Saturday, 31 March 2012

Totally Locally

I've just come across this whilst checking a few friends Facebook sites. What fantastic sentiments and advice! We should all make a copy and read it every day!

I heard the other day that someone was trying to set up a Totally Locally meeting here in Stone but I can't remember who told me. And I haven't seen anything about it since.

Does anyone out there know any more? It sounds like a campaign we should all support. The future of towns like ours depends upon us all practicising the ethos behind the Totally Locally campaign.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Exciting times ahead!

I love meeting people with a passion for Staffordshire and who, like me, believe that small is beautiful! Today I met such a person - Emily Whitehead who is the inspiration behind an amazing website, Simply Staffordshire. Emily wants to get Simply Staffordshire members involved in the Uttoxeter Food and Drink Festival (and, I hope, the Stone Festival in October) so we met up at the Racecourse this morning to discuss various ideas with her.

Most of her members are small producers and businesses who have been handpicked by her to ensure high standards. As she spoke, I could almost hear echos of Brian Blundell in my ears! Like Brian, she believes that it will be the small local businesses that will do most for the local economy. She, too, believes that we should be proud of our food and drink heritage.

Emily clearly has some very useful PR and marketing skills and I have no doubt that Simply Staffordshire is going to become a business to watch. It's going to be good working with her.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

That's the way to do it!

On Monday evening, I chaired the AGM of the Bonfire and Firework committee and it was all done and dusted in under an hour!

All our hard work goes up in flames!
I've said it many times but I'll say it again - this is a great committee to be involved with. Everyone is there to make sure that we have a brilliant show and they all do their own specific jobs. No arguments or back stabbings. No personal agendas. Its a pleasure to work with them.

The bullet points from the meeting were that we approved the accounts for last year (another record payout of £11,00 to the local groups who organise the event - see below); confirmed the date of this years event (Saturday 3rd November); agreed to hold the entry prices at last year's level (no change for three years) and confirmed a similar budget as last year for the fireworks.

It was also decided that we must be more positive in explaining that the event is wholly organised by volunteers from various groups in the town including Scout and Guide groups, Army Cadets and a PTA. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the show is put on by 'the council'! Oh no it isn't!

And we shall be stressing that the profit is split amongst the local good causes who are either involved in organising the show or who are nominated by volunteers. Last year, we distributed £11,000 amongst Stone Outward Guides, Stone Army Cadet Force, 1st Stone Scout Group, Aston & Little Stoke Scout Group, St Michael's PTA, Stone District Scout Council, N. Staffs Basics Accident Doctors, 2nd Stone Scout Group, Stone Stroke Club, Katherine House Hospice, Stone Alzheimer's Drop-In Club, St Michael's Church Bell Fund, British Red Cross and Douglas Macmillan Hospice.

And that makes it all worth while.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Four thousand Page Views!

I've just checked the statistics page for this blog and received a very pleasant surprise! Whilst I was away over the weekend this site had it's 4,000 page view!

And the fascinating statistic is that the posting with the highest number of hits was the Joules clock story (not a great surprise) closely followed by my suggestion about using the police station site and car park to create a full one way system around the top end of town (very surprising!).

So a big thank you to everyone who comes to look at my blog.

My annual pilgrimage!

Call me an anorak if you wish but I just love steam trains! I'm old enough to have have used them regularly when I was a schoolboy. I used to catch the 8.35 from Barlaston Station to school at Newcastle. Yes, that was in the days when Newcastle had a railway station. No trace now of course - the D road obliterated the line completely and the station site opposite the Borough Arms Hotel now forms part of the walk through the gardens to Queen Street. And Barlaston station is no more, either.

The largest loco - 70000 Britannia
So whenever I have the chance I always try to get down to Minehead for the West Somerset Spring Steam Gala. And Janet takes advantage of my trip to go and see her girls in Dartmouth. So we were up at the crack of dawn on Friday and made good progress down the M5 to Taunton. There Jan dropped me off at the bus station and, using my bus pass (one of the advantages of age!) I enjoyed a delightful  bus journey through the beautiful countryside of North Somerset to Minehead. I saw so much more than if I had been driving a car.

And the smallest !
I then spent the rest of the weekend hopping on and off steams trains. Wonderful! The West Somerset Railway is a proper railway - over twenty miles long and eight stations. Apart from a handful of paid employees, the whole operation is run by volunteers - over 600 of them. I've been a member for several years and just wished I lived nearer. If I did, you'd never see me! I'd be there with my sleeves rolled up at every opportunity!

But the weekend brought home to me just how important leisure and tourism is to the local economy of towns like Minehead. Every hotel, guest house and B&B was full; restaurants and pubs were doing a roaring trade and, due to the brilliant weather, the ice cream stalls all had long queues. I had a conversation with a local who was of the opinion that without the visitors to the railway the town would have gone out of business years ago. We've no similar attraction in Stone but we must must make the most of what we've got to attract the tourist pound. Which make our Farmers' Market and our Festivals all the more important.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Great excitement!

Over the last few weeks, I've been heavily involved in helping to organise a new food and drink festival at Uttoxeter Racecourse in June. The events team at Uttoxeter contacted us a couple of months ago and asked if Stone Food and Drink Festival would be willing to work with them to put on a summer festival and we were only too pleased to help. Indeed we were honoured to think that they valued our input so highly.

Obviously we had to negotiate an appropriate financial arrangement with them and we were able to do so on the basis that Stone Food and Drink Festival would receive all the benefits accruing from our involvement. So it's been full tilt ever since!

This morning I popped over to Uttoxeter to have an updating meeting with Dan Whitehead and came away 'on a high'. Both Dan and I had been receiving exactly the same positive responses from traders and public alike. Bookings for stalls are well above expectations and a couple of hundred entrance tickets have already been sold online!

We're lining up several meetings for next week with more traders and a couple of potential sponsors. Busy times ahead! And the beauty of it is that all the work involved is being done in tandem with our own Stone festival. So we all benefit!

Credit where credit's due!

Some time ago I was highly critical of the new boxes which had been installed to contain the electric power supply in the High Street. They were unpainted galvanised steel boxes and tarmac had been tamped around the bases - all looking pretty ugly.

That's better!
Well, today, I am pleased to report that the boxes have been painted black and the tarmac replaced by cement. A vast improvement! I asssume that the Town Council are responsible so I retract my original criticism and thank the council for finishing the job properly.

I sincerely hope that traders at the monthly Farmers' Market and stallholders on the town market, such as the oatcake trailer, will have access to the electric supply. Traders who have refridgerated cabinets and who require lights will only come to town if they can plug in.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Somethings happening!

At long last, something is happening to the old Joules wine shop in the High Street. It traded for a while as Victoria Wine and then as a Sue Ryder charity shop but it's been empty now for many years. There have been numerous rumours about new tenants over the years but it has always been said that no-one would take it on because the roof was in such a state.

So it's great news to now see the building clad in scaffolding and to see that the contractors hard at work are - yes, you've guessed it - roofing contractors!

There are, of course, several rumours flying around the town as to who will be taking up occupancy once the repairs have been carried out. I'm sure the suggestion of an Anne Summers shop is being put about by the same person who told us about the lap dancing club that was about to open in Stone some years ago! My money is on the other name that is doing the rounds - Starbucks.

Costa Coffee has been  a great success, so it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see another coffee shop come to town. When Jan and I were in Cardiff a couple of weeks ago, every other shop seemed to be a coffee shop. They seem to create their own demand. And, contrary to some people's opinion, I don't think it would sound the 'death knell' for Custodio at the Lounge. As well as serving coffee, The Lounge is also a restaurant providing a good range of meals throughout the day and has the added advantage of being in a superb location on the Square especially in the summer. And if Cus supplies good coffee, served quickly by trained and smiling staff, he has nothing to worry about.

But then perhaps it's all a rumour! So whoever takes over the old shop, it will be good to see it occupied again. Contrary to the view of one councillor, we don't have an 'ailing' High Street and the fact that this shop could soon be open again is great news for the whole town.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Friends of Stone Station's first meeting

On Tuesday evening seventeen of us assembled in Stone Station and agreed to form a Friends of Station Station group. We have tried to do this once before but this time it was for real! And we were delighted to welcome Richard Chadwick , London Midland's local Delivery Manager who took a very active and positive role in the discussions which took place.

We were able to discuss various issues which he agreed to look into, such as the possibility of installing a sheltered seating area on Platform 2, the installation of a cycle rack and the possibility of the old lamp house being used buy us as a storage facility. In addition we passed on to him concerns that sometimes passengers were not always able to buy tickets on the train before completing their journeys to Stoke or Stafford and the impact that might have on passenger figures.

On a positive note, we also looked at various ways we could improve the appearance of the station, the platforms and the surrounding areas. Floral displays were very much favoured and the location of hanging baskets is to be discussed  with London Midland at a future site meeting.

So, all in all, it was a very positive meeting

We've set up a website and we're also on Facebook and Twitter. Oh yes, all the modern social media techniques!

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Pheasant on tour!

What a weekend! Dave Smithwick celebrates his fiftieth birthday in a couple of weeks time so he had this daft idea of starting the celebrations early!  A group of a dozen or so of his mates would spend a couple of days on a cultural tour of Kilkenny in Ireland!

He went  over there ten years ago and has always longed to go back to claim his family inheritance - Smithwicks Brewery! So a bleary eyed group of us piled in to a minibus outside the Pheasant last Friday morning at 5.00 am - yes am! It was still dark and I even met our milkman on the drive - first time in seventeen years!

Someone you may know
 - in disguise!
A quick flight from Manchester to Dublin and then a short minibus drive to our first pub for a full fried Irish breakfast! A crate of tins of Guinness was then put on the bus and it was off to Kilkenny. We soon booked in to the Kilkenny River Court Hotel then down to the riverside bar for a couple of pints of Guinness before we set off on a tour of the town. Now I don't intend to go into too much detail because "what goes on tour, stays on tour" as someone once said! But let's just say that the only lengthy interruption to our consumer research of the bars of Kilkenny over the next few days was a two hour long enforced abstinence whilst we went on a conducted tour of the brewery.

Smithwick did take us see the family stately pile whilst we waited for the pubs to open the following morning and I reached the conclusion that this was definitely a place to come back to. Kilkenny is a delightful town and is well worth a visit. What a pity the Town Council's moves to arrange a twinning agreement some years ago came to nothing!
Great Uncle Edmund's little place in Ireland

Then sadly another early morning call yesterday to get back to Dublin airport to catch an early plane back to East Midlands. And so it was that we all sat in the Pheasant again at lunchtime eating beef baps and downing the final pints of Guinness of the holiday. A great weekend!

Monday, 5 March 2012

The bulldozers move in

It won't be long now before The Vine is no more. Today the heavy equipment moved in so, within days, there'll be just a pile of rubble where it once stood.

So, farewell The Vine. And, as we read in last week's Newsletter, it is soon to be followed by The Bonnie Gem. When will it all end? Or are we destined to have only a handful of pubs in the town?

A Despicable Act of Meanness

I left the world of town politics behind me last May when I decided not to stand again as a candidate in the Town and Borough Council elections. And I have to say I haven’t regretted my decision at all. In fact looking back over my eight years of involvement with the Town Council I now realise that whatever we achieved was done at no small cost to my private life, my health and my temper!

So, since last May, I have regained a lifestyle I am now thoroughly enjoying; attained a normal blood pressure and have rediscovered my former placid approach to life!

But just occasionally something happens to make me see red again. And it happened this weekend!
Now before I start, let me declare an interest. When Stafford Borough Council withdrew their support from Stone in Bloom five years ago, I and several others were adamant that Stone in Bloom would not be allowed to die. We formed an independent group of volunteers to carry on with SIB and I was delighted to be part of the group that then went on to win Gold Awards in the next three consecutive years. I then retired from In Bloom but have always followed their progress with great interest.  And it has been to their great credit that last year Stone in Bloom won Gold again and, for the first time in history, were put through to the National competition this year! Yes, through to the National competition!  Competing against the likes of Belper, Chichester,Coleraine,Dumphries, Huntingdon, Rhyl and Truro - some of the biggest names in 'In Bloom' across the country. How’s that for putting Stone on the map?

So SIB has been working non stop to ensure that Stone’s entry this year will do the town credit on the national stage. Planting trees, planting bulbs, renovating the flower bed in Granville Square, work parties out almost every week, etc, etc. – all in their own time. And of course they can’t do that without funding. They’ve done a massive amount of fund raising themselves (indeed they were out in town on Saturday at the Farmers’ Market selling SIB merchandise) But the competing towns will almost all have massive local authority funding. Tens of thousands of pounds will be allocated to some of the entrants by their local authorities. So Stone in Bloom submitted an application to Stone Town Council for a grant of £2000. A perfectly reasonable request for a modest amount to assist this year’s entry in a competition of national importance.

Last week the Town Council committee responsible for grants considered the application and decided they could only recommend a grant of £1500! Of course we are living in times of austerity and of course there will be competing demands for available funds. But what sort of a message is this? Surely the Town Council should embrace the opportunity to fully support a great group of volunteers who are giving up so much of their time and effort to enable Stone to compete nationally and to promote this fantastic town of ours. Stone in Bloom has always punched well above its weight but the Town Council now seem intent on tying one of their hands behind their back.

This year is a very special and unique year for Stone in Bloom – entrants in the national competition. And a penny pinching Town Council has failed to give them the full support they need. Shameful.

A few blissful days away!

One of the many bonuses of retirement is the ability to make a quick decision to get away for a few days - and that is exactly what we did last week! We'd seen Michael Portillo's programme about his train journey along the South Wales coast and decided to go and explore. Jan had never been that way and I hadn't been there for well over fifty years!

Just a small part of a very large parade!
So last Monday we hitched up the caravan and headed down the M5, M50 and down the A40 to Newport. We had booked into the Caravan Club site at Tredegar House and spent a glorious few days there. Blue skies and sunshine all week and easy access to the M4 to get us swiftly along the coast. We spent two days exploring Cardiff. What a fantastic city! The city centre had so much to see and Cardiff Bay, the new development down by the waterfront was amazing. And we had the good fortune to be in the city on St. David's Day. There was "a bit of parade" to use the words of the lady in the Information Centre! It must have been a mile long and took half an hour to go past us! And then there was a street party for one thousand, - yes, one thousand - schoolchildren sponsored by Sainsbury's! It made Stone's street party look a bit sad! Cardiff was vibrant and exciting in March! I can't wait to see it in the height of summer!

Jan admiring the unspoilt beaches
 of the Gower Peninsula
And then I spent a day wandering down Memory Lane. When I was a young lad we used to make family visits to my great aunt Rose who lived on the Gower Peninsula. Would I be able to find where she lived and were my boyhood memories of the area still accurate? Yes they were! I was able to walk directly to her house! Modernised with an extension but - yes - that was the house we used to stay in for summer holidays. Oh, happy days! And then Jan and I did a tour of the Gower beaches I used to know - Oxwich and Rhossili  - and they're exactly as I remembered them. We finished the day sitting in the beer garden of a pub on top of the cliff at Rhossili watching the sun setting behind the sea. Magic!

We came back on Friday having had a wonderful few days away. We must do it more often!