Bedlington has just played out its own battle of Thermopylae, except this time it wasn't a pass being fought over it was an Inaugural Fields in Trust Award. Three Parks in Northumberland have just been given Queen Elizabeth 11 Fields in Trust status, to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, two in Blyth, Meggies Burn and Briardale Road Playing Field, and Gallagher Park in Bedlington, and all three were entered into a national competition (Love your Field) run by Fields in Trust to see which was the most supported QE11 park in the Country.
The competition had about 3 weeks to run and we were passed the baton to promote and co-ordinate support after the first week, along with a grand total of 2 votes! We spent the second week establishing ourselves as the prime candidate to represent Northumberland and began climbing up the national voting league table. With less than one week left two clear favourites emerged, Gallagher Park in Bedlington and the Albert Road Recreation Ground in Haringey, a borough of London. For half the last week we trailed them by a paltry 20 or 30 votes almost daily, time to shift up into sprint mode!
Two days left and we managed to wrestle the lead off Haringey but boy did they come back at us. I decided to check out our opposition and only when I looked at the stats for Haringey Council did I realise just what we had taken on. The population for that London borough, 250,000, is about the same as the population for the WHOLE of Northumberland, never mind little old Bedlington! So we were looking at a population ratio of around 20 to 1. After realising what King Leonidas must have felt like as he looked around the corner at the advancing Persian Army we did the same and gathered our troops and settled in for a good scrap! Geordies against Cockneys, there's only one winner there!
At 8.00am on the last day of voting, last Friday, we had 1043 votes and London had 1042! After a last gasp session of trying to wring out the very last vestiges of support we could muster we led at lunchtime by around 80 votes! I had it verified that whatever totals stood at 5.00pm that was what the competition would be assessed on! At 3.30pm we were once again behind by 25 votes! To paraphrase Leonidas, "Have a good breakfast men, for we supper in Hades!" No stone was left unturned as we sought out votes!
Unlike the unfortunate Spartans by some miracle the totals at 5.00pm were...
1525 for Gallagher Park and 1376 for Haringey, back of the net Bonny Lad,
David really had beaten Goliath!
I would like to thank everyone who supported us and voted for Gallagher Park and apologies to everyone in my address book who had to put up with the constant haranguing and cajoling as I tried to eke out every vote possible. We won't get to know if we won officially until the Fields in Trust Awards Ceremony on 29th November at Lord's Cricket Ground and maybe we took our eyes off other up and coming park areas across the country but as far as I can tell.........................
Our efforts didn't go unnoticed either..........
"We've been absolutely thrilled by the response to the Love Your Field campaign. I want to thank the residents of Northumberland for their enthusiasm for their local protected park - Gallagher Park. Fingers crossed for the outcome!" Don Earley, Fields in Trust Regional Manager, North East.
The serious part of this is that now NCC might well have cause to reflect a bit longer and harder as it considers the future of this Park! We have just beaten the nation's capital into submission, what price a sports/leisure facility down there now........?
Bedlington Carnival parade for the Olympic Torch.
The town of Bedlington is gearing up for the arrival of the Olympic Torch.
Determined not to be left behind as the Olympic Torch passes through the county and onto their streets, social enterprise Leading Link, the Bedlingtonshire Development Trust (BDT) and the Salvation Army have started developing plans together to ensure this once in a lifetime event will be one to be remembered in Bedlington.
The main focus of the plans is a fantastic carnival parade preceding the Torch procession, which will feature a giant Bedlington Terrier, clowns and street performers, a brass band, dancing and cheerleading to name but a few.
Malcolm Robinson, Chair of the BDT said: "With over 2500 young people, families and community residents lining the main thoroughfare of Front Street, the group felt that we had to ensure that the momentum and excitement of this historic event is captured and remembered as being a truly great day for us all here in Bedlington."
The organising team are working with the West Bedlington Town Council, local schools and local providers and hope to involve as much of the community as possible.
The most ambitious part of the plans is to create a massive 'walking' Bedlington Terrier along the lines of a Chinese Dragon and so the hunt is on to find some artists willing to help create this centrepiece.
The thoughts behind it is that children and young people representing each of the Bedlington schools will come together to bring the Terrier to life on the day.
There is also a big call for anyone who can play a brass instrument to come forward to join the band walking down Front Street.
There are several band practices planned before the event to ensure the music is heard for miles around, however you must bring your own instrument.
( I think we used to do this some years ago!)
The parade will culminate in the market place where we hope there will be several exhibition stalls and a 'Town Crier' giving spectators updates on the progression of the torch.
The whole event is being covered by St Benet Biscop Catholic High School's BBC Roving School Reporters who have a website link directly to the BBC. The BBC have specifically asked this group of reporters to cover the run up to the day, during and after the event so we are certain they will have a lot to report.
If any local groups or individuals would like to take part in the carnival parade or help with the preparations, please contact Lyn Horton at Leading Link on 01670 820088 or email email@example.com.
I wonder if John Deacon had the plight of Bedlington Front Street in mind when he penned the Queen hit ''Another One Bites The Dust''. Seems our retail outlets are failing faster than an EU solution to the Greek debt fiasco! The whole thing is like watching a car crash in slow motion. The impending 5½ % hike in business rates due in April is really going to help the situation! Nowadays anyone could take the Front Street with a water pistol on any given day but especially a Saturday afternoon, traditionally a busy time for shopping.
So what's gone wrong and can we recover the situation. The first part of that is easy to answer, ever increasing rents, rates, energy charges, water charges etc. in other words an exponential increase in costs at the same time as a squeeze on family finances and that aligned with not being able to compete with the great consumer cathedrals which have been designed at huge costs to extract the very last coins out of our pockets. The surge in internet shopping cannot be ignored now either as this opens up a world of choice to cash strapped consumers.
The second part of that question requires the processing power of 'K', currently the most powerful computer in existence, to come anywhere near a solution. Of course the primary question to answer is do we want a solution? I think we should because what we are seeing is an erosion in a national culture and the evaporation of the very raison d'etre for our Market Towns in the first place. Even at a very basic level being able to interact socially with our contemporaries has to be a worthwhile endeavour and probably the only way we can build lasting friendships etc. or has that now been truly relegated to the vastness of cyber space?
It will be interesting to see how the 12 'Portas Pilots' develop but given the absolute need for everyone involved to become a committed partner in the undertaking I am just not too sure if it will be possible to roll out across the country up to and including Bedlington. Looks very much like a game we all used to play as toddlers........
Having just read through the latest high street regeneration initiative led by Mary Portas and the Local Government Minister where they are looking for 12 towns to become 'Portas Pilots' I did have a fleeting moment of madness and think about applying for Bedlington to be considered, the £100K would have been handy! On closer inspection however the criteria laid down for Towns to be considered would have been a nightmare to get into place within the 6 weeks left for applicants. Even if that was possible the 'vision' needed to change the fortunes of our Town would have taken a superhuman effort and meant each and every facet of our townscape infrastructure had to play a serious and demanding role. Possible, yes theoretically, but the fractured nature of our Town's infrastructure means that in practice it would be neigh on impossible.
Having just spoken to a regional retail business who have closed down a local branch and asked why, the answer wasn't surprising. Seems the ever increasing rent and rates were the deciding factors and in times where there is less and less disposable income due to family core inflation leading to a decrease in most types of purchases the writing could be on the wall for many more businesses.
Not only have we that to consider in our Town but the very topographical nature of our High Street makes it very difficult to adapt to the changing retail needs now insisted upon by consumers. Competition with the out of town retail malls is all but impossible for any small owner operator. It is hardly surprising that we are haemorrhaging national chains and even the small vocational type businesses are struggling.
Many are putting their hopes in the much heralded Tesco development as a means of regenerating our Town but looking at their business model where smaller retailers cannot hope to compete and the fact that the main entrance will be at what is considered to be the back of the shop opposite their now private car park, even if it does attract shoppers from outside the immediate area will they and the notes in their pockets make the trek onto the high street?
Interesting segment in our local paper last week, in the ''All our Yesterday's'' column. Seems BUDC (Bedlington Urbane District Council) had plans for a major development of the Town's infrastructure way back in 1962 with 'space age shopping facilities, hotels, swimming baths and residential development'. Where did that go wrong, ah yes, we jumped into bed with the wrong option at the creation of WDC!
Do we need a viable high street, unequivocally yes, because it presents a commercial face to what is fast becoming dormitory Town status! The Town is already being threatened with second tier status in the considerations going through County Council as they work on their Local Development Framework without some action we might even drop into 3rd tier status, not a good result for our once proud Town.
Following on from the HSBC 'desertion' we now see the Lloyds TSB branch in Bedlington is on the 'get rid of' list otherwise called "Project Verde". ''Project Merde'' more like as this could leave our Town without a banking presence on our high street, something which always calls into question the credibility of any small Town.
Who have we to thank for this intrusion, none other than the European Union who 'Dictated' that Lloyds TSB has to shed 620 branches in the name of greater banking competition within the UK. Greater competition is all fine and dandy and the spoiler is always that it is in the interest of the customer but in this case how can that be true?
It could be that a group such as the Co-Op bank or even Virgin Money (AKA, Northern Rock and wouldn't that be an intriguing possibility after multi-millionaire Applegarth closed our Rock branch not so long ago in pursuit of his unsustainable financial dreams!) takes them or some over.
Whatever happens there is one group of people who have never been consulted; us, the punters, the customers, the great unwashed, which seems a bit of an oversight as all this is being done, supposedly, in our interests. You have to wonder if these decision makers ever come out of their ivory towers and actually mingle with 'normal' people, I'm not even sure they are on the same planet!
Yet another one of our prestigious high street 'retailers' has decided to close their branch in our Town, this is starting to look like rats and sinking ships! Reading current reporting concerning HSBC bonus's it doesn't look to be down to a lack of cash!
''Douglas Flint, the new chairman of HSBC, has told MPs that the group's investment bankers are likely to share a bonus pool of "around $2bn" (£1.24bn).''
It does seem to beg the questions, how much is enough and is morality divorced from commercial realism in the financial sector?
Of course Bedlington won't be the only town to take a hit like this but you have to wonder if there are any new businesses ready and willing to take over these premises' and breathe life back into our high streets. It has taken years to find someone willing to take the punt on our old Barclay's building, let's hope this latest causality is resuscitated much quicker than that.
This does open the need for a real debate about how we can maintain and hopefully regenerate our fast failing high streets. On the face of it, it doesn't look good with increasing competition from retail parks, hypermarkets built on the periphery of towns also taking footfalls out of town centres, increasing costings including rents and rates ( non-domestic rates due to rise by 5.5% in April), soaring energy costs and the list goes on. In fact it looks like high street retailers need to have masochistic tendencies or be willing to undergo financial Hara Kari!
Problems which affect a wide range of users are normally tackled by finding a common denominator and using that to enable a reasoned 'fix'. Two of these costs which are in reality outside the scope of influence by businesses are rents and rates, but they have always been a real thorny issue as one is traditionally in private hands and the other set by central government. With rents heading ever northwards and rates set by attachment to RPI at a time of high inflation the viability of the small business which proliferate out high streets will come under increasing pressure. If we want our town centres and high streets to continue to be 'market places' in the traditional sense and provide what are really corporate images of our settlements then we have to find a solution to the problems affecting them.
The only thing missing soon will be the tumbleweed!
Following on from the article about sports and leisure provision in Bedlington (17 Now 2011) I can report a steering group has been set up to investigate and try to deliver major improvements at the Gallagher Park site. Composed of representatives from Northumberland County Council, Friends of Gallagher Park, Bedlington Community Forum and the Bedlingtonshire Development Trust the inaugural meeting of this steering group took place on 11/01/2012, at the Dr Pit Park pavilion.
As someone who has always criticised councils of whatever persuasion when I felt they were at fault I find myself now praising the group of officers involved with this initiative for their commitment, professionalism and eagerness to address what has really been an open running sore for the Bedlington community for so long, a lack of any sort of provision in this area.
Using the recently completed community questionnaire the Trust organised, a set of short term and longer term objectives will be identified and progress towards their implementation will be benchmarked.
Whilst no promises can be given, unlike the litany of broken promises we have had in the past about possible developments here, the fact that committed community groups are principle drivers in this project should mean no stone is left unturned in this effort.
Of course this is probably the very worst time economically to even contemplate such an initiative, with budget reductions and austerity cuts across the whole swath of community ventures, but keeping an open and optimistic mind frame and a willingness to put in the work will mean we might even get a chance to pull something off.
Having asked NCC for a fair crack at this without prejudice, it looks like that is exactly what we have been given. To paraphrase the old BUDC motto and with a bit of literary licence........
De profundis lumen venit.
Well that's about the end of 2011 and what a roller coaster it has been. The much heralded green shoots of economic recovery seem to be withering in the vines and probably owe more to the strategic placements of decimal points rather than anything resembling economic growth. Anyone who considers this out of place in a Bedlington blog just look around at the 'for sale' boards, even the ones which have been changed into 'to let' signs, their almost static presence is apparent to anyone walking around with their eyes open! The Nationwide's recent forecast of more house price drops next year will be of little comfort to anyone in Bedlington stuck in this particular morass. Also the recent bad news of more probable local job losses needs careful consideration. The likes of the Alcan jobs, as well as the ones lost at NCC, may well be able to be recovered statistically but in all probability the replacements will not deliver the same disposable incomes to those which are lost. Replacing semi and skilled well-paid jobs with ones stocking shelves at supermarkets is not the way to engender knock on economic activity, in fact quite the opposite.
Never mind we keep saving the financial sector decreed as 'too big to fail'. Says who exactly? If we look at the market pronouncement on these businesses over the last 12 months we can see a pattern emerging. Share price performance of the biggest over the last year, BofA: -60.38%,
Citi:-4.76%, Goldman Sachs: -46.41%, JPMorgan: -23.03%, Morgan Stanley: -45.24%, RBS: -50%,
Barclays: -34.32%, Lloyds: -63.02%, UBS: -29.33%, Deutsche Bank: -28,55%, Crédit Agricole: -56.04%,
BNP Paribas: -37.67% and Société Générale: -59.57%. It seems even the attempted manipulation by the Sage of Omaha proved ineffectual this time given the Bank of America pricing! So whilst the peers in this game effectively back out the taxpayers have stepped in to provide liquidity and a back stop for all the bets taken with toxic asset collateral. Seems to me perfectly clear the cornerstone of capitalism is only operating by socialist intervention, quite a dichotomy for proponents of each philosophy!
Looking a little further at our closest neighbours we see supposedly democratic countries now with Troika imposed unelected heads of state? That would seem to be a damming indictment on the quality of political EU players as none would seem to have the where-with-all to steer their own countries through the various storms which have erupted. We have seen Captain Scarlet's SPV replaced with GI Joe's bazooka, Jean Claude replaced with Mario (probably better if they went the whole hog and brought in the Super Mario Bros!), and Herman Van Rompuy looking like a rabbit trapped in the headlights under the constant haranguing of Daniel Hannan and Nigel Farage. We even hear about the possibility of free repatriation for our countrymen who might be trapped behind the curtains of a country expelled from the Eurozone or which has to default. I hope the UK Government have shopped around and bought the cheapest charters the costs of using credit cards for flights being what is still is!
All of the above is as nothing of course because we have Celebrity Big Brother to look forward to soon. The whole celebrity culture thing is reminiscent of something, now what was it..............
I do have one forecast for this coming year and I have no doubt it will come true. Like the run up to the Millennium when Nostradamus was one of the most searched names on Google this next year the Mayan Long Count Calendar will be. Its seemingly prophetic forecast of Armageddon starting on the winter solstice 2012 will be akin to the destructive powers of that seemingly unstoppable insect, the Millennium Bug. If we take a bit of time and actually look into what was actually forecast almost 2000 years ago we see it's a beginning not just an end. Now if that beginning were to include debt forgiveness, debt write downs, bond haircuts and a refocusing on society in general instead of protecting the privileges of a few that might just be the new start we need.
With tenancies being passed around quicker than a charitable collection plate at Westminster we now see some of our local hostelries being closed, possibly for good. Nearly 1300 pubs closed last year and given the current economic situation and the financial models imposed by the big tenancy operators with their beer tie contracts it's not hard to see which way the wind is blowing. Ever increasing costs and draconian regulations at a time of a reduction in disposable incomes and market pressure from cheaper product available at supermarkets makes running these businesses seem like a no brainer. Some will buck the trend but even these will have to run faster to stand still.
As we see even 'social clubs' are not immune from this pressure and the writing was probably on the wall once one of the big boys took over The Fed Brewery. With a history of buying up the opposition and then closing them down getting access to 'cheap' beer becomes impossible as large scale production is held in fewer and fewer hands and cheap beer was always a fundamental attraction for club goers. Can the boards of directors of these clubs, or the committee, compete with their namesakes sitting in head offices in London, spending more on sharp suited business consultants than their northern counterparts can ever imagine? There is a two letter answer to that!
We have seen one game changer in this market enter Bedlington; one who uses price to gain market share and no one can question the value for money on offer at the Red Lion, so yet another marketplace change to be considered.
There is of course another 'game changer' about to enter the Town, if they ever do get on with their proposed redevelopment, and one which has the potential to radically alter the viability of a much wider range of smaller businesses in the Town. Interesting to see one of the reasons stated for the demise of Blacks Leisure is lack of footfall on high streets these days and as their outlets are predominately located on high streets..........
As I have warned several times the oft repeated quotes from our panjandrum political leaders saying the UK will not be bailing out the Euro now resembles a tissue of mendacity! Not only have we already seen around £12 billion go into propping up Eurozone countries we now have the very real prospect of throwing almost £26 billion into an IMF fund which is directly bailing out the Eurozone. This would make the UK contribution second only to Germany and of equal size to France, and this from a country French officials have just been telling everyone is bust! This figure represents an amount greater than the self-imposed austerity cuts in the UK and we really do have to wonder what planet that makes sense on?
The real problem I have is this will inevitably become a fund which once endorsed and filled will probably become so rapacious because of what it is trying to fulfil we could very well end up throwing more and more money into it so as not to accept losses. As it is the job losses we have already seen in the UK can now easily be ascribed to saving a foreign currency!
For some reason the very institutions at the centre of the whole problem are being given 'get out of jail free cards' as their debts are socialised yet we still see huge bonuses being paid for what in reality are very nefarious financial activities. It's a pity the mantra of 'too big to fail' wasn't ascribed to our mining, steel, and shipbuilding industries, to name a few, we might still have been a producer country instead of one reliant on 'white van man' running up and down the country delivering goods made overseas!
I am going to invest in that 1970's high fashion accessory, a nuclear bunker, and maybe Bedlington shouldn't be pushing for a sports/leisure centre but rather open up the old pit workings to provide a warren of safety as we contemplate our financial Troglodytic future.