16 November 2017

Christmas Presents

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

Recently I launched this appeal 

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you

10 November 2017

Remembrance - ripples through time

As is usual at this time of the year, remembrance comes to the fore.

I don't believe that war is the answer, or conflict, or violence. Having long ago been a history student and studied the reasons that war has been entered into, I get angered that arguments between a tiny group of people, family spats, extreme political ideology and so forth, lead to the deaths of sometimes millions of ordinary men and women who often had no idea what they were really fighting and working for and what cause was theirs.

Remembrance for me has nothing to do with patriotism, for after all we should include in our remembrances, those from other countries who also paid the ultimate sacrifice for they were ordinary men and women caught up in something much larger than themselves too. One only has to walk around The German War Graves Cemetery at Cannock Chase to see that.  I also remember that it wasn't just young men and women from the UK who fought 'on our side'. They were joined by many nationalities and creeds from all around what are now Commonwealth countries and some too that do not wish to belong to the Commonwealth. Remembrance isn't just a white British thing and those who wish to hijack this season of remembrance for their own right wing political ends would do well to remember that.

But it isn't just those who were involved in the conflict that for me, should be remembered. I also remember those whose lives were drastically changed by conflict. My maternal Grandmother and her sisters grew up without a Father. My paternal Grandfather came home from WW1 but the privations of service left him with a weakened body leading to a premature death. This  led to my Father growing up without his Father around. My Father saw active service in Korea whilst ostensibly on National Service. Just 18 years old. He never speaks of what he saw and experienced but I know it still plays on his mind especially that now he is the only one of his group that remains alive.

The ripples of war reach out down the decades and centuries. What was done cannot be undone. The consequences are not just for the generation that lived it but for those that follow too. Emotional scars that cannot be healed. Poverty endured because a parent wasn't there. The Poppy Appeal as we now call it was originally set up as The Haig Fund by Field Marshall Douglas Haig to assist ex servicemen. That we still need a Poppy Appeal now  in the 21st century, along with all the other charities specifically and more recently set up such as Help for Heroes, in one of the largest economies of the world, speaks volumes about how this country supports it's ex servicemen and women. Successive governments have failed them and their families as the governments that sent so many to be slaughtered not just on the battlefields of Europe but further away too, failed in the past.

Just recently I learned that my Father's first cousin, an Aldridge man born and bred,  was one of the last men to die before the Armistice came into effect at 11 am on the 11th November 1918. The war diary for his regiment reads:

"....at 10.10 hours, received an order that hostilities would cease at 11.00 hours, this order only reached coys a few minutes before that hour. Enemy artillery remained active to the last and No. 54854 Pte J Frost of 'A' company was fatally wounded by a shell less than ten minutes before the armistice commenced" 

He was 19 years old.

This weekend I will be remembering the following, some who died in conflict, some who died afterwards and I will also be remembering those they left behind, those that missed, grieved and mourned them and whose lives were never the same again.

Corporal John Thomas Mason
Lance Corporal Charles Mason Died 10 May 1915
Private Eli William Frost
Private James Henry Ernest Frost Died 11 November 1918
Private William Plant Died 10 March 1915
Gunner Frank Plant
Gunner Charles Frederick Cook
Private Frank Keys Died 14 July 1916
Private Harry Keys
Private Francis Leslie Phillips Died 20 July 1916

5 October 2017

Ancestor Hunting

Whitbeck Church
I've been hunting my ancestors for forty years now. It's an interesting journey and one that never ends. Family history is part of my existence and was, long before the internet made it easier to research and long before programmes such Who Do You Think You Are were part of the BBC's remit on public broadcasting. Days in record offices are not over by any means but they are less frequent. I still get a thrill when discovering something new online about someone I am looking for from the comfort of my living room but you cannot beat the thrill of pouring over old documents in a record office and having to play silent deadpan at Eureka moments!

Gotcha! Robert Ainsworth

I am often asked why? They're dead those people you look for. The past is gone. Leave it be. Let the skeletons remain in the cupboards. My reply is usually  about history and learning from it, not repeating mistakes but my prime motivator and response is that I never want to forget my roots, where I came from and to remember all those who went before and who have made my own life possible. Ancient peoples remember their ancestors and honour them in many ways but modern society, the first world, does its best to forget them and by doing that I believe we become disconnected with our past and history and then live without true grounding and purpose but what do I know!

Recently I began researching Aiden's family history and it is fascinating. I am not related to any of these people but I have become wrapped up in their lives and where they lived them. I wrote about one character a little while ago and although larger than life characters are fantastic, I love trying to discover a little more about the unsung and the forgotten.

A beautiful place to rest - Barrow Cemetery
In September we were lucky to be able to spend some time in The Lake District (if you like photographs of that area there's lots here) and surroundings, an area where Aiden has deep roots. We deliberately put a few days aside to hunt down some of his ancestors, to discover the places they had lived and frequented, to gaze at views they must have also looked upon, to get a feel for them and their lives.

Some of the places they came from were remote and some were remote and bleak. None were far from the coast and some were downright open to every element that would have come their way.

The view from the south of Walney Island
Biggar Village, Walney Island
I did wonder at their resilience and as to why they remained in such places or kept returning to them. We see remote places differently now. With the internet. TV, modern communications, heating systems and light, a place can be remote but yet we can still stay in touch with everyone we want to in an easy and convenient way, whilst being well fed and kept warm.

Imagine somewhere like Walney Island in 1700. Windswept, burning peat as likely as not to keep warm, draughts swirling around backs and knees and the only light after sunset being from the fire and candles. Few creature comforts and yet the Ainsworths' kept returning there. Was it the absolute magnificence of the views of never ending skies and sand (when the tide was out) and marvelling at the creation of the Lord? Or did they care for neither, it was where the work was and where they could find a home?

I suppose I will never know the answers to those questions but there is a sense of yes, they loved it there, the coast, the sea, the beaches because I know and have known the love for the sea resurrected in both Aiden and his Mother. Perhaps it's all in the blood after all?!

The view from Walney to Piel Castle
Ancestor hunting always fires my hunger for more family history research. It also reminds me that there is never enough time. We are on this planet  for such a short time whether we die young or old, it is a mere blip in time. I am conscious of never being satisfied with my discoveries and of the yearning for more and for never having enough time to continue the voyage of discovery. Perhaps that is why I hunt the ancestors for whilst I do they remain immortal, at least for me.

The old lighthouse at Rampside

Aldingham Church

Watching the Neighbourhood

Thanks to beech Village NW in Hampshire for this one!
It all seems to have gone quiet on the a follow up public meeting or at least I've not seen anything (please if I am wrong tell me!) however, with everything that has been going on in Aldridge in recent times, there is a forum where residents can meet and discuss crime and safety concerns. Not only that but there is a member of our local Police team present too.

It's called Neighbourhood Watch.

Neighbourhood Watch has an unfortunate reputation, not at all based upon reality, of curtain twitching. The reality is that it is about building strong, friendly and active communities where crime and anti social behaviour is less likely to happen.  It isn't just about working with the Police but with other agencies, including the council, to make a local community better.

Local coordinators provide a point of contact for a small locality, that could be a street, a multi occupancy building or part of a road, delivering leaflets, collating information from their neighbours. They are the backbone of the organisation.

To discover which Neighbourhood Watch area you belong to, pop along to this SITE and enter your postcode. You'll see that for a WS9 postcode there appears to be a selection of NW groups however, I am not entirely sure as to whether all of them remain active. There are two however, that are definitely active and that is Aldridge North  and Aldridge South. If you click on their names on the web page it takes you to a map that clearly marks the boundary lines of the group.

The first action I urge you to take if you are a member of the Facebook community, is to click on both groups and follow them. There is some cross over between the two areas and it's always good to be informed about the whole community!

If you live in Aldridge South then the next meeting, which happens to be the Annual General Meeting is next week. Details:

Aldridge South Neighbourhood Watch
Annual General Meeting

7.00 PM

Aldridge Police Station Training Room

The training room is situated at the rear of the Police Station. Just take to the right hand side of the station. You can't miss it.

If you have concerns about what has been happening in your neighbourhood in recent times then please do come along. From what I have seen the meetings are pretty informal and friendly. The public  meeting held in July was well attended and clearly residents of Aldridge care about their community, so I really urge everyone in the Aldridge South area to come along and then we can start to make a difference to our community. Coordinators are desperately needed and it doesn't take up too much time! The stronger we are, the more we can do. Together. Let's make a difference. Together.

7 August 2017

An Aldridge Perambulation

Although I walk around Aldridge on one mission or another every day, it is not often I choose to walk Aldridge purely as a leisure pursuit. Sunday unusually, was dry and reasonably sunny for some of the time and so I decided to amble where ever my feet and thoughts decided to go. When walking Aldridge for no other reason than I want to, my thoughts tend to lead to those who have walked before me, Grandparents, Great Grandparents and even Great Great Grandparents. My mind tries to picture the streets, roads and lanes as they were 100 years ago and even further back than that. On a reasonably quiet Sunday morning with the bells of the parish church ringing, it is not a difficult leap to make although I do think that most of my ancestors would be astounded by the changes that have taken place, not just in the buildings around the village or even the growth of housing but in the lack of industry compared with back then. No collieries now. No belching chimneys or even gently smoking chimneys from the homes. No blacksmiths forges. If one thing has improved in Aldridge whilst I have been alive, its the air quality!

This is the walk I took, taking photographs of anything that interested me along the way.

This terrace on Walsall Road is most attractive now. The tiny front gardens are immaculately maintained. Having checked the old OS maps they appear to have been built sometimes between 1901 and 1913. As a child I thought of them as unattractive and forbidding with their peeling green paint on windows and doors!
 Forgive this photograph of a roof but it is all you can see from Walsall Road. This small cottage on that road is older than the terrace above having been built between 1882 and 1901. It is the cottage I wrote about in a blog about my Grandfather who died there. It is also the house in which my father and his sister were born.

 Next to the cottage is the mile post marker. This must have been erected around the time the cottage was built as it appears for the first time on an OS map for which the survey was carried out in 1901. The post was manufactured by Charles Lathe & Co of Tipton who were established c.1887 and their mile markers can still be found all over Staffordshire. For many years the marker's reference to Watford Gap puzzled me as the only Watford Gap I had ever heard of was on the M1 and that is a great deal further than four miles! A request to the wonderful Brownhills Bob and his inestimable readership soon solved the mystery!
 Originally the site of White House Farm and now The Whitehouse pub,which was built in 1937. I was amused when attempting to trace any history of this pub that one web site states its location as Pool Green, Walsall, which is a nod to its true location (Pool Green was in effect a hamlet outside of Aldridge village until Aldridge started to grow outwards but controversially, may be the place that Aldridge was first settled and so is more Aldridge than Aldridge!) and one in the eye for rather a lot of people who have commented on the pub being in Aldridge and not Walsall on a particular Facebook group! It may be in Aldridge now but it may not have always been considered to be so.

After the fire - last week fire swept through this farm on Bosty Lane. I'm not sure how old some of these buildings are. They are not listed but they are old. They appear on OS Maps prior to 1881. The farm I am led to understand, is owned by Walsall Council and is currently unoccupied.
 Top Hangar at the Airport field. No longer occupied by the Countryside Services team from Walsall Council, who still own the building and judging by the gates, seldom entered and not for some considerable time. I find this a pity. It is a building that has enormous potential for community use but alas we live in what seems like perpetual austerity and so it is abandoned despite its history.

The Top Hangars history is partly explained by a poster on the door, left over from the Black Country Echoes Festival held during the latter part of 2014. Helliwells, producer of the Swallow Doretti is part of that history as was the war time manufacture of aircraft components by the same company, along with aircraft modification and repair at their factory which once stood on the other side of the airport field, fronting the Walsall Road.
 The Airport Field, now known as Aldridge Airport Field but originally called Walsall Aerodrome was purchased along with Aldridge Lodge (now demolished) in 1930 by Walsall Council. It closed in 1956. My Dad told me of the day he had seen Amy Johnson land on the field and I doubted him until I discovered that yes, she did actually land there back in 1938. Dad would have been 6 years old. Today was clear and there in the distance is Dudley and Rowley Regis.

Further along towards the west, the flats of the Chuckery in Walsall dominate hiding the more genteel view of St Matthew's in Walsall. At the bottom of the field the local model airplane club still brings in the numbers on a Sunday morning.
You can see the flats in Heath Town Wolverhampton in this shot if you get a magnifying glass out. As I sat on a post pondering the panorama of virtually the whole of the Black Country before me and certainly the Boroughs that make up the Black Country as it is considered today; Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton. it occurred to me that had I sat here 150 years ago I would have been able to witness the Black by Day, Red by Night, description famously made by Elihu Burritt the American Consul. Black Smoke during the day and the red from the forges and furnaces at night for the industrial revolution was a 24/7 enterpise, in all its glory. We are so lucky in Aldridge to have fantastic views in all directions, perched as we are on a ridge. Not so lucky if you cycle though as I have discovered, as all roads home are up hill!

This house on Barr Common Road appears on the 1885 OS map which was surveyed for in 1882. It seems from appearance to have been around for some considerable time prior to that date. It's a lovely old farm house and is listed on a local list (as opposed to The Statutory List of Special Architectural or Historic Interest).
 The start of Barr Common. The spot I stood to take this photograph was once part of  a gravel pit. The gravel was used for road repairs following the  expansion of roads after the various turnpike acts in parliament during the 18th and 19th centuries. Hard to believe it now isn't it?

Taken from Whetstone Lane. You can see the Sutton Coldfield transmitter and Sutton Park. As I said earlier, Aldridge is blessed with good views from many vantage points.

This nearly derelict house on Erdington Road, more or less opposite the junction with Whetstone Lane is causing a little controversy at the present time. The last house on that side until nearly at the junction with Little Hardwick Road it has a large garden, is right on the edge of the green belt and offers most pleasant views over fields towards Sutton Park.

The Shrubbery on Erdington Road. Grade II listed having being built in the mid to late 18th century. Used as offices now but apparently has some interesting period detail within.

 Just before the junction of Erdington Road with Portland Road are these buildings. I have no idea how old they are, probably no more than a century however, the brickwork speaks of days gone by as does the size of the windows. Per OS maps they were built prior to 1912.

Portland Road. At least 100 years old.

Peeping through the gate to get a glimpse of The Cottage built in the 17th century. It has sat there on the edge of The Croft for so long, I think many people forget it is there. Despite it now being such a busy road, I always think The Cottage remains in glorious isolation and seclusion. It looks so inviting. I would love a tour!
A famous Aldridge landmark. Now The Maltings but I do remember it as Frank James Hill Garage. It stands right next to The Moot House.  People often think that the hill was named after the garage and that Frank James owned the garage but the hill came first. Locally known as Frank James Hill but who was Frank James and how did he get a hill named after him?  That's a blog for another day but I do know the answer! One only has to look as far as Walsall and a foundry that used to stand in Bridgeman Street!

The Croft. Our village green. How long will this remain unspoiled despite it being protected by common land status and also being in a conservation area?

The war memorial or cenotaph as some call it. Originally erected in the church yard just a few yards away and re-sited in the 1950s. My Great Uncle, William Plant is remembered on this. My Great Grandmother, his mother,  kept a photograph of its original dedication in 1919 with her until she died.

The lychgate at the parish church.

The Bonner Memorial looking beautiful after all the loving attention of the Aldridge Volunteer Gardeners. We owe them so much for keeping Aldridge looking lovely. Thank you

OK so I took this photograph but I do like it! The Bonner Memorial Garden and The Parish Church all in one shot...and no cars!

The main entrance to the cemetery. Beautiful doors and well maintained.

The new Church Rooms. I have to admit that I didn't much care for this building originally but it has grown on me. I love the reflections of colours in and off the main window

Taken from the side of the new Church Rooms looking towards the new development that was built on the site of the 1970s rectory. The land on which the rectory stood was sold for the proceeds to be used towards the cost of the new Church Rooms. I don't think the houses of the new development will ever grow on me. Considering how much they cost when built, the look to me, like cheap impersonations of old farm houses but without the purpose......

.....and from the back they look like a row of terraced houses. They certainly packed them in!

Finally, the Old Rectory. Built in the 1820s and now accommodation for the elderly. A lovely spot right next to the church.

I ambled back towards The Croft to return home reflecting upon the fact that Aldridge is still not a bad place to live. My ancestors, two branches of my family came here for different reasons. My father's paternal side came here for work at the mines. His maternal side, two different generations, well one came to retire but did anything but and the other generation came to work on the farms. I left for nearly 20 years but returned because my parents were still here and I had young children that needed decent schools.

I hope you've enjoyed perambulating with me.

21 July 2017

Power to the People?

I have been thinking recently about democracy and accountability.  Not in any great philosophical way but about how it works in my life, where I live, what local issues concern me and whether I or any other ordinary people actually have any say in what happens. Coupled with these thoughts have been others on freedom of speech, particularly with regard to blogging. Do I have any right to inflict my own opinions on others? Do I feel a responsibility towards those who ask me to speak in their behalf?

Freedom of speech is a phrase banded around usually by those who don't have any idea that freedom of speech does come with a responsibility of which, I am acutely aware; that of saying what you want to say but without insult and injury to those who you speak to and of  not breaking any laws designed to protect certain groups of people and individuals. It's a difficult line to follow sometimes. I never actively go out to insult someone but occasionally what I have written is taken that way. As a person who tends to call a digging implement a spade, I can be taken aback when it is deemed that I have caused offence but if I have, I  always apologise and hopefully things move on from there.

Now and then something is said that is possibly a little too close to the truth for some people to deal with and that is when the accusations of insult come out to play. I don't believe in going around in circles to explain my discomfort with someone or something. I just say it, in a polite manner and without breaking any laws!

In recent times I have blogged about local issues and the accountability of those that have been elected and those who have not! I have been concerned that local democracy has been subverted by unelected, unaccountable individuals, groups and organisations. In searching for a definition of the word democracy I find that every publication has its own take on the word. No surprise really in the age of spin. I find one of the Harper Collins definitions (yes, even dictionary publishers have more than one definition available!) 'a political or social unit governed ultimately by all its members' as an understandable definition but how does that definition fit in with the definition of 'accountability'? Both words are interleaved and locked, for surely you cannot have democracy without accountability and if it is the unelected that make the decisions and runs the show, then accountability is none existent.

Accountability has in recent years become a rather negative word in that is it's generally used in a negative context. In our blame culture someone always has to be accountable when the proverbial poop hits the fan. Yet the definition of the word talks of accountability being 'the quality or  state of being accountable; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one's actions'. Politicians for the most part, take their obligation to mean that accountability will be taken care of at the ballot box and if they haven't done well they will not be re-elected! Unfortunately  in the words of Larry J Sabato, "Every election is determined by the people who show up"! In a democratic society lots of people exercise their right not to vote because they fail to see how their one vote will change anything, make their life any better or worse. They fail to see and understand that politics pervades every part of life, from waste disposal to pot holes to schooling, to social services and care for the elderly, the disabled and the young, to policing, to health services, to transport, to parks. You get the picture. Life is political and therefore to participate in an election is to hold to account those who stand for office.

But what about those who take on responsibilities for whatever reason and yet can never be held accountable? There are small groups of people, even individuals who are not elected, not accountable to anyone but themselves and who make decisions on behalf of local communities that can change the face of an area. I have seen this happen in Aldridge and I have blogged about it. The reason behind the blogging of such episodes is to inform people what is being done in their name and with their money and of decisions made behind closed doors. Sometimes I am approached to give a voice to an issue that someone cares about and for whatever reason feels unable to do so themselves. I'm happy to help and yes, I do feel a responsibility to those people even if I disagree with them!

I have blogged about Aldridge, Walsall and what I care about for years. They are my own thoughts or ramblings of a mad old baggage. I don't need permission from anyone to write about what is on my mind or to report upon local events because I don't claim to speak on behalf of the whole community nor represent them. I hopefully stick to the law, don't insult and help keep people informed. I do this because I care about where I live and what happens. I care about those who are disenfranchised in some way and do not have a voice. Recent local events have been tragic and truly awful. A call was made by someone, a local resident whom I have know for years, for a public meeting and another person who had contacts very kindly liaised with others to bring together that meeting. However, unless you are a member of a certain group on Facebook there is no input for you. So those who don't do the internet, those who don't do Facebook and those who are not members of one particular group are disenfranchised because I have seen no other form of communication about this apart from leaflets advertising the meeting.

This concerns me.

At the meeting the Chair said that people would make reports and get back to 'you'. Who is 'you'? Now apparently there will be another meeting at some point so at least those who attend that meeting will learn a little of what is happening but what about everyone else? And who should be disseminating information, passing it on and deciding what can and cannot be said or asked? Should it be an unelected and unaccountable individual or should it be one of our local councillors perhaps? Or possibly a council officer who can use the resources available to ensure that there is more than one platform for people to report to and learn from?

My ramblings on what goes around in my head at 4am. Welcome to my world! I'm not sure if I've reached any conclusions here or even made any sense but I feel better for writing about what is troubling me. If what I have written troubles you in some way then possibly you need to think about your attitude towards local democracy and accountability.

I welcome discussion and debate especially about how we should now deal with the consequences of the recent meeting. All comments are published whether I like them or not apart from any that are deeply nasty or insulting. If you resort to that, I have no time for your comments.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the many dozens of people who have contacted me in various forms to thank me for raising issues and also to thank my fellow local bloggers who as always, have been most supportive, even if they can't stand me and disagree with everything I say!

15 July 2017

Public Meeting Held Aldridge Community Centre 14th July 2017

This isn't one of my usual blogs. It is a summary of the meeting that was held last night at Aldridge Community Centre, called for by the residents of Aldridge in response to an unusual number of high profile crimes committed in Aldridge in recent months and in particular the tragic murder of James Brindley.

Firstly, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to James' parents, sister, wider family and his friends. To lose a child is for me, unimaginable, to lose a child in this manner is beyond tragic. Your statements and public appearances demonstrate a dignity and courage that is admirable, your faces betrayed the terrible pain you suffer. You are in my thoughts every day.

This summary is in no way intended to reflect everything that was said at the meeting. It is not intended to be a verbatim report or a  set of minutes. It's merely a personal summing up  made from my notes and from my impressions.

Apparently a full recording has been made and will be available soon, as will a set of minutes. I'm not sure where they will be published. We all witness things in different ways and you, if you were present, may have heard or taken on board things that were said, completely differently to me.

A big thank you to those who facilitated the organisation of the meeting, including Jean Ash, Russell Smith, John Morris and Erika Stanton-Bullock.

Top Table: Wendy Morton MP - Chair, Inspector Sophie Worthington WMP, Superintendent Sue Parker WMP (in charge of policing in Walsall), Sgt. Mari Amos WMP (Aldridge), Lynette Kelly Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner West Midlands, Cllr Lee Jeavons Walsall Council, Cllr Tim Wilson Aldridge Central, Cllr John Murray Aldridge Central, Rev John Coyne Rector of Aldridge, Erika Stanton-Bullock

To assist everyone here is a LINK providing details of the local policing team and another LINK detailing the area they cover. This is a LINK for details of your local councillors.

Also in the audience were Cllr John Rochelle Aldridge Central, all three councillors for Aldridge North and Walsall Wood Messrs Clarke, Harris and Sears plus I also spotted Cllr Richard Worrall from Rushall and Cllr Steve Wade from Brownhills.

I'm not sure of exact figures in attendance but seating was for 200. This was all taken and there was an overflow of people into the side room and the foyer so possibly 300 to 350. I stand to be corrected if anyone has the actual figures.

There was an agenda and also a list of pre submitted questions. Alas neither were really followed and not all the questions were addressed, as the meeting ran out of time.

Following opening comments and thanks from Wendy Morton, Rev Coyne read out a short message from the family of James Brindley and a minutes silence was held.

Supt Parker gave an update on the murder investigation, thanked the community for the support that the Police had received and reflected on social media commentary that day, which in her opinion had been unhelpful. She pointed out that they were still in the early stages of a complex investigation and that comments could have an impact upon that investigation. Comments should be respectful to James' family and should not jeopardise the investigation.

The first question concerned what action was being taken to protect the community. Supt Parker recognised that detailing the low crime statistics doesn't always give reassurance and recognised that in a short space of time there had been a spike in significant crimes that was unusual for Aldridge. Investigations were ongoing in all those crimes. She spoke about the local neighbourhood team and that they would not be seen every day and on every shift. They are dedicated to the local area and aim to build up partnerships with local community groups, neighbourhood watch, the council and councillors and engage with the community. She acknowledged the high levels of support that the Police received from the residents of Aldridge. Backing up the neighbourhood team are response teams and other support. She pointed out that resources had to be prioritised to high areas of demand such as Walsall Town Centre.

The local neighbourhood team consists of one Sergeant, four PCs and 6 PCSOs. The team is on until midnight and is based in Aldridge. Cover in the evenings is based upon need. Recently there have been other resources brought into Aldridge in the form of reassurance patrols plus other support.  Supt Parker said the policing was effective and smart. It was confirmed that although patrols are made outside of the immediate area of Aldridge centre, they were not made frequently and were directed to areas where problems had been reported.

Cllr Wilson agreed that the local councillors do work closely with the Police but said there needed to be an increase in numbers. Cllr Murray commented that perhaps people did not appreciate all of the jobs that the Police have to do.

The second question concerned  CCTV for Aldridge, funding for that and for increased lighting in certain areas such as the Croft.

Cllr Jeavons spoke on behalf of the council and said he was pleased to see such a good attendance and saw that the community was united. He described  the CCTV for the whole of the Borough as archaic. There are currently 90 fixed CCTV and 20 mobile CCTV units for the whole Borough. The Council are investing £450K in a new system. The council would not be adding to any CCTV in their control in the area unless the 'spike' in crime became a 'trend', then there might be change. He added that Aldridge was still a great place to live.

Cllr Jeavons explained that street lighting was for the illumination of the highways and not for security purposes so there would be no additional lighting provided however, the Council is now investing in new LED lighting, which is a white light and gives greater clarity and shows events up better on CCTV. He did not know how many CCTV cameras there were in Aldridge but would find out and pass the information on.

Several questions were asked by members of the audience regarding specific problem areas such as Middlemore Lane where drug dealing often takes place along with car crime etc and also regarding anti-social behaviour including one particular heartfelt plea from a resident who is at his wits end and with regard to the latter asked how he could get help because the social landlord was not helping at all. Mention was also made of the sign in Middlemore Lane advising that there was CCTV. Residents had  only discovered that there was no camera, just a sign when crimes had been committed and had not been recorded.

The Police reiterated their close working relationships with partners including social landlords and licencees. They also explained that they were now responsible for dealing with and recording crime that was previously 'hidden' such as domestic violence and child trafficking. With regards to anti social behaviour, if a police partner (any partner, social landlord, council etc) was not providing the assistance it was thought was needed, then a person can use the 'Community Trigger Process'.

The Assistant PCC Lynette Kelly, explained a little of how the office of PCC works. The PCC sets policies for the Police but these are carried out by the Chief Constable. They are there to support neighbourhoods. They do not have a budget for CCTV as if money was used in that way it would have to come straight out of front line policing budgets. The PCC does have  a small budget for special projects. Lynette acknowledged that in the last few weeks there had been problems with the 101 number.

There were then a number of comments and questions from the audience covering speeding vehicles, noise from vehicles, more on the problems around the community centre in the form of racing cars and drug dealing and taking. There was also a question about how we move forward.

The Police advice was to log car registration numbers and to make reports on 101. Letters would be sent to registered owners. The public are the Police's eyes and ears and there was encouragement to the public to sign up for WM Now and to monitor Police twitter and facebook accounts. People were encouraged to report by social media too HOWEVER a note from me here...do not report crime on twitter. Every Police twitter account I have ever seen states categorically that crime must not be reported on twitter! The public can still make face to face contact with local officers through pop up events. The Police recognise the 'spike' in crime levels in Aldridge, they are grateful for the public support and want to move forward by building on neighbourhood policing and their partnerships.

One audience member asked for clarification of what number should be called, 999 or 101. This followed a particularly disturbing incident that she had witnessed outside a funeral directors when an elderly man was surrounded by 20 young men who had been behaving in an anti social manner. It took 101 50 minutes to respond. Questions were raised about crime prevention.

The police acknowledged that the response for the incident mentioned was not acceptable. They asked that 999 not be used unnecessarily as there was a risk to people if it was misused. They also acknowledged that there were challenges with 101 at present due to a high demand, not just locally but nationally.  The volume of calls in the last three weeks has been equivalent to New Years Eve (traditionally the busiest day of the year) every single day. There has been an unprecedented level of demand. 101 was the number to be used for non-emergencies although there is a risk assessment with every call as to whether the situation required an immediate response or not.

In summary of the meeting as a whole, what was clear from the audience was the they were frustrated by reactive policing and wanted proactive policing instead. Crime prevention was given scant regard. From the top table the message was that it is not an option for the number of police officers in Aldridge to be increased. Aldridge still has the lowest crime rate in the area and other areas need the resources. It is clear that more liaison with licensees regarding crime and CCTV and the need for good security is needed. It was acknowledged from the audience and the top table that there has been 'something' serious going wrong in society as a whole and not just Aldridge.

There was insufficient time to cover questions about drug taking, the local (closed to the public) police station, provision for young people, crime prevention and steps that could be taken by individuals for personal safety.

The Chair gave each of the top table an opportunity to make some final remarks.

Rev, Coyne acknowledged the deep sense of frustration apparent at the meeting. He suggested that the needs of the community needed to be recorded and he was happy to open the churches in Aldridge for individual experiences to be captured. Cllr Murray also acknowledged the frustration too, reiterated that they would continue to work closely with the police and asked that everyone kept feeding information back to the local councillors and  get in touch with them either by phone, email or at their regular surgeries, so that they would be aware of community feeling. Cllr Wilson thanked everyone for attending, also acknowledged the sense of frustration and expressed the hope that things would change. Cllr Jeavons also thanked everyone, repeated that new LED lighting and CCTV was on the way and acknowledged the closeness and passion of the community. Supt. Parker touched on the difference between reality and perception with regards to robberies. She encouraged everyone to participate in their local neighbourhood watch, also mentioned the active citizen scheme and thanked everyone for their support. Sgt Amos appealed for everyone to sign up to their local neighbourhood watch. Lynette Kelly said that the PCC was aware of the problems around 101. Enough staff were needed to do the job and pressure was being put on the Chief Constable. She also pointed out that WMP are now actively recruiting officers despite the fact that their budget had been reduced by central government to the tune of £145 million since 2011. She said that they did the best they could with the money available.

There was some talk about agreed actions but my understanding at the meeting was that apart from Rev Coyne's suggestion there were no agreed actions actually made at the meeting. I believe they were agreed afterwards or perhaps I just missed what happened because it was fairly chaotic by that time, with lots of people talking over one another! I will update on what will/may happen next, when I know.

I asked about a dozen people after the meeting if they felt it had done any good. Every single person said that their frustrations remained and that they didn't think it had done any good. This is a pity because people had worked hard to bring this together. The other problem was the 'P' word; politics. There was an attempt to keep it out of the meeting but this failed, first on the top table by one of our local councillors, then another and then failure in the audience too. My personal view is that you cannot keep politics out of a meeting such as this. Reason? Policing requires a large budget. That budget, set by national government has been reduced enormously since 2011. No matter how close a community is, no matter how much they all work together to reduce problems, the real elephant in the room was that there are not enough police in situ to be able to deal with the problems in society we have or to fund CCTV etc. As soon as our  representatives, be it in local or national government, communicate this to their leaders, the sooner we may see progress.

Personally I too felt the frustration of the audience. I also felt and heard anger, passion and heartbreak. There were many interruptions, some heckling, some shouting. It was a normal public meeting. I sincerely hope that some good will come of it. We could make a good start by tackling the appalling lack of youth provision in Aldridge and in Walsall as a whole.

Please don't shoot the messenger!

EDIT: I am making this edit because apparently people are up in arms (so I am told although I am not sure of the veracity of the source) at me having the audacity to publish a personal summary of the meeting. I have made it clear at the beginning of this blog that this is a personal summary and that it is not a set of minutes. I'm sure any local media outlets that bother to read this blog will have taken that on board and will not confuse the blabbering of a mad old baggage with official accounts of the meeting, links to which will be published in due course. I am concerned that free speech may be an endangered species. I do so hope that it isn't as that will mean I am endangered too! Thank you for reading and please comment if you have any questions or require clarification of any points I make. I am always happy to engage in polite discussion !

FURTHER EDIT 17/07/17: Although official minutes are yet to be published, you can now listen to the whole meeting HERE. It's not the best recording in the world, there is a lot of fading in and out but if you're interested, stick with it. It's a great thing whoever did the recording and thank you (sorry I don't know your names). Please comment and we will acknowledge your contribution to the community.