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Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Archive for the tag “Northumberland County Council”

Save our hospital facilities!

In 2016, the spades were nearly in the ground. Berwick Infirmary was to be refurbed, substantially rebuilt and updated with comprehensive clinical services from X-ray to day surgery, physio to A&E, and chemotherapy to beds and wards. Crank forward two years and a very different plan is on the table.

Northumberland County Council (NCC), Northumbria Healthcare Trust and the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are moving forward with an integrated facility on the site of the Swan Leisure Centre. Hospital and Leisure Centre would sit side by side on one site. And why not? As long as both services are delivered effectively and infrastructure, access, safety and other core issues are addressed, surely co-location doesn’t matter a fig.

However, a local group ‘A Better Hospital for Berwick’ views things very differently. The group evolved after Nigel Szczepaniak, a local pharmacist and hypnotherapist, made an impassioned video statement on Facebook about the whittling away of health and hospital facilities. The joint statement from the CCG, NHS and NCC states that ‘every service currently present at the existing site will continue to be provided at the new one’. Szczepaniak points out that, over the years, the services available at the Infirmary have been substantially reduced.

The suggestion is that the promise of NCC, Northumbria NHS Trust and CCG is therefore a shallow one. A sleight of hand to conceal reduced healthcare facilities whilst addressing the problems of a leisure facility which is losing money.

Nigel set up a Facebook page A Better Hospital for Berwick which is led by local woman Kirsty Jamieson . In the space of 10 days or so it’s gathered nearly 3000 members. Last night (Wednesday 5 September 2018), an open meeting in the Salvation Army Hall attracted some 150 people. The welcome from the Lieutenant in charge of the hall included a request to ‘remember this is a place of worship and please use appropriate language’. The plea was unnecessary.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting, crowd and indoor

(Photo Gayle Skelly)

Image may contain: one or more people and indoor

(Photo Jim Herbert)

People from all political persuasions and all ages had crammed into the hall to discuss how to stop hospital facilities being disappeared from the town. These include endoscopies which have been relocated to Alnwick – a 70–mile round trip – and will not be returned under the new plans. The campaign to halt the CCG agreeing to the co-location plans as they stand is a pressing issue. There’s a cabinet meeting on Monday 10th September at 10.00am at Berwick’s Swan Leisure Centre to approve the plans.

The group discussed what their aims should be and shared moving and often tragic stories of the ill and elderly traipsing  to Ashington or Cramlington for short appointments or invasive treatments (a 120-mile round trip), of sick children being airlifted out of Berwick and women having babies in ambulances on the A1. Others spoke of no longer being able to have pre-ops at Berwick – that’s another 70-mile round trip to Alnwick.

People were, on the whole, realistic: Berwick cannot expect a state-of-the-art all-singing all-dancing hospital facility. What it should expect and needs is a facility that delivers essential clinical services to the 13,000 residents of Berwick and the outlying population as well as to the thousands of tourists who visit the town and area each year. Given the challenges of the undualled A1, the two-strong Ambulance service in Berwick and an ageing population – it does not seem unrealistic to expect this. The town relies heavily on a voluntary helicopter ambulance and Berwick & District Cancer Support Group which provides free volunteer-driven cars for those who need to get to and from the Newcastle and Ashington facilities.

The group agreed that the focus of their action would be:

  • A fit-for-purpose hospital for Berwick – with the facilities, clinical services and room for expansion that were to be included in the hospital that was so nearly delivered in 2016

(Edit: I should make it clear that the campaign group A Better Hospital for Berwick suggest that facilities and services  ‘promised following the 2014 hospital consultation, should be the minimum provided’.)

A Better Hospital for Berwick claims that the consultation process was flawed and that the majority of people in Berwick hold strong views that are contrary to those presented to the health and wellbeing committee. A Better Hospital for Berwick says that many local people were simply unaware of the consultations, and that others felt their views had not been recorded correctly. The health and wellbeing committee has asserted that the process could have been better but had been carried out properly.

For those who wish to make their voices heard on the issue and find out more about the plans the group has in the forthcoming days, follow the hashtag #abetterhospitalforberwick on Twitter and click here to go the Facebook page. The group is urging people to contact those on the attendee list for the meeting on Monday to voice their concerns as soon as possible. The full agenda and papers and list of potential attendees can be found here. Calls were also made to lobby local MP Anne-Marie Trevlyan, local councillors and local media.

(c) Jackie Kaines

Take me outside into the green garden – but not one I have to look after!

If an Englishman’s home is his castle, then his garden is probably his tapestry or trophy room. And it’s the season to apply some spit and polish before show time. Tangles of shrubs and seed spikes left as overwinter shelter for insects, food for birds, and because November was a bit too busy to get out into the garden, have morphed into a straggly organic car crash. The moment has come to don the gardening gloves.

“Gardening is a ‘good thing’ and chimes nicely with a style of living which engages with the here-and-now”

Gardening is, of course, about embracing and responding to seasons. This is a ‘good thing’ and chimes nicely with a style of living which engages with the here-and-now rather than what can be had whenever you fancy it, whatever the cost. But gardening is like housework. No sooner have you dusted from top to bottom than it’s time to start all over again (insert ‘weeded’, ‘mowed’ or ‘pruned’ for ‘dusted’). Plus maintaining a garden is not always totally rewarding. My ambition to eat my own sprouts on Christmas Day was fulfilled in 2013 – with micro sprouts. My beetroot were hardly better and my leeks have spring-onion envy. I look at the allotments around Berwick with respect – I long for my garden to be packed with gorgeous produce, I long to be the sort of person who loves to toil the soil. But I am a reluctant gardener.

My uneasy relationship with gardening is not so unusual. New builds often don’t have much garden – not just because contractors want to squeeze as much infrastructure into a site as possible, but also because many of us simply don’t want the faff of looking after even a postage stamp of open space. Life’s too busy. Or perhaps we’re too nervous – we don’t know how to garden anymore. The times I’ve enjoyed gardening most have been when working alongside someone more knowledgeable than me – company and confidence rolled up in one.

My own garden in May - there's a lot to be done  if it's going to look like that this year!

My own garden in May – there’s a lot to be done if it’s going to look like that this year!

Step up the public open space. I can’t tell you how excited I am about all the work going on in Berwick: from Castle Vale and Coroner’s Park by the station, to the lily pond and refurbed route to the river from Tweed Street, to the cutting back and tidying beside and beneath Meg’s Mount. It’s an initiative spearheaded through County Council’s Strategic Parks project. Berwick’s slice of the pie (just shy of a million quid) is largely funded by a Lottery grant.

What a view! Coronation Park in Berwick-upon-Tweed all ready for planting at the end of March 2014.  (photo

Kate Morison, manager of the parks project, traces the decline of these fondly remembered areas to funding cuts. And now, the regular zoom-through of the County green squad to cut grass and hack shrubs simply can’t match up to the heyday when there were two permanent park keepers in Berwick. Kate was born and bred in Berwick and is pleased to be back. She has high hopes for the parks – decent signage, programmes of events, people whiling away happy moments waiting for trains or simply enjoying the breathtaking views. The more these marvellous places are used, the more vibrant they’ll be – and stay. If you’ve not admired the shiny pin kerbs, or the nascent rockeries, the tidied shelter areas and the gorgeous new steps, get to it!

A band of willing volunteers is essential to the long-term maintenance of the rejuvenated spaces. Kate’s wired into all the right networks (including CARA – Castlegate Residents Association – who’ve been hands-on since the beginning). And it won’t be long before these eager public-spirited gardeners can get down to it – the contractors set sail at the end of the month. If you’re interested, contact Kate through the Council offices on Quayside.

Meanwhile, if you’re keen and confident and would like a bit of gardening practice, I can offer a garden in desperate need of tlc, some companionship, and a half decent cup of tea!

A version of this article was published in the Berwick Advertiser

The past can be a welcome surprise

When I was little and we all had scrapbooks My Dear Old Ma wrote in mine ‘Times change and we with time but not in ways of friendship.’ My 11-year-old self walked a bit taller because it felt like a grown-up interaction with my mum. Later I saw it as sentimental. Friendships do shift and change with the ebb and flow of life – as do so many other things. We look back and think, ‘That wasn’t for ever after all’ or ‘I didn’t expect that to happen!’

Four years ago, I did not expect to be writing a column for my local paper. I did not imagine I’d be presenting a show on a community radio station (Lionheart, Alnwick), or that I’d jog to Berwick lighthouse, marvelling at the swallows swooping by my feet, and feeling as if I could run across the steely summer sea to Holy Island. I did not anticipate that the 11-year-old’s long-held wish to be a market trader would be granted – courtesy of a nudge from the Town Team and some parental support on the baking front.

A new entrepreneur in the making at Berwick Market

A new entrepreneur in the making at Berwick Market

I certainly would not have imagined myself at a seminar on heritage initiatives in Berwick. But a couple of weeks ago, I was. We’d been invited because we were beneficiaries of a Conservation Area Partnership Scheme grant. It enabled us to replace and repair stone and pipework at the front of our house.

At the beginning of our building project the planning and conservation people seemed, if I’m honest, mildly intrusive and annoying. We wanted to haul our listed house into the era of modern living and they smiled knowingly, shaking their heads when we suggested moving this window and opening out that doorway.  However, in the end, we are pleased with the input we received – even though it scuppered some of what we’d intended to do. Fact is, we have a better, more coherent and pleasing end product than if we’d been left to our own devices. And I didn’t expect to say that!

THI grants have enhanced the look of many buildings on Castlegate, Berwick. Including our own.

THI grants have enhanced the look of many buildings on Castlegate, Berwick. Including our own.

I had not realised the wider implications of the number of regeneration schemes that have cleverly converged on the town. The Berwick Historic Area Improvement Scheme is a catchall for grants received from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Townscape Heritage Initiative, One North East, and English Heritage (plus contributions from County and Town Council and business and home owners). It’s all managed by a project officer (funded by a separate grant). And different projects are happening simultaneously around town – including Castlegate, Bridge Street and, the final hoorah, the restoration of the Cowe buildings (purchased by Arch, the organisation established by County to stimulate regeneration in Northumberland). It equals some £3m pumped into the fabric of the town. That’s on top of vanguard project, Dewar’s Lane Granary (£4.7m), and plus the current Berwick Parks Project (approx. £1m), which could be viewed as a spin-off from these successes.

The Barrels pub and the former Cowes buildings - both being given a facelift with grant monies.

The Barrels pub and the former Cowes buildings on Bridge Street, Berwick  – both being given a facelift with grant monies.

The Free Trade public house on Castlegate - surely not a facelift too far?

The Free Trade public house on Castlegate – surely not a facelift too far?

Of course, infrastructure projects may seem highfalutin and insanely pointless when people are scrabbling to make ends meet. But these pools of money are available for what they’re available for. The works are usually (though not always) carried out by local tradesmen – a local economy boost and injection of new and transferable skills. I said funding had cleverly converged on the town, but it’s not serendipity. It took tenacity and vision to snare Berwick a share.

Come 2015, the current project will end. The conservation officer who made the bids and is overseeing and implementing the projects will be heading out of Berwick and back to County Hall – which will doubtless affect Berwick’s ability to benefit from other such schemes.

I’m sad about that. When we look back at Berwick’s scrapbook I don’t believe that the 2010-2014 Berwick regeneration will be considered a mistake. Or maybe I’m getting sentimental in my old age.

This article first appeared in The Berwick Advertiser in July 2013

Democracy gets my vote of confidence

You can’t dabble in politics. Either you enter the battleground ready for bruising debates and accusations of how wrong you are, or you opt to sit in the garden with a knotted hanky on your head. I am of the latter persuasion. So it was with some trepidation that I supported The Husband in his decision to stand for the town council recently.

Some of us stayed in the garden.

Some of us stayed in the garden.

Of course, Northumberland County Council largely holds the purse strings and power for what goes on in Berwick. The town council tries to get the best deal for the town under challenging conditions whilst juggling things like allotments and dog poo (not literally). The Husband had no personal or political axe to grind but a sense that he’d never felt so at home in a community. So, with a desire to work with the many groups doing exciting things around Berwick, he stood as an independent candidate for the council in Castle Ward.

Joe Poster

Being a WAG has been fascinating and humbling. Castle Ward had six candidates jostling for three seats (most Berwick wards install councillors unopposed).The Husband produced a leaflet and set about introducing himself to Berwick by lacerating his knuckles on some 1500 letter boxes. We developed new respect for postmen and women. The election process was confused by the fact that the county council elections were taking place at the same time. Unsurprisingly, many found it hard to separate the two events.

The vote count took place a day after the election in an Alnwick Sports Centre. The Husband and I arrived not too sure what to expect. It was just like on the telly! Clusters of coffee-fuelled, tired, anxious or bored people stood around the hall. At the centre was a latticework of wooden tables with flags indicating constituencies such as, Norham and Islandshires. Behind them people beavered away flipping through piles of slips with rubber thimbles on their fingers.

One of the first people we saw was Gavin Jones, elected moments before as Lib Dem county councillor for Berwick North. He and his wife, Gail, sat almost forlornly at the side of the hall, like an audience after the show has departed. We shook hands and congratulated. I spotted Sir Alan Beith in an anxious huddle. A disputed ballot paper for Amble West with Warkworth was causing high drama. Finally it was declared valid. The Tories triumphed over the Lib Dems by one vote. Had it been a tie, a coin would have been flipped. Now that’s what I call democracy!

Finally the town council count began. It was thrilling! Candidates and their supporters gathered at the counting tables to ensure their votes were correctly recorded. Unlike the county council papers with just one X, Castle Ward had three votes per slip. Each was called out and logged by pencil on graph paper. We watched the bank of votes growing under each name. Five pairs of counters were hard at it – the word was, ‘It’s too close to call.’ And, with just 39 votes separating the top five candidates, it was phenomenally close. The Husband was overwhelmed by the support he received, torn between relief and disappointment at his fourth place, and humbled by the whole experience.

Vote-counting is, I think, something everyone should witness. It is wonderfully human and fallible and levelling. Rivals stand side-by-side waiting to celebrate graciously or carry disappointment stoically (or not!). It is a reminder that each vote is counted and each vote makes a difference. I guess the high proportion of no-votes is a measure of how disengaged or disempowered many feel. And, yes, moaning over a pint in the pub or from under a knotted hanky is enormously satisfying. However, my belief that voting (not abstaining) is the one opportunity we have to change how things are done has been restored.

A version of this article first was published in the Berwick Advertiser on June 6th 2013

Waste turns me into a Grumpy Old Woman

The Husband tells a story about his younger son being sent to wake up the older one. The lad came rushing back from his thankless errand, ‘Mum! Dad! My brother’s turned into a teenager. He told me to **** off and pulled the covers over his head!’ Well, I think I may have turned into a Grumpy Old Woman – except the covers are off!

Many things excise me these days and provoke a torrent of hurrumphing. My key topic at the moment is waste. And, I guess, in a month we’re told that between 30% and 50% of the world’s food is thrown away (in this country some 30% of veg crops are not even harvested because they don’t meet retailer standards), waste is topical.

High on my distaste at waste list are: Traffic information boards. That’s Variable Message Signs (VMS), not dot matrix as I first thought (or dominatrix as one Twitter follower thought when I canvassed for other’s views on the signs). There’s a VMS on the A1 by the border. It says things like, ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’ and, ‘Caution Low Temperatures Drive With Care’. Do such messages change anything? I doubt it. We know it is illegal to drink and drive. We know driving’s more dangerous when it’s icy. Some people use this knowledge for the good, some don’t. On motorways (slightly more useful) VMS inform of road closures and delays – but suggest no alternative routes. Cue a multi-car pile-up as umpteen motorists rifle through maps, or fiddle with SatNavs. On balance, I don’t think these signs work off the investment made in them. And they’re ugly.

Another gripe: The ‘resurfacing’ of the Co-op car park in Berwick with tarmac plugs. The car park now looks like a child’s toy where all the shapes have been put in the wrong holes. Inevitably it will have to be resurfaced again sooner rather than later. Why not do it properly first time?

Job done? Were these pot holes too small or just overlooked?

Job done? Were these pot holes too small or just overlooked?

How long will it be before all this must be redone? What a waste!

How long will it be before all this must be redone? What a waste!

I know certain pots of council revenue are allotted to certain things. In North London, where we used to live, the council was relentlessly re-doing pavements whether they needed doing or not. There was a sum of money, you see, for that job and only that job.

But why can’t we take all the VMS signage money, all the money saved by doing repairs properly first time and pour it into something useful, life-saving and life-enhancing like dualling the A1 between Berwick and Newcastle? That’s something pretty much everyone wants, isn’t it? Many people have been campaigning for it for years and years and years…

The A1 between Berwick and Newcastle is miserable and dangerous.

And, final rant: The council reducing Berwick car-parking fees by a miniscule amount whilst increasing yearly permits above the RPI. According to Northumberland Council website, Berwick has seven different parking tariffs in operation – second only to Hexham’s stonking 10. Everywhere else, including Alnwick, Corbridge and Morpeth, have one or two tariffs. Actually, the council’s website has conflicting information on tariffs – but, it seems that for 30 minutes in Morpeth you’ll pay 30p, in Berwick you can pay either 30p or 40p – although 50p is mentioned in one document, which is what you’ll pay at Wooler’s bus station. If they’re confused it’s hardly surprising that we are.

Now, when I was little and complained bitterly at the stench of muck-spreading, my grandma used to say, ‘It’s good for whooping cough. Stick your fingers in your ears and you won’t smell it.’

On the Northumberland Council website it says that parking tariffs have been set, ‘after listening to comments and observations made’ during consultations. Sometimes you can’t help feeling that the Council listens with its fingers stuck in its ears – and, to be honest, it leaves a bit of a nasty smell.

And they mean it…check the council website for more details.

Grumpy Old Woman outpouring over. Next month I shall return to my usual equable self. Unless anything gets my goat of course.

A version of this article appeared in The Berwick Advertiser on 7/02/2013

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