Why I’m quite fond of Burntwood.
Despite growing up only a few miles away in Sutton Coldfield, I’d never really heard of Burntwood when I was a kid. My best mate’s Gran lived there, and when I was 18 I gave a lift home to the guy who went on to be the General Secretary of the Community Union (formerly the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation), who lived there, which was the only time I’d visited until 2001.
After 2001, I ended up spending quite a large proportion of my time there. After graduating, I was applying for jobs, any job really, I’d had enough of three years being skint, and I wanted to get married and raise a couple of kids. We’d just moved to Lichfield, and I wanted something full time, and stable. I’d applied for a job with Lichfield District Council and more or less forgotten about it, when months later I was invited for interview (I remember being offered travel expenses, and I declined as I’d walked – they were very surprised, as they still had my student address from when I’d applied, and thought I’d walked from Coventry. Maybe they were impressed with my commitment!).
The job was for the post of Manager of The Old Mining College Centre, in Burntwood. The blurb that came with the application pack had emphasised the community nature of the post, so I thought I’d better get a look at the town. I spent a sunny afternoon wandering around Chasetown, taking photos, having a look at the shops, and generally getting a feel. I liked it.
It was obvious it was a former mining community, with baggage. It was clear to me that it was about as far from being like Lichfield as Timbuctoo is. My first interview was in front of a panel of 12 and included a presentation. Instead of a PowerPoint, I did a slideshow of my photos I’d taken that other afternoon, and talked about my ideas for the development of a credit union, and other community projects. At my second interview, with the woman who was to become my boss and friend and her boss, I asked about the support and networks. I was told there was a great network of officers and they all supported each other. What utter bollocks that turned out to be. What I learned, over the years to come, that support and networks turned up in spade loads. From the local people. All the time. Solid. I was never let down. I was shown love and care. I got help whenever I needed it. Burntwood nurtured me when I needed to be a grown up. It provided me with solid employment for 12 years – every penny of my mortgage repayments was paid with money earned working in Burntwood. My children had their early years education there, and I knew the love and the skill of the nursery workers, all women from Burntwood.
Tom, the guy from the local painting group, would drop in so often, he felt happy to make himself at home and make me tea. Derick, from the Legion would call in, to check it was OK to do flag waving practice in our room with high ceilings. The very elderly posh lady who used to rummage in the bins outside the shop opposite and find biscuits to give me, and the Councillor who would drop in to chat and give me donuts. I have no idea why people thought I needed feeding up…..
Burntwood is a product of its history, the mining settlements still mark the town, and the fact it has been overlooked for decades. The town has its problems, there is distrust between generations, and people complain (with some justification) that public authorities don’t do enough for the town, while neighbouring towns get more development.
However, the people have a huge spirit. I’ve known this for years, and the recent outpouring of feeling over local hero Stephen Sutton MBE has been an obvious expression of this. The town was united in a desire to ‘do’ something. Stephen’s inspiration provided a focus for that “doing” and translated it into raising thousands of pounds for the Teenage Cancer Trust. A lot of the fundraising hasn’t been joined up, or co-ordinated, but that doesn’t matter, it’s all going to the same place, and money has been given selflessly, and generously. What does matter is that community is so obviously willing and able to feel passion, and pride. I’ve known this passion and pride and willingness have existed for a long time. The next stage is to channel that into something that helps move the town forward for the better.
I really do love living here. Lichfield is a fine place to live. Some people can sometimes be cynical about this leafy, affluent, tiny City with its Waitrose and its slightly up-itself atmosphere, and I don’t think anyone has claimed its paradise, the solution to all problems and the cure for all ills. The very spirit of Lichfield means I can’t fail to love it. I adore this place.
I grew up near Lichfield, but didn’t know it too well, and moved away for12 years before choosing to settle here. We rented a small cottage not far from Beacon Park, and one afternoon not long after we moved in we could hear music coming from somewhere, so we went for a walk to find out what was going on. We discovered the Fuse Festival a little free arts festival run by the lovely Lichfield Arts. I didn’t know that at the time, but I’d never seen anything like it. What a brilliant thing to have on your doorstep.
I was lucky enough to work directly with many brilliant little voluntary organisations that Lichfield and Burntwood are blessed with through my job at Lichfield District Council. I was the officer that people would approach if they wanted a few quid off the Council, and I had to work out what was in it for the tax payer, and assess how their idea, project or event contributed to the Councils stated aims. Most small voluntary groups get by on a handful of pounds each year with the taxpayer contributing only a tiny amount (around £22K in total from LDC for small grants, with a typical maximum of £1000, but most grants are much less).
The thing I love about Lichfield and its thriving community scene is that most groups don’t consider the money before just doing something. There are talks given, walks organised, songs sung (Lichfield Lighthouse Company sing sea shanties at the Kings Arms, you can turn up and join in), just for fun and everyone is welcome. I love that there exists The Lichfield Mysteries, The Lichfield Festival (not my cup of tea, I’m a philistine), I love that that there are Ghost Tours, the Heritage Centre at St Mary’s, where they sometimes let you climb the steeple to have a look at the view. I love that there are the Burntwood Wakes, The Lichfield Bower, and I love the history behind these events. I love the Proms in the Park, organised on a shoestring by LDC at no cost to the taxpayer (thanks local business!).
There is also important work going on, volunteers drive mini buses to make sure our elderly people can get to the shops, people are supporting people who have a learning disability to have a social life, ( Friends 2 Friends), we have recycling projects that help people gain skills or employment (wonderful Lichfield Scrap Barn up at Chasewater, a brilliant Community Interest Company). We are blessed with little gems like Woodhouse Community Farm; over by Whittington – thewalledgardenatwoodhousefarm.co.uk/ – Community supported agriculture! What a fine thing!
I’m sure I’ve missed some things out, but I’ll be writing more and in better detail about the good wholesome stuff that goes on around her, but feel free to remind me in the comments.
- The staff at the Job Centre are as nice as you treat them. I prefer to pretend they are committed public servants dedicated to helping me find a suitable job, and not agents of the State whose main role is to police the benefits system and move this one statistic off the unemployment numbers.
- Sitting around in the onesie you got for Christmas with three days stubble is a good way of telling your wife that you don’t want to have sex.
- There isn’t as much on Netflix as you first think.
- People do forget you if you don’t remind them you are still alive. Things move faster in the world of employment, faster than it appears when you are at work. People are busy. People mean well, and they will say they’ll help, go for a pint, review your application, but they won’t. They’ll feel a bit guilty for a short time.
- I felt naughty for being out in public during the day. I kept thinking my boss would be emailing me asking me to account for my activity. Keep this feeling! It’s good to think there is more you can be doing than wandering around Tesco.
- There is a whole industry around jobseeking and it contains a lot of bollocks. Someone calling you to tell you that they think you are perfect for a position and you tick all the boxes, then you are probably a bonus, or a commission or a number for a target for them. They have their battles to fight I suppose.
- As with a lot of support services (IT, H&S etc) Human Resources (as a general entity and not any individual or organisation) as they become more professionalised, have also created a layer of unimaginative bullshit. Naturally, they want to prove their worth and measure everything, and hiring managers are quite happy to outsource some responsibility to the experts. There is a lot of that about.
- Nobody owes me a living. Nobody. At all.
- At this point, at my age, in this country, with my support, I’m about the luckiest man alive. I think about that everyday.
- Fuck it all, worse things could happen, it’ll all be OK in the end. I hope.
I’ll keep this blog anonymous, for now, as I build up content. I’m a very ordinary chap, but I do have a keen interest in what is going on around me, on the ground. In my current role, it is difficult for me to have a public voice, and in this day and age it is very tempting to sound off once in a while!
I love the place where I live. I love bringing my children up here. I count my blessings everyday. I’m very lucky and positive, which can seem a bit odd from a blogger! I do see pomposity that need pricking, egos that need deflated, and bullshitters exposing.
I’ll be writing about community activity, council dealings, grant funding, why some things are done in a way and not another. I’ll be writing about the area I live in, and some of the people I know. Identities may be changed to protect the innocent.
See how it goes?