Friday, 18 September 2015

Broadgate welcome

Just found out that Judy Sleath, the Chair of Beeston & District Society, has pulled off the near impossible with help from Simon at Pixels & Graphics on Chilwell Road and Steph at Beeston BID. 

At 10pm last night  (Thursday) Judy asked me if I could do a 'student' version of my Beeston Pubs & Cafes Map for first thing this morning so that they could be printed today (Friday) and distributed tomorrow (Saturday). Just heard that 3,000 have been printed and will go to students in the Broadgate flats.
A White Lion regular.

Hopefully, a few of you living in Broadgate will find your way to this old fart's blog. If you are one of them, welcome. I hope you enjoy your time at university and living in Broadgate, which is on the wrong side of Tottlebrook to be in Beeston (and the Borough of Broxtowe). It is actually in Lenton (and the City of Nottingham), but even old Lentonians like me have always accepted that Broadgate and Lenton Abbey look to Beeston when it comes to shopping and going to the pub.
D'Oliva's a great place for lunch.

Beeston is a remarkable place by any measure. My wife Susan first came to Chilwell and Beeston as a history & archaeology student in 1969 and lodged in Chilwell vicarage for two years before spending her final year in Florrie Boot Hall.

I met Susan in Birmingham when I was a very young Birmingham city councillor and she was a very young museum curator. It was love at second sight and we were setting up home together a fortnight later and I have been an incurable romantic ever since (!).
Table 8 on Wollaton Road another lunchtime haunt.

For two years Susan walked to and from the University through Beeston to her digs in Chilwell vicarage. Work took her (and me) to Mansfield, then in 1975 we found our way to Lenton because, by then, I was a national officer for a well known charity and wanted to be near a mainline railway station.

It was not until 1996 that we started to come to Beeston every week, so when we finally decided to downsize from Lenton in 2013, it was going to be either Chilwell or Beeston. in the end, being within a few minutes walk of Beeston shops won out over being close to the tram.
The new home in town for coffee lovers who like variety.

The Broadgate flats, in terms of location, have to be close to the best in Nottingham - as I hope my pocket map demonstrates. You are less then five minutes away from some of the best pubs and cafés you will ever visit. One thing is for sure, you will remember these times.

Right now, if you have got this far, welcome to Beeston, I wish you well. See you about.

Robert Howard, beestonweek blogger.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Electrifying railways – Forward with Labour – inspired by Lilian

Back in the days when I was a Labour Party agent for local elections and then a councillor in Birmingham and Nottingham, I always used 'campaign' postcards. They were cheap and easy to produce in the days when colour was an impossible luxury. I could easily print fifty or two hundred at home for a specific street or event.
I got the idea from poll-cards. Once upon a time, these were not produced and distributed by local councils. You had to do your own if you wanted them. Party members would come together in Labour halls and clubs and use marked electoral rolls to write names and addresses onto poll-cards by hand. They were social occasions, when Party members got to know one another better over cake and refreshments. I remember writing up poll-cards (and 'Reading pads' for election day) with a big smile on my face.

People would take them into the polling station to use when marking their ballot papers (back then, just the names of the candidates were listed on the ballot paper. Descriptions and party logos were added in the 1970s if I remember correctly). As they left the polling station, they would hand the card to the Labour Party person standing there. The cards were then collected and taken back to the committee room. It was a quick and efficient way of working and a sign of good organisation.
In the mid-1980s, my Susan computerised the process and in all the elections I was the Party Agent for in the then Portland ward in Nottingham I continued to produce poll-cards. I still would. Anyway, it wasn't much of a leap to turn poll-cards into campaign postcards and I have been thinking about how the idea could still be used.

Well, today I got my answer, thanks to a snippet I heard on BBC East Midlands Today's lunchtime news about how Lilian Greenwood, now the Labour Party's Shadow Minister of Transport, was challenging the Conservatives to explain why they were not going ahead with railway electrification and the government minister responding said something like 'It will go ahead, it's just on pause',

'Pause' sums up almost perfectly what has happened to Britain under the Conservatives. Life has been on pause for most of us, and for a good few going backwards! None of it necessary and, ever since it was introduced as the answer to the economic crisis created by the banks and corporate capitalism, I have opposed 'austerity' as a policy. 
Giving banks trillions was a big big mistake. The money should have gone to investing in housing, transport and many other things we needed (and still need), so I am delighted to hear the Labour Party now saying these things.

At the beginning of the Labour Party Leadership contest Susan and I were with Andy Burnham. He was our choice in 2010, but we drifted away from him in the absence of his offering little that was new. In the end we both voted for Jeremy Corbyn and I was very pleased when Andy Burnham and Lilian Greenwood joined Jeremy Corbyn's Shadow Cabinet. It is going to be hard for the next four years, but I really do believe it is possible to win in 2020, despite the Parliamentary boundary changes and the mountain Labour has to climb in Scotland.
From the news item about Lilian and railway electrification has come these four 'campaign postcards' 2015 style in this post. I think postcards could be used in Beeston and Broxtowe for local Labour campaigns. One final point, the reverse side can be used for punchy text and the name of the local area they are being delivered in.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Heritage Open Day at the Pearson Centre

I spent this morning at the Pearson Centre, where local groups with stands were taking part in the Beeston Heritage Open Days weekend. I went along to help Judy, the Chairman of Beeston & District Civic Society, but in the end she had plenty of helpers, so I was able to wander off and look at the other stalls and chat with folk. It was all very enjoyable and I took a few photographs. Because I am a 'happy snapper', I do end up with duds and this morning was no different. This time it was Trent & Peak Archaeology and the Boys Brigade who I didn't manage to take decent photographs of. The good news is that I got enough to share here.

Apart from helping to move the Civic Society display a few times, I went outside and help Judy improvise a display of bunting tied to a wheelie bin, in the absence of signage by the Library or on Wollaton Road. The sad truth is that not many folk came to the Pearson Centre, even though is a fantastic venue for this kind of thing. I am absolutely sure that next year will be much better.

This is one part of the Civic Society display. I think it would be better on banners with larger text and images, with a table free for information. Trent & Peak Archaeology did this better than anyone else, but my photograph turned out blurred, so I cannot illustrate the point I am making. Having said this, the Civic Society did a fantastic job organising the History Open Days.

I spent some time talking to Iris Martin of the Beeston Camera Club (above) about an impressive display chronicling the coming of the tram to the west side of Nottingham, with lots of fine photographs, from Toton Lane, through Chilwell and Beeston, across to University Boulevard and beyond the QMC. 

Because it has been (and continues to be) a work in progress, photographs are being added to this very special and important collection regularly, so this was the  biggest display yet. The photographs have been taken by Iris and her husband Derek. I really hope that at some point in the near future some outside body with the money and resources talks to them about sponsoring a proper exhibition. Perhaps Nottingham Express Transit (NET) should. A truly wonderful collection of photographs.

Alan Dance (above) was on the Beeston & District Local History Society tables selling his own historical novels. The only two I was aware of until today were Narrow Marsh and Leen Times. Now I know there are others: The Westbrook Affair; Canary Child and The Chilwell Ghost. You can learn more by visiting Alan's website at

In the centre of the large Pearson Centre hall was a working model railway, complete with a small working steam engine. This little boy was able to get this close by standing on a box. It was such a pity that so few children came into the  Centre whilst I was there. The happiness on this little boy's face says it all really.

BeestonWeek has always had a link to the Greening Beeston website and I have seen them at other events. I am full of admiration for what they are trying to do. They were selling yummy cakes and I managed to catch Jill serving a customer. We spoke about working on a map together, something for me to do when I go into hibernation during the cold and cough months. I like their ideas.

I had a lovely long chat with Steve Austin on the Beeston U3A table. He told me they had nearly 500 members (or was it 400?). Whatever the number was, it is truly impressive by any measure. They run lots of groups, including a local history group and a writing group, and it is this 'apartness' which makes me suspicious of them and I wonder in what way the existing local history and writing groups in Beeston were failing, that U3A felt the need to set up its own 'rival' groups?

As a group they have always given me the feeling that I would not be good enough for them. The Green Party has a similar exclusive air about it, despite having such an outgoing and inclusive person in Caroline Lucas as their MP. Steve contradicts all my feelings about U3A and he is a great ambassador for Beeston U3A.

Finally, my last photograph from this morning and if I had taken no other photograph I would be over the moon. Betty Cliffe is long-time Secretary of the Beeston Workers' Educational Association Branch and I have known her for a good few years now. We attended the same WEA writing class in the Beeston Centre for a long time until Susan and I moving house got in the way and, somehow, I have yet to find the time to go back. 

The WEA is more for the likes of me and I have been attending WEA classes on and off since I was a teenager in Wembley. I am going to attend a course about maps this autumn in the Pearson Centre and Susan is going along to a family history course in Beeston Library.

Betty is a great role model and someone I hold in high regard. I always enjoy her company and this photograph is very much the Betty I know. I think her personality shines through and I am very pleased with it. When I think about today in the future I will think about Betty and the little boy so happy to be watching the model train and clapping his hands every time the engine passed by (another photo which was blurred I am sorry to say).

I was going to meet Susan at the Wollaton Road allotments at one o'clock, but the heavens opened and in the thirty seconds it took me to put my waterproof jacket on I got soaked, so instead I went into the Allotments, bought two sausage burgers and took them home — hence my posting these pics so soon.

Today is one of those days I will always remember, when asked the question 'Where were you the day Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader of the Labour Party'. We also have a friend's 70th birthday gathering this evening. Someone I have worked with closely over the years in countless community campaigns during our thirty-five years in Lenton. 

Nottingham hover bus — the future of public transport?

A Nottingham hover bus glides up the Derby Road past the Warsaw Diner (the best place in Nottingham to have breakfast or brunch) towards Ilkeston and Cotmanhay on the city's first hover bus service. Their colour makes them impossible to miss. 

The hover bus travels just above the road surface and rides the bumps without passengers noticing. Their advantages are obvious — you don't need to lay and maintain expensive track and cabling and they can go anywhere.

At the moment all the bus company concerned will say is 'We are currently evaluating this new and exciting technology'.

Personally, I believe I have seen the future of public transport in the Nottingham conurbation and it is not a tram. It is a bus. Lots of them. Who needs wheels when you can hover. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Nine wasted months by local councils creating new CA. Will Broxtowe and Erewash Conservatives make the same mistake?

The local authorities of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have quietly joined forces to submit a 'combined authority' (CA) bid to the Government. You can read all about it on Broxtowe Borough Council's website.

At the beginning of 2015, Nottinghamshire was insisting that it would be successful with its own bid to create a CA. It was never going to happen and I blogged in January 2015 why. I argued then for the creation of a 'then city' CA based on Derby and Nottingham (see a link to that post here).

NINETEEN councils have signed up to create this new super-council, including Broxtowe. They are a disparate bunch for a number of reasons - politics, social, economic and geography. History and time have moved on since Domesday and the great local government reforms of the late-19th century (everything else outside Greater London and the metropolitan counties created in 1974 has been no more than tinkering).

The creation of a Derby-Notts CA, which will come with an elected mayor/super leader, will bring with it inevitable change. Five tiers of local government, from the many many parish/town councils to the two county councils, was not sustainable when it was just Nottinghamshire bidding to become a CA. Now it is even less so. I would not be too surprised if Bassetlaw did not eventually leave the Derby-Notts CA and join the proposed Sheffield CA, based on the South Yorkshire unitary councils. It would make sense in every respect.

Greater Manchester set the ball rolling (in terms of public awareness) and is based on just nine unitary councils (not NINETEEN councils from three different levels), all created in 1974 when the Greater Manchester Metropolitan County Council came into being. It didn't last long. The Conservatives created the council under Ted Heath and another Conservative leader, Margaret Thatcher, abolished it in 1986, by which time the upstart council had earned a place in the affections of those who lived there. It continued to exist as a powerful voluntary partnership, jointly owning such things as Manchester Airport.

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have no such legacy to build on, but for it to work it will need to reduce the number of local political leaders. Broxtowe will have to cede powers to the new CA leader and the most important powers it will lose will be housing and planning. Privatise bin emptying services and you are left with Broxtowe becoming one big town council, who will then find itself under attack from the new CA and existing parish/town councils.

There is a way though for Broxtowe Borough Council to survive and I would suggest that is by teaming up with Erewash Borough Council. Both are Conservative controlled. Both border large Labour controlled city councils and, together, make a harmonious geographical area. Both have similar populations and total c.222,000 together - enough to create a sustainable unitary authority. If the Conservatives running the two councils could do this they would win twice - they would protect themselves from bigger city neighbours and almost certainly bring about the end of the two county councils. 

This, in my book, equals survival. It is a better fate than any of the others which await Broxtowe once the new CA exists. Leave it nine months and it will be 'bye bye Broxtowe' at some point. What would you do in this situation? Sit around and wait? I refuse to believe that Broxtowe Conservatives are that stupid. Act now and they stand a good chance of being in charge of their own destiny. 

I was right about the proposed Nottinghamshire CA at the beginning of 2015 and I am right again.

Remember, come the day, you read it here first.

PS. If you have not seen it, a Government report to Parliament in May 2015 is worth a look. Also the first CA in England is for Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. It is beginning happen...

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Beeston Overground

I have 're-branded' my Beeston 'underground style' transport map 'Beeston Overground'. I think enough people are now familiar with Transport for London's Overground map to recognise my efforts for what it is — hence the change of name (see right-hand column).

Here is a quick look. It has taken me two years to reach the point where I am very pleased with my creation and I am thinking about ways to make it even better. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy it for what it is...

Simply click on the map to enlarge. To find out more, click on the link in the right-hand column.

Monday, 7 September 2015

How Beestonians can support municipal enterprise

Today I began the process of switching my gas and electricity supplier from Scottish Power to Robin Hood Energy, the new Nottingham City Council energy company, which started trading today. The only difference between now and the old pre-nationalisation days is that the City Council does not own the power stations, so they have to buy gas and electricity on 'the market', but by any measure it is a welcome, and enterprising, step in the right direction.

My projected annual saving is modest — £176 — but I know that my money is not going to pay directors and shareholders. The City Council's directors will not be paid and RHE is described as 'a not-for-profit' business. There are different tariffs for city council area residents, so I suspect they will get a better deal than me, but I am happy to be supporting a municipal enterprise.

I would like to see a return to municipalism across a whole range of services: public transport, primary health care, all utilities and housing, especially the latter. There is a limited role for specialist housing associations, but they have no role to play in the provision of general housing, and private landlords would disappear overnight if they had to 'compete' with municipal housing on the same terms and lost all their tax advantages.

From 1985 until 2006 I was a supported housing manager, both regionally and nationally, and saw how Thatcher and the Conservatives set about crippling local authority housing and effectively brought about the commercialisation of voluntary housing associations. I saw them 'professionalised' (like the voluntary sector in general) and watched as large pay increases for senior officers were justified on the grounds that to get the best staff the sector had to 'compete'. It was a spurious argument then and still is.

The money wasted by housing associations having to compete for proposed local  'social housing' developments over the years could have been better spent building homes. I have no idea how many housing associations operate in Broxtowe Borough or Nottingham City, but the duplication of services in this way cannot be justified by any measure.

I have already blogged about how Broxtowe Borough Council appears to have no interest in controlling private landlords, as witnessed by its irresponsible attitude towards houses in multi-occupation (HMOs). Perhaps now Labour is in opposition in Broxtowe, it might take more of interest in this issue. I hope so.

My favourite blog, which you can find in the right-hand column and its masthead at the top of this post, is Municipal Dreams. To use the site's own words:

Municipal Dreams celebrates the efforts and achievements of our early municipal reformers.
These men and women dreamed of a better world.  But this was a dream built in bricks and mortar; an idealism rooted in the practical power of the local state to transform lives and raise the condition of the people.
I believe that the legacy of our early municipal reformers is unjustly neglected and often unfairly maligned.  This is a modest attempt to record their story and set that record straight.
But I’m not naive.  There were failures and missteps as well as successes. Mistakes are made, real-world limitations intervene, times change – the road to a better future is never easy.  But at least that road was taken – however falteringly – and a better, fairer future striven for.
This isn’t a crudely party political blog but, at a time when the local state and directly provided public services  are under unprecedented attack, the lessons of the past seem relevant.  In other words, this is not an exercise in nostalgia but a reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way.
For the second time in my active political life, which began in 1959 when I was fifteen, I sense change is about (the first was 1964 and you have only to look at Labour's achievements under Wilson to realise he was second only to Attlee). There are those among us who are determined to destroy what hopes and ambitions we have. We must not let this happen. The best way to win is to be open, to be reasonable and to promote models of ownership and control based on local communities and not state capitalism, for that is what the old model of nationalisation was and remains.
We will know soon enough and Nottingham's Labour controlled city council, for all its shortcomings, is there, once again, showing a better way. 
Some have greatness thrust upon them. If the person I voted for in the Labour Party leadership ballot wins, we will have to stand shoulder to shoulder with him as he faces a media and establishment determined to bring about his downfall at the first opportunity.
Right now, give yourself a lift and get a quote for your gas and electricity from Robin Hood Energy. As someone said 'Every journey begins with one small step'. Let this be yours! a

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Local produce comes no fresher than this

A month ago I blogged about a Saturday amble into Beeston town centre and caught Dave, a Wollaton Road Allotment holder, selling his last beans. Yesterday morning (Saturday again) I walked into town a lot earlier to spend time helping on the Beeston & District Civic Society stall publicising the Heritage Open Days which begin this coming Thursday and last until Sunday (see map in right-hand column). This time I caught Dave with loads of vegetables. They could not come any fresher. Picked just minutes before. If you are in the know, the entrance to Wollaton Road Allotments at the north end of the town centre is a great place to buy fresh, local, produce.

A tapestry in stone

Friday found us venturing away from Beeston to meet up with close friends who live in Longton, one of the towns which make up Stoke-on-Trent, to celebrate a 65th birthday. We met in Rocester and had a long slow lunch in a farm shop, before heading in convoy to Croxden Abbey.

Over the years I have lost count of how many times I have seen the fingerpost sign saying 'Croxden Abbey' and never once diverted to see what there was to see. My focus always on getting to Longton to be with our friends Paul and Rosie (whose birthday it was).

I knew enough to know that we were going to see ruins and Rosie had blogged about Croxden Abbey. Click here to see a Croxden post she did in 2013 and an earlier Croxden post form 2008. Beyond that I had no idea of what to expect. In the event I was blown away by the experience.

I go to a place like Croxden and, selfishly, think that to take pictures will detract from the experience. It is as if those monks laboured all those centuries ago for us now and it had to be robbed of stone so we could be left with something greater than a religious house. Rosie's posts are full of great photographs and the few I am sharing with you now were taken by Rosie and Paul on Friday.

As wonderful as the larger remains are, I get the greatest pleasure from the detail. Little corners like this. I didn't want to leave.

I asked Rosie to take this photograph for me as it encapsulates the day and my feelings about Croxden Abbey. I see it as a tapestry in stone, woven, not built, knitted together and in places the walls were warm to the touch and I believe such walls can capture the human spirit as well as the Sun's rays. The marks on the dressed stone carry messages if we touch and let the vibration of time soaked into our bones and minds.

I am not religious or a mystic, but Paul caught me unawares with this photograph. Looking towards one corner of the Abbey remains. I was surrounded by stillness, oblivious to everything but the beauty of the moment. This is as near as I get to having a faith in anything beyond socialist humanism. I really connected with the monks and brethren who made this moment possible.

During the course of my seventy-one years I have visited countless places and a few register and stay with you, ever present, to be conjured up as inner releases — places which make you instantly happy. On Friday Croxden Abbey joined Sempringham, a Southwold beach-hut, Belgrave Road in Leicester, the Fosse Way, Bakewell Meadow, Haddon Hall and Oldmoor Wood. Wembley High Road from a 83 RT bus or 662 trolleybus, a 35 bus going to Bulwell. 

And you may wonder about people. I could fill a book with happy thoughts about friends and family, but they will all pass with me. Croxden will remain and I like to think that some of what spirit I have was left there on Friday to become part of what makes such places greater than just stones standing on stones.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

See you on Saturday with copies of my Beeston Pocket Companion ©

I am taking copies of my 2015 Heritage Open Days Pocket Companion with me to place on the Beeston & District Civic Society's stall in Beeston Square on Saturday. 200 copies. The cover measures 7.5 x 10.5cm and is easy to carry about and refer to. If you would like a copy come along. I am printing just 100 at my own expense, unless a sponsor shows up in the next twenty-four hours.

On my wife's advice, who is keen on copyright, the term 'Beeston Pocket Companion' and my Beeston map design, will now come with a copyright claim in my name (Robert Howard). I will make the map freely available for not-for-profit activities and to independent local businesses in return for the inclusion of my beestonweek.blogspot logo and if any are printed for distribution I expect them to be printed in Beeston or Chilwell. I support local independent traders.

Good news. Simon at Pixel & Graphics on Chilwell Road in return for a sponsor's box, is sharing the cost of producing 100 in colour with me. I can't imagine anyone choosing mono until that option as gone. We shall see on Saturday. There has also been a cover change. Judy at the Civic Society fell in love with this pink box, so how could I deny her.

PS. It won't be in colour. It will be mono, but this what it would like if I had the money!

Beeston foodie quote, local art and a 20 bus

A quick dash into Beeston town centre was the intention, but the rain came so we popped into L'Oliva for a light lunch and got a foodie quote from a favourite detective as well.

We are great Montalbano fans, the Sicilian detective who features regularly on BBC4-TV on a Saturday night. The programmes are beautifully filmed and come with lots of wholesome Italian ladies and plenty of food 'porn'.

Sometimes a picture says it all and this is one those occasions. All I need tell you is that what you see before you cost less than £20 and I understand that L'Oliva will be opening in the evening as well from October, if everything go to plan. We look forward to walking down Wollaton Road for an  early evening meal.

We also made time to pop into Beeston Library to see a exhibition of work by local artists and 'creative' photographers (my description). A mixed bag, with some local scenes of topical interest, including the tram and Beeston Lock. I am sure every visitor will find something they like. I think people who put their creations on public display should be applauded. 

This is a photograph of Beeston Library's staircase from the 1st floor. The images also appear as etchings in some of the glass door panels. You can walk past up and down the stairs a hundred times without giving the images a second glance. I rather like this public 'artwork', for that is what it is. There is always a big danger that you could go into the Library next week and someone will have painted the wall. These are the kind of small things we need to be alert to in public spaces.

Finding the time to post all I want to is not easy, given there are other things I want to do as well, but I will end with a couple of 'by the ways', one a rare sight and the other recognition of sorts:

On Sunday, Susan and I popped into Nottingham city centre and went on the tram. It was mid-day and it was standing all the way, although at the QMC a mum did take her daughter on her lap so Susan could sit down. Just before it arrived at the Interchange, I saw a very rare sight — a 20 bus going to Heanor. It only runs on Sundays and covers parts of Trent-Barton routes 18 and 21, which run Mondays–Saturdays. Routes like this seem only to become 'essential' when they are lost, which is why it is important that they are promoted and supported as much as very frequent services like the 36, Y36 and Indigo.

'Heanor' I hear you say.'Where's that?' It is part of the Greater Nottingham conurbation on the road between Ilkeston and Ripley. From Beeston it is houses all the way. I would argue that Beeston needs a direct bus service to Ilkeston every day, but I will leave that argument for another occasion.

Finally, thanks to Judy Sleath, the Chair of Beeston & District Civic Society, my Beeston 2015 Heritage Open Days map has been put into the public noticeboard in Beeston's Square. Thank you Judy for your support and encouragement.