SSAFA forces charity Christmas concert this Saturday

Pelsall Ladies Choir (courtesy Gary Nicholls)

A hard-working charity which supports both current and former armed services personnel is all set to hold a festive fundraiser tomorrow (Saturday) and is inviting kind-hearted people to join them for an enjoyable night out.

The very active West Midlands North Branch (Walsall District) of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) Forces Help, the national charity supporting those who serve in our Armed Forces, those who used to serve, and their families, has organised a Charity Christmas Concert at St Bartholomew’s Church in Wednesbury on 1st December.

Featuring the talented and ever-popular Pelsall Ladies Choir (pictured above, courtesy Gary Nicholls), the musical evening is taking place at the historic church on Little Hill, Wednesbury.

The concert starts at 7.30pm – tickets cost just £5 and are still available on the door.

Roy Aldridge of SSAFA Forces Help Walsall said:

“Each year, SSAFA’s trained staff and network of 7,500 volunteers provide practical support and assistance to more than 50,000 people, from D-Day veterans to young soldiers wounded in Afghanistan.

“To do this we need to raise funds, and anyone attending our Charity Christmas Concert at St Bartholomew’s will have the pleasure not only of a very enjoyable start to the festive season but of knowing that they have contributed to important local work.”

If you are interested in helping to support our local branch of the charity, SSAFA FORCES Help – West Midlands North Branch (Walsall District) can also be contacted by post at the T A V R Centre, Gordon House,  Sutton Road, Walsall WS1 2PA or by telephone on 01922 722778 (not manned daily, please leave a message).

EDITORIAL Forever autumn: what future for our green spaces?

Bloxwich Park, our ancient village green: will those fallen leaves lie undisturbed in future?
Bloxwich Park, our ancient village green: will those fallen leaves lie undisturbed in future?

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old
And darker days are drawing near
The winter winds will be much colder
Now you’re not here

Today is Sunday, and the weather, surprisingly given conditions of late, was lovely, crisp, clear and sunny, with a sparkling light fit to shine deep into our souls. The grass was green, and the red-hot fallen leaves of autumn glowed bright in the wintry sunshine.  The great wheel of the seasons is turning, and we can see this all around us.  It is part of our lives, and our spirit.

What did you do?  Did you go for a walk?  Did you take the dog, your partner, the kids?  Where did you go?  A day out in the car?  Or a trip into our borough’s very own countryside havens?  A wander down to the local park, perhaps after church or a quiet drink in the pub?  Bloxwich is blessed with so many leafy parks and village greens, we are surrounded with trees and lawns, bushes and shrubs, little pools and hidden nature walks, with a once-bubbling fountain, quiet now but biding its time for the spring to come.

What a great day to be outdoors.  What was it like?  What did you see there?  Did you look around in wonder, stand silent amongst tall poplars, birch or oak?  Listen awe-struck to the birds, or stare out breathless across a trembling lake or pool?  Did you kick your way through the leaves, run along the footpaths and across the grass?  Did you feel the icy breeze sending a tingle up your spine?  Didn’t it feel good to be alive?

Come spring and summer, will you return to these green temples of peace for quiet contemplation, for family fun days and traditional carnivals, for childrens’ activities and adult education, for minibeast hunts and birdwatching walks, to spot bats or butterflies, to consider the rocks and waters beneath your feet or to watch the stirring of life on land, in the air and beneath the water of ponds and lakes?

Yet these havens of living beauty, and our access to them, cannot be taken for granted.  In dark times, we may have to fight for them, to raise our voices and our hands, to question and call to account those who set themselves far above us, as they see it.

What will you do if our parks and countryside spaces, the green and beating hearts of our towns and our borough’s hinterland, begin to suffer from neglect?  What if mowing the grass and managing the trees and heathland, trimming the bushes and husbanding the hedgerows, dredging the ponds and lakes, bending the willow fences and mending the stiles, picking the poop and clearing up all those glorious but now dark and rotting autumn leaves are all cut back, or heaven forbid, abandoned altogether?

What will you do if the opening hours are cut, the services dwindle, the helpful staff, the hard-working maintenance crews, the expert rangers, inspiring educators and supportive volunteers disappear, until one day you walk up to the gates of Bloxwich Park, or King George V Playing Fields, or Bloxwich Promenade Gardens, or any of the borough’s many parks and nature reserves large and small are locked and bolted, with barbed wire on the railings, the buildings boarded up, the play equipment rusting, the tools abandoned in the long grass and nothing stirring beyond the bars but the breeze, the peeling paint on burnt-out cars and the uneasy odour of fly-tipped rubbish.

What will you do?

Well you cannot say that you have not seen it coming.

What do you mean?  You cannot see it? You cannot hear it? You cannot read it? Are your eyes and ears open at all?  Things are falling apart all over England as a result of government cuts forced upon the people by those who think they are better than us, those with their millionaire’s hands jammed deep in our pockets but who care nothing for crumbling services, slashed jobs and ‘little’ lives that do not matter to them.

You see, it is happening already, even to the glorious legacy of our Victorian forebears who created the town and village parks for the good of the people, for their health and for their spiritual well-being.  And to the work of those who came after, inspired by the same ideals and a love of life and of knowledge to set up our nature reserves.  One day, perhaps, we may even see these places abandoned altogether, as part of “efficiency savings” or because “nobody cares”.

What will you do if the parks are built on and the nature reserves become a haven of a different kind – for drug addicts and burnt-out cars?  You may see no sign of this now, but those who do not care for the people will surely care even less for the green places that they love and need.

And swingeing green cuts are coming to Walsall.  Forced by massive and insupportable local authority budget cuts by national government, proposals already announced by the Council will lead to yet more staff cuts and “efficiency savings”.  We know what that means.  Oh, there are no parks closing now, nor are there plans to do so – but what of the future? A slippery slope is just that, and who will put on the brakes?

Thankfully, there are those arising who will stand against such decline and will fight for alternatives to cuts.  They are, appropriately, a “grass roots” group of Walsall countryside enthusiasts who can see clearly the dark clouds looming ahead for our local green spaces, because they are actively engaged in supporting them and the hard-working Walsall Council staff who do so much to make them accessible and enjoyable.

Beginning with the Friends of Park Lime Pits, they have not let the grass grow under their feet. Hearing of the cuts proposed, they stood up to be counted on Facebook, they made their opinions known through Twitter, they set up an official petition on the Walsall Council website, and organised not only a peaceful protest at the Council House but a meeting with senior Council officers, so that they could both better understand the reasoning behind the cuts – and make their voices heard.

Would that the people of this once-great nation would do as much.  Would that YOU would do as much.  Will you?

Much of what you really need to know is here, on the blog and other sites of this passionate group.  Make up your own mind on the issues and ask questions:

Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services

Sign the Petition against the cuts

Join the Facebook group

SHOW YOU CARE.

Before this all this is gone.  It has already begun…

Stuart Williams, Editor

Click on each photo below (and above) to see the full beauty of these precious places:

Abandoned Park Keeper's Lodge, Wiggin Avenue, King George V Playing Fields.
Abandoned Park Keeper’s Lodge, Wiggin Avenue, King George V Playing Fields.
King George V Playing Fields mean so much to so many.
King George V Playing Fields mean so much to so many.
Wallington Heath Pool - an 18th century stagecoach halt saved from weed and neglect by parks staff.
Wallington Heath Pool – an 18th century stagecoach halt saved from weed and neglect by parks staff.
History and natural beauty come together at Bloxwich Promenade Gardens on the High Street.
History and natural beauty come together at Bloxwich Promenade Gardens on the High Street.
Not just a patch of grass - a place of life and heritage on Elmore Green since ancient times..
Not just a patch of grass – a place of life and heritage on Elmore Green since ancient times..

Forever Autumn

(from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds)

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old
And darker days are drawing near
The winter winds will be much colder
Now you’re not here

I WATCH the birds fly south across the Autumn sky
And one by one they DISAPPEAR
I wish that I was flying WITH them
Now you’re not here

Like the SUN through the trees you came to love me
Like a leaf on the breeze you blew away

Through Autumn’s golden gown we used to kick our way
You always loved this time of year
Those fallen leaves lie undisturbed now
Cause you’re not here

Like the SUN through the trees you came to love me
Like a leaf on the breeze you blew away

A gentle rain falls softly on my weary eyes
As if to hide a lonely tear
My life will be forever Autumn
Cause you’re not here

Cause you’re not here

Cause you’re not here…

It’s Sparkle not Splutter as Christmas in Bloxwich starts with a bang!

The Italian Market adds sparkle to All Saints grounds.

Saturday saw the third annual Sparkle into a Bloxwich Christmas spectacular take over the village centre, and despite the dismal weather in the afternoon, this annual kick-start to the festive season still managed to sparkle instead of splutter!

The event was organised by Bloxwich Business Partnership – local businesses and organisations working with Walsall Council and the Rotary Club of Bloxwich Phoenix, churches and schools to bring together local people for yet another fantastic event for the people of Bloxwich and district.

Numerous charity and craft stalls were showcased in All Saints' grounds.
Numerous charity and craft stalls were showcased in All Saints’ grounds.

Today’s feast of festive fun was billed to take place 11am to 4pm, with a busy and jolly-looking Italian Market and a synthetic Ice Rink open between 9am – 5pm.  It was also planned to showcase Bloxwich’s local talent and history – it certainly did the latter by being centred on the grounds of the picturesque All Saints Church as well as the historic High Street this year!

Walsall Cats Protection volunteers Val Turner and Jacki Chilton do their bit for pussies in peril.
Walsall Cats Protection volunteers Val Turner and Jacki Chilton do their bit for pussies in peril.
National Elf Pat Till of the Sister Dora Friends of Walsall Hospice engages youngsters in Christmassy conversation.
National Elf Pat Till of the Sister Dora Friends of Walsall Hospice engages youngsters in Christmassy conversation.
Heidi Summersby - holding a Bloxwich Lion - had been amazingly busy on her craft stall
Heidi Summersby – holding a Bloxwich Lion – had been amazingly busy on her craft stall.
Tasty treats were all for the taking in the Mamma Mia Italian market.
Tasty treats were all for the taking in the Mamma Mia Italian market.

The former was undoubtedly well-represented too, by talented local school pupils and the young stars of Russon Dance Academy performing at various locations, as well as the Steel Pans Band and the Salvation Army band – though due to being unable to attend before 2pm as a result of work commitments, we were sadly only able to catch up with Steel Pans and some young ladies from the Mirus Academy, who were putting on an energetic performance in a shelter near the church and the ice rink.

The Steel Pans Band strikes up a tune as The Bloxwich Telegraph arrives!
The Steel Pans Band strikes up a tune as The Bloxwich Telegraph arrives!
Talented pupils from the Mirus Academy, Beechdale, with Baljit Dutfield, the Academy's Director of Creative Industries and Partnerships.
Talented pupils from the Mirus Academy, Beechdale, with Baljit Dutfield, the Academy’s Director of Creative Industries and Partnerships.

The lynchpin behind the event was as usual the remarkably energetic Nikki Rolls of Walsall Council, whose efforts on behalf of Bloxwich since re-launching the Business Parnership with local traders and groups a few years ago have been tireless.

Of course she would be the first to say how much help she has had from Bloxwich Rotary, the schools, churches, Bloxwich Library, Council colleagues and other local organisations, as well as hard-working community-minded local councillors such as Shaun and Julie Fitzpatrick, who joined Nikki’s daughter Amber and others as enthusiastic if rather damp event marshals!

Street entertainer Mad Dom pumps up a balloon hat for volunteer event marshal Amber Rolls.
Street entertainer Mad Dom pumps up a balloon hat for volunteer event marshal Amber Rolls.
Bloxwich East Labour councillors Shaun and Julie Fitzpatrick also acted as volunteer marshals.
Bloxwich East Labour councillors Shaun and Julie Fitzpatrick also acted as volunteer marshals.

Nikki told The Bloxwich Telegraph that before the rain rolled in the grounds of the church had been jam-packed with revellers looking for festive fun and bargains, not to mention the ice rink and stalls, which had been equally busy – and she estimated that around a thousand visitors had passed through All Saints’ grounds in the morning – very impressive.  She hopes that the event will be even bigger and better next year – with hopefully better weather to boot!

A moment of festive fun as organiser Nikki Rolls gets a hug from a roller-skating Christmas bauble!
A moment of festive fun as organiser Nikki Rolls gets a hug from a roller-skating Christmas bauble!
Buddy can you spare a dime? Neil Bennett, Steve Antill and Stuart Fisher promote the annual Bloxwich Rotary Santa tour.
Buddy can you spare a dime? Neil Bennett, Steve Antill and Stuart Fisher promote the annual Bloxwich Rotary Santa tour.
Slip-sliding away on the synthetic ice rink!
Slip-sliding away on the synthetic ice rink!
Jeneve Bridal Wear's festive entry in the Best-dressed Shop Window competition.
Jeneve Bridal Wear’s festive entry in the Best-dressed Shop Window competition.

The nature of today’s weather, however, inevitably put a bit of a dampener on activities late in the afternoon, though hardy Bloxwich folk and youngsters were still skating away right till the end.

The Bloxwich Telegraph was only able to cover part of today’s events, but I hope you’ll agree that it was well worth us turning out to witness some of the festive fun, food and foolery later on!  If any of our readers have pictures of events up to 1pm that we could add to this picture feature, we’d be very grateful if you could get in touch!  Please email Stuart Williams: bloxwichtelegraph@gmail.com

MORE PICTURES from this afternoon can be viewed on our Flickr Album.

We will report on the winner of the Christmas shop window competition when the results are available.

For more details of what was scheduled to take place today, please see our previous report.

There is no doubt that events pulled together by Bloxwich Business Partnership have raised the profile of Bloxwich in the borough and beyond, and especially by linking groups together in co-operation have fostered a greater sense of community in Bloxwich.

Sparkle into a Bloxwich Christmas is also a great curtain-raiser for the rest of the festive season, and we can surely look forward to more local events from the churches, the Rotary and other groups.  Watch this space!

Rare unity on Walsall Council as members condemn benefit cuts

Walsall Council House

In a rare sign of political unity in Walsall this week,  a motion by the Walsall Council Labour Group condemning cuts by the coalition government to both council tax benefit and housing benefit has won the support of Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors, according to a press release from the Group.

The amended motion was passed unanimously at Monday night’s full council meeting, criticising the 10 per cent cut affecting OAP’s, single parent families and the unemployed.

Walsall, like other town halls, will have to pass on the cuts or fund the difference from its own budget which is already facing a £13 million reduction forced upon it by the government.

The proposed cuts in council tax and housing benefits are apparently expected to amount to £3.3 million in Walsall and hit some 4,000 households.

Cllr Sean Coughlan, Deputy Leader of Walsall Labour Group, said the fact that the motion won cross party support spoke volumes about the hardship the cuts would create.

“It is not often that politicians speak with one voice on contentious issues but everyone in the council can see the harm and misery that these cuts will create in areas like our own where we have high levels of unemployment and deprivation.

“These cuts will come into effect from April, just as the government gives enormous tax breaks to millionaires but working families on low incomes, pensioners and the unemployed will be faced with the choice of either paying the rent or buying food.”

Debating the motion, Liberal Democrat leader, Ian Shires, described the changes as ‘botched.’

Conservative Council Leader, Mike Bird, went further – saying that the government was forcing councils to do their dirty work leaving families to choose ‘between paying the bills and feeding their kids.’

Cllr Coughlan added:

“When the Coalition Government’s own supporters are describing their own parties’ polices in such terms, it’s time that Cameron and Clegg realised the destructive impact they are having on people’s lives”

For more information on the Labour Party in Walsall, see: Walsall Council Labour Group

New Bloxwich Labour councillor makes education her priority

Cllr Patti Lane (Picture: George Makin).
Cllr Patti Lane (Picture: George Makin).

Bloxwich West’s newest Labour councillor, Patti Lane, will make education her priority after a closely fought by-election which she won with over 50 percent of the vote.

The retired primary school teacher out-polled Conservative, UKIP and Liberal Democrat candidates with a majority of 266, increasing the party’s share of the vote and overall majority.

She won the seat at the election on 15th November after popular Councillor Sue Fletcher-Hall stepped down for personal reasons.

Cllr Lane, a mother of three, told The Bloxwich Telegraph that her victory was a rejection of the Tory/Lib Dems coalition which runs Walsall council.

She said:

“The people of Bloxwich West have clearly rejected the disproportionate cuts the government, and its supporters in Walsall council, are forcing on local authorities.

“As a former teacher I will make education and care of our local children a priority.

“But campaigning on the doorstep it was clear that people are concerned that cuts in police numbers and council services like park wardens, will see an increase in anti-social behaviour and crime.

“Another issue of concern is the terrible state of the roads and pavements in areas like Mossely, which have been neglected and under funded for some time.

“I want to thank all those people who voted for me, and a great campaigning team, for their support and over the coming weeks and months I am looking forward to holding regular surgeries and visiting community groups to see how I  and the Labour Party can improve peoples’ lives in the ward.”

For more information on the Labour Party in Walsall, see: Walsall Council Labour Group

Countryside cuts protesters lobby Walsall Council meeting

Save Walsall's Green Spaces protesters at Walsall Council House.
Save Walsall’s Green Spaces protesters at Walsall Council House.

A successful protest was held outside Walsall Council House this evening by the Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services Group, who lobbied Councillors as they arrived for a scheduled Full Council meeting.

The Group, recently formed on Facebook by concerned local residents to celebrate, support and protect Walsall’s green spaces, which are under threat from a possible £400,000 cut in funding proposed by Walsall Council under draft proposals recently published, handed out leaflets and spoke to councillors during the peaceful protest.

After the protest Linda Mason, spokesperson for the group, explained that although the subject of cuts was not being debated at the meeting, it was important to keep the matter fresh in councillors’ minds and to remind them how much the borough’s green spaces and in particular the Countryside and Park Rangers mean to the people of Walsall.

The placard-waving and banner-wielding protesters numbered around a dozen and were able to engage some councillors in conversation, who in the main appeared broadly supportive.

Protesters outlined their particular concerns regarding a proposed cut in Ranger posts. Councillor Arif, representing St Matthews Ward said however: “We are not cutting any Countryside Rangers.”

Ms Mason commented to The Bloxwich Telegraph:

“Cllr Arif’s quote is most welcome to the group.

“We will continue with our campaign which also includes an online petition, now signed by the largest number of people in Walsall Council’s e-petition history, and a web site.”

The group’s online petition against the cuts will remain active on Walsall Council’s website until the end of December and can be signed via the following link: Green Spaces Petition

Concerned Walsall residents are also being invited to join the Facebook group via the following link: Facebook Group

The group’s website which includes further information can also be found at:

Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services

Knoxville Highway is rolling into town again!

Knoxville Highway at Bookmark Bloxwich Theatre by Stuart Williams.

Country and Western fans will be high-tailing it down to Bloxwich next month to catch up with ‘Knoxville Highway’ – as the band roars back into town like a mighty freight train!

Former Bloxwich police officer Bob Gessey is all set to bring his talented posse of Black Country cowboys – and gals – back to his old stomping ground.

And they’ll be live on stage on Saturday 1st December with their Country Music Show – a Journey through the Heart and Soul of Country Music.

But don’t leave it too late to book your tickets – they sold out in quick-draw time on their last visit to Bloxwich’s premier venue – Bookmark Bloxwich Theatre in Elmore Row!

The show features classic County songs authentically performed by the storming six-piece band – with that great Nashville sound, elements of Bluegrass and even an excursion South of the Border into Mexican Mariachi!

Featuring the music of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and many more, right through to The Eagles and Modern Country artists with a sprinkling of Blue Grass classics, this will be a great night for listeners and those who want to sing along.

Bob Gessey said:

“It promises to be a great night.

“You wouldn’t normally see a line up like ours outside of Nashville – there’ll be something for everyone I’m sure.”

Doors open at 7.30pm with the show starting at 8pm, and there will be a bar.

The event is presented by Bloxwich Library Forum as part of the Bookmark Bloxwich Live Music Review gig series.

Tickets cost just £5 and are available by contacting Bloxwich Library on 01922 655900.  Advance booking is strongly recommended.

Tickets can also be booked online via the band at: http://www.knoxvillehighway.co.uk

Leamore school links to northern mining village

Children from High Spen are learning about Leamore.
Children from High Spen are learning about Leamore.

Leamore Primary School are saying that they are delighted to have a new partner school in the North East of England – High Spen Primary.

The popular school in Bloxwich Road, Leamore already have international links, with partner schools overseas, but it was recently thought that it would be a good idea to link up with another school in a different part of England, according to Leamore teacher Paul Mobberley.

High Spen is a former mining village on the outskirts of Gateshead about 5 miles from Newcastle City Centre – and considering Leamore’s own historical links with coal mining and related industries, what could be more appropriate?

WORKING TOGETHER

Already the respective Year 6 classes from both schools have begun to undertake joint projects by writing and emailing each other, comparing similarities and differences between their schools and making videos about their locality for each other to watch and links to each other’s schools have been incorporated on their websites.

Mr Mobberley, a Year 6 teacher himself, recently spent a day at High Spen as guest of their headteacher Mr Firth and was able to meet with their Year 6 children and staff and tell them about life in the ‘Black Country’.

Paul Mobberley said:

“The children found it fascinating to learn about a different part of the country with hardly any of the High Spen children having ever visited the West Midlands and  similarly the Leamore children with the North East.

“Now these links have been established it is hoped that as the year progresses there will be many joint activities including children visiting each others’ schools.”

Picture courtesy Paul Mobberley.