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?