Archive for the ‘Sandwell’ Category

Last year Sandwell Council offered to send shovels, salt and bright blue vests to anyone who offered to become a ‘Snow Champion’ and clear local paths. So I offered our church as champions and we were given three sets. They’ve been lurking in a cupboard at the back of church ever since, but this weekend they were deployed for the first time.

We had a good dump of snow on Saturday night. The Vicar had to cancel our 9am service and a choir who were due to sing for us at 6.30pm postponed their visit. That left us with our 10.30am Education Sunday service which went ahead as usual, tho’ with a few snow-induced absences. One excellent church member had cleared the main paths into the church before the service.

Afterwards, as the temperature rose slightly but the snow still lay slushy and icey on the ground, we coralled a team of kids and managed to clear the pavements on the whole block right around the church. The kids enjoyed themselves very much and neighbours looked on with approval. I’m quite looking forward to some more snow now and the chance to serve our community and work as a team.

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I notice this afternoon that ten schools in our area are closed because they have had burst pipes.

In the holidays  (28th December in fact) I had a phone call from a concerned parishioner who had noticed water gushing from our school’s boiler house. Obviously a burst pipe. She’d phoned me as she wasn’t sure who to contact about it.

So I went straight to Sandwell Council’s shiny new website and after a little hunting found a number for Emergency Property Maintainance/ Council Buildings – 0121 569 4537.  But when I called the number I was told that no forwarding or answering service was available and it rang off. So not much good for Emergencies with Council Buildings, eh?

In the end I called the Chair of Governors, who had a  personal phone number for the school’s Site Manager. He was able to go in and turn off the water and minimise the damage (and the water bills).

Obviously, we were rather fortunate to have had a call from someone who saw the leak and knew someone associated with the school who could do something about it. But if anyone else, without school connections, had noticed a leak in any other school building  during the holidays, Sandwell Council do not really make it possible for anyone to be alerted. Time to sharpen up the act, guys. There’s not much money around and the less wasted on water damage the better.

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The bureaucracy is criminal

The bureaucracy is criminal

I have recently volunteered to hear kids at our school read. This means that I need an enhanced CRB disclosure. I can completely understand why schools need to ensure that people in contact with the children need to make some checks. Children need to be protected from dodgy characters.

What I fail to understand is why my existing enhanced CRB disclosure, obtained in July this year, is not acceptable to Sandwell Council. I got that disclosure for helping on a young people’s residential summer holiday, where I had far more access to youngsters than I will sitting in a classroom once a week. Our sensible diocese did accept my existing disclosure for my work with young people in church on Sundays. The diocesan policy is to accept ones less than six months old where the applicant has been known to the church all that time.

When I made a comment on my Facebook status about this earlier today, and got the following comments from Vicar’s wife friends:

  • The Nurse told me ‘I was going in last year but then I got all that to fill in during the summer in order to carry on this year and I must admit, I haven’t done them yet. I’d mostly been helping my own child in the classroom and hearing them all read, do I really need a police check for that!? I’m going to need a police check to look after them at home next!’
  • Dr Life commented ‘If had had them for everything I needed them for I would have needed 6 at one point last year’.
  • Snap said ‘I’ve got 5 current ones for various things I do. It’s crazy, especially as they’re only really relevant from the day you are ‘certified’ and different organisations have different guidelines on how often they need to be redone’.

Sandwell Council, bless their hearts, like to make it even more of a pain. So you have to go the council’s main offices for an interview to fill out the form. Apparently this was because the schools weren’t completing the forms correctly. I don’t see why schools can’t be trained to do it right. Although the form is now ridiculous as half of it doesn’t need to be completed.

And Sandwell want me to provide 2 referees (although the form didn’t say how long the referees have to have known me). CRB no longer ask for this, but the council do. And they want my full employment history including all voluntary work! I can’t remember my employment and volunteering history for the last twenty plus years. The lady at the council then told me that the school can decide how much employment history is required and that the form had been approved by the council AND the unions. She said that it ought to say that referees should have known me at least two years, but that too was up to the school. Thankfully I think the school will be sensible.

Our head teacher is about to send a letter out to parents asking for folk to volunteer to read with the children – currently no-one is helping out at all. But if they have to fill in forms, provide referees and long term histories and travel a 4 mile round trip in order to do it, I don’t hold out much hope of floods of volunteers. Many families round here don’t have cars, so the trip to the council would take a whole morning.

I’m going to encourage people to volunteer, but I’m also going to see if the council will come down here for the interviews or let me help people fill out their forms first. Surely the council want to be encouraging volunteering rather than hindering it with bureaucracy?

The council lady I spoke to said that the new Independent Safeguarding Authority should streamline things ‘but they keep on putting it back’. In the meantime money is being wasted all round the country as people have to collect multiple forms and fill in extra paperwork to satisfy the total lack of trust that now characterises our society. I wonder what the record is for multiple CRB forms. Any advance on five?

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Happy is our new lodger. He’s also the Vicar’s new apprentice (aka the ministry trainee). Yesterday he went to a training event about our area. It was laid on by diocesan missioners with input from speakers from the local council and other taxpayer funded bodies.

We live in Sandwell, one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. Happy came back with lots of bumf and today I thought I’d just share a few choice statistics on our area:

  • 8% of people in our borough are on Jobseekers Allowance – twice the national average.
  • House prices round here are below the national average by 35%.
  • There is not a single bookshop in the borough (though this does not include the W H Smith in our high street – I guess they mean independent booksellers or Waterstones and the like).
  • There is no cinema in the borough.
  • Most of the famous people from the area appear to be comedians (although the folk at the session kept on talking about Bishop Asbury, who neither Happy nor we had heard of before, but Wikipedia has enlightened me).
This place needs Jesus

Where we are

Happy came back with a lovely poster with photos of all the local councillors, including the three who represent the ward we live in. Sadly, when I contacted them by email more than a fortnight ago to ask about an issue that has been bugging me for a while, I received no acknowledgement and no reply. And not a single councillor showed up to a controversial meeting about a new local housing development last night. So I don’t think I’ll be putting the poster up any time soon.

But if you would like to start a business with an eager workforce, or commute to Birmingham City Centre in 15 minutes, you like to laugh a lot, you’re happy to use a library or The Book Depository for reading matter, you don’t mind watching your films on dvd a little after release, you want to buy a cheap house and get involved a local church which wants to make a difference, this is the place to be.

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Our family visited West Bromwich’s very expensive new art gallery this weekend. We had been at the baptism of Polly’s baby at the local catholic church and had time before the chicken roasting in the Vicarage oven was going to be cooked, so we dropped into the big black fish tank with Babapapa windows.

Is it a huge waste of money or an investment for the future?

A huge waste of money or an investment for the future?

We have been in before (for expensive coffee and a view of the glitzy loos), but the art gallery part has only just opened, so this was our first opportunity to gauge whether the £67 million that was spent has been really worthwhile.

Of course, the word on the street is that it is a complete waste of money for a town which has no cinema, no bowling alley and no swimming pool. But let’s give it a chance, eh? We loved the art gallery in Wolverhampton, where you could look at beautiful pictures, dress up as a Georgian, feel textured sculptures and eat wonderful salad selections. I would sometimes just pop in with the kids for half an hour to visit their favourite exhibits.

So how was the Public going to shape up? Would the kids enjoy it? And would the grown ups?

First off, I have to say that the curators are a bit overkeen. I like to look at the art and spend time in my own head in a gallery. And the kids like to do their own thing. So having three or four curators launch themselves at us telling us what to do was a little off-putting.  Maybe they were a bit bored – there seems to be rather too many of them.  It’s great to have them there to ask things of, but when they just started suggesting what we do, I felt rather patronised. Like we were ignorant and wouldn’t know what to do and might not be able to read any instructions or labels. It made me a bit grumpy, to tell the truth. If I want people to leap on me and ask me if I need any help, I’ll go to a posh frock shop.

Secondly, there’s not a lot there. And I don’t want to sound ignorant or anything, but I don’t think that much of it was what I’d call art. There were four sculptures and some good photos of the Black Country from the 1960s. But the rest consisted of the following:

  • What the kids called ‘dance mats’ and were basically slightly weird and not very good computer games.
  • Some fun video projectors which enabled you to see yourself sitting on a bench with people sitting on a different bench.
  • Some touch screen digital photo frames with photos of art projects that have happened at the Public over the summer.
  • A couple of short movies (one on the Public and one on Malcolm X).
  • A chance to make an animation of yourself.
  • Some gadgets which you could swirl your hands in to make coloured bubbles appear on some round projector screens.

I’d much rather look at a couple of good paintings and let the kids dress up in funky ’60s clothing, like in Wolverhampton’s pop art gallery.

Now from their latest magazine, I can see that there is more to the place than the exhibition, and we enjoyed hearing wafts of live jazz as we ambled down the long wooden ramp that most of the gallery seems to comprise of. And I liked the look of their Saturday art club and might even bring the kids along one week.

But as for the exhibition, the children enjoyed jumping about on the ‘dance mats’ and swirling their hands to make bubbles. And they liked the free self portrait photo. But the Vicar and I were pretty bored. And I can’t see the gallery exciting my kids about art, especially not compared to what they could experience in Wolverhampton. I wonder what they could have done with a cheap refurbished factory and money spent on real art instead? Or money spent on artists in every primary school in Sandwell.

So in my view, the Public seems rather like the Millenium Dome. A visionary building with less than visionary contents. The Public has so far failed to impress this section of West Brom’s public.

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On the day of his induction service, when he was handed the keys to the church and officially started work, the Vicar received a telephone call from the Express and Star, our local daily newspaper.

The journalist was following the diary of the Mayor of Sandwell and wanted to know what he was doing coming to our church that evening. The Vicar explained that he (the Vicar) would be starting work in the parish, and the journalist ended up interviewing him and sending round a photographer.

For some reason, though, the article didn’t make it to the E&S website, so I’ve scanned it for you to see in all its glory. Unless you have x-ray vision, you’ll probably have to use the Ctrl and + keys to zoom in to read it.

The Vicar in the paper

The Vicar in the paper

The lack of cropping is because of my poor technical skills, but gives you a flavour of the rather eclectic style of the E&S – see how the article about the vicar is on the same page as (and rather larger than) one about the New York financier Bernard Madoff and his £37.5 billion fraud.

And just so you know, we think the journalist misheard ‘England’ as ‘Ireland’ when the Vicar was talking about the places he’d lived. And more on my recent lads mags encounter at Sainsbury’s soon.

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According to Lord Laming, directors of council Children’s Services departments need to be retrained to understand the pressures of frontline social work. This will mean that they can support their staff properly.

According to the Vicar’s Wife, they also need to be retrained in postal logistics and basic form reading skills. And support their staff to do the same.

First impressions count

First impressions count

I applied for school places for the Queen and the Joker before we moved to the vicarage. We changed local authority from Wolverhampton to Sandwell. So I carefully completed Sandwell’s schools application forms, accompanied by a covering letter, for both children and hand delivered them to the reception desk of the Sandwell Children’s Services department. On a Friday morning.

When I called a week later to find out how they were getting on with my applications, I was told that the department had not received them until the Tuesday. My paperwork had taken three working days to move a few floors up in the building. Not a good first impression.

A few days later I called the school to find out if they’d heard anything. But apparently, they are told about children’s allocations to a school after the family. But the very helpful lady in the school office said she would call Children’s Services and then get back to me.

When she got back to me she told me that the children did have places (hooray!), but that Children’s Services had sent my letter about it to the Vicarage. Where I would not be living for another three weeks. As I had especially informed them in my covering letter and on the forms I had sent.

Children’s Services re-sent the letter to my Wolverhampton home. And I discovered that they had given places to Queen Vicar in Year One, and Vicar Joker in Year Three. So the Queen, who is seven, would be sitting in a class with a bunch of children two years younger than her and the Joker, who is six, would be stretched by being promoted to the Juniors. And being called by his surname instead of his first name.

Now I know that my children have rather unusual names and that the Joker’s first and sur- names could be interchanged to make a ‘normal’ name. But so can many people with Scottish heritage. Like the Vicar for instance, and the Engineer. But his sister and mother (I signed my name in the covering letter and on the form) have the same surname. AND I COMPLETED THE FORM CORRECTLY! With the right names in the right boxes and everything! And I can’t believe that in multicultural Sandwell, everybody is called ‘Jack Smith’ or ‘Jane Brown’.

So all in all, Sandwell Council have a bit of work to do to begin winning me over now. Three mistakes in their first piece of communication with me is not a good record sheet. I’m not surprised that this is the council that landed itself with The Public.

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