Sunday, 4 December 2016

Municipal Dreams must hear podcast about council housing

I am, at heart, a municipal socialist. I believe that local government is responsible, both historically and in terms of provision, for almost everything we like about public service. Centralising post-war governments since 1945 have been progressively weakening local government at every opportunity and council housing is a prime example of this fact.

A view of the now demolished Lenton flats from Church Square, which I knew well during the 35 years we lived in Lenton. In 2006, I received a £5,000 grant fro The Guardian, which I doubled to £10,000 with the help of local charities and Nottingham City Council. It is one the most enjoyable things I have ever done. I persuaded The Guardian to let me give the money away without paperwork in amounts up £500 to people living in Lenton Flats or involved in some way. Some of the projects started during the year I ran the project were still going when we left Lenton at the end of 2014. The five high-rise blocks were popular until the day the last one came down, because of their location. Nottingham City Council has replaced them with new council housing, including a scheme for flat residents who did not want to leave Lenton. It is a development the City Council can be proud of and is a great example of why council housing has a future. 

Council housing is a topic I have referred to on several occasions in the two years I have been doing this blog. Here is a link to a post about the history of Nottingham council housing.

The local historian in me ranks local authority housing above the NHS when it comes to the contribution it has made to public health and wellbeing, nor does the Labour Party 'own' these issues. Like it or not, it is a heritage it has to share with Liberals and progressive Conservatives. Once upon time the municipal ownership of transport and utilities was a shared vision, as was the provision of healthcare and housing for those who could not afford to buy their own home.

One of my favourite blogs is Municipal Dreams by the social historian John Boughton. His latest post links to a 50 minute interview he had on the Londonist radio station. For anyone interested in council/public housing this is really a 'must listen to' podcast. Whilst the focus is on council housing in London, John talks about council housing in a way which makes what he says relevant to listeners wherever they live in England.

If you would like to learn more about the history of council housing, you can buy the Historical Association booklet Local Authority Housing: Origins and development by Colin Pooley from Amazon. Before Susan and me retired in 2006 we published Local History Magazine and got hold of HA copies of the book when they decided to stop selling it. We've been selling the occasional copy on online ever since for £2.50 plus £2.80 p&p. It is a useful starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about council housing and its history.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The 'Lentonisation' of Beeston by landlords and goodbye to Gourmet Delights

Evidence (like the signs above over shops on Beeston High Road) and experience tell me that private landlords are in the process of doing to Beeston what they did to Lenton and it all begins with students wanting to live away from the campus, preferably with just a few friends, in a house. An innocent enough ambition in itself, but it is one which takes an established mixed/balanced community and turns it into a ghetto.

It was the mid-1980s when Thatcher made it easy
for universities like Nottingham and Trent to expand rapidly and this continues apace. Back then residents like myself saw the consequences and argued that all student accommodation in the community should be registered and the number of student properties in any road limited to 25%. This level still results in 50% or more of the residents being students and contributing to the destruction of the community so many want to be part of. Sad to say few listened and the City Council and the two city universities ignored us. We won a few fights along the way, but it was others, who took a harder line when it came to students, who finally won the day resulting in Nottingham City Council introducing rules in 2013 requiring any shared property with three or more tenants/occupants to be registered as a house in multi-occupation (HMO) and banning more HMOs in many parts of the city, including Lenton and Radford (Broxtowe Borough Council presently sets the HMO test at six sharing a house, but appears to have no enforcement plan).

Talk to students and their representatives and they, for the most part, understand this. Beeston can prevent its "Lentonisation' if it chooses to.

This is not a new claim or observation by me and I am not the first to make it. What I probably do have is more experience and understanding of the challenges Beeston faces, which left unchecked will see the town losing many of its shops, many being turned into student accommodation. It happened in Lenton, Radford and Hyson Green in the city and can happen here.

In Lenton, where I was a community activist for the best part of thirty-five years, we saw road after road bought up by private landlords who happily paid more for a house than any owner-occupier ever would or could. Why? Because they counted the number of rooms they could turn into bedrooms and this almost always including one, if not two, of the ground floor living rooms. This way they could easily fit 4, 5, 6, even more students into the house.

My 2015 map when I am able to update it will show the onward march of council tax exempt properties in Beeston. Of this fact I am sure. The signs on the streets I walk along tell me this.

I use the word 'student', although the official term which is important here is 'full-time education'. I think the latter is a nicety. Students do not have to pay council tax on the property/room they rent because properties occupied exclusively by those in 'full-time education' do not have to pay council tax.

This exemption currently reduces the council tax collected in Broxtowe by £950,000. This figure was provided by the Borough Council to a Beeston councillor. In the side column you will find a page devoted to this topic which I compiled last year based on the information available at the time. Last year 84% of Broxtowe's council tax exempt properties were in Beeston. I am sure the percentage is now higher and I am currently waiting for this information to be provided, but at 84%, the cost, you can argue to Beeston is £798,000!

When landlords set the rents they charge students the fact that the student occupant does not have to pay council tax becomes part of the calculation used to set the rent. This way the landlord can charge a slightly higher rent and increase his/her profits in the process.

Once Beeston had a few established estate agents, now they are everywhere and they are like the private landlords they feed on. The lucky make fat profits and can pay higher rents and business rates. Established businesses are forced to close because rents go up and business rates rise as well. And it is the demise of one such local business which prompts this post. The loss of a café may seem of itself of no importance to anyone bar the staff who lose their jobs and the regular customers who see it as an extension of their home — for that is what a good café can become.

I will leave you with the evidence and I will not be alone in mourning its passing. The question is 'Do you?'

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Beeston Vertical Heritage Map

Another work in progress (maps always are). I have a few other things I want to add.

If you compare this vertical map to my other two Beeston vertical maps you will see how I have shifted vertical and horizontal street lines to accommodate the information I include. I could reduce the height of this map because of the space I have created by excluding most pubs and cafés, but for now I am leaving it as it is. I like the white space.

As with all my maps I try to pull in the Trent and University. Perhaps it has suited some to ignore them (an observation I will return to when I write about a book, The River Trent by J H Ingram, published in 1955, which I bought in Oxfam for £3 last week).

Just click on the map to enlarge.

A few photographs of Beeston's everyday heritage, which few notice. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Beeston Nights — a work in progress

My new style Beeston 'vertical map' has the advantage of being easily adaptable, of which the Beeston Nights map below is an example. I am also working on a Beeston Heritage version based on the town's numerous blue plaques. Having been given time I did not expect to have this side of 2017, I am going to complete these two versions and that will be it. Beeston Nights will show what shops are open, the supermarkets taken as given, so I will show launderettes etc. I will also try and take some night-time photographs of the town (I have included the few I have to give a feel of Beeston after dark).

Some eateries are not open every night, so I need to check out opening hours when I do my evening walk. In the meantime, gaze upon a very different Beeston to the one many of us know much better.

Usual rule. Click on map to enlarge.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Chilwell poet a seasonal must have

This morning I went with my friend John White to collect his first ever published collection of poems, Attenborough Churchyard, Canary Girls and other poems from The Russell Press in Old Basford.

With a couple of exceptions, all sixty-six poems were published in newspapers between 2008 and 2016. It is a wonderful and varied collection. Here is little taster:


I was tempted by what she proffered
In thrall with what was offered
Refusal would leave me inconsolable
My desire was uncontrollable
Finally I thought I would risk it
And accept just one more chocolate biscuit

Derby Telegraph
16 January 2014.

One thing is certain. John's poetry ranges far and wide when it comes to subject matter. Love, passion, history, death, reminiscence, all have a place in John’s work.

The first edition is limited to just 150 copies and all the profit after the printing cost (Russell Press charged £248 for this 80 page plus cover book) will go to Attenborough Parish Church.

I used my local history publishing skills to assist John with layout, pricing and how the poems are organised (chronologically from 11 December 2008 – 6 October 2016, with the exception of the last poem. If you buy the collection you will understand why). We used Russell Press because they are simply the best. End of story. We also decided to set the poems in Helvetica 13 point, a nice clear typeface well suited to verse.

John's modesty prevents him from believing that interest in his poems will extend any further than family and friends. I have tried my best to convince John otherwise, so he was somewhat stunned when he sold his first copy within minutes of Jo putting them on display in The Local Not Global Deli on Chilwell Road, opposite Imperial Road. What is more, the buyer, Margaret Richardson, a Beeston U3A member, asked John to sign the book.

Below is the cover. I did persuade John to increase the price by 50p. At £4.50 the collection is excellent value.  To enlarge, just click on the image.

We decided to have just one place in Beeston selling Attenborough Churchyard, Canary Girls and other poems and that's The Local Not Global Deli on Chilwell Road, simply because we met more often than not in the Deli, both loving Jo's food (tonight Susan and I will be sharing a generous slice of Jo's Salmon Quiche with a simple salad) and it's the only place I know in Nottingham where I can buy Henderson's Relish (the veggie Worcester Sauce from Sheffield), but I digress...

... for me it has been a real joy to work with John and I have loved every minute of the experience. We worked our way through eight drafts and watched the number of pages and poems increase with every draft until we reached no.9 and I wanted to have it published before I go into hospital for open heart surgery. Publishing now also means a good few folk may be tempted to buy it as a Christmas present for themselves or a loved one.

I hope on Friday to find a city centre seller too, so watch this space. Attenborough Churchyard, Canary Girls and other poems costs just £4.50 and offers great value for money.

I will end with the first verse of one of my favourite poems in the collection.


Give a fool an inch
He will strive to take a mile
Gift a man an army
See the bodies start to pile

The collection is full of such reflections and passion is never far away. John the lover shines bright and in them I find a reflection of myself, but I will leave it to you to discover more of yourself in John's poems.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Beeston Loyalty Map draft no.2 looking for a sponsor

I did a post a few days ago of my first draft of this map. This is my second draft. Slowly it progresses! My aim is to find a sponsor so the map can be published in January, before I go off the scene for a few months whilst I recover from open heart surgery.

Usual rule applies. Click on image to enlarge.

The following bus and tram information will appear on the reverse side of the map.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Saturday trolleybus rides and a Beeston might have been

Last Saturday I persuaded Susan and our close friend Judith to humour me. We went to Sandtoft, an old and isolated airfield cum industrial estate located in the North Lincolnshire lowlands just beyond Nottinghamshire's most northern tip. Why? Well, a mix of reasons. I am a romantic, a bit of a bus nerd, especially trolleybuses, but as Susan and Judith could see with their own eyes at the Sandtoft Trolleybus Museum, I am not the nerdyest of nerds.

My final reason for wanting to visit the museum last Saturday was that it was their annual 'Twilight' event, when the museum stays open until 7pm so you can ride on trolleybuses in the dark. Last year, we went to Lowestoft and did the same thing. I also did a post (click here to revisit).

Sandtoft Trolleybus Museum is a leisurely two hour drive from Beeston (just over 60 miles) up the A614 via Ollerton and Bawtry. On the way we had an excellent lunch at Rose Cottage, which is on the A614 opposite Rufford Abbey Country Park.

Growing up in Wembley I travelled on the 662 trolleybus every week, even writing a poem about unrequited love and the 662 (which you can read here). Just thinking of those days fills me with happiness, my Nanna and me going to Harlesden eto go shopping every week when I was little, then during school holidays when I was at home. My first dictionary was bought there, now battered, which I still use. Just to have it my hands, to open it, unlocks a treasure chest of memories. I have other books I love, but if I had to save just one, it would be this.

I consider myself blessed to have lived during the few brief decades trolleybuses graced our streets. They date back to the end of the 19th century, but really gained ground in the 1930s when they replaced trams in towns and cities across Britain, but come the end of the 1960s they had gone from everywhere bar Bradford and Walsall, where I went on my last ride on a trolleybus on public streets with Pop, my grandfather, who had come to stay with us that first Christmas we spent in Birmingham after leaving Harrow a few months before. Nanna died in 1960. I was fifteen at the time and been working just six months. Riding on a trolleybuses is a cocoon of memories and emotions for me (as if I need to tell you this!).

Nottingham had one of Britain's largest trolleybus systems and a good few of the city's trolleybuses survive in the care of enthusiasts. Earlier this year, Sandtoft had an open-day devoted to Nottingham trolleybuses. They never made it as far as Beeston, although Nottingham did plan to run trolleybuses as far as Chilwell along three routes through Beeston (Broadgate, Chilwell Road, Queens Road and Wollaton Road), but these and other routes never happened because diesel buses were cheaper to buy and more flexible. In truth, trolleybuses were quickly overtaken by events and technology — as it happening now with street trams. History really does repeat itself and here ends the lesson. 

Sandtoft Trolleybus Museum last Saturday was sadly deserted. Lincolnshire mist surrounded us and the damp seeped into our bones. It was that kind of day, so we stayed a couple of hours and left, but not before I took a few pictures:

We arrived at 3.30pm and saw these two trolleybuses waiting for passengers. There were just three running.

This Hudderfield trolleybus was the first one we rode on and, for me, the most handsome. In appearance, closer to Nottingham and London trolleybuses than the other two, but with a clunky ride.

Inside the trolleybus was empty except for the three of us, who sat on the bench seats above the rear wheels. Our ride consisted of two loops in both directions around a circular route. The museum is not as developed as Crich Tramway Museum or the East Anglia Transport Museum in Lowestoft, even though all three were formed at the about the same time. I first visited Crich and Sandtoft when I was councillor, giving a grant to the former in my capacity as Chair of the then Midlands Area Museum Service, and the latter when I was a Notts county councillor and floating the idea of finding the trolleybus museum a home between Edwinstowe and Rufford, so that it could provide a on-road service between the Robin Hood Centre and Rufford Abbey Country Park, but it was not to be for a number of reasons.

Our second ride (and by far the smoothest) was on this single-decker trolleybus from Wellington, New Zealand. This was popular with the real enthusiasts present, who clambered aboard every time it was waiting for passengers.

Then, finally, what the visit was all about, riding on a trolleybus in the twilight and the dark, and this was our last ride, on a Bradford trolleybus, the most modern in use, dating from the 1960s, with a front entrance and a folding door. Bradford lost its trolleybuses in the mid-1970s. Again the ride was smooth and the seats more comfortable, helped by the fact that the trolleybus was 8' wide (the other two were 7'6" wide).

The Museum's café closed at 4.30pm even though the museum was open until 7pm! Some kind of service was going to be offered in another part of the museum, but come five o'clock it still was not in place, so we headed back to Beeston.

Sandtoft is not Crich, but it is still worth a visit. It has bags of potential, but as Susan observed, the volunteers who run Sandtoft probably like it as it is.