I am aware this is a very sensitive issue, but I do have to correct campaigners who have incorrectly named Morton Stanley Park in Redditch on a ‘hit list’ for toppling of statues, which was then published by the Metro and The Sun newspapers and others. Efforts are being made to correct these sources.
I want to make it very clear that the Morton Stanley Park in Redditch is not named after Henry Morton Stanley. It’s named after a local fish hook and needle entrepreneur called William Morton Stanley who had nothing to do with the abhorrent slave trade. He purchased land, which he then generously bequeathed to the people of Redditch in 1924 to be used as a park.
Furthermore, as a former new town that’s just over 55 years old, there are no statues of anyone at any of the parks in Redditch anyway, though the idea of a memorial to William Morton Stanley has been brought up in the past.
As the council’s Portfolio Holder covering culture, parks and open spaces I am keen to stress that Redditch has a rich historic and cultural background with strong working class roots. We are a town that thrives on equality of opportunity and benefits from cultural and ethnic diversity. I don’t think we have ever thought it would be appropriate to glorify figures in history who are marred in human controversy, and if we have ever done so I can commit to bringing these forward for review as soon as they are brought to my attention.
On a personal note, I am fully sympathetic to the debate around our nation’s cultural history. As someone who was raised in a mixed race household it was not until we encountered prejudice that I even noticed as a child my brother was supposedly different to me. In my heart he has never been anything other than my big brother, and I can only hope that our society as a whole can heal and come together with true and long-overdue equality in our hearts and real opportunity for all as the outcomes of our mutual love.
It’s Sunday 10th May 2020, coming up to midday. Everyone is aware that the Prime Minister is going to say something today when he addresses the nation on changes to the lock down restrictions that were put in place on Monday 23 March 2020.
Today is the first day of tightening restrictions – we’re not yet being ordered to stay at home. Being strongly advised to work from home and avoid social contact is where we are – it’s a far cry from the full lockdown approach we are seeing in other countries with loudhailer announcements and police patrolling the streets to keep people indoors. They are weeks ahead of us in terms of the infection curve, so this could just be a sign of things to come…
I have today sent the following email in response to the planning application that Redditch Borough Council is submitting so the council can build 19 affordable dwellings to house people in need across Redditch. These will provide 48 bedrooms to accommodate 86 people. Three of the units will be Dormer-style bungalows, which will allow elderly and disabled citizens to downsize and in doing so they will free up 3/4 bedroom houses, which is by far and away the most demanded type of house the Council needs to provide.
I’m attending a Local Government Association training event for Councillors who have the ‘Culture’ brief on their councils. One of the areas we are covering is how culture can play a driving role in the regeneration of towns, so I wanted to reflect on how Redditch is placing culture at the heart of our own plans for the town centre and our partnerships.
In late 2018 I attended a meeting with Royal Enfield to essentially pitch to them the town of Redditch as a worthwhile place to consider for partnership working in the cultural space. The idea was brought to me by an officer in the council who was inspired by the ‘Unlock Redditch’ vision and had managed to secure the face-to-face opportunity.
At the meeting I set about to outline why Redditch and Royal Enfield could work together, tapping into the town’s rich heritage and history of manufacturing the iconic cycles until the 1960s when the brand left the town. I talked about the pride and passion of the people who have made Redditch their home, and about the place Redditch has in the Midlands as a great leisure destination with top transport links.
We even pulled together a little video where we took an existing Royal Enfield advert and overlaid it with a track called ‘Want You Back’. The video isn’t official, and hasn’t been sanctioned. It was just a bit of teaser to convey the opportunity that lay before us. Here it is in the spirit of openness (and because I’m quite proud of it – I produced it myself – i.e. I did the musical overlay not the visuals):
The pitch worked. A number of meetings followed, and the big area of discussion was around how could we (as partners) deliver something that would have maximum impact for the town of Redditch both in terms of something that Royal Enfield could be proud to put their iconic name to, and something that would resonate with the people.
We pulled in Prof. Petro Nicolaides who is assisting WM Mayor Andy Street on the return of the Birmingham Superprix. Petro is a friend, and so he kindly agreed to help Redditch in his limited free time. I cannot emphasise enough the energy and the connections Petro brought to the new Royal Enfield Task Force, and how grateful I am for his help and mentorship.
Initially, we looked at the possibility of running a road race through Redditch. We had the idea that Royal Enfield bikes would race around the Redditch Cloverleaf, one of the few full cloverleaf junctions in the UK. However, it soon became apparent that closing two major A-Roads would be a financial and logistical step too far.
The end result of these initial discussions was the ‘Royal Enfield Pop-up Museum’ that ran for 6 weeks in the Kingfisher Centre, the main tourist destination in Redditch. This museum was intended to be the first outcome of the partnership, not the last. It’s the start of the journey.
Here’s what the pop-up museum looked like:
Local, regional and international media reported on the museum, with headlines like:
The legendary Royal Enfield – the oldest motorcycle brand in the world still in production – has revved its way back to its birthplace after 56 years away.
Here’s another video, this time from Royal Enfield themselves that showcases how the former factory workers were put at the heart of the opening events, which took place over two days:
Working with the Kingfisher Centre, the museum was able to take a previously empty shop unit for 6 weeks, and was immensely successful. The shop was never empty and people came from all over the region to visit – former factory workers, enthusiasts and those just curious to see what all the fuss was about.
Naturally, whilst they were there they also enjoyed a drink and something to eat, and browsed the shops, delivering an economic boost to the area.
What’s more, the Royal Enfield Owners’ Club have been inspired by the event and feel confident to start talking about opening a permanent museum in the town. This would be a transformation – actually doubling the number of museums in Redditch (currently, we have just one).
As the Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Leisure & Culture I am making it my mission to keep bringing exciting things like this to Redditch, and also to build on the Royal Enfield partnership, which I hope will be something that endures, grows and flourishes long after I’ve left office.
If you are a Conservative Councillor you should have received an email from the CCA about elections for the CCA Board. I would be grateful for your support to become its Deputy Chairman.
I believe it is time for a new generation of Conservatives to step forward into these roles so that our party, at all levels and in all places, can start to become more representative of the diverse electorate that just gave the Conservative Party a mandate to govern the UK.
Passionate about activist training, mentoring and enabling the talent within our party to achieve great things, I believe I am well placed to help the CCA engage with more Councillors in a more constructive way, especially as we have new and more diverse Councillors coming into the party.
I seek to change the clumsy processes Councillors must embark upon to access training, support and advice. I will champion more self-service and peer-powered systems, enabling Councillors to “level up” to borrow a phrase.
There’s been a lot of misconception going around – some of it accidental, but some of it deliberate. Let’s get to the facts of the matter and provide some more detail. As is often the case in this social media age, the accusations can be wrapped up in a single line, whereas the actual reality of the situation is a bit more complicated. I’ll update this post as new things come up. Here goes:
The claim: Redditch Borough Council is cutting support for charities in the town. The reality: Rent subsidies for 9 organisations are being phased down (but not out) over three years – only some of which are registered charities. The level of support for the approximately 9 organisations (not all are registered charities) who rent from the council will stay the same at 70% for 1 year, before going down to 50% discount in year two, and then finally 20% discount where it will stay until a new policy is decided.
The Accusation: Redditch Conservatives don’t care about volunteer and community sector (VCS) groups. The Response: The council, under Conservative control, is setting aside £525,000 over the 3 year period to support VCS groups in the town. That’s nearly 2% of the council’s entire budget at a time when it is under a ‘Section 24’ notice, which means the money will run out in less than two years unless drastic action is taken. In this situation the council would essentially fold and all but the legally required services would be cut, including funding to VCS groups in full. To be able to carve out 2% in these times is actually an achievement, especially if you look around the country and see some councils provide nothing. Previously, the level of support was around 4% of the council’s total budget.
The Accusation: Councillors increased their allowances whilst cutting support for VCS groups. The Response: The decision to increase allowances was based upon an independent remuneration report that was rejected by the Labour-led administration for 11 years. This meant that Councillors were left severely out of pocket the more active they were – meaning the harder they worked for local residents the more out-of-pocket they would become. Allowances are not wages. They cover the cost of envelopes, stamps, paper, and petrol whilst working on behalf of residents outside of meetings, along with other incidental expenses. If a councillor holds a surgery at a cafe, as I like to do sometimes, the cost of me buying a tea/coffee for my constituent whilst we have a chat comes out of my pocket. If I have to write letters on their behalf the cost of the paper, the ink and the postage is on me. If I drive to a meeting on behalf of a constituent the cost of the petrol and the parking ticket is on me. No councillor goes into politics for the money, but how can we encourage people from poorer and working class backgrounds to get involved if the reality is they will be quite a lot poorer for doing so. This leads to only wealthy and usually retired people becoming Councillors and that’s jut not representative of the demographics of Redditch.
Claim: There aren’t any VCS groups who don’t rent from the Council Reality: That’s just not true. There are around 9 organisations who rent from the council. According to the Charity Commission there are over 1,997 charities registered across Worcestershire and there are many groups across the town that rent from private landlords – and get no subsidy for their rent.
On the 29th of April 2009 I was sat in my room in house that I shared with friends that faced onto the London Road, Coventry (A4114). I was working late, probably on a website, when I heard an almighty smash followed by the screeching of a car braking. I initially assumed that two cars had collided as there is no central divide/barrier on this stretch of road. Then I heard the screams.