Sunday, 29 June 2008

A Zimbabwean haven and Victorian dream

David is from Zimbabwe and in a small workshop on the side of The Lenton Centre he captures his memories and images of home in stone. He has been there for some time now and last Wednesday he gave me permission to take some pictures of him at work. He has recently taken part in an exhibition of Zimbabwean sculptures in London and from 1 July visitors to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens will be able to see his work as well. His workshop has a few rough hewn sculptures which may be works in progress, whilst some others are very smooth in appearance. I am drawn to the former. I don't know how or why David ended up in Lenton, but the fact that he is here is our good fortune. Zimbabwe is in a state of turmoil and many Zimbabweans have been forced to flee for their lives and some have come to England. I see David at work and imagine that when he looks up from his stone and out of his workshop he sees not a brick wall but, through the dust of his sculpting, the wide open plains of Zimbabwe. For now he has found a haven in Lenton.
Last week I put together a CD of Lenton images for some consultants who are about to commence work with Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum on a future vision and development strategy for our ward. The exercise made me realise that since taking up picture taking in earnest at the beginning of 2007 I have not taken any photographs of the ward's streets and neighbourhoods in a systematic way. All the pictures I have taken have been in relation to a particular topic.

So I have decided to work my way around the ward taking pictures of the streets. I will get some exercise at the same time which will be a good thing. The above rear view of Holy Trinity Church is the first picture in my new series. To me it looks 'Victorian and northern'. A feeling brought about by the grime and dirt which, over the last 166 years, has taken away the natural light colouring of the stone. If cleaned I am in no doubt that Holy Trinity would look absolutely fantastic. Back in the early-1980s when I was a county councillor I suggested to the church they should apply for a grant from a 'clean-up' fund I was involved with, but they seemed to like it as it was and didn't take up my offer.

These pictures above and below are of the east side of Lenton Boulevard between Hart Street and Osmaston Street. The one above is of the shops on the corner of Hart Street and the last building on the right is the first building on the left of the picture below, which shows the Lenton Liberal Club on the corner of Osmaston Street. It was formally opened in January 1862 by Cecil Foljambe, the then Liberal MP for North Nottinghamshire. Today the Club has no links with the Liberal Party.

This short stretch of road is typical of the Lenton Boulevard neighbourhood, an area which, with not much commitment and a relatively small amount of money, could be returned to its Victorian glory. I would love to have the time to campaign for a Heritage Lottery Fund Townscape project to restore the Boulevard to and, as a final touch, I would find the money to enable the Crich National Tramway Museum to open a branch in Lenton and run a historic tram service* from The Forest via Hyson Green, Gregory Boulevard, Radford Boulevard, Lenton Boulevard and Castle Boulevard to the Brewhouse Yard Museum and Nottingham Railway Station. This would not only give visitors a sense of what it was like to live in late-Victorian England, but would help to re-generate Lenton and Radford in ways presently unimagined! *I would build a tram depot at the back of the old Raleigh offices.

Songbirds in cities are damaging their health, exposing themselves to predators and weakening their gene pool by trying to be heard above the din of urban life.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Aspire on the horizon

This morning I joined the media at Nottingham University's Jubilee Campus to see the final piece of the 'Aspire' column put into place, but I began my walk to the campus by going into Lenton Recreation Ground and looking at its four horizons. To the north and the Derby Road there were trees. To the west and the railway line I could see the QMC and its tall chimney. To the south I could see Holy Trinity Church and a view much as it was when the park opened in 1888. To the east and beyond the Victorian houses on Devonshire Promenade I could see the Lenton flats. I wanted to see how the new Aspire column might change things, but without its top section in place it was not visible.

I got my first glimpse of Aspire from the Derby Road as I approached Triumph Road, but it was not until I was about half way down Triumph Road that I saw a topless Aspire. I knew from what I had read that Aspire is part architecture, highly engineered and was conceived much like a work of art. It is a description I can understand and appreciate, but my mind had already decided it was something else.

Little did I realise that minutes later I would be sharing my interpretation of what Aspire really was with Nottingham University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Colin Campbell, after I had stepped outside the reception area where they were serving tea and coffee to the media. I had gone outside to get a picture looking in only to find that I had been followed by a gentleman with a Scottish accent, who asked me what I thought of it, then saying 'I think it's stunning, don't you?', to which I replied 'It reminds me of one of those seaside lattice ice-cream cones… I can just imagine it full of ice-cream'. I then introduced myself and asked him who he was, little realising that I had been in conversation with the top man!

After a couple of speeches, the media folk present were asked to put on safety helmets and go outside so they they could see the final section of the Aspire column put in place. I'm not sure why we were given hard hats to wear as the action was a fair distance away and had Aspire come crashing down on you, having a hat on would have not stopped you from being smashed to pulp!

I took a few pictures of Aspire's top section being lifted into place. To summarise, Aspire, including its 10m concrete base, stands 60m high, which makes it taller than Nelson's Column (52m), the Statue of Liberty (46m) and Angel of the North (20m). Including its foundations, it weighs 854 tonnes. The name 'Aspire' was chosen after a competition among University staff and students and it is meant to reflect 'apiration, inspiration and ambition' on the part of Nottingham University and the City of Nottingham.
Aspire's top section was slowly lifted into place…

…whilst the media looked on and gathered on the side of a boulevard of water and Japonica trees, which will run across the campus and a diverted Triumph Road from east to west (or is it west to east?). For my part I was more taken with the water feature than Aspire, which I had thought, for some reason, was going to be located at one end of the landscaped boulevard and act as a huge sun dial, casting a long shadow over the water at a particular time of the day. Sad to say, this is not case, but there was an unexpected bonus in what stands at the east end of this new watery boulevard — the Lenton Flats. In my mind they stand for 'aspiration, inspiration and ambition' as well and are a tribute to Nottingham City Council and countless other councils, who all wanted to see ordinary working class people given decent homes to live in, so that they could live better lives and their children could live in surrounding conducive to learning and, yes, ambition and aspirations. Forty years on their future hangs in the balance, but seeing them along a boulevard of water I just hope that whatever happens to them and the land, it continues to make a statement on behalf of ordinary people as bold as Aspire endeavours to do for the University and learning.

Aspire's top section is finally put into place and the workmen make ready to join the sections together…
…and as I left to make my way home down Triumph Road I geo my first proper glimpse of Aspire complete and wondered what its nickname will be? I had already heard it being described as 'a wastepaper basket' and 'a torch' and, later, on the TV news as, yes, an 'ice-cream cone'. I am sure that when the students return from the summer vacation they will come up with much more imaginative names. Nicknames can be a sign of derision or affection and I am sure that in Aspire's case it will be the latter. As much as I would like to join Sir Colin in believing that it 'is stunning', I am afraid it is no Nelson's Column, Statue of Liberty or Angel of the North. I suspect that, at best, it will become a curiosity attracting the attention of passers-by, whilst earning a place in local affections. Time will be the judge.

When I got home I went into the park and, there, peeking just above the trees along the Derby Road side of Lenton Recreation Ground, was Aspire. It can be seen from the park. It has made its mark on the Lenton landscape I love the most and I am happy to see it there. I wish Aspire well and I will visit it again, but I await the completion of the watery boulevard with its Japonica trees even more!

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy told Israel today to share sovereignty over Jerusalem with the Palestinians and to stop building settlements in the occupied territories.

Monday, 16 June 2008

The future comes to Lenton

Lilian Greenwood, if I have anything to do with it, is going to be the next Labour Party MP for Nottingham South, which includes Lenton, as our present MP, Alan Simpson, is standing down. He will be a tough act to follow, so if Lilian is to succeed him she has to look beyond the Labour party and into the wider community for her support — which is why I invited her to come and spend a couple of hours in Lenton, beginning with a sandwich lunch at home with me and Susan and a number of Lenton community activists (all women), so that she could hear first hand about the kind of issues which concern them.

This occupied the first hour of Lilian's visit to Lenton, then I took her off on a short tour of New Lenton, beginning with the park, which was full of bowling ladies about to play a county match between Nottinghamshire and Cumberland. Lilian was soon deep in conversation with Dave, our groundsperson, and some of the ladies. I then took Lilian down to the office of the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, where she heard first hand about what the Forum does, before I moved her onto The Lenton Centre where we managed to get a peek at the swimming pool. Then it was off to The Lenton Flats and back to my house, where her quick tour of New Lenton ended (a visit to Old Lenton and Dunkirk will have to wait until another day). We did a lot in just under 2½ hours.

Being an MP is no easy task. It calls for a lot of sacrifices in terms of family and privacy. As an MP you become public property, ready to stop and talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Lilian will be a worthy successor to Alan, as she is driven by ideals and passion in a time when all too many MPs and their would-be replacements are motivated by little other than status and self-interest. Lilian will win Nottingham South by looking beyond the Labour Party and trade unions and building strong community ties in the same way as Alan has done. From what I saw of Lilian today I am sure she can create her own constituency of ready voters and supporters. For my part, I will do everything I can to help her in my part of Nottingham South, so, Lilian, it's go go go until the last vote goes into the ballot box at the next general election. You can do it, you will do it, OK, no argument!

Lilian meets Dave, Lenton Recreation Ground's very own groundsperson.

A Nottinghamshire County Team bowler has a pre-match snack as she and her colleagues wait for the opposition to arrive from Cumberland.

Dave and Lilian have just spotted a gravy stain… I must ask Lilian what they are looking at. The bowling lady features in the blog I posted on 14 April 2008, when she braved the weather to play the first few ends of the season. She told me her daughter had printed the pictures off my website and she had them with her to show her colleagues (if she or her daughter read this, they are welcome to have the original, higher resolution pictures if they contact me). It was lovely to have such positive feedback.

These ladies are the presidents of the Nottinghamshire and Cleveland Ladies Bowling Federations. The lady on the right is the visiting president and I took a couple of lovely pictures of her, which I will try to get to her somehow.

Andy shows Lilian the swimming pool at The Lenton Centre as it gets some final touches before it comes into use again. Nottingham City Council closed the pool and Lenton Leisure Centre on 5 September 2004 and the pool's official re-opening will be on 5 September 2008. After a two year campaign and lots of hard work by many volunteers the city council sold the building to Lenton Community Association under its new name of The Lenton Centre for £10. Andy was the manager of the leisure centre for many years and helped local residents to maintain the pool during the two year period when its future was in doubt. Afterwards he came back as The Lenton Centre's first paid employee. Andy is a very special person and he told me today that he will be leaving us before too long, as he planning to open a 'whiskey shop' in St Ives, Cornwall. In true 'master' style he said 'I have taught them (the TLC staff) all I know, they don't need me any more'.

Some wealthy Britons are exploiting a tax loophole that allows them to retire abroad with their UK pension savings and live tax-free. Within a few years the loophole could cost the exchequer hundreds of millions of pounds as increasing numbers of retirees with large pension pots escape paying UK tax rates on their pension income.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Space, holes and fantasy

Another bowls match on Monday and once again cars found their way into the park, despite the fact that there were plenty of parking spaces on Church Street and in the pocket park. On this occasion there were only three cars, but the park was full to overflowing, so these three young visitors have found a space between the cars. They also pointed out to me that it was also one of the few spots in the park where they could be in the shade. None of the cars could leave the park without other users having to move.

On a lighter note, I noticed this short cut in the park for the first time today. It's a bit big to have been made by foxes. Perhaps it has something to do with rabbits and Alice in Wonderland?

Then, a few steps further on and I met these two people in Lenton Recreation Ground for the first time. Can you see them? I think they are a couple, a man and a woman. If you look closely I am sure you can tell them apart. Nearly thirty years of walking around the park and I cannot remember what they looked like before I starting taking pictures last year and it is only now that I see them for what they are — tree people. There may be more, but I have yet to see them. I will start looking tomorrow.

'This Sunday is the anniversary of Magna Carta, a document that guarantees the fundamental element of British freedom, habeas corpus. The right not to be imprisoned by the state without charge or reason. But yesterday this house allowed the state to lock up potentially innocent citizens for up to six weeks without charge'. Part of David Davis's resignation speech today when he resigned as an MP in protest against the government's continuing assault on individual rights.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Festival Day Picture Parade

Picking elderflowers on the Promenade and in the park is what got me up this morning. I then went home to make 12 pints of cordial with Susan, which we will bottle tomorrow (Monday). We have another two batches to make over the next few days so that we have enough for ourselves to last next year, whilst giving a few away.

In the park I met some all night student revellers who were going home to bed as soon as the booze run out. They were happy and wanted me in the picture too!

This morning the dog walkers were out in force. Notice that these days there are more walkers than dogs. Some have passed on, so these friends share the dogs which remain.

If I was a better photographer I would have noticed how the early morning sun caught the banner. Given the day (a Sunday) and that is the banner of the local churches, the light flooding through seems as it should be.

A little later in the day I returned and caught these happy church souls.

10am and the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum's team of Festival organisers arrive. Lynda is obviously happy to have made it and Janet, who organised the day brilliantly, looks as if she is about to tell Lynda to save her energy for putting all the tables up!

I spent a large part of the day in the company of members of Kimberley Local History Society, who came to visit the Gurdwara and to go on a walk around Lenton with me. After spending time in the Gurdwara, we were able to go into Holy Trinity Church and see its fine Norman font, which is thought to have originally been in Lenton Priory, which was demolished in the 16th century (much of the stone was subsequently used in the construction of nearby Wollaton Hall — which explains why little of the Priory remains to be seen in Old Lenton in 2008). The church decided to stay open for visitors as part of the Festival celebrations. The church has also had a makeover and looks wonderful and much lighter than it used to. After our visit we returned to the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) for lunch with the worshippers before going on our walk around Lenton, which everyone seemed to enjoy, although I have to admit to finding it a little tiring in the heat.

After the walk I left the Kimberley visitors in the Lenton Local History marquee and went on a quick tour of some of the Festival stalls, starting with Dorothy from the City Council's Area 8 Neighbourhood Management Team, who said she had had plenty of visitors during the day.

I then spied the drummers, who were having a great time with the kids.

At last year's Festival, I took a picture of 'Two Betties' and by chance I managed to do it again this year, only one of them has changed — the one on the left is Betty from 'South-well' and had been on the walk with me.

I spotted this pair of happy students enjoying the Festival.

Today was very hot, but Sue and Patsy stuck at it all day. Don't you love Patsy's hat? As for Sue, the fact that she finds the energy to spend all week running around at the Crocus Café, then come and sell he cards and other goodies is a measure of her impressive stamina.

A happy Goth couple who have been active in Lenton one way or another for a good few years. It was lovely to see them with their baby.

The Shaw family run a sandwich bar on Lenton Boulevard, which is very popular with local workers and students. They are happy because they sold out of food twice!

It's nearly 5pm and some folk are beginning to head home for tea, including Susan and me. It's been a long day and I will be glad to stop.

As we leave I notice that the visitors keep coming to the Lenton Local History Society marquee, even though Cliff, the Society's secretary is taking down the displays.

The re-occurring word throughout today's blog has been 'happy'. It's a word which sums up the day. Thanks to the Forum and all the other folk, who by taking part, helped all those who came along to have a lovely day.

Next year it would be nice if it could, perhaps, be called the 'Dunkirk and Lenton Festival and Homecoming Day', with a view to encouraging ex-Dunkirk and Lenton residents from far and wide to come along. With sufficient notice and publicity, many might be persuaded to dig out old photographs and memorabilia of their days in our community so that they can share them with Lenton Local History Society. An annual 'Homecoming Day' is a North American event I would like to see copied in England.

Three soldiers have been killed in a suicide attack in southern Afghanistan, taking the number of British military personnel killed in the country since 2001 to 100.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Lenton Yuans — literally

I know a chap who makes a habit of finding money on the pavements and in the gutters around Lenton. There are 'hot spots' where unfortunate souls lose money. It probably falls from their pockets without them realising it. I know the most likely locations in Lenton and suspect that there is money to be made from this knowledge. Recently my contact found some Chinese Yuans. Just to prove that this is no tall Lenton tale, I have borrowed some from him and copied them, so you can see what Chinese money looks like.

So, when you walk around Lenton, keep your eyes open and you might just find some of the money which is left lying around! As for me, I've found the odd coin, but never a note. Perhaps I should get up early in the morning and start looking in those secret places — and that's the only clue I'm giving you as to where you can, literally, pick up money in Lenton.

Three British divers who were swept away with two other Europeans during a dive off Indonesia have been found safe after managing to swim to a remote beach on an island 25 miles away. The 36-hour ordeal saw them carried to the neighbouring island by strong currents while they waited for their dive boat to return.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

A park summer Wednesday

Mid-day today in Lenton Recreation Ground from the front of our house.

The early arrivers are settling in for an afternoon in the park. Already the day has a lazy feel to it.

Round by the bowling greens, the first of the West End bowlers to arrive for this afternoon's 'roll up' get their bowls out and set up the ends. Life in the slow lane doesn't get much better than this if you live in Lenton and enjoy a game of bowls.

Dave is about to start re-planting the border between the bowling greens and Church Street. The plants remind me of strawberry plants. There is already a fig tree in the park, so why not plant a few things we can eat in the park?

I really like this kind of a day. It feels slow and as you walk you can feel your body parting the air in front of you. It's not humid, but it is a little warmer than pleasant. The playground is deserted, but there are students with computers and food sitting at a couple of the picnic tables and there is a circle of young women deep in conversation.

As I get close to the bowling greens I notice that the one which has been suffering from bare patches and Dave and Simon have been nursing for some time now looks much better than it has in months. I suspect that all the recent heavy rain has helped the green in question to recover. I honestly did not think the green could be saved without some re-turfing, but Dave, Simon and the rain have worked a miracle.

Even on days like today the bowlers turn up and make ready for an afternoon of banter and simple pleasure, whilst a little further on Dave has just arrived with a trolleyful of bedding plants. He is happy in his work and smiles even before he begins work on the border. In the words of that song that BBC-TV used to use, today was a 'Perfect Day' in the park. They don't get much better than this.

Barack Obama has made history by beating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and becoming the first African-American with a viable chance of winning the White House.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Discovering Lenton Walk

2pm, this Thursday 5 June 2008.

Start from the Crocus Café, Church Square.

This FREE walk is 2 miles long and lasts for 75–90 minutes and led by Robert Howard, an accredited walk leader and Lenton resident.

The walk includes 57 points of historic interest.

Contact: Robert, tel: 0115 9700369.

Conservation in Lenton

An open meeting about
8–9 pm, Tuesday 10 June 2008,
The Lenton Centre, Willoughby Street.

Speaker: Steve Bradwell,
Nottingham City Council conservation and planning consultant.

Followed by a discussion about the future protection of the historic environment in and around Lenton.



Contact: Robert Howard, tel: 0115 9700369

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Playing field relief marred by more City Council deceit

Councillor Dave Trimble listens while Tim from the consultants explains why student housing is preferable to keyworker housing on the site of Dunkirk Fire Station. Tim admitted to me that student housing would be more profitable than keyworker housing.

Downloaded from Google Maps

On Wednesday I went down to the Dunkirk and Old Lenton Community Centre to see plans and a display by a developer who wants to build on the site of the existing Dunkirk Fire Station, which will close at the end of 2008, or thereabouts, when a new fire station opens in Beeston. My main concern was the future of Dunkirk school playing field, which is located between the fire station and the Beeston Canal.

With luck, you should be able to see the fire station and the playing field in the aerial view I have downloaded from Google Maps and pasted at the top of this blog. In the bottom left-hand corner, to the south of the roundabout, the community centre and to its right a large building, which is the Dunkirk Primary and Junior School.

The good news is that the playing field is not part of the proposed development, although such are the proposed arrangements for future access (just a 3m corridor of land with a right of way for whoever owns the playing field) that the only people who will be able to develop the playing field will be the owners of the 500–550 units (bedrooms) of student accommodation proposed for the site. In other words Nottinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service, who owned the Dunkirk Fire Station site, and Nottingham City Council, who owned some adjacent land included in the sale, have made it very difficult for the school to realise the true value of the playing field should they ever want to sell it.

The display on Wednesday mentioned '500–550' student bedspaces on the site of Dunkirk Fire Station. Add on the additional land bought from Nottingham City Council (for £1.8m) and the number goes up to 750 student bedspaces, but there was no mention of this fact.

The developer is also planning to provide about 25 parking spaces based on 1 for every 20 bedspaces and that this is in line with what the city planners want.

The Nottingham Local Plan (dated November 2005) has a section on 'Student Housing' which, if adhered to, should stop the proposed development going ahead. However the agents, who marketed the site, described it as suitable for 'approximately 600 bedrooms (of) student/keyworker accommodation'. They would only have done this with the agreement of Nottingham City Council — which suggests the council has already decided to ignore its own Local Plan.

The fact that the site of Dunkirk Fire Station is to be redeveloped comes as no surprise. It would have been nice if the city council had spoken to local people before giving the new owners, Gladman Estates, the confidence to prepare plans for yet more student accommodation. Had local people had a say, I suspect that keyworker housing would have been preferred.

Let's hope the council gets some section 106 money from the developers and lets local residents decide on how it can be spent improving local facilities.

This is just the latest in a line of council decisions which treat the residents of Dunkirk and Lenton with disdain.

I have written a longer analysis containing the evidence which supports what I say in this blog. I have sent it to the Forum and to our city councillors.

Jamaica's Usain Bolt won his fifth 100 metres race in a world record breaking 9.72 seconds at the Reebok Grand Prix Meet in New York last night.