultations about other areas of service provision, say provision for the elderly, libraries and leisure, green spaces, education do they consult only with the service users? Of course not! Services are provided for the benefit of the whole community and therefore the whole community is invited to voice their views and opinions. Clearly in this case IYPSS (Integrated Young People's Support Service - the department responsible for this shambles), has tried to keep a lid on consultation but at whose request? Cabinet members? Councillors? Officers? And for what purpose and reason? I only see party politics or perhaps council people politics at play here. Whatever happened to accountability?

Examining the five buildings identified as possible alternative venues for youth provision in Aldridge, I am not entirely convinced that any of them will be viable. The young people have made it clear through surveys conducted in June and July (who has been sitting on them since then?) that they don't want pop up or back of the van provision and have made suggestions about what sort of building they want and where it should be.  The Scout Hut in Middlemore Lane lacks space and has limited evening availability, as does the Community Centre which also lacks flexibility (read, we don't want a youth club there thank you very much) and the Outdoor Activity Centre at Aldridge Airport does not offer safety when considering there are not even lights for the road leading to it and whose car park is a hub for anti-social behaviour of a most unsavoury nature, even in broad daylight. Officers  couldn't even contact the relevant person for another building; The Anchorage 55+ Club in Leighswood Road. This leaves Croft House at 45 High Street which has identifed as an issue 'would require partners', read we would have to pay rent etc to a landlord.

The aim of IYPSS is to close the youth centre at the Manor House at Christmas this year and reopen in the new building in January. It is now September and a suitable venue hasn't even been identified. The five buildings is merely a list of desirable places with a further list of excuses attached as to why they are not suitable. Truth is there aren't any suitable buildings in Aldridge that meet the criteria for running a youth centre other than the building it is already in.

And what of that building? The Leader of the Council says assurances have been issued to residents regarding the safety of the building between it's closure and eventual sale. When? If he means those given at the meeting in June then forgive me if I take those with a rather large pinch of salt because other promises were made that evening that have already been broken. The council also says that any  future use of the building is open for debate. Hmmm, like the debate that we're not having the moment? One local councillor has talked about the proceeds of the sale being invested in Aldridge but official council press releases and utterances on this matter are very careful in their avoidance of such promises. There will be no sight of the £1 million proceeds in Aldridge. One of its few historic buildings left will be sold and there will be no recompense for the local community for that pillage. This is in stark contrast to the investment made in Willenhall by the council in preserving the historic buildings there. I have no problem with the wider Walsall community benefiting and certainly have no beef with investments being made in historic buildings, if I thought the investments were a worthwhile benefit but not everyone cares for a town centre Primark or whatever scheme is brought about behind closed doors, with no public consultation, debate or accountability from those who happen to be Walsall Cabinet members. It's a very private club that cabinet.

If you feel as enraged about this as much as I do, then I urge you to complain to Walsall Council about its handling of this sorry episode as I have done and I also urge you to sign the e-petition that I've set up calling for a public meeting, that will go live next week. Link to be posted then.

Omnishambles is now defined in the OED. It's alive and well in Walsall too.

27 August 2013

Ramblings from a bike

If you've a little spare time this week I urge you to take a walk, or a ride along the canal from Longwood Bridge to Daw End Bridge. During my ride this morning I was struck once again by just how beautiful this stretch of canal is and how 'unWalsall' it is, that's of course if you've never been to Walsall and are stuck with M6 stereotypical thoughts of the town! If you go this week you will still be able to view the golden wheat in adjacent fields which, surely will be harvested very soon.

The contrast between the verdant greens along the canal bank with the golden wheat and the reds of haw berries and various plants now passed their best with regards to flowering but still adding enchanting russets and yellows to the scene, is a glory to behold. My only annoyance today was that I had forgotten to pick up my camera.

Today's ride was a quiet, reflective affair. I was alone and it was peaceful. I disturbed the water vole near Longwood Bridge once again and a little further along the local Heron took flight speedily as I approached. The buzzards were calling and several times I stopped to watch them gracefully swooping and gliding, looking for prey. Swallows were still swooping down to the water and the dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies all added to a smorgasbord of colourful end of summer delights.

I was happy to see that many fathers had taken charge of their children and were introducing them to fishing and equally happy that no (underage) teenage idiots were riding the towpaths on unregistered, uninsured motorcycles with no number plates. Last week, three of us nearly ended up swimming on our bikes following such an encounter between Brownhills and Walsall Wood. I enjoyed a more pleasurable encounter today along that stretch with two young men who were surveying the banks and embankments for subsidence. There's a lot of it along there surprise, surprise!

It was also pleasing that today's dog walkers were the  responsible sort that keep their dogs on leads. After several worrying encounters recently with dogs who have a very aggressive bent towards cyclists, I was relieved.

It's been nearly two years since I got on a bike. When I first started, a ride of 10 miles was an achievement, now it's a cheeky little spin and this despite the fact that I'm now the wrong side of 50. I did query (out loud) when I started as to whether I would be able to lose my self by allowing my mind to wonder whilst cycling in the same way that walking had always allowed me to do so. It is pleasing to report that for some considerable time now my mind does its own thing quite a lot of the time whilst I'm turning the pedals allowing me to think through whatever happens to be bothering me.

I still find cycling on roads an ordeal however and I get quite anxious around female drivers of 4x4's but there again I'm always nervous when I'm being approached by a single male rider in his 30s because I have never yet met one who was prepared to give way to me. I've got used to teenage lads shouting what they believe are hysterically funny retorts at me but who scatter four sheets to the wind if you slow down and give them 'the glare'. I perhaps take for granted the friendliness of most people that you meet along towpaths but the one thing I never get used to is the utter beauty of our urban canals and how the views change as the seasons progress.

Just to finish a few photographs taken in August in earlier years:

13 August 2013

A Vote for The Manor?

On Thursday the electorate of Aldridge Central and South will be voting for a new councillor to represent them following the sad death of Cllr Tom Ansell.

The candidates are:
Bob Grainger - Labour
Liz Hazell - UKIP
Chris Newey - English Democrats- "Putting England First"
Roy Sheward - Liberal Democrat
Tim Wilson - Conservative

During the campaign I have eagerly awaited the campaign leaflets in order to see how much each candidate is aware of local issues and in particular the sale of Aldridge Manor House and the closure of the youth club currently being run from there.

The only leaflet I received from the English Democrats was one asking me to join them. Nothing has been received regarding the candidate nor of any issues pertinent to Aldridge.

Similarly the UKIP leaflet although giving details of their candidate focused on national issues and nothing was mentioned at all about The Manor House and Youth Services. Apparently there has been a leaflet issued recently but that has not been delivered to my home, where Liz pledges to save Aldridge Manor House Youth Club. I am not aware if this means she opposes the sale of the building or not.

Tim Wilson in his latest leaflet states:
"Committed to close the 'not fit for purpose' Manor House, but expand the youth provision and ensure that youth clubs are fully supported and finances."

Whatever Tim's personal opinions are about the sale of the well loved and historic Manor House, he has to toe the party line and in particular support the council's 'working smarter' initiative, which is responsible for labelling the Manor House as not fit for purpose. If Tim had attended the first (and so far only) public meeting he would have heard that the younger people of Aldridge who attend the Manor House Youth Club also love this building and want to see the youth service continue there.

Bob Grainger's leaflet mentions the youth service in terms of seeing the proposed pop-up service not providing the same level of service that a dedicated centre would offer. To get a more detailed view it is necessary to visit Walsall Labour's press releases where Bob says:
"The Labour Party has said it would suspend any possible closure till next year and monies gained from any sale would be ploughed back into replacing the service. "
Bob also called for the public to be given their meeting in order that this important local issue could be debated with all candidates.

The Lib-Dem leaflet made no mention of the Manor House and it's Youth Club either and having searched for and not found any press releases regarding his position on our youth service I emailed Roy Sheward asking for a clear and unambiguous statement regarding the closure of the youth club and the sale of the Manor House. 

Roy does not support the closure of the youth club and states clearly that youth provision in Aldridge should be retained. However he does believe that the sale of the building should go ahead stating that:
"I'm persuaded that the Manor House no longer provides the young people of Aldridge  in particular, or residents of Walsall overall, with a viable venue for a Youth Club.  As such given the high maintenance /upkeep costs of this building then selling it seems to provide only real option."

There we have it. It isn't pretty is it? The point is that the land that surrounds the Manor House is a prime development opportunity for someone. The saving of an historical. listed and well loved building takes a back seat. The Tories may boast about having ensured that The Avion remained a listed building but what happens to The Manor House? One local councillor has been heard saying that the £1 million proceeds will be invested for the people of Aldridge but the truth is that the proceeds will be placed in Walsall Council's capital receipts fund and then used to fund capital projects that could be anywhere in the borough. There is no guarantee that the residents of Aldridge will benefit directly or indirectly if the building is sold.

Then there is the small matter of the promised second public meeting. It hasn't happened. There have been no statements by the council regarding their promise to hold another meeting. Draw whatever conclusions to that you like but by their prevarication the local residents of Aldridge have lost valuable time in the extended consultation process in having their views heard and debated.

Youth Service provision isn't just about our young people; it's about the whole community and the effects upon the whole community when adequate provision is not made. No doubt we'll be told that the young people have been consulted as we were at the public meeting, only for the young people to blow a hole in the so called consultation and tell us that their views had been ignored. Well the views of everyone else in the community are being ignored too.

Welcome to the world of non-accountable representatives. Or can they be made so? I urge you to use your vote wisely on Thursday.

9 August 2013

From Darlo to Eternity, with love

The view from Symonds Yat Rock
There is a strange irony that my thoughts turned to Darlaston Town FC last week whilst on holiday in Herefordshire. Ironic because yesterday saw the extremely sad news that the Club, one of the oldest non-league clubs in the country is no more.

Back in the long, hot summer of 1976 an interest in the club was born. My Dad already had an involvement at Waverley Road, he was by then on the committee that ran the club having been drawn in by its then Chairman, the quite literally, larger than life Reg Cooper. Dad knew Reg through their involvement in the Road Haulage Association. Reg was the Managing Director of Coopers Road Services (1972) Ltd and Dad worked for Haywards Transport of Walsall. Both men loved football and Dad still does.

For a few years in the 1970s an annual fixture took place between Darlo and Merthyr Town. They took it in turns to play at either ground for the curiously named Stan Stennett Cup. Why is was called that and who he was I have no idea but it was always a good day. In 76 it was Darlo's turn to make the trip to Merthyr. A coach took the players and wives and some committee members, whilst all of my family traveled in Dad's car.  I recall it was a scorching hot day, not ideal for 90 minutes of rough and tumble non-league football and I do not remember the score although I believe Darlo lost.

76 was the infamous "year of the drought" and in places like Merthyr the water was turned off after a certain time each day. One of my abiding memories of the day was using the toilets and rather wishing I hadn't drunk so much lemonade! Following the game we were treated to a fabulous sit down meal at the club and lots of people made lots of rather boring speeches. It was a good day.

On our return to the Midlands, we took a break in our journey at Symonds Yat. This was a most unusual occurrence for a journey with my Father, as it was always a case of "have you been because we're not stopping again until we get there?" and woe betide you if you did need to go. The bulk of my memories regarding journeys during childhood are accompanied by an awful nagging pain in my lower tummy, desperation for urination and the agony of numb muscles and then pins and needles from permanently crossed legs!

I was 14, I had been watching men running around a football pitch all afternoon and yet the most haunting memory of the many happy memories of that day was the view of the River Wye at Symonds Yat. It is quite simply beautiful. It is a memory that has stayed with me all my life. My first return visit was last week and as I gazed once again upon a view that had not changed in over 35 years I was overwhelmed and tears slowly fell from my eyes at thoughts of my last visit there with Mom and Dad and my siblings. And that is how I came to be standing in front of a beautiful scene and thinking of Darlaston Town FC!

Following that day I was a regular at Waverley Road and at the grounds of away game clubs in exotic places such as Armitage, Paget, Lye, Halesowen, Willenhall, Warley and Rugby for a few years. I freely admit that part of the attraction were a couple of the younger players but I also enjoyed the football, the friendly, family atmosphere and the babychams that Jack Faulkner and Reg Cooper used to get for me in the clubhouse following a game! I used to help out on the turnstiles and sell the odd programme and help with the tea urn.

If everyone who says they attended the famous fixture in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup in November 1976 against Kettering Town had actually been at Darlo, Wembley Stadium wouldn't have been large enough to contain them all! I was there though. I sold a lot of programmes that day. It was magical. I was so excited by the thought that Darlo could make it to the first round proper of the most famous cup competition in the world and so were many other people as 1500 actually turned up, a record that will now perhaps stand for eternity. I was also excited at seeing 'The Doog' who was then player manager of Kettering and doing a fantastic job as Kettering were riding high that year. As a Wolves fan he was one of my football heroes.

On the morning of the match I answered the phone to hear what was a very dodgy Irish accent ask to speak to my father. I asked who was calling to be told it was 'The Doog'. I wasn't sure if the voice really belonged to my hero or not but paying it safe I explained that my Father wasn't available at that moment and could I give him a message and take a number so that he could return the call. The caller then launched into a rant about the 'slope' at the City Ground and how were his players expected to cope with playing on the slopes of The Wrekin? I held my breath. I knew then precisely who was calling and despite being a little upset that I was not actually speaking to my hero I managed to laugh out loud and tell my Dad's friend and colleague that I wasn't fooled. He bought me a babycham after the game as way of recompense!

The rest of the day passed me by in a blur of activity and excitement. Kettering went 1-0 up but brave Darlo kept fighting and pulled the goal back. It finished 1-1. The atmosphere in the clubhouse following the match was electric. Everyone was buzzing with what had been achieved that day. Darlo hadn't won but they may as well have done. I enjoyed a lot of babychams and my Mother was none too pleased with the state I was in when me and Dad finally arrived home.

I wasn't allowed to go to the replay at Kettering because it was a school night but I was on edge all night waiting for Dad to call with the result. Darlo lost of course, 2-0 and there was some dispute as to whether the game should have been played at all as it was so foggy you couldn't see the goalposts from the opposite end of the ground, or so I'm told!

I gradually stopped attending matches at Darlo when I got a job selling programmes at Molineux and the fixtures clashed but it's always been a well formed habit to check on their results every Saturday. Alas, a habit now to be broken.

2 July 2013

A Right Royal P**s Up!

Visit to Park Royal Brewery by Club Stewards
Fellow blogger and local history nutcase Brownhills Bob has written about the history of Clubs in this area and now it's my turn to hand something over to anyone with a long memory in the local area.

Many of us have fond memories of clubs in the area from Labour Clubs to Working Men's Clubs to British Legion Clubs and even Conservative Clubs. My club memories are confined to the Aldridge Labour Club now consigned to history, it's former premises now occupied by a Tesco store. My main memories surround Christmas parties and the Monday night disco, which ended every week with the same smoochie, 'Lonely Girl' by Eddie Holman.

My Dad was secretary at the club in Paddock Lane for more years than he cares to remember. One of my abiding memories of him when I was a young child was of him lying on the mat in front of the open coal fire in the living room with all the account books spread out in front of him, one pencil in hand and another red pencil tucked behind his ear, adding machine to his right and the constant sshhh's from him as he added up figures, made entries and then checked and re-checked with the machine. On occasion it became a 3 person event when figures just wouldn't tally, with me and Mom reading out the numbers whilst he input them on the machine.

It was a place of significant events for Dad as he met my Mom there on 23 April 1957 when she was singing on stage during an open mic event. They married just three months later.

I was attempting to locate Dad's passport a few weeks ago when I came across this photograph. pasted on a presentation card it says 'Visit to Park Royal Brewery - Club Stewards - Brownhills, Pelsall, Rushall and Aldridge September 8th 1955'. Dad remembers the day well although he doesn't remember the names of the people in the photograph! He was walking to work at 6 am on September 8th 1955 when he was called over to the Labour Club in Paddock Lane and asked if he fancied a trip to Park Royal Brewery in London. Never one to miss a free drink, Dad abandoned plans for work that day and he and all these other smiling faces boarded a 'chara' for London.

They enjoyed a tour of the brewery and then a slap up lunch, followed by sampling of the breweries wares. He said he didn't remember the trip home because he was very drunk, along with everyone else.

I presume that the trip was at the invitation of the brewery in order to create some goodwill for future orders from the clubs of Brownhills, Pelsall, Rushall and Aldridge. I'm not sure what clubs were represented but apart from Aldridge Labour Club, Dad thinks there were representatives from Rushall and Walsall Wood  Labour Clubs.

My Dad is on the back row, right hand side, young, handsome and with a large quiff! Apart from one or two exceptions, the smartly dressed men look very happy! Is anyone able to add anything to the memories of this day trip and also some names of the men who went and the clubs they represented?

27 June 2013

Begging at the Gates of The Manor

Two weeks ago today a hastily convened public meeting was held at Aldridge Manor House Youth Centre to discuss the future of youth services in Aldridge following the equally hasty announcement that such provision was in the future, to be made from the back of vans or unused shops. By the end of what was an uncomfortable meeting for the Councillors and Officers present, it was agreed that a further public meeting would be held in the near future, that the meeting would be given wider and better publicity than the one that had taken place and that the minutes of the meeting would be made available to the community.

It saddens and angers me that at the time of writing no further meeting has yet been arranged and minutes have not been published. What has been published is this. A question and answer and action log. Posted on the web site today. It's taken a while!

The log is unfortunately not an accurate reflection of what happened at the meeting nor of the questions asked. Without going into an overlong analysis I'll just give two examples. Question 16. There was a question of this nature but the senior member of the community that asked the question was pointing out the loss of facilities to local elderly people who had used the offices formerly based at the side of the Manor House and now demolished, for internet use and other group meetings and those facilities had never been replaced. The point the questioner was making was that facilities had already been lost and had not been replaced. There were no questions about anti-social behaviour, just statements of concern.

Question 20 was never asked. What is behind this inclusion as a question is the proposal of Councillor Rochelle to give the local parish church several hundred thousand pounds to make up the current shortfall in the fund to build new church rooms. We should remember that when the new church rooms are built, the current rectory will be demolished, land sold and there is planning permission for several houses to be built on the land surrounding the current house. Work will be starting within the next month. Coincidence I'm sure!

The log does not reflect in any way the contributions made by two young people at the meeting who apparently had had their views ignored in previous consultation with the users of the Manor House. Seems that their views are still being ignored.

I may be wrong, or it could be because it was difficult to hear speakers at certain times during the meeting but I do not recall that at any time during the meeting  it was said that there would be centre based youth provision in Aldridge. The statement regarding a permanent base came later when Councillor A Andrew and I discussed the subject on BBC WM.

So the 'log' is not be trusted.

Since the meeting I have tweeted @WalsallCouncil on four separate days asking when the date will be fixed.

  • On 17 June they were 'discussing the date now'
  • On 21 June there is 'a meeting today' to discuss a date
  • On 25 June the date will be 'fixed in the next few days'
  • Today, 27 June 'still sorting out a date' 
This meeting is not for fixing thus far and one has to ask why? A little clue is contained within the log on the penultimate page under unanswered question from  meeting. No impact assessment on the impact of the closure of youth services at The Manor House has been carried out! Surely not! This explains why the first public meeting was arranged completely out of the blue and so hastily. Naughty Walsall Council may have been breaking the rules regarding public consultation and impact assessments and now they've been caught out, they're dragging the suddenly extended so called consultation period out, hoping that we'll forget the historic building in our midst and the youth club run from it.

I was surprised to discover at the meeting that apparently the Youth Club is promoted in local schools. Little of what goes on passes my daughter by so I asked her about this and she reported that she had never seen publicity for the youth club at school. I've never seen any publicity for the Manor House and regular week day youth provision (as opposed to holiday provision) in Aldridge and this leads me to something I said during the meeting. It seems to me that this youth club has been allowed to gradually decline, quite deliberately in order that it could be closed due to lack of interest. The reduction in the numbers of young people using the facility, not from the heydays of the 1970s and 1980s but in more recent years has been kept quiet. If they don't know it's there then how can they come and if they don't come, how can they miss it when it's gone?

Something smells fishy but the pond in front of the Manor House was filled in years ago......

13 June 2013

Costs and Values: Confusion at The Manor

They weren't expecting many to turn out for the public meeting at Aldridge Manor House this evening, set up in haste to discuss the future of youth provision in the area. Chairs in a circle and no mic, even though there's  a perfectly good pa system installed. Despite the lack of publicity and the indecent short notice, people came. I'm not good on numbers unless I count and I didn't but I would say about  50 of all ages from the young to the old.

The two Councillors John Murray and John Rochelle from Aldridge Central and South were there as was the Deputy Leader of the Council, Adrian Andrew. It was good to see two Councillors from outside the ward; Gareth Illmann-Walker and Barbara Cassidy. Notable in absence were the two Councillors from Aldridge North and Walsall Wood who were not on their honeymoon, Harris and Sears.

I'm not sure what to say about what happened at the meeting as much of it was inaudible but the buzz words were 'building not fit for purpose'. This was the stock answer to most questions. Apparently youth leaders spend far too much time arranging maintenance rather than providing a youth service. If I was hoping that I would get answers to all the questions I had then I was to be disappointed but I think the gist is that

  • there was an impact assessment with regards to the building but there hasn't been one on the impact on withdrawing from using a permanent base for youth work in Aldridge
  • there are few if any suitable buildings in Aldridge for a permanent base and they're having difficulties in finding suitable bases for pop-ups too
  • there are talks with Aston Manor Transport Museum for using their premises as a base for automotive courses currently run from the Manor
  • the current building is not fit for purpose
  • there are no restrictive covenants within the title deeds of the building and ownership has not been registered with Land Registry.
  • The building is not yet on the market and has not been sold
  • A new build centre is not a possibility
In 2011 it was thought the sale of the Manor House would raise £1 million. Proceeds would be reinvested in the council's capital programme. It would not be earmarked specifically for Aldridge. The sale would produce revenue savings of £18,000 a year, less than a Cabinet member's current allowance. I think the nub of everything going on here is about the sale proceeds.

The meeting got a little heated at times, there was passion. What was clear to me was the impression that the meeting was only supposed to be for parents of those whose children attend the centre. There appears to be no desire to engage the wider community despite the fact that the provision of youth services affects the whole community as the older people who attended pointed out and will affect everyone in Walsall if the council can get away with their plans for Aldridge.

Cllr Rochelle suggested that part of the proceeds from the sale of the Manor House could be given to the parish church to aid the building of their new rooms in exchange for the use of the rooms for youth provision. No thanks Councillor.

There was no desire by the council for a further public meeting, they would have preferred to go on towards planning future provision. This is all well and good and yes planning should go ahead however there was little publicity for the meeting this evening and many people in the local community were unaware that it was taking place. Furthermore we as a community should be allowed to question what has happened up to this point, whether actions taken on our behalf are fulfilling all legal criteria, what should happen to a well loved community building and hold our local councillors to account for decisions they play a part in making on our behalf. A further public meeting to discuss these issues will be held sometime in July. Hopefully this will be given better publicity than the one tonight.

I'm still not sure what is happening, whether there will be a permanent base for youth services in Aldridge or not. There were very mixed messages this evening. The meeting was confused and confusing apart from the young people who turned up and spoke with the passion that is part of youth. They did their generation proud.

To think we may lose the place where they meet, relax, plan, learn and are cared for, all for £18,000 a year.

6 June 2013

Crime Wave against Youth hits Aldridge - 'village' devastated' by consequences

I've wondered over the last few days whether or not a public meeting regarding the future of youth services in Aldridge would have been organised had there not been a fuss made on social media and by local bloggers. People such as Brownhills Bob, The Plastic Hippo and The Mushroom  as well as myself, raised the profile of the issue so much that even The Express and Star managed an article!  I've also thought about why there is such short notice for the meeting taking into account that the changes have been planned for over two years.

The public meeting will be held at The Manor House Youth Centre, Little Aston Road, Aldridge, next Thursday 13th June 6-8 pm. I urge anyone interested in the youth service as it is now and how it might be in the future to attend this meeting. There are many questions that need answering.

It was 6th April 2011 that Walsall Council announced the sale of The Manor House in Aldridge. The house is one of the few historic buildings left in Aldridge, it has a fascinating history, is Grade 2 listed and lies within a Conservation Area. For many years now, back to the 1960s it has been the home of the local youth service. I've written about how I feel about the service that has been given to the community by many dedicated youth workers before and will not go into that again. What does need to be covered however is the behaviour of Walsall Council and our local councillors in the last few years.

It's worth returning to my FOI request made on 10th May 2011. It was very simple. 

"On 6th April 2011, the council announced the sale of Aldridge Manor House. My question is: Once the sale is agreed and goes ahead will the Youth Club held at the Manor House be closed or will it be relocated to other premises in Aldridge?"

It took until 5th July 2011 to respond and no explanation was given as to why a simple FOI request should take so long. The response was one sentence.

" I  can confirm that any decisions in the future  relating to the Youth Club will be subject to consultation with all interested parties and will include efforts to relocate the  service."

As far as I've been able to ascertain the only consultation thus far carried out has been with the young people who have used the centre since April this year. There has been no wider consultation with the community at large. There also appears to have been no effort at all in attempting to relocate the service. Instead we are left with the mind blowing decision that youth services for Aldridge are to be run from the back of a van. It's fair to say that there are other areas of Walsall where this type of service is to be imposed in the name of cuts or 'efficiency savings' and perhaps people in those areas need to start campaigning for their local youth service too.

The general community it seems are quick to point the finger at young people and accuse them of being responsible for all the ills that come under the label of anti-social behaviour even if they're not responsible, so this sort of decision to abandon a decent youth service does affect everyone in the community and not just the service users because it is the community at large that will suffer the consequences of our young people not having a permanent place to go, staffed by youth workers with a permanent base.

Councillor Rachel Andrew has promised (in press releases) that youth work will continue in Aldridge and other areas with a mobile service and pop-up youth clubs. John Morris, Local Area Manager gave details of where such services have already been successfully implemented. I took a look at this services in other areas and without fail, each one still has permanent bases or hubs for the young people of those areas. The pop-ups have been utilised during school holidays in order to reach out to areas not normally covered by youth programmes in order to attempt reductions in anti-social behaviour where there have been problems and yes, they've been successful. The same goes for mobile services. They are seen as a supplement to the main youth service work. In all of these schemes although some have seen the closure of some youth centres, hubs have been created from where the pop-ups and mobile services have been run from.

This is not happening in Aldridge. Instead we potentially see a youth service for the area run from the back of a van. A vacancy has already been advertised for a 'mobile' youth worker. The first question that ran through my mind was where does a young person go if they need someone urgently, if there is no permanent base for the youth service?

On hearing of the definite closure of The Manor House Youth Club on 31st August I emailed all six local councillors for further information. Cllr Ansell, may he rest in peace, did respond immediately advising me to contact Cllr and Leader of the Council, Bird which I duly did. Neither he nor Cllrs Flower, Harris, Sears or Rochelle have ever bothered to respond to my communication. Cllr John Murray has been more helpful and provided this response:

""I have received a reply from the officer concerned with Aldridge Youth Club which responds to your queries in the following way:

1, The decision to close Aldridge Manor House followed the review of the Councils office accommodation through AM2010 led by Property Services.
2, The related business case and ‘Smarter workplaces’ report was agreed by Cabinet on 13th April 2011.
3, The report was identified as requiring a key decision and that it impacted upon ‘all wards’
4, Section 10 of the report refers to consultation activity and states ‘Consultation has been held with CMT/Cabinet, Strategic Property Board and Services which will be involved in the delivery of the programme’.
5, I am not aware of any other consultation activity with the community related to the decision to close AMH.
6, IYPSS are working with a range of services, young people and the wider community to develop an exit strategy from AMH and a programme of alternative provision to be delivered from September 2013.
The only one of your questions not answered above is the one regarding the associated minutes of a scrutiny or cabinet meeting. I would refer you to the minutes of the cabinet meeting held on 13 April 2011, which are available on the council website.
Please let me know if the above answers your questions or if there is anything else which I can do for you regarding this matter.
Councillor John Murray"

I thank Cllr Murray for his assistance. For the other councillors I just say that I am not impressed with what appears to be a  lack of concern for the young people of this area. Perhaps you've been too busy campaigning on other issues that aren't really even issues yet?

Although some questions have been answered by Cllr Murray for example and also by press releases, many haven't. The Council seem to be being evasive about certain direct questions, such as where can I see a copy of the Impact Assessment? I'm beginning to think that maybe an Impact Assessment on the consequences for all of the community in closing a permanent youth service in Aldridge has not been carried out. If this is so, then the Council are acting illegally. If one has been carried out why will nobody tell me where I can find it?

It also seems that this decision has not been discussed at Council or Cabinet since April 2011. So who made the decision to abandon a permanent youth centre for Aldridge and when?

Other questions that occur to me and for which local people need answers to are:

What efforts were made to relocate the youth service of Aldridge and who by?

What consultation has taken place since July 2011 and who with? Now I know that the subject was discussed at a local area committee meeting back in February but cannot locate any information regarding other consultation and Cllr Murray is not aware of any that has taken place either. How does this consultation fit in with the response to the FOI request?

What buildings have been identified in Aldridge as suitable for a pop-up service?

Where will the youth workers for Aldridge be based? Back of a van?

The vans; how many young people will they cater for actually inside and what facilities will be available for them within? I've seen the basketball hoop on the back of one van. Impressive!

What will the costs be for converting vans for using as a mobile youth service?

What are the potential savings in the closure of The Manor House?

What will happen to all the fabulous fixtures and fittings, equipment etc currently used at The Manor House?

Will the mobiles be able to support all of the courses and work done with young people? For example in recent years there have been courses for food hygiene with a proper recognised qualification awarded on successful completion. Are mobiles the best places for confidential and private counselling services that our young people often need and want?

Do our local councillors and Council honestly believe that they will be fulfilling all the necessary criteria in meeting what is a statutory service for this area?

Perhaps these questions will be answered at next weeks public meeting. If you have any and are unable to attend the meeting then please do contact me at taxwizzardATgmailDOTcom and I will be more than happy to raise them on your behalf.

I've concentrated on the loss of a permanent youth service but have said nothing about the sale of The Manor House itself. Just one question: what will become of it?

27 May 2013

The Start of Living the Dream

Tittesworth Reservoir seen from The Roaches..all in beautiful Staffordshire

If you're a regular reader you'll know how much I value the great outdoors. Be it walking, cycling or merely observing I love taking in the beauty all around me. It has been a constant in my adult life, savoured, loved and enjoyed. I never seem to be able to get enough of the natural beauties that are available free to anyone that cares to look.

A little while ago an opportunity presented itself which in short led us to purchase a second hand touring caravan. We had talked for some time about a campervan but the practicalities involved pointed us towards the tourer. Our aim is to utilise as much time as we can going away for weekends and longer, any time that we have available and living as close to nature and her beauties as our decrepit middle aged bodies will put up with! We were conscious of how middle aged making such a purchase might seem to some but since when have I ever cared what other people thought about personal decisions? If I'm reaching my dotage then bring it on.

So it was that this weekend we embarked upon our maiden trip. We didn't want to venture too far from home. This was to be a trip of discovery, how we would get on, how we would feel, how the towing would evolve. We chose to stay at Blackshaw Moor, just by The Roaches on the Staffordshire Moorlands. The journey there was uneventful and within an hour of arrival we had booked in, pitched, hooked up, unpacked, had hot water and heating and were sitting enjoying a cup of coffee. It took us less than an hour to reverse all those things on our departure this morning!

Total and pure relaxation. It  was a delight to wake up and watch the birds in such close proximity, just a few feet away from where we sat or lay in comfort and warmth. There were finches galore, sparrows and thrushes within an arms-length. We were fortunate; the sun shone all weekend and the site was a good, clean, family site with peace descending by 10 pm. The Roaches visible from the window, looked majestic. We walked a great deal. We climbed The Roaches and walked on to Lud's Church which isn't a church but a chasm that has been a place of spirituality for hundreds if not thousands of years. We watched peregrine falcons nesting in the wild, heard cuckoo's and spotted skylarks, dozens of them.  We also walked around Tittesworth Reservoir and beyond and then followed a cycling polka dot challenge through the hills with me feeling that the cyclists were mad and Aiden reveling in the thought of a future ride!

We enjoyed a few drinks in welcoming local hostelries and were amazed at the creativity of the villagers of Meerbrook and their scarecrows but most of all we enjoyed being free of cares and worries and having time to enjoy each others company. It was bliss. Simple bliss.

23 May 2013

To the Manor Born again.....

Back in July 2011 I blogged the following about The Manor House Youth Club in Aldridge. Seems they've gone and pulled the rug from under the young people of Aldridge and surrounding areas. The Manor will close on 31st August. Seems the six councillors of Aldridge don't know an awful lot about this. Why not? Whose interests do they represent? Why has there been no consultation as promised and why are the people of Aldridge the last to know about this?

We are all in this together. Well unless you're young, old, infirm, disabled, unwell or perhaps a single parent, then you have to shoulder a little more because after all it was the greed of such groups that caused the mess the country is apparently in right now. Taking on that little extra hurts and it seems that government be it local or national is taking the lead sadistic role with pleasure but then that's what sadists do.

I've blogged before about inclusion and provision for young people and also a little about my utopian pipe dreams of how local life can be made a little better for all by concentrating resources in a positive and pointed way towards our young people. They are as the cliché goes, our future. Love 'em or loathe 'em it's the young people of today who are going to be taking care of us in the years to come, so you would think we would like to make sure that they get a good start, learn some decent values and have a little fun along the way in order to develop into the well rounded adults that we want caring for us old dodderers.

I learned my life skills from a variety of sources including in my teenage years, The Manor House Youth Club in Aldridge. I learned about mixing with others who didn't go to my school, didn't come from my estate, didn't share my religion, race or sexual orientation, or my taste in music or TV viewing. There were never any arguments about what channel the TV should be on when Charlie's Angels was on and I recall the collective experience, joyful though we were not Scousers, of seeing Liverpool beat Borussia Monchengladbach in 1977 but those times apart, selection of the right channel required careful bargaining and negotiating skills. This was true of getting on pool tables or table football or even selection of records on the old juke box in the coffee lounge. Oh what innocent times, well except Friday nights and the disco when it seemed to me that every teenager in Aldridge was indulging in a snogfest except me! Well I suppose even that has to be learned. The point is that The Manor provided a safe environment for me and all the other young people in the area, under the supervision of some pretty excellent Youth Leaders to be ourselves and to endure the pains, trials, tribulations and angst of the teenage years.

When I arrived back in Aldridge after a long exile in London I was pleased to discover that The Manor was still there and still functioning in pretty much the same way as it had when I was a spotty teenager albeit with a beautifully equipped music room and much better facilities in general than the 1970s. My son has spent many happy hours there, indeed he even did his Year 10 work experience there under the wonderful supervision of a very dedicated Youth Worker by the name of Matt Gough, sadly for the young people of Aldridge now working elsewhere. My daughter is now of an age when she can enjoy the delights of a vibrant youth centre. Unfortunately it looks as though the experience is to be ripped away from her in the name of budget deficit sadists.

Back on 6th April Walsall Council announced it plans to sell Aldridge Manor House. My immediate thought was what is going to happen to the youth provision? I spent the next couple of weeks tweeting @Walsall Council to no avail and so on 10th May I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the council and asked 'Once the sale is agreed and goes ahead, will the Youth Club held at the Manor House be closed or will it be relocated to other premises in Aldridge?' The response was a very long time in arriving considering all it consisted of was one devastating sentence

'I can confirm that any decisions in the future relating to the Youth Club will be subject to consultation with all interested parties and will include efforts to relocate the service.'

So there we have it. There are to be consultations on the future of Aldridge Manor House Youth Service...when? Has the decision to withdraw youth provision in Aldridge already been made behind closed doors where the walls had no ears? And these 'efforts', what will they consist of? I've been racking my brains to try and come up with a set of suitable premises in Aldridge that could be converted (no doubt at some considerable cost thereby rendering such a plan non-viable in the financially penny pinching climate of the moment) for our young people and I cannot think of any. How concerted will such 'efforts' be or, forgive me for being cynical I've lived a while after all, is this it? The end of something so valuable for all our futures and all because some are more in it together than others?

Another cynical thought. Aldridge Manor House is a Grade 2 listed building. Who would want to buy such a building, standing as it does in the very heart of a conservation area in Aldridge with the sort of restrictions that such buildings bring with regard to usage? I fear the heat of the flames that will inevitably follow after years of neglect and dereliction. It appears after all to be a Borough Wide Sport here in Walsall, available to all as long as they have patience, money and a steadfast belief that local authorities and local communities are to be ignored at all costs

Will any of the six councillors for Aldridge North and South make a stand for the young people of Aldridge and pledge support for ensuring that youth provision for the area remains in place or will they continue to play follow the leader?

17 March 2013

When you take the 'service' out of Civil Service

A few days ago HMRC announced that they are closing all 281 of it's Enquiry Centres. There's no getting around this; it's a cost cutting measure but they still have the cheek to say that they will provide a modern and accessible service to 'customers' who need it. Apparently they will offer a 'more specialised phone service' and also 'home visits'.

This is a travesty.

One of the reasons given for closing the enquiry offices is that they're just not being used the way they used to be. There's been a drop in the numbers visiting the centres of 50% since 2005/06. This is hardly surprising when you take into account that since then, the centres have reduced their opening hours and have also been part of a an enormous departmental reorganisation which has meant that most people haven't got a clue where their local enquiry centre is. Many were closed during reorganisations meaning that people didn't really have access to a 'local' service at all any longer but had to travel to a new centre.

I recall back in the 1980s the union arguing against the closure of local enquiry offices precisely because if they weren't local and serving their local community then there was in effect no service. I also recall from my own personal experience when I was a local case worker with my own allocation of work what a valuable service was offered and how much it was valued by those who used it. I knew many of my own people name, could recall instantly their history and how I might need to handle them. I also remember my 'regulars' who just wanted me to go through what had been sent to them, 'just to make sure' that everything was OK.

Now who can argue against home visits? At first thought it seems like such a good idea but two problems instantly spring to mind. HMRC are known for their 'fishing' visits and how they gather information on a taxpayers personal circumstances by visits to homes and business premises. Some of this information can be sadly wrong because of supposition and that can have devastating consequences for the individual involved. If you're offered a home visit I strongly urge you to ask them to book a room at their expense in a public building! Secondly we all know how vulnerable people can be prey to unscrupulous and criminal people calling at their doors. Letting HMRC out on the loose just gives those with bad intentions another organisation to use in pretence at gaining entry to someones home.

HMRC have come in for a lot of very justified criticism over the telephone helplines they run. People are quite literally left hanging on the telephone waiting for their call to be answered. In years gone by you called your local office and spoke to whoever it was that personally dealt with your tax affairs. Sadly that sort of caseworker no longer exists and you cannot call your local office but only a call centre. This means that rarely will you get a decent explanation of exactly what is happening with your tax affairs because in truth, no one person has ownership of them anymore. Yet HMRC now say that telephones are the only way that you will be able to have a real conversation with them, unless of course you're invited in for an investigation interview. It must not be forgotten that all of HMRCs contact numbers are now 0845 and can therefore cost some people an awful lot of money. To be left waiting for a human voice after the instant initial greeting is in my opinion unforgivable in terms of delivering an effective public service.It is sad that HMRC seem to be running what should be a public service as a business  and counting up the cost of providing a face to face service that really should be seen as essential. What they have failed to realise is that many of the people that do visit the enquiry centres are vulnerable people that need the reassurance of friendly and courteous face to face contact and are by default therefore, likely to prove to be 'expensive' customers, sorry, I mean taxpayers.

Many would say 'hey it's only HMRC' but let's not forget that this department oversees Tax Credits, National Insurance, Customs duties and VAT, as well as Income Tax. These are really complicated subjects for many people to understand. We should making access to information easier not harder to obtain for ordinary people. Or maybe I'm just a dinosaur who still believes that public services are worth fighting for?

Once HMRC could be proud of the personal service it offered. Now that service is to become merely a memory.  For some the service is already a shadow of its former self with staff ill informed and badly trained compared to twenty or even ten years ago. For many staff who work there  finding their own inability to offer a decent service is frustrating and against their own public service principals. Believe it or not many civil servants do actually want to fulfil their role as a service provider and be proud of it.

HMRC say that plans are not yet final but will be dependent upon the pilot that is to be run in the North East but we all know that pilots rarely fail in the eyes of those who most want them to succeed whatever the actual results are.

Little thought has been given to viable alternatives to closing all enquiry centres. One idea that occurred to me is that advice staff could be placed in every Job Centre so that a dual role could be given to such offices and ensure their survival in the future. I'm sure that there are many other ideas out there. The best idea though would be to abandon this badly thought out initiative. HMRC is a public service performed by civil servants. The clue is in the word 'service'. It is not just a service to the government of the day in raising and collecting taxes so that our country can run it's schools, hospitals, roads and so on but it is also a service to the people who pay those taxes.

16 March 2013

A First for Park Lime Pits

Path at Park Lime Pits 1 May 2011
This is just a short blog to ask for your support on Monday evening.

Less than 11 months ago a meeting was held to form The Friends of Park Lime Pits. Since then the steering group of the Friends has helped organise several successful events at PLP including an hugely enjoyable Bee Walk, a very wet litter pick, two work party days, A Dawn Chorus Walk and a Winter Bird Walk. The group has also worked closely with West Midland Police in an attempt to eliminate anti social behaviour at the Reserve and as a result of the Friends forming, Brum Bats in association with Black Country & Staffordshire Naturalists  have erected an awful lot of bat boxes because Park Lime Pits is Walsall's Bat Central!

Park Lime Pits is as many of you know an oasis of peace, beauty and tranquility just two and half miles from Walsall Town Centre. It is biologically very diverse with over three hundred species of plants and one hundred species of birds including Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Heron and Kingfisher.

The Friends of Park Lime Pits want to work to preserve and develop this wonderful site. They also want to further develop the relationship with the local farmer of Lime Pits Farm, which envelopes the Pits on three sides and to develop ties with other User and Friend Groups in Walsall. This cannot be done without the wonderful Ranger help along with The Countryside Services Team and Walsall Council. Equally it cannot be done without more help from the local community. On Monday evening therefore, the Friends are holding their inaugural annual general meeting where it is hoped, if there are enough people there, to formally constitute as a group. This will have several benefits. The Group will be a community group with a community voice and will therefore be stronger for that. The group will also be able to apply for various grants in order to further the conservation work at the Reserve. We would like to be a group that truly represents what the local community wants to see in its own local nature reserve.

If you're interested in having a say in all of this and maybe in playing a part, we need you.

I would like to invite everyone to come along to The Manor Arms on Monday 18 March at 7.30 to the meeting. Everyone is welcome and you don't have to live in Rushall although it would be wonderful if you do!

14 March 2013

I'm Walsall and I'm Proud

Funny things coincidences. Before I read this this rather lovely blog about the West Midlands, I was formulating  a post in my head about Walsall following a conversation with my son earlier today and an even earlier conversation with my daughter. The blog being written inside my head was about my love for dirty, dingy,scruffy, unloved and almost unloveable Walsall and by Walsall I don't just mean the town centre  but the Borough, which encompasses some pretty diverse neighbourhoods all with quite distinct identities.

I know what you're thinking; the Mad Old Baggage really has lost her marbles this time. Love Walsall? Not Mad but Stark Staring Raving Monster Loony Old Baggage! Allow me to explain.

Despite the fact that my accent is now once again firmly local to Walsall, the southern twang picked up during 20 years in London having been 'lost' since my return to Aldridge, a town I actively loathed as a teenager, neither of my children have a local accent. Daughter has a slight tinge of the Midlands in the way her sentences run but Son is accent-less  I've always put this down to Son having spent the first 8 years of his life in London and Daughter having a posh sounding Dad because it's certainly not because the common denominator that is me. I mean have you heard me on the radio? Sometimes if I break into dialect they look at me as though I'm a beast from another planet. So it was no surprise to me when I said something to Son today and he he responded in exasperation by telling me 'Mom, you're so Walsall sometimes.' I retorted that there was nothing wrong with that to which he scornfully said 'Mom, Walsall is a dump. Have you looked around the town recently?'

He's right of course. Teenagers always are. Walsall Town Centre is a dump. With nearly a third of shops empty, there is an air of desolation and despair about the place. What shops there are tend to be of the bargain basement variety, only Walsall could boast about having the largest Poundland in the country, or they're charity shops or burger/pizza/kebab fast food outlets. All the heritage buildings such as Shannons Mill or the BOAK building have been conveniently raised to the ground by the Walsall Firestarter. There is little to be proud of there.

Then there is the local council. Least said the better there because I do not wish to provoke more angry emails from Councillors advising me that criticism of the council is not allowed. However let it be said that in Walsall we are blessed with three political parties, none of whom are prepared to leave behind party dogma, history and divides that happened 20 odd years ago and work together for the benefit of the people they are meant to serve.

There are lots of reasons to dislike Walsall and to laugh when outsiders make it the butt of jokes so why did I automatically say that there was nothing wrong with being Walsall?

I have waxed lyrical to the point of reader boredom about Walsall's Green Spaces. Don't worry, I'm not off on one again although I will say, they are very special and would do many a council proud. There is envy for our Green Spaces by similar types of local authority and with good reason. Walsall's Green Spaces are bostin'.

The real reason there's nothing wrong with being Walsall, is the people of the town. We're multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-everything and I like it that way. What I really like though is the directness of people in the Borough, the dry and self deprecating humour and the practicality within. I love the way when Aiden was trying to elicit sympathy whilst wearing a sling and he said something along the lines of 'she hits me when she gets angry' to shop assistants etc, they all without exception replied 'well you must have done something to deserve it'. I love the way people, complete strangers usually, will strike up a conversation, in a shop, on the bus, at the bus stop, anywhere and you don't automatically think they're a nutter. I love the generosity of the people in welcoming newcomers to the Borough be they northerners, southerners or from further afield. I love the generosity of giving, just look at the response during the coldest days of winter for the homeless shelter. I love the way people still hold doors open for you or hold the lift or pick things up that you've dropped and run after you in the street. I love the general friendliness of the people of Walsall. It took the long suffering Aiden to open my eyes and make me see that it is an unusual thing. It's precious.

Sure Walsall has more than its fair share of problems and also its fair share of bad folks but on the whole it's not a bad place to live and a whole lot better than some places that I've lived. Yeah I'm so Walsall and I'm proud of that.