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.