Friday, February 26, 2010

Young People and Fairtrade

Today's events were both at primary schools, and both inspiring. It was worth getting moving early even in the rain to get to Teesside High Prep school for their coffee morning and Fairtrade assembly. The Fairtrade committee had organised the assembly and did amazingly well. A talk about how important it is to swap to Fairtrade tea was followed by a video about tea growers in Malawi and the difference the Fairtrade premium made to them. Then two short dances - one from Ireland and one from India reflecting the world wide impact of Fairtrade on both the consumer and the producer and a chance for me to reinforce what the girls had said. It was inspiring to see the commitment from girls of 9, 10 and 11 to something about which they knew very little at this time last year. I have high hopes of seeing that school as a Fairtrade school.

This afternoon was a very different affair - a Fairtrade cafe run in the hall of Egglescliffe CE Primary, known locally as "Butts Lane school". The waiters and waitresses had dressed the part, including long black aprons. The menus were hand produced works of art. The coffee and tea were served beautifully and their manners were impeccable. The choir came and sang for part of the afternoon and coped amazingly well with people talking while they sang. I'm looking forward to going in again soon for an assembly there and to that school starting to embed the concept of Fairtrade into their life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hands Across the World

This morning's post brought a card for Thinking Day from a Girl Scout Leader in America. Betsy and I camped together many years ago and corresponded for a few years but then gradually other responsibilities pushed the letters further and further apart. Last week, courtesy of the Facebook group against building the school in Preston Park she "found" me again. Lots of catching up via email and Facebook but she also found time to send a card. "Make new friends but keep the old" - how apt.
Today was also the meeting of the Faitrade Borough Partnership, with a chance to take stock of where we are and where we want to be. This year's Fairtrade Fortnight theme of the Big Swap is asking us all to change one unfairly traded item for a Fairtrade one in our regular shop. I've found it quite hard to decide - I already do the easy ones. Fairtrade tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate, cocoa, raisins, sultanas, wine, beer, honey, peanut butter, rice and pasta are all in the larder. Fruit makes its way there in season but isn't always available where I shop. T-shirts made from Fairtrade cotton are in my wardrobe. Until I lose some weight I can't buy the other beautiful Fairtrade clothes which are made for people who eat sustainably and stay at a sustainable size. I'm going to go to Boots and look for their Fairtrade moisturiser creams. Almond body butter sounds good enough to eat! And buying it supports farmers who otherwise would be facing extreme poverty and hardship. I like win/win situations.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What will you swap?

Fairtrade fortnight duly launched at BBC Tees this morning, encouraging people to swap from unfairly traded tea which leads to exploitation and in extreme cases starvation for fairtrade tea which leads to self reliance, better living conditions and a more sustainable world.
The large inflatable mug provided by Middlesbrough Fairtrade partnership made an eyecatching corner to our display.
I delivered more packs of tea, coffee, sugar and biscuits to people who're going to host events during the fortnight and just hope that some of the seeds sown bear fruit.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I've had one or two comments that things seem to be going quiet on the Preston Park front. Rest assured they're not, but we need to finalise some detail before sending information out more generally.
Meanwhile there's a consultation to be done on where to site a dog dirt bin on the Hunters Green/Mulberry Park area and some campaign detail to work out for the constituency.
On a domestic note - the washing dried outside yesterday for the first time this year. Sunshine and wind are a powerful combination:) Sadly, today has seen more white stuff falling out of the sky though not staying long on the ground.
Yesterday was also a good day for the front garden, with the holly tree now trimmed back to manageable proportions along with the buddleia and the mahonia. Never been such times!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fairtrade Fortnight interview duly done this morning. It goes out, well edited I hope, some time on Monday morning on TFM which I confess is not a station I usually listen to. They are promoting the start of the fortnight which is great.
So, too, are BBC Tees with Fairtrade tea tasting in the foyer of their building. If you're in the area of BBC Tees between 10 and 12 do pop in and say hello!
Normal politics resumed this afternoon when Stockton Council's cabinet met for a very short time and approved the recommendation to council for next week of a budget, giving a 2% rise in Council Tax. If Council approves it next week it means Stockton managing on less than planned this time last year but doing it without any dramatic cuts. That doesn't mean that there haven't been any cuts. There have, but planned and not dramatic. I hope it stays that way but who knows what the rest of the year might bring.
Meanwhile my mother received a letter from the Labour PPC for Stockton North telling her all the wonderful things Labour has done for us. She wasn't impressed. On the back is a "survey" which asks for name and address but they're already on the front so if it's sent back presumably the person opening the envelope would know who it's from. It gives a freepost address but not an envelope and she thought that was the height of bad manners! Shows that the older generation don't always think like their offspring:)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I know that this blog is usually about politics but once in a while I do stray into what makes me tick and Ash Wednesday is one of those days. Those with no interest in it can stop reading now!
The idea of fasting as a lead up to a feast is found in several world religions and Christianity is no exception. So this is the start of the season of Lent. Yesterday people who weren't too busy to make them probably enjoyed pancakes but today fast begins. Luckily the Christian churches don't ask us to go without food and water all day like my Muslim friends do during Ramadan.
Today I rather liked the variation on the cross used in church - made from the remnants of the Christmas tree in order to emphasise the link between the two great feasts of Christianity. So I thought I'd share it for anyone interested.
For others - no doubt normal service will resume tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


It's been pointed out to me that yesterday's post might have looked as though I supported Ms Hossack standing for Parliament. Let me put it on record that I am still a Liberal Democrat. I was a Young Liberal at the age of 16 and I haven't changed my political affiliation since. It doesn't stop me looking forward to an interesting campaign. All we need is the date!
Meanwhile the ward and the borough have things that need sorting out. So meetings to talk about street lights, dog fouling, enforcement problems, the budget, the environment centre and other things that matter to residents. After all the hustle and bustle of the last week I was quite surprised that we had no-one turn up to ward surgery, but perhaps they were saving their energies for the Parish German evening in the hall later!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Environment committee met today for the 2nd time this year to hear that the action plan resulting from our carbon management review still isn't complete. Apparently it needs "tidying up". So do a few other things. Like the fact that the action plan to combat dog fouling is stuck on stage 1. It's written on paper but that's as far as it's gone and the issue of dog fouling in parts of the borough is as bad as ever. It's almost enought to make some of us want to bring in some spectacular punishments for irresponsible owners.
There was a lot of monitoring information brought to the committee but it brought up more questions than answers so more meetings are needed to sort them out. One committee member expressed it very well when he said that members of the public put dog fouling very near the top of their lists of problems they want us to deal with. No-one ever puts Customer First at the top of the list and very few put energy saving or green travel there, important as we know they are.
Update sessions with the council officers responsible for children's welfare in the borough are always slightly depressing. Social work is a bit of a cinderella service in every council - absolutely essential but not really loved. A succession of high profile abuse cases have made the problem worse. It's not the kind of glamorous career that most young people want to take up and it's getting harder to fill senior posts with all the responsibility they include. Yet our children and vulnerable adults need the best we can give. A conundrum which is no nearer a solution than it was at this time last year. No easy answers on the horizon either.
And amidst it all, the news that there will be an Independent Parliamentary candidate in Stockton South, someone with quite a high profile in some parts of the constituency already. Exciting times ahead. Quote from the BBC Politics Show website:

Yvonne Hossacks hopes to get elected in Stockton South. The Northamptonshire solicitor has recently decided to stand. She says she'll focus on protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

"I'm passionate about protecting the weak and the sick. I will not be bound by a party whip. I'm standing partly as an act of rage against the current system."

Sunday, February 14, 2010


I used to think that we were the only couple in the country that don't exchange Valentine cards or gifts but this morning I realised that there are more - lots more actually. Conversation with friends and acquaintances at church turned to the subject with a lot of sympathy from women for those men who feel pressured into spending a fortune and some bewilderment as to how a bit of fun (when we were teenagers - I begin to sound like a grumpy old woman) became a multi-million pound industry. On Saturday, desperately trying to find a decent selection of birthday cards, I even saw cards saying "Happy Valentine's Day to the dog". Perhaps I'm a product of post-war North East England? Or perhaps I just happened to meet the only other people in the country who feel the same way?
Without the aid of cards or bouquets of expensive flowers we succeeded in spending a very pleasant day, thank you.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

According to last night's Gazette there were 100 people in the Library Lecture Theatre for the BSF decision at Cabinet. They could be right - it was certainly full.
Friday was a chance to do something completely different, thank goodness.
The morning started with a meeting of a small group of the Western Area Partnership to decide on what to recommend as the next steps in spending our Communities Fund budget. This is an unusual experience for our board which doesn't usually have any kind of budget to spend. It has a very restricted remit related to reducing unemployment and we used our first year's allocation to set up some collection points and some training for the Credit Union in our area to help alleviate debt problems before they became major.
Now we have to decide on how to spend the next year's allocation and we had a very good discussion on that. Further work needs to be done before we know what we want to recommend to the Board but we have some ideas which we hope might help our young people.
Following that meeting there was a meeting of the Tees Valley Fairtrade Forum to catch up on what each borough is planning for Fairtrade Fortnight and to work out a bit more detail of what we're going to do at BBC Tees on February 22nd. Still some details to be sorted but things are taking shape. And perhaps even better, I could hand over some of the Big Brew packs to the Hartlepool representative thus clearing a bit of space in my garage:)
Soon after arriving home came the news that Focus was printed, folded and ready for taking to deliverers. So over the next week residents of Eaglescliffe should receive the information about the cabinet decision as well as all the other information that they look forward to getting from their councillors. A brief interlude of normality!
And today? Well today apart from sending responses to emails I've taken some time to be with my husband. After all, he was part of my life long before the council.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cabinet Decision

The Labour/Tory non-coalition cabinet met at 4.30 tonight with the first item on the agenda being Building Schools for the Future in the South of the Borough. I don't know how many residents turned up to hear the "debate" but the room was full and not many stayed for subsequent items.
This was cabinet government at its worst. A council officer gave a very clear report on the options, much easier to understand than reading the report with all its tables. Then the cabinet member and Labour parliamentary candidate for Stockton North proposed that cabinet approve 4 options for further investigation. The leader of the council seconded the motion then asked if anyone had anything to say. For over an hour and a half people did say what they thought. At the end of the speeches and questions and answers the cabinet agreed what they had already very obviously agreed prior to the meeting. The cabinet member didn't need to explain to them why he was proposing those four - he just did it.
His statement that nothing would be done to compromise the Park turned out to be a hollow promise. It became clear from the report being presented that the Preston Park option would include the allotments as well as the overflow car park and part of the South field. What's more the catchment areas would be redrawn such that pupils from the southern part of Eaglescliffe would go to Conyers school, not Egglescliffe. Neither of these things was made clear to us when we were "briefed" about the school options. When we said that we didn't think the overflow car park was big enough we were told that the field would be needed but no-one mentioned the allotments. We have tried to keep our residents informed and to consult them on things being suggested but it seems we've been doing it with one hand tied behind our backs at times.
The residents who attended the meeting went hoping to see the Preston Park option thrown in the bin where it should be. They left, cheated. Cheated of a genuine debate and cheated of the wise judgement that they should be able to expect of the ruling non-coalition. The influence of an election round the corner was all too obvious - Ingleby Barwick has almost twice as many electors as Eaglescliffe. Perhaps tellingly, the MP for Stockton South made sure that she sat far away from the Eaglescliffe councillors and made no effort to come and speak to us. But maybe she didn't see us!
So £40000 will be spent on a study on whether building a school in the park is a deliverable option. The result will be known after the General Election - how convenient for the cabinet member and his colleague in the south of the borough.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Feeling quite emotional tonight, having had a contact from someone we lost touch with over 30 years ago but were really close to before that. Who would have thought that the School on the Park issue would reunite, even just in cyber space, friends from so long ago? Being an ex-pat living in France has meant having a satellite TV dish in order to watch BBC news from the North East. Happening to put on the lunch time bulletin on Monday who should be on but yours truly, looking rather older than when last seen but apparently with a very recognisable voice! A search on Facebook more in hope than expectation and bingo - lengthy emails winging back and forth as years of family life is caught up on.
In the midst of it I glance at the free Now and Then magazine and see an article on Brass Crosby written by Suzanne Fletcher. It's definitely a day for friends popping up unexpectedly. If you live in the area and get the magazine do read it. If you don't then you'll have to wait till the end of the month for it to go on the website. Brass Crosby is one of the forgotten sons of Stockton-on-Tees who has found a champion in Suzanne. But don't believe all you read on the Council website - Suzanne has unearthed a few errors in the course of her research. For the full story you'll have to wait for the book!
And if you're in the Eaglescliffe area over the next few weeks do pop in to Preston Hall museum and look at the exhibition "Too much stuff". The museum service is going through all of its collections trying to sort out which things are worth keeping to help tell the story of Stockton through displays, which should be kept because they're useful in memory boxes and such like for groups to borrow and use for bringing history to life, and which should be disposed of because there really isn't room for them - do we need 15 early vacuum cleaners for instance? It's not a big exhibition but it's well worth popping in for. Don't be put off by the work going on - there is some building work but the museum is open and welcoming visitors. The staff are also looking for comments on what should stay and what should go.
They do need to make room for the "history of tomorrow" as one person described it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Fair votes or last gasp failure?

Gordon Brown has announced his answer to the malaise affecting democracy in this country. He will put through legislation to force a referendum during the next Parliament on whether Britain should have the Alternative Vote (AV) instead of First Past the Post. Well whoopee Gordon. I suppose it's a case of (to almost quote) One small step for Britain, one giant leap for Gordon Brown.
Chris Huhne has written a very good piece over on the Guardian's site "Comment is Free" which I won't attempt to summarise here. Suffice to say that he explains clearly why AV is not enough and we need the Single Transferable Vote. If Gordon and his pals don't understand the reasoning put down by Chris, can I suggest they just think of fairness - what's good enough for Scottish local elections, most of Northern Ireland's elections and all of Eire's should be good enough for the rest of us. If it's not then I want to know why not?

Monday, February 08, 2010

More publicity

I was interviewed in Preston Park this morning for the Look North local news programme on BBC TV. It was a very interesting if freezing cold experience. The plan was to have a brief slot at lunch time and then a longer one in the evening giving the opposing views. However, the IBIS councillor said he hadn't got the message so he didn't arrive. That gave me an opportunity to see a professional news cameraman at work uninterrupted (good for me, very interesting) but also meant that the reporter was only able to produce one side of the story on interview (bad for democracy). In the end the lunch time slot was used but not the evening one. Half an hour of filming ditched. I felt more for the reporter than anyone - he was an enthusiastic craftsman and probably doesn't get many opportunities to record that big a story.
In the evening I went as a ward councillor to the monthly meeting of Preston-on-Tees Parish Council. There was a bit of discussion of the school issue but as everyone there was against the whole idea it didn't need much discussion once they'd decided who would attend the cabinet meeting on Thursday on their behalf.
I must say it was a very different kind of meeting to that I'm used to at Egglescliffe & Eaglescliffe council. A lot less discussion and a lot more agreeing with the Chairman. Now that they don't have responsibility for the allotments they don't have to spend any time debating what to do with them.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

This morning was the first Fairtrade stall of the year at church and it was good to be back into the routine. People were very keen to get their stocks of favourit biscuits, coffee, chocolate and snacks. Unfortunately we realised that the routine wouldn't last long as we're scheduled for our April stall to be on Easter Sunday - not the best day for it! Much debate now about how we arrange things - a week earlier clashes with the blessing of palms and procession. Nothing's ever simple is it.
The coffee morning turned as it so often does into a mini surgery on planning issues. People know I'm on the planning committee and come to consult me over coffee on what their neighbours are planning, what developers are up to and the rumours that always permeate areas like Eaglescliffe and Yarm. Whoever said Sunday is a day of rest wasn't thinking of ward councillors!
A long phone call from a resident about the school/Preston Park and another call from a journalist about the same issue completed a morning's work.
Fortunately the busy-ness didn't carry on into the afternoon so a chance to do something other than be a councillor.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

E-campaigning comes to Stockton

Taking a break from all the jobs that need doing I thought I'd check on Facebook for updates on the Against Egglescliffe School Being relocated to Preston Park group.
It's been a really active group, started by two ex pupils who felt strongly about our petition but wanted to expand it to enable people who weren't going in to local shops etc to be able to join the campaign. Now people are really getting involved in how the council works and makes decisions. One has just suggested that everyone email the cabinet members and tell them what we think of the idea of putting a school in a park. She's kindly provided the link to the cabinet members' email address list. Real democracy!
Because it's got so much local interest the media are now intrigued. We've had more press coverage in the last couple of months than the previous 4 years!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Dancing the night away

Well not quite! The annual Mayor's charity dinner and dance was this evening and some people will still be there as I write, enjoying the band and the dancing. My more delicate ears needed to get out of the room and in fact the building. The music was good and I'd have enjoyed it at half or better still a quarter of the volume. Why it's considered right to have music at a volume which would require ear defenders in a factory is beyond me.
The meal was OK and the company was excellent. We managed to win a bottle of wine on the tombola and to get out with our eardrums intact.
Earlier in the day I spent time letting people know that the cabinet meeting will definitely be in the Library next Thursday, laying out Focus and catching up on other paper work. All in all not a bad day at all.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Crunch time approaches

The long awaited cabinet report on the possibilities for the schools in the south of the Borough is available to councillors today and to the public tomorrow. The meeting of cabinet next week will be held in the Library Lecture theatre after all, with the furniture suitably rearranged to accommodate the sizeable public presence that's expected.
The report is not all we'd hoped by any means. It lays out very clearly the options on school sizes. It encourages cabinet to discount some of the sites which were proposed by people because they're too small or they haven't got reasonable access or they would be far too expensive. But it leaves open the option of Prestion Park, despite the fact that in order to accommodate the necessary playing fields etc it would need not just the overflow car park, not just a significant part of the south field but also the Quarry Rd Allotments. The report claims that building in the park could enhance the visual amenity. Which planet do these people live on? We have over 2500 signatures on a petition from people who'd disagree with that opinion. More than 300 people packed Trinity Methodist Church last week to voice their disagreement.
Today we found out that our Labour MP is still telling people that it would only be on the overflow car park and that it's the councillors' fault for not contacting her to tell her what they thought!! She gets money from our taxes to pay office staff to do the work for her like contacting residents. What does she spend it on? Certainly not quality research.
We'll be at the cabinet meeting next week to argue the case against Preston Park and to call on the cabinet to reject the proposal. It needs to be buried here and now.
Other options being suggested are moving Conyers to Ingleby Barwick and Egglescliffe onto the Conyers site. So instead of pupils travelling off Ingleby we'd have the same emissions or worse of pupils travelling to Ingleby and through the Yarm traffic jam. Hey ho! It's a topsy turvey world we live in.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Jobs, opportunities and fantastic culture -

That's the Stockton we heard about at today's meeting of the Renaissance partnership. Imagine a town with £1 billion of investment planned in the next few years. Imagine the number of jobs and the lives that'll be changed by that. Then think of the hope it's going to bring to young people across the borough to know that there are good jobs for the taking if only they develop their skills through education. Who wouldn't want to come and live here?
I'm somewhat biased I know - love the Yorkshire moors, love the river valley, don't care that we haven't got a premier league football team. But there are lots of other good things going on too and it was exciting to be reminded of them all.
So companies wanting to invest here - get in touch. Graduates wanting to move to the area - there are jobs to be had. Just contact the regeneration team at Stockton Council for the detail.

Monday, February 01, 2010

A wonderful weekend spent with our daughter and her family working on their house with a deadline to be met before plasterers descend on them this week. A couple of hours with no electricity in a house with no gas appliances as the temperature dropped below zero focussed the mind on the plight of people around the world who face deprivation all the time. Fortunately the work was completed, the power came back on and dinner could be cooked before any of us suffered too badly.
Today I was back in the real world - more missives about Egglescliffe school and Preston Park; potholes that seem to have grown just in the last few days; snow on the ground - where did that come from?
There was a good article in the Gazette about the Facebook group which has been campaigning to save Preston Park. Facebook is proving a powerful tool in campaigns but it's not one which any politician has any chance of controlling. People will say what they want when they want on it and it's not open to editing or easy censorship. The future of election campaigning is going to be interesting!
I've also joined another Facebook group (it's becoming a habit!). This one is the Friends of Tees Heritage Park and seeks to conserve and enhance the Tees River corridor from the barrage along beyond Yarm. I've been a member since the group was formed though deliberately not on the committee so that it didn't become a political thing in any way. Now it's a well established community group which has a seat at the table when Stockton council is discussing issues to do with the river and how it can best be used and enjoyed. Another very different example of a community growing in influence, this time through more traditional means.