Rachel learns tricks of the trade with WACC and ‘Frank F’

Rachel Letford is ready for work.

Young and unemployed people have been given the opportunity to grasp a life-changing chance to learn trade skills at Frank F Harrison’s Skills Centre on Beechdale Estate, Leamore.

The centre is being used by learners who have enrolled on Walsall Adult & Community College’s Construction and Green Skills Academy.

Eleven students are taking part in the 24 week programme which began in April and is aimed at learners aged between 18 to 24, who are out of work and are not in education or training.

The apprentices will be taught an array of skills, including brickwork, plastering and plumbing, and achieve a Level One City & Guilds qualification upon completion of the course in October 2012.

Among the group of male learners is 20-year-old Rachel Letford (pictured above) from Walsall.

Rachel was on Job Seekers’ Allowance when she discovered the programme and was keen to join the course when she spotted the advertisement at her local job centre.

“I’ve always been interested in construction and I’m not one for sitting at home,” she says as she takes a short break from her plastering.

“I’d studied Painting and Decorating at Walsall College for three years when I left school but I couldn’t find a job in that field.

“My parents have supported me in whatever I’ve chosen to do. I guess I’m more of a practical person and I’ve always enjoyed putting my hand to decorating at home.”

And was she hesitant about joining an industry where most stereotypical workers are male?

“Initially yes, I guess so, but it really isn’t a big problem. The lads are great to get on with. From day one, we got on very quickly and my gender and the colour of my skin has never been an issue. We enjoy socialising after college and there’s a real camaraderie developing among us.”

John Rawlinson, one of Rachel’s tutors at Frank F Harrison added: “Rachel has done really well since she started here. Her attendance has been very good and she’s a hard worker which are two key ingredients to succeed on this course.

“She’s demonstrated she has a real flair for plastering and her assessments are of a high standard.

“We’re confident that she’ll complete the course.”

From September 2012, the college will be recruiting new learners to its Construction & Green Skills, Sports and Health & Social Care Academies.

Maria Gilling, college principal said: “There is a major need for young people in our communities to learn new skills, to receive information about training opportunities and gain experience in the workplace.

“This is a really exciting opportunity for young people to learn the basic skills of construction as well as improve their functional skills in writing, spelling and learning computers.”

To find out more call the college on 01922 663000, visit www.wacc.ac.uk or look up ‘Walsall Adult & Community College’ on Facebook.

Funding secured for Chase Line electrification


Bloxwich Station at Croxdene Avenue
Bloxwich Station at Croxdene Avenue


Cannock Chase Council’s Economic Development Leader has welcomed news that vital improvements to the Chase railway line have been approved.

The Government gave the go-ahead earlier this month for a £30 million electrification of the Rugeley to Walsall Chase Line, which includes stations at Bloxwich (Croxdene Avenue) and Bloxwich North (Mossley), extended halts which in 1989 replaced the original, more substantial LNWR Bloxwich Station in Station Street, which had closed to passengers in 1965 then been demolished, under the ‘Beeching Axe’ which destroyed many local train services.

Cannock Chase Council has worked hard over the last few years to build a wide coalition to press the case for electrification, including Centro and the Cannock Chase Rail Promotion Group. Meetings to press the case have been held with Centro, Network Rail and London Midland, while an adjournment debate secured in Parliament last month raised the profile of the need for electrification even further.

Cllr Gordon Alcott, Cannock Chase Council Economic Development Leader, said:

“The Council has been campaigning for electrification of the Chase Line for years so we’re delighted that the scheme has finally got the green light. Electrification will deliver faster and more frequent trains to Birmingham and boost Cannock Chase’s economic growth. This is the result of a great deal of effort on the Council’s behalf and I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Council’s principal planning officer, John Morgan, who has worked tirelessly for the electrification cause for decades.”

Over half-a-million passenger journeys a year are made from railway stations in Cannock Chase District and this figure is rising, with increased passenger growth of 10% per year seen in recent years.

The line is also extremely popular with travellers from Bloxwich and Walsall, offering links both to Birmingham New Street (via Walsall) and Rugeley Trent Valley (via Cannock and Hednesford).

Work on the Chase Line will not start until at least 2014, as the announcement from the Government covers the period 2014 to 2019.

Walsall Labour call to ban EDL demonstration

Cllr Tim Oliver
Cllr Tim Oliver

A senior Labour councillor is calling for a demonstration In Walsall by the far-right English Defence League to be banned by the Home Secretary.

Councillor Tim Oliver, Labour group leader on Walsall Council, said the alleged race hate group’s plan to come to the borough on 29 September was nothing but an attempt to intimidate the local Muslim community.

Posters on Twitter and Facebook have said the EDL Leader ‘Tommy Robinson’, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, would be attending.

Cllr Oliver said at present it is unclear if the group plans to hold a static demonstration, which police are powerless to prevent; in which case he will ask the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to use her powers to ban it.

Stressing the anti-Muslim group was not wanted in Walsall, Cllr Tim Oliver said:

“We have a good record of community relations in the borough based on mutual respect and tolerance.

“Past demonstrations by this rag-bag group of racists and football hooligans have time and time again ended in violence, public disorder and assaults on police officers and members of the public.

“The EDL is a race hate group who are deliberately confrontational. In the past they have caused major trouble in Birmingham and Dudley and we simply don’t want them in Walsall.”

Cllr Oliver added he would ask the leaders’ of Walsall Council’s other political parties to join him in asking the Home Secretary to prevent the demonstration going ahead.

For more information on Walsall Council Labour Group or to contact the group, follow this link.

Remodeled Bloxwich ASDA rewards loyal customers

Asda Bloxwich rewards loyal customers
Asda Bloxwich rewards loyal customers [left to right] Jean Cartwright, Brett Matthews (store manager), Maureen Allport, Rob Hendon (community colleague), Jeanette Peach.
1971 was the year that saw the launch of the Microprocessor, the birth of Greenpeace, Thatcher scrap free milk in schools and the opening of the Asda superstore in Bloxwich – the first in the borough.

It was the cause of much comment at the time, as the family of the late fairground mogul, MP, Liberal Councillor and Mayor of Walsall Pat Collins, having left the area, sold the ground, which had been used as the Wakes Ground and Pat’s yard since before the Great War, to Associated Dairies (Asda).  Pat’s former home, Lime Tree House, was demolished shortly after, and the site of the Victorian house is now occupied by Sound Academy on the Asda car park.

Pat Collins' Wakes Ground, now the Asda site, 1949.
Pat Collins’ Wakes Ground, now the Asda site, 1949.

Now, after serving the community for more than thirty years, the Woodhall Street store has undergone a refresh and remodel and has rewarded some loyal locals as part of the celebrations.

Jeanette Peach, Maureen Allport and Jean Cartwright were recently invited to Asda Bloxwich by store manager Brett Matthews to receive a special trolley full of products from Asda’s Extra Special range, in recognition of their loyalty as customers since the doors first opened.

The three Bloxwich residents were given a personal tour of the store’s facelift by the store manager, with the alterations aimed at giving its loyal customers new facilities to use such as a brand new pharmacy, increased product ranges, as well as a nicer shopping experience through increased space and design changes.

Jeanette Peach said:

“All three of us are extremely grateful for Asda’s gesture. It’s very kind of the store and it’s nice to know people are recognised for their custom. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we’re looking forward to tucking in to our treats.”

As the standout addition in the store’s remodel, the new pharmacy will provide free Body Mass Index, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol checks for the community, as well as filling prescriptions and all day-to-day health products.

Brett Matthews, Asda Bloxwich store manager, said:

“We’re really pleased to have been able improve the shopping experience for our customers, many of whom have been visiting us since the doors opened, and provide new facilities for them to use such as the pharmacy.

“It has been a joy to present Jeanette, Maureen and Jean with their Extra Special trolleys and I hope the remodel meets with their approval as long-standing customers. Our goal is to provide great value and services to the community, so we hope our customers enjoy the new look store, the extended ranges and increased space to shop in.”

Bloxwich bobbies crack cannabis crib

Cannabis plant (Wikimedia Commons)
Cannabis plant (Wikimedia Commons)

Bloxwich Police have uncovered a cannabis factory at an address in the Sandbank area of the village after acting on community concerns.

Officers executed the warrant at 5pm last Friday night (27 July) after reports from the local community of a strong smell of cannabis coming from the property. Following a search of the house officers discovered 52 plants in a converted loft space containing a cannabis cultivation setup.

A 42-year-old man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of production of cannabis and was later charged to appear at Walsall Magistrates Court on 18 August.

Sergeant Andy McHugh from Bloxwich Police commented on the raid:

“We are extremely pleased with the result. As a neighbourhood team we are committed to tackling issues that the community are concerned about and we actively respond to any information that is provided.

“By tackling drug use in the area we are seeking to drive down any associated crime and anti social behaviour. The message should be clear to anyone thinking that their behaviour goes unnoticed, they will be on our radar and they should expect the local neighbourhood team to be knocking on their door in the future.”

Anyone with information in regards to local drugs use should telephone the police on 101.

Alternatively, people who do not want to speak with police officers directly can call the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Keep track of Walsall’s golden paralympian

Eleanor Simmonds 2008
Eleanor Simmonds 2008

While most of us are already watching the London 2012 Olympics, Walsall’s double gold medal paralympian swimmer Eleanor Simmonds will be focusing on just one thing – being the best she can be.

Her life currently revolves around training and preparing for the competition – to the point where she is will soon be in the holding camp in Manchester with British Swimming before arriving at Olympic Village – and not long to go till the start of the Paralympic Games on 29 August.

During this time the Aldridge 17-year-old’s routine cannot, understandably, be disrupted. But her parents have agreed to let Walsall Council have an insight into their daughter’s thoughts and feelings throughout this exciting time.

The Council will be carrying regular updates on Eleanor’s preparation and progress on its special website at www.walsallfor2012.co.uk and plan to bring residents Eleanor’s reactions via her mum and dad throughout the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

Eleanor, who won gold medals in Beijing in 2008 in the 100m and 400m freestyle swimming events also set a new world record in the 400m freestyle.

She also received an MBE from the Queen in the New Years Honours List in 2009 and was the youngest person to receive this honour, also becoming the first swimmer to break a world record at the London Aquatics Centre in March 2012 in the 200m individual medley.

Eleanor was born with achondroplasia, commonly known as dwarfism.

Steve Simmonds said: “Eleanor sums everything up when she says “I just want to make sure that I’ve got to the end of my race being the best I can be.

“While she would obviously love to win more gold medals her main motivation is knowing she’s in peak condition and is pleased with her performance. And that’s all anyone can ask of themselves really.

“There is a great expectation of all the competitors this year as London is hosting the competitions and the British hopefuls are on their home soil.

“We are grateful that so many of Eleanor’s family, friends and supporters are able to attend the Paralympic Games – as are the families of all those taking part – because travelling to Beijing and Rio and places like that just isn’t possible for all.

“Eleanor says it will make a big difference to the atmosphere, knowing all your friends and family are actually in the crowd.

“There’s definitely a great enthusiasm now the games are in London and we’re all excited about the weeks to come.”