Friday, February 26, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Without the aid of cards or bouquets of expensive flowers we succeeded in spending a very pleasant day, thank you.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.