More Labour Lies In Bentilee

On Thursday 30th June 2011, the Labour council’s cabinet voted unanimously to close and demolish the entire Willfield centre and gym, including fitness centre and swimming pool. [1]

£925,500 was spent modernising this in 2005. The council have now betrayed their policy promise of retaining the fitness centre, set out in the approved Sports and Physical Activity Strategy (2009-2016).

This facility has been under threat from Labour for some time now, despite the Sentinel announcing, in line with Labour spin, that it would be saved [2].

I reported recently on the “March in Support of Willfield Gym” (blog link below), which was also reported in the Sentinel [3]. I described in “Discovery Academy on Willfield” the devious Labour tactic used to disperse previous protest against its closure.
The gym was originally included within the site to be demolished to make way for the Discovery Academy. When Labour became aware that gym campaigners were joining forces with school campaigners who wanted a school on the Mitchell site instead of Willfield, they used divide and conquer techniques. They changed the academy boundary to leave the Willfield gym apparently outside the demolition area, to pacify the gym campaigners.

But the case put to cabinet [4] centred the reason for the gym closure on the academy; “construction of the new Discovery Academy on the Willfield site under the BSF Programme will significantly affect the continued provision of the Fitness Centre”. So redrawing the boundary is proven to be the con I always thought it was.

Election deception
Before the 5th May 2011 local election, successful Labour candidates Alison Wedgwood and Sheila Pitt issued a leaflet with a huge headline “Willfield Gym Campaign Continues”. Their leaflet claimed “A decision on the Gym’s future has been postponed until the summer”. But the cabinet documents state that “The proposed closure of the entire Willfield site (Upper and Lower) was put forward as part of the budget savings, which were subsequently approved by the City Council on February 24 2011″. So they shouldn’t be having it both ways, claiming now that the closure was already approved but when it suits their election propaganda claiming the decision had been postponed! The council documents claim “Consultation has been carried out with both the staff and the public for the facility through the budget savings process.” And yet Labour are conning the public with election materials.

Sheila Pitt is quoted in the leaflet as saying about the Willfield gym “there is a clear need for this much loved facility to remain where it is”. This follows on from last year’s equally disingenuous statement from successful Labour candidate Mervin Smith’s election leaflet, where he said about Willfield; “shutting it is madness”, “we need to get the message over loud and clear; HANDS OFF!” I commented previously on his campaign in “Labour campaign in Bentilee ““ an outrage”. These are indeed most outrageous but predictably familiar Labour practices.
Alison and Sheila’s leaflet claims “Both Labour Council candidates, and MP Tristram Hunt are supporting the campaign to secure the long term future of the Willfield gym on its current site”. Well clearly Labour does not support the gym! The local election on 5th May 2011 resulted in a clear Labour majority on the council and success for Alison and Sheila. And yet in under 2 months Labour betrayal the public is proven (some of us realised all along this would happen). Issuing this leaflet is despicable deception of the voters at large.

Bizarre council claims
Incredulously the council documents claim that closing Willfield will result in “increased customer choice given the availability of several viable alternative facilities”! This sounds like typical Labour speak. How stupid do they really think we are? (Well”¦ I will come back to that one.) They mention other gyms at the Wallace Centre in Abbey Hulton, Fenton Manor and what they call “Body Base Gym” which they claim to be in Bentilee (Base Body Fitness actually declares itself to be in Longton [5]). But even taking these 3 existing gyms as relevant to the Bentilee community, going from 4 to 3 facilities for anyone with a grasp of basic arithmetic is a reduction, not an increase!

Other bizarre claims in the council document include one that they are somehow doing a good thing, “Ëœsaving’ demolition costs by including it within the academy work. This is the academy that school campaigners didn’t want on the site they didn’t want it, in the nonsensical merger of 2 schools 5 miles apart. So how about saving by not demolishing anything instead? How about keeping the gym and pool?

Cabinet meeting
The 30th June 2011 cabinet meeting was packed with public observers who wanted the Willfield gym kept open. The Willfield closure was not put on the original agenda but instead introduced late as a supplementary item. At least the public were not fooled by this and got wind of it anyway. This item was dealt with early in the agenda.

Mohammed Pervez opened the meeting by telling us that no public could speak and he would not tolerate any disturbance at all.

Gwen Hassall thanked the public for their interest and claimed their concerns had been taken on board! She said the public would be aware that a new academy is to be built on “this site”. (Well with all the shenanigans over the site boundary I’m not so sure.) She said there would be a sports hall and gym in the academy that would provide some public use. She said cost implications of retaining the gym included moving the plant room and continuing subsidy. She said the city as a whole is being considered and sports facilities provided. “We have got to watch the budget” she said, then moved a motion to close Willfield. There was a statement of support from Paul Shotton, who referred to the building as dilapidated and said there will be dance, fitness and gym facilities in the new school available in the evenings and holidays. There were further statements of support from Sarah Hill and Debra Gratton.
Mohammed Pervez said as the item was urgent there would normally be no call-in but he was minded to allow this, Mark Meredith agreed.

Cabinet agreed unanimously to close Willfield.
The gym campaigners were well behaved and quiet during the proceedings although there were some angry comments made as they left after the decision.

Dave Conway and the City Independent Group will call the decision in but with Labour scrutinising their own decisions with such a majority, nothing can be done.
I learned some time ago about Labour’s lies and wrote about these last year, but many of the electorate have not realised how devious they are.

Sheila Pitt said in the election leaflet about herself and Alison Wedgwood “We are two strong women who will get the job done”. They did a job on the electorate all right. And what strength is there in allowing their Labour party to close the gym they were supposed to be supporting?

Furthermore former mayor Mark Meredith and the former Labour government stole away our democracy and reduced our local elections to only 1 every 4 years. So there is no early chance to change this despicable Labour council.

In Bentilee and Ubberley the turkeys voted for Christmas and are now well and truly stuffed!

Picture Credit Steve Birks

Two Village Green Public Enquiries

On Tuesday 1st February 2011, the Registration of Town and Village Greens Panel of Stoke-on-Trent City Council met, for the first time since July 2007, to consider two village green applications, one at Hulme Road, Park Hall and the other at Anchor Road, Adderley Green.

An application for village green status had been submitted in both cases following council plans to site the Discovery Academy there. Not only did the communities not want a school sited in these locations, they also realized that open green space they had perhaps taken for granted for ongoing community use could be built upon and they wanted to protect it. Margaret Lowe for the Community Schools Action Group applied for Village Green Status for the Park Hall land and Ian Jenkin for the Adderley Green Residents Association applied for Village Green status for the Adderley Green land.

Both applicants attended to observe proceedings at the meeting, although they could not attend the first hour during which panel members were being briefed. Paul Hackney, the legal officer, recommended public enquiries on the basis that the council was the land owner and the decision maker and there were other legal complexities. All panel members supported the recommendation and confirmed with Margaret Lowe and Ian Jenkin that they did too. Ian asked about the financial implications, since an application for Penkhull had been withdrawn for fear of cost liability. However the committee stated that costs would be borne by the council and would be £10,000 for both applications, not each as reported in the Sentinel.

Margaret told the Sentinel afterwards that if a member of the public had objected to village green status the objection would have been thrown out and a decision made there and then, saving costs. But as the council had objected this was their way of being ‘open and transparent’, but also trying to get the public on their side by stating the use of public money.

Ian told the Sentinel that as the council are owners of the land, objectors to the application and have to make a decision on it, there was only really one decision they could have made. However he was pleased about this.

Paul Hackney and the panel chair Joy Garner will appoint an independent inspector. We could hear more about this in May. Following the public enquiry the inspector will make a recommendation to the council that they may be expected to adopt, although they do not have to. If village green status is obtained there would be total removal of any possible development, securing the open space for the community.

Planning go-ahead for ‘Discovery’ city academy

The news has been welcomed by the cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Debra Gratton.

“This gives the green light for the new Discovery Academy to be built and closes another chapter in the BSF story in the city. This new academy will provide first class facilities replacing two high schools and will also act as a hub for community use by people wanting to access the facilities available out of school hours. With the start of development at REACH at Trent Vale, parents, pupils and staff are now starting to see a real difference in the educational landscape in the city.”

Work on the new school, which will replace Mitchell and Edensor High Schools, will begin on site at the in Lauder Place North, Bentilee in September this year and the first pupils are set to move into the new buildings in September 2013.

The late Robert Freeman

I used to know the father of Robert Freeman the man whose murder was reported in the Sentinel. Two men were found guilty of his death ; a third was found guilty of manslaughter. Freeman was stabbed to death in his flat in Bentilee. All three men responsible received heavy prison sentences. This terrible case is compounded by the killing of Robert Freeman’s sister Julie, she was murdered, by a grim coincidence exactly 4 years to the day before her brother. Both deaths were drug related.

I last saw David Freeman, Robert and Julie’s father nearly 40 years ago. We were both pupils at Carmountside High School on the Abbey Hulton estate in Stoke from 1966-71. We were also members of a group of lads ” The Birchfield Mob” that included David and his brother Robert, to whom his nephew the murdered man bore a strong resemblance, the Reeves brother’s, Eric Robinson, “Danny” Kaye, myself and others whose names whose names now elude me.

We used to be activity that might have led to an ASBO now although in reality in did not stretch further than trespassing, apple scrumping, annoying adults and kicking a football around an oval in Eaveswood Road. Typical laddish things. David and I were in the same class and I tended to hang around with him and the others. David was very good with his hands in metalwork and woodwork. He was industrious a good sportsman and from memory thoughtful and quite considered. He could stick up for himself.

The Freeman family were like many others on the Abbey Hulton estate. Hard working, companionable, family centred. This was the Abbey Hulton that I knew in the years before DC- Drugs came.

I can probably date when hard drugs made its first appearance on the streets of Abbey Hulton. I was working on the Abbey as an Education Welfare Officer in late 1981. The first heroin -related death was of a young man named Harvey who was found dead in a shed. He probably died of hypothermia as temperatures that winter were frequently below zero.

I think heroin appearing on the streets and the massive growth of unemployment during 1980-1 is no coincidence. You destroy a set pattern of how people are expected to lead their lives on a council estate like Abbey Hulton or Chell Heath or Bentilee or anywhere else and something came to occupy that vacuum. We have been playing the price ever since.

The irony is that areas like Abbey Hulton were quite socially conservative areas and my peers at High School were very disdainful of the drug culture in the early 70s. I bought a copy of a Stones album into the 5th year common room once and some made dismissive comments about Mick Jagger’s cannabis habits.

All that began to change scarcely a decade later and drugs have wrecked havoc destroying lives and undermining communities ever since.

I witnessed the desolation that that involvement in drugs can cause on Wednesday 6th September 2000.

I remember the date very well. I was working in Tameside for the mental health organisation Mind and in the late morning a youth called at the office to say that there was something wrong with his friend who lived opposite the offices in Ashton

Another worker and I went over the road and entered a very run down flat. On the stairs there was rubble and in a first floor room we found his friend slumped on a settee.

The TV was on and a can of beer on a small table beside him. The man was dead, very grey and purple in the face. A small syringe was sticking in the back of his right hand.

On the walls of the decaying room were an England Football scarf, a poster of the film “Trainspotting” and pictures of the dead man whose name was Terry McGuire and a small child, his daughter.

McGuire was in his late 30s. Evidently McGuire who had been out of Strangeways Prison a few months. He had died from a toxic batch of heroin that had killed many users in the North West that autumn.

It seems that the dealers mix the heroin with all sorts of rubbish including brick dust.

Currently we have a situation where it is the dealer who chooses price, purity, cutting agents as well as business location and operating hours. And these dealers certainly are not asking minors for ID, nor are they encouraging their customers to moderate or abstain from drug use.

Sooner or later national politician will have to grasp the nettle of decriminalisation and legalising drugs. I’m of the opinion like former Labour minister Bob Ainsworth drug addiction is a public health issue rather than a criminal one. Mr Ainsworth deserves credit for starting that debate. Because unless we realise that we need a new strategy to tackle drugs fundamentally decent families like the Freeman’s will continually be burying their children

Extra Care Housing and Estate Regeneration PFI Announcements Leave ‘Bittersweet’ taste

Work to create almost 400 extra care homes in the city will continue, but a programme to build nearly 600 homes on six housing estates has been hit by a government announcement on Private Finance Initiative schemes.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council will continue to work on its programme to build 390 new homes to offer older people independent living coupled with access to care and support in Abbey Hulton, Blurton and Chell.

Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Employee Wins National Award

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Donna Hammersley has been given a national award following her work in motivating staff to improve their level of customer service.

Donna, an Improvement & Development Support Officer in the Chief Executive’s Department, won the national WOW! Award for Best Leader 2010. The city council was also nominated in four other categories, which included the “That’s Really Special” award (the Family Support Team of Treehouse Children’s Centre, Bentilee), the “Most Inspiring Front Liner” (Wajid Hamid, of the Community Support Team), “Best Care Provider 2010″ (Abbots House residential care home at Abbey Hulton) and “Serving the Community: Best Organisation 2010″ (Stoke-on-Trent City Council)

Donna’s category was judged by Stephen Descher (Managing Director of the HR management firm Activity Group), Emily Mann (Business Development Manager at the Institute of Customer Service), Avis Rhodes (Customer Care Manager of the housing provider Family Mosaic) and David Physick (Principal Consultant of leadership experts Glowinkowski International Ltd)

She also beat off competition from staff at LOVEFiLM, Merseyside Police and Scottish Power as one of four finalists selected from a list of over 30 UK companies. As part of her nomination, she had to make a presentation to the panel of judges, which consisted of her own background in customer relations, the city council’s participation in the WOW Awards and how they have encouraged healthy competition within the authority.

“I’m really proud to have been given the award ““ I’m honoured to have been recognised nationally for the work I’ve done and hopefully it shows how good a job we are doing at the council.

“The award was really about providing a focal point for people on how they can improve the work they do and how to do their job. It’s about motivating people and giving them an extra incentive to do their job so they can feel recognised by the people they are dealing with.”

“I want to congratulate and thank Donna for all her hard work and the commitment she has shown in proving to people that the city council is doing its best to provide excellent services to its customers.

“Despite going through some of the most difficult times in the history of this council our staff continue to work hard for the people of this City and we are eager for that to carry on.”

The WOW! Awards is an Employee Recognition Scheme. It works closely with organisations signed up to the project throughout the year as an on-going process, to let the public know when a company or group in their area is doing something well.

The WOW! Awards are the UK’s only national award for customer service based purely on customer nominations.

The success of this programme has now taken us into organisations in the US.

WOW! Award winners are nominated by members of the public on a monthly basis to that organisation, and each year the nominees are shortlisted by the national WOW! Awards team ahead of a special ceremony at the Troxy in London.

Bentilee Fun Day To Showcase Possible Improvements For Area

The Lord Mayor is to open a family fun day in Bentilee to highlight improvements residents want to see in their area.

The Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Councillor Denver Tolley, will open the Bentilee Valley Festival at 11am on Saturday (25).

The event, which will include a birds of prey display, climbing wall, mini soccer and Rocka units, balloon modeller and obstacle course, will showcase the results of a public consultation into what people wanted to see improved in the area.

The event will give people the chance to view plans for the Bentilee Valley area and have their say on what they think of them.

For more information please contact Rachel Forster on 01782 235528.

Townsend Carnival ““ 24th July

The Townsend Carnival takes place this Saturday 24th July, 10.30am ““ 4.00pm, at Mitchell High School.

Rumour has it that this carnival, organized by Townsend Community Residents’ Association, is a most vibrant event and certainly one not to miss. Entry is free and there are activities for all generations, music and family sports and games. Now the rain storms early in the week are hopefully over please come along”¦ or else bring an umbrella.

Visit this ideal school site nestled in the heart of the community. It should remain a school site.

Please, come and sign the new Community School Action Group petition for a school on the Mitchell site. Why another petition, why bother ““ they never listen? This is the thought that will inevitably occur. I will tell you why, because when something is important for your family, your friends and neighbours, your community, you fight for it and keep fighting for it until you force them to listen. That’s how Trentham won.

Everybody is most welcome to sign the petition. But a cordial invitation goes out especially to Mervin Smith to add his pledge to the list of ward councillors who have signed and also to his election promoter Mark Meredith, council leader Mohammed Pervez and constituency MP Tristram Hunt.

This should be a good day – enjoy!

Try Out Martial Arts At The Festival of Sport

Over the next two months people from across Stoke-on-Trent will have the chance to learn different martial arts techniques as part of the city’s Festival of Sport.

A variety of different taster sessions are available to encourage the public to get more involved in sport.

Councillor Hazel Lyth, cabinet member for Adult Social Care, Leisure and Culture said: “Taster sessions for other sports throughout 2010 have been really successful and we want that to continue.

“The martial arts sessions are a good opportunity for people to try out something different and that they may not have tried before.

“It’s important that young people recognise the value of sports that tax not only the body, but also the mind, and martial arts can help to increase self discipline to that end.”

The sessions available include:

30 July – 7.30pm to 9pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Jujitsu, the unarmed martial arts technique taught as self defence.

31 July – 2.00pm to 5.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Lai Do, the ancient traditional art of drawing the Japanese long sword. This is designed to develop an awareness of people who are around you.

31 July – 2.00pm to 5.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee – Katori Shinto Ryu, recreating Samurai movement techniques to improve agility and balance.

1 August ““ 10.00am ““ 12.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Karate Do, combining Jujutsu and karate techniques

3 August ““ 7.00pm ““ 8.30pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Karate Do, combining Jujutsu and karate techniques

3 August ““ 7.30pm ““ 9.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Aikido, teaching restraint and control techniques

4 August ““ 7.30pm ““ 9.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Judo, the youngest of the Japanese arts. Developed from jujitsu, to allow the techniques of throwing, joint locking and restraints to be practiced in a competitive form

4 August ““ 7.30pm ““ 9.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Katori Shinto Ryu, recreating Samurai movement techniques to improve agility and balance.

5 August ““ 7.30pm ““ 9.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee – Aikido, teaching restraint and control techniques

Bin Fires in Bentilee

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service are warning people in Stoke on Trent to keep their wheelie bins and refuse containers out of sight, following two incidents in the Bentilee area last night [Thursday].

The first call was received at 1.55am and involved a fire in a wheelie bin on Swaythling Green. Whilst crews were extinguishing this fire they noticed smoke issuing from a neighbouring property. Again this incident involved another fire within a wheelie bin but this time on Winchester Avenue. Crews from Hanley attended both of these incidents.

Stoke on Trent Assistant Area Commander, Andrew Leedham commented:

“Luckily both fires were confined to the wheelie bins only, however we have attended numerous incidents in the past where the fires have in fact spread into properties causing unnecessary damage to peoples homes, and putting lives at risk.

“Both of these fires, which were within a close proximity to each other, are believed to have been caused deliberately. We would urge members of the public to ensure that refuse containers and wheelie bins are stored outsight and away from buildings, and where possible locked away or padlocked shut to prevent fires from spreading.”

To book a free Home Fire Risk Check contact: 0800 0241 999. For all other non emergency enquiries contact: 08451 22 11 55 or log onto: or In an emergency dial 999.