Monday 25 April 2016

Stone creates five easy-access allotment plots

If you want some advice on making your allotment site friendly for the disabled, a short trip from Stoke to Stone might be in order. A site in Stone has created five new purpose-built 'easy access plots'.

"Stone allotments offer access for all"...

"STONE'S Tilling Drive Allotments Community Interest Company has been busy over the past year creating an easy access plot for residents with mobility issues who would like to get involved with the allotment community. Five raised growing troughs have been created, which are ideal for wheelchair users or those with bending difficulties, and there is also a seating area and easy access to water on a level plot. The project has been sponsored by county councillor Philip Jones, Stone Lions and Janet Skelton and supported by the allotment site manager, assistant and members."

Sunday 24 April 2016

Good news for local shops?

Good news for local shops. Disposable income has soared by 13% in Stoke-on-Trent since the recession, according to new research. Disposable income is the money a household has left to spend or save, after their taxes and mortgages or rent. The government's various big tax cuts and similar measures have probably helped to boost that, as well as the jobs boom that West Midlands businesses have worked so hard to achieve.

But what's the extra disposable income being spent on? And is it being spent locally down in Stoke town? Maybe, maybe not... if the nearby Hanley is any comparable measure. The number of shoppers visiting Stoke-on-Trent city-centre (Hanley) was down by 8.1% over the past year (since early spring 2015). That's from new research from IPSOS, which also suggest that these kind of big city-centre dips are because many UK shoppers prefer to spend their new hard-earned disposable income on things like...

* eat out.

* go on overseas holidays.

* enjoy a countryside which has very seriously geared up, since 2008, to attract visitors and to extract cash from them.

But the unusual demographic and geographic arrangement of Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire means that overseas holidays can't be the only reason for a big dip in Stoke-on-Trent city-centre visitors of 8.1% over the past year. I'd suggest this 8.1% dip may be down to a complex combination of factors, with overseas holidays 'in the mix' but with the UK weather likely to be biggest factor...

* the bad summer weather followed by a dismal wet winter. That clothes retailers such as M&S, Austin Reed, Primark and BHS seem to have suffered the most, would seem to confirm this theory about the weather.

* many former heavy shoppers (the female equivalent of "£50 man") are apparently now no longer in the UK for long periods. They go abroad on holiday for three or four weeks of the year, and also shop heavily on the Internet just before they go.

* even shoppers who can't afford overseas holidays are increasingly likely to be motoring out to countryside market towns, or to the rural-urban fringes (places like Trentham Gardens), at the weekend. Part of that will be a direct result of the UK's ongoing and massive 'baby boom', as small kids who are now 3-7 get 'taken out for the day' by grandparents and/or parents, something that IPSOS seem to have overlooked in their report. I mean... no-one in their right mind would want to traipse their poor tots around the shops in Hanley for a day out.

* the increasing number of druggies and alcoholics hanging around in a 'shouty' manner and and aggressively 'kicking off' in Hanley, putting off those who might otherwise have walked into the city centre or taken small kids there. The relentless and lurid news coverage by The Sentinel newspaper probably hasn't helped boost the city centre's reputation, in that regard, over the last couple of years.

* the increasing difficulty of getting anywhere inside Stoke-on-Trent with a car, and then parking once one gets there. Plus the expensive and generally unpleasant bus services, which also get stalled in the city's increasing traffic. If you've ever been stalled in a bus crawling toward Cobridge traffic lights on a hot day, jammed next to 'Sweaty' Greg and his shouty mate, then you'll known what I mean.

* the increasing appeal of the adjacent Stoke town for many students, partly due to the number of indie shops and the town's strong arts and music buzz. At a guess I'd say that many students may no longer be visiting Hanley at all, to shop — when in Stoke town they can access an excellent Sainsbury's, just across the road from a major vinyl record shop and a large Maplins.

* and the ongoing lack of small high-quality indie shops in Hanley, which is of course common in the UK's city centres. The closure of Webberleys (the indie 'department store' for books) and the opening of the huge out-of-town M&S megastore at Wolstanton, probably won't help in attracting upmarket shoppers to Hanley this coming summer. Big changes, such as those two, will likely drown out any overall boost in footfall that might come from the handful of excellent new indie shops that are emerging in the city-centre.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Organise a streetparty on 12th June 2016

Sunday 12th June is the climax of the Queen's 90th birthday celebrations, when The Mall in London will be transformed into a giant street party for 10,000 guests. This will celebrate the Queen's lifelong patronage and service to over 600 charities and organisations.

Those who want to organise their own local street parties on 12th June, to accompany the London event... "will need to tell your local council four to six weeks in advance", so it's probably best to get the form in to the local council by the end of April. The simple forms and practical advice needed to tell the council about a street party can be found here.

Monday 18 April 2016

The Great British Elm Experiment

Famous conservationist David Bellamy is leading The Great British Elm Experiment, which hopes to re-establish... "a new generation of elms" in the UK. English Elms were the giant trees that dominated our fields and lanes until the late 1970s, when they died of Dutch elm disease. Now a new generation of elms is being bred, ones which should be resistant to imported diseases. At Spring 2016 the Great British Elm Experiment... "now has over 2,500 participants across the UK" and they want more.

Friday 15 April 2016

Roundup and the EU

It appears that the EU intends to effectively ban the use of Roundup weedkiller in the UK, by making people train to use it and by banning its use in open public spaces. Such as allotment sites, possibly. The Telegraph reports...

Gardeners raised fears they would be left with no effective way of tackling persistent weeds if the proposals were adopted, forcing shops to stop selling the most common weedkillers. Bunny Guinness, the Gardener’s Question Time panellist and Telegraph columnist, said: "It seems to me that at the moment there is no scientific evidence that it is dangerous. "It is really the only effective weed-killer against perennial weeds like bindweed, ground elder and couch grass.” She said a ban would be “a real problem for most amateur gardeners” and that the alternative would be “weeding for the rest of your life”.

Before I used Roundup on my allotment plot (which worked a treat incidentally) I researched it quite closely. I came to the conclusion there was no risk, provided it was handled carefully and used properly. That's also true of its biodegradation in the soil.

Thursday 14 April 2016

New allotments site at Blythe Bridge

It's always good to hear about a new allotments opening in or near Stoke-on-Trent. "Allotment scheme to transform derelict land opens latest one in Staffordshire" reports on a new site at Blythe Bridge.

Rail fail

Reported today...

"A MAJOR strategic rail hub to boost the West Midlands' economy could be built in South Staffordshire creating up to 8,500 new jobs."

I suggested just such a freight rail terminal for Stoke, several years ago, via a detailed letter to the local paper. Such things don't need to be very large or noisy, and we have the track-side space and road connections. But Labour was fixated on the pipe-dream of getting a big shiny HS2 passenger station for the city.

Now it seems that the much-needed rail Hub for Staffordshire is going to Penkridge in South Staffordshire, rather than to Etruria in North Staffordshire.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Save Our Shire Horses

Save Our Shire Horse. Fewer than 500 foals are born each year, and there's still some way to go to save and secure this breed of magnificent beasts for the future. Corporate donations are sought, as are sponsors (North Staffordshire's JCB seems a natural fit, to me). There are also details of how to leave money in your will. You can also visit The National Shire Horse Society’s annual event at Staffordshire Showground.

Monday 4 April 2016

Margie's Garden

From The Sentinel...

"NEIGHBOURS were clearly getting suspicious. First they had seen a van arrive and dozens of suspicious-looking plants unloaded and taken into the house. Then, in the dead of night, they witnessed the newcomers to Grosvenor Avenue, Oakhill, digging a grave-sized hole in the allotment. ... "It took us about five hours. It was a full-sized grave, about 6ft long."

"The film tells the story of Margie, a green-fingered old lady, who spends her days tending her cannabis garden [in North Staffordshire, and] made on a budget of £11,500".

Saturday 2 April 2016

Visiting green space... in Stoke

There's an interesting new academic study of 'green space' visits in Stoke-on-Trent, "Visiting green space is associated with mental health and vitality: a cross-sectional study in four European cities". One of the four cities was Stoke-on-Trent, surveyed using a 1027 person survey. The survey asked people if visiting green spaces in cities boosted their feelings of being well and feeling vitality.

"The associations were modified by level of education and time-spent in nature during childhood. No indications were found that age, gender and attitude towards green space were significant effect modifiers. The robustness of the[se] findings indicates that the relationships [between metal wellbeing and experience of green nature] seem almost independent of different cultural and climatic contexts. The current study support the view that green space should be used [through] purposeful visits to provide mental health benefits."

Of course, paper and telephone surveys will only capture a partial view. Especially of a very subtle aspect of the human experience. Also, as we learned in the recent general election, 1000-person survey-samples can often be heavily skewed by a range of factors. Often factors about which the professional investigators are oblivious. That's especially so when the survey is on a sensitive topic such as mental health or politics.

But the new study does seem to be an interesting partial confirmation of what everyone knows through common sense: that spending time walking in natural space generally helps you to feel a bit better about things. More interesting and thornier questions should now be investigated. Such as what are the best measures to take, so as to reliably boost this effect? I'd suggest these may be things such as...

* reducing the presence of litter, noise, large dogs, drones and other annoyances in natural spaces.

* more benches, or perhaps the provision of subsidised 'sit-sticks' (since fixed benches tend to be colonised by alcoholics), so that older or infirm people can have a much-needed sit-down every half-mile.

* learning the names and habits of wildlife, the plant and flower types, cloud types, perhaps also way-finding and knowing where north is, etc? That may well boost the effect, in terms of feeling 'at home' in nature.

* the ability to discover little 'ways through' and short-cuts, making it easier and pleasanter to walk to the green space.

* being active in the green space, beyond simple walking. Such as picking up a half-dozen bits of litter, doing some light pruning of an overgrowing branch, maybe a little light digital photography. Singing, perhaps, even though the once-commonplace expression of it — singing a jolly song as one walked along — is now unfortunately seen as a sign of madness.

Given the research finding that "time-spent in nature during childhood" is a factor that boosts the effect, one might also ask further questions. Such as...

* at what ages are different types of nature-visits best undertaken, for maximum long-term effect?

* are the long-term effects different in adults who were free-range kids, vs. smothered 'hot-house' kids?

* do we over-tidy places, to suit adults rather than kids? For instance, we might want to educate adults on the vital role of scrubby 'wild margins' near homes, in which free-range children make their autonomous dens during their middle childhood (see the Stoke-researched book Childhood's Domain: Play and Place in Child Development, for details on the vital importance of such places in child development).

* what is the role of the extended and parent-free summer-camp, in embedding 'wild' nature in children's lives?

* what damage is done if children's nature experience becomes too over-rationalised, too nannied, too 'science and education' driven? Many have had the experience of being put off a topic or medium for life (the novels of Charles Dickens, or the alleged 'poetry' of Carol Ann Duffy, for instance), due to having had a bad experience of being badly taught it in school. How can we prevent the same thing happening with nature?