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Monday, 22 February 2016

Bringing people back to Black Patch Park

'In August 2003 a campaigning group called The Friends of Black Patch Park (FoBPP) was formed to challenge proposals outlined in Sandwell Council's Unitary Development Plan to zone two thirds of the park for industrial use. Our aim has been to protect, celebrate and enhance the park's 20 acres (81,000 m2) - as originally created by public subscription in 1907 - as a place of historic importance and indispensable green space for future generations.'.
..That's a para' from 'my' Wikipedia article on the Black Patch, 1.8 miles from our home in Handsworth, about 12 minutes by bicycle...
Black Patch Park in Smethwick, West Midlands. De-commissioned Kitchener Street runs NE-SW between greenery just above the railway across the right hand lower quadrant

We've been working up a case. I've fixed a date in March to meet the Leader of Sandwell Council - a 30 minute afternoon slot in three weeks time.  (Back to the future 28/3/16: On 16th March our Chair, Ron Collins, Phil Crumpton and I had a 40 minute meeting with Cllr Cooper. It went very well and we felt that the Council Leader was more than ready to see the areas around the Black Patch rezoned for housing, notwithstanding the difficulties. We left optimistic and ready to submit a more detailed report to him at his request. On Saturday evening 26th March Cllr Cooper, aged 52, died unexpectedly and suddenly at his home) First draft....
Friends of Black Patch at the Soho Foundry Tavern - Andrew, Stacey, Phil, Ron (Chair) and Harjinder ~ 2 Feb 2016

Report requested by Ron Collins, Chair, Friends of Black Patch Park ~ 10/2/16
The way to solve the recent problems of Black Patch Park* is to rezone the area surrounding it for housing**  – that, or get rid of it. No industrial use can guarantee the future of the Black Patch. Even a generous S106A mix of capital and revenue will not solve problems resulting from 30 years of depopulation. People need parks; parks need people. Black Patch needs a community of users who can see the park from their bedroom windows, and walk into it from their front doors; who treat the park as their place.
Residents celebrating Coronation Day in Black Patch Park 1953
Black Patch Park has almost no-one living next to it. Residents in Birmingham’s inner suburbs of Winson Green and Soho  to the east, north and south of the park, report memories of their park, but in 1966 these communities were effectively separated in terms of political influence from the Black Patch when it was transferred from Birmingham to the short-lived borough of Warley which, with further local government boundary changes in 1974, placed Black Patch Park in an east corner of the new borough of Sandwell, in Soho & Victoria Ward, whose local ward councillors include, since 2004, the present Leader of Sandwell, Cllr Darren Cooper.
Black Patch Park inside Sandwell MBC
The Black Patch has only survived in these circumstances because it is loved, respected and valued by a remarkable community of interest made up of people and organisations who come to it from different parts of Sandwell and Birmingham to enjoy sport and exercise; who believe it might be the birthplace of the great Charlie Chaplin; who are aware of its close association – geographic and historic – with the standing remains of Boulton’s and Watt’s Soho Foundry;...
...people whose childhood was spent there; who know the local history of the park’s association with the Romany Gypsies whose descendants visit the park annually to celebrate the memory of their encampments on the Black Patch during Smethwick’s industrial era. And thanks to that especially contemporary community of interest – the internet – the Black Patch is known over the world; has its own Wikipedia entry; ballad by the late Bryn Phillips on YouTubeFacebook page and location in the local history websites of Smethwick, Handsworth and Winson Green.
Hector Pinkney MBE and young park users rap for the Black Patch

That strong, but separated, community of interest includes members and officers of Sandwell MBC and the Friends of Black Patch Park – the latter immersed  in the saving of the ‘Patch’ for the last 15 years. For over 14 years, The Friends have studied the park’s history.  They are familiar with members and officers of the local authority, and despite occasional differences, have maintained, with Sandwell Council, a relationship of mutual respect and trust, Both parties are well aware of the intractability of the challenges that attach to saving and restoring this special urban green space; both are aware of the inconsistent succession of policies that have impacted on the Black Patch; both share dismay and frustration over the current state of Black Patch; both are unsure what to do about a place whose future they are equally committed to securing.
During the 1970s and 80s, Sandwell MBC strove to maintain the Black Patch as a community of place; refurbishing the terrace houses neighbouring the park, creating new flats and maisonettes; even constructing an ill-fated tower block. The failure of these housing initiatives prompted a pragmatic shift of policy. The area, including the Black Patch, was re-zoned, via a new Local Plan, designating it suitable for light industry. Logically - given the abandonment of attempts to maintain a community of place – the Black Patch was included in that new policy. A park for cars perhaps.
It was at this point that the park’s community of interest gave voice to concerns that the Black Patch was about to be built over. That voice was given sympathetic hearing by members and officers of Sandwell MBC and by local media. It helped
that the local historian, Ted Rudge, had published an entertaining and scholarly book about Gypsies in the area that included the story of their connection to the Black Patch. No-one, no agency, wanted rid of the Black Patch, but no-one and no-body knew what could be done to stop the park’s decline into urban wasteland.
For the last eight years, since Sandwell’s Cabinet agreed to side-step the provisions of their Local Plan for the area, recognising the park’s community of interest, the Black Patch has survived in limbo. Used less and less and without being secured against them - notwithstanding expensive preventive efforts – the whole park, inside and out, has become the preferred destination of fly-tippers, disfigured by regularly dumped detritus as once it was disfigured by the industrial slag that gave the place its 19th century name.
No-one who  cares about the Black Patch and who, like many local councillors and officers, include themselves in the park’s community of interest, seems able to do anything but wring their hands at the state of this blighted space.  The last blow in the blighting of the Black Patch has been the loss of the community centre which included meeting rooms, toilets and changing and catering facilities.  It speaks for the value of the Black Patch that even with their changing rooms no longer available, footballers continued to use the park, often changing in their cars.   
Michael Chaplin, visiting the park, with his son-in-law on 26th August 2015, to affirm his belief that it was indeed his father’s birthplace, dodged piles of rubbish as he strolled to the junction of Hockley and Boundary brooks in the centre of what had been a cherished public space.
A 2005 Christmas card from the Friends of Black Patch Park (photo: Karen Fry)

Desultory discussions about raising S106A funding by selling off part of the park, at a peppercorn rate, to allow an autoclaving plant may indeed provide some jobs, though not necessarily local ones.****  It cannot promise the revenue stream or regular presence of users that would ensure the success of a working park. For that to be feasible the ‘Patch’ must be surrounded by people. It must again become a community of place, rezoned for housing. No other solution, however tempting as a last resort, however strong or strident its community of interest, can promise a future for the Black Patch.
At least half the area surrounding Black Patch Park used to have houses. Today a semi-circular brownfield site begins at the T-junction where Kitchener Street – now closed – joins Perrott Street.
Oscar, Phil, Avtar Dillon (ASD Associates) and Oliver, my grandson, looking down Kitchener Street next to Black Patch ~ 5th Feb 2016

There were terrace houses along both sides of Kitchener Street, up to its junction with Foundry Lane, where there was a primary school.  Opposite this T-junction was further housing along the south west edge of Foundry Lane as it turns, almost parallel with Boulton Lane. These derelict spaces have connection to utilities - water, sewage, electricity and gas and telecommunications.  Oasis Academy Foundry, James Watt Primary, Oasis Academy Boulton, Summerfield Primary, Victoria Park Primary Academy, St Philips Catholic Primary, St Matthews C of E Primary School, Benson Community Primary School and Holyhead School (11-19 Academy) would all be within easy travelling distance of homes along Kitchener Street. Galton Valley Children’s Centre, Surestart Summerfield Children’s Centre and Victoria House Neighbourhood Nursery are just over a mile away would be inside a mile’s walking distance of homes along Kitchener Street.  As well as health centres on Summerfield, Soho and Victoria Roads, Midland Metropolitan Hospital due to be completed in under 3 years is less than a mile away, about 19 minutes walk from the Black Patch, a centre of health care contributing  to regeneration across the area.  There are Care homes - Beeton Grange, Albion Court Care Centre and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust, half a mile from the park. The neighbourhood of the Black Patch is served by West Midlands 72, 74 101, 11a and 11c bus services. There are Metro stops at Soho Benson Green and Winson Green Outer Circle, the latter more accessible with a way laid out between the allotments that front Perrott Street opposite the park. There are  main routes for cars to shopping centres in Sandwell, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. The SUSTRANS cycle path passes by the park at the end of Murdock and Avery Roads, running along the towpath of the Birmingham Mainline Canal to Wolverhampton.  Canal & River Trust, with partners, promoting the ‘Birmingham Cycling Revolution’ are upgrading this route, also used for walking and jogging, from Gas Street Basin to to Heath Street half a mile from Black Patch. Three police sub-divisions for Birmingham and Sandwell converge on the area. There are fire stations in Smethwick and Handsworth.
Friends of Black Patch Park ~ Feb 2016

[Back to the future - a posting on Facebook on 25th January 2018 by Diana Niblett, who grew up on a road next to Black Patch Park:
...all the houses around Black Patch were bought under compulsary purchase. Not many of us wanted to leave, I myself was heartbroken. I had a fruit & veg shop that the council took off me and my Father was a butcher his shop was handed down to him by Grandad the council destroyed a entire community. There were a row shops that my Grandad owned but did sell some off that went. To me it was the end of an era as you know my Great Uncle was the son of Henty & Esau Smith and my Grandad robbed my Dad's piggy bank to buy a butcher shop which he told me was flea ridden but he worked hard and bought that row of shops down Black Patch. My other Grandad's Father helped build the bridge up near the Railway pub he moved his family from Manchester so to me Black Patch is steeped with my family's history. I know a lot of the folk from Murdock Rd. Avery Rd. & Vittoria St were born round there so it upset them to be moved. The occasions when we had all moved to different places if I met any of the people they always said it was ok where they had moved to but would never be Black Patch, myself included...]
New homes could be built (yellow shading on the map) along Kitchener Street next to Black Patch Park B66 2QA
 *Wikipedia on ‘Black Patch Park’ includes images and a description of the park and quotes Agenda item 5 of a Report to the Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Transport, Cllr Bob Badham, Sandwell MBC, dated 21 February 2007
 'Within the adopted Unitary Development Plan, sites around Black Patch Park, near to the Soho Foundry were allocated for industrial uses in order to attract investment for a Technology Park. However, this has not come to fruition. A recent Employment Land Survey has revealed that there is no immediate need for further industrial land in this location. As there are no deliverable proposals identified, and to accommodate the wishes of Friends of Black Patch Park to retain the Park area, these allocations have been removed. The land will therefore form a green focal point for any development which takes place on the adjoining sites. The Preferred Option for land adjacent to Soho Foundry has been allocated for Mixed Used which can incorporate industrial and offices, and possibly leisure, community and educational facilities associated to the Foundry once a suitable re-use has been identified. Smethwick Area Action Plan - Preferred Option Document (Cabinet Forward Plan Ref. No. RT089)'.

** In October 2015 Cllr Darren Cooper, Leader of Sandwell MBC, announced that barely half the number of homes needed in the Black Country and Staffordshire had been built over the past four years, with Sandwell standing out as the ‘worst performing’ with a shortfall of 62%. Express & Star, 1 October, 2015
- The Office for National Statistics is predicting that there will 38,600 more people of all ages in Sandwell by 2033 - a 13% increase. David Couttie Associates (2010) FINAL REPORT Sandwell Housing Needs & Market Study Update, p.8
***See ‘Black Patch Park - striving to renew a place’ 28 Dec 2013, describing a tour of the Black Patch  
****The Friends' meeting with Tony Deep, also known as Kurdip Singh Wouhra MBE of East End Foods to discuss plans by Smart Waste - a sister company - to build a recycling autoclaving plant on part of the park is mentioned in a blog entry for 16th June 2015 - one which includes correspondence between us and Sandwell MBC officer, Hayley Insley.

Ten years or so ago we made a lobbying clip on YouTube against building on Black Patch Park....
...and the folk-singer Bryn Phillips sang a song about Gypsies on the Patch, ironically evicted to create the present park, and Queen Henty's curse on anyone who 'develops on Black Patch Park'...

Stacey Dooley, member of the FoBPP, worked up a plan of a restored Black Patch, also showing new homes overlooking the park...

Discussing the Black Patch with Stacey and Phil over coffee and chocolate in Wednesbury the other evening

[Note: Now go forward to Update on Black Patch Park 22nd January 2018]
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My grandson is in an animistic phase that delights me - since my ancient education in anthropology taught me to understand what a sensible way it could be of understanding the world in the long journey towards the disenchantment - and re-enchantment - of science. In the tropical house of Birmingham Botanical Gardens are mighty Koi all of whom we named after family, friends and the dogs in our lives - Nanny, Amy, Guy, Hannah, Oscar and Cookie for a start...

They seemed to come when called by their given names...and then at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery I'm left with a number of existential questions from Ollie as a result of this exercise in delayering a model mummy in the children's annexe to the Edwardian Tea Room on the first floor...
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed...
The best Oliver and I have managed so far, as a result of unpacking the mummy in the museum, is that we all have skeletons...
...This doesn't quite connect with with "what if we have only a skeleton?"
The best I've managed is "We will go back to where we came from."
Pondering this Oliver jumped a few rungs of the debate, surmising that "When Mummy is a skeleton she will be a mosquito."
Later he suggested that he, Hannah and Henry - Liz's son - "will be leaves." (Of course he said 'leafs').  "Like those floating among the Koi?"
Reflecting on this conversation - as interesting for me as it seemed to be for Oliver - I wondered that we could have a discussion about death without anyone dying, untangled by grief's urgent knell, These matters where no-one knows, where the grown-up knows no more than the child, are sublime. We discuss mysteries as compeers.
Helga Edstrom Oliver is very precise and careful, and obviously thoughtful, I like his reasoning about reincarnation but a mosquito is an interesting start!
Simon Baddeley Yes. I wonder if some insight about this, about his infant logic, will of a sudden strike me. His brain is 70 years younger than mine and who knows, with evolution's tiny steps, what connections it's already making that escape me.
LikeReply120 February at 21:18Edited
Helga Edstrom He is exposed to so many different experiences his brain will be busy whirring and clicking. My daughter who is an infant teacher says it's very easy to spot the Oliver's as opposed to a child who just has TV as a way of seeing the world. She still accuses me of "over stimulating" her and her brother and them never having time to be bored, which on reflection, is often when the best thinking is done. But having two lively curious children to entertain we often ended up with the mummies in the Art Gallery.....
As commuters we returned to Soho Benson Road on the tram which now extends its line into Bull Street. It was rush hour, but Oliver found us seats for the two station journey...

....I glimpsed a bizarre sight - a passenger reading a book amid others enjoying connectivity.
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And in Ano Korakiana....they're getting ready for Carnival
Ετοιμασίες Καρναβαλιού
Μία ακόμη καρναβαλική σύναξη πραγματοποιήθηκε την Παρασκευή το βράδυ στο Δημοτικό Σχολείο, προκειμένου να οριστικοποιηθούν διάφορα εκκρεμή θέματα. Τελικά οριστικοποιήθηκε το πρόγραμμα των βασικών εκδηλώσεων που περιλαμβάνει την καθιερωμένη πλέον «Τσικνοπέμπτη» στην Αρκούδενα* και την κεντρική καρναβαλική εκδήλωση την τελευταία Κυριακή του Τριωδείου**, με κατάληξη τον αποκριάτικο χορό στο «Luna d’ Argento». Περισσότερα, προσεχώς...
Carnival planning meeting. Fokion Mandoulas - Φωκίων Μάνδυλας - Mayor of the village on the right

Another carnival gathering held on Friday night at the primary school, to finalize various outstanding issues - the schedule of key events including the established 'Pancake Day' in Arkoudena* and the main Carnival event on the last Sunday of Triodion**, ending the carnival dance at 'Luna D'Argento'. More shortly...(*Arkoudena is one of the five districts of Ano Korakiana, the one in which our home lies. It is also called 'The Bear' as tradition records that someone brought a bear to the village and entertained there with the animal. Other names now faded away include 'Mediterranean' 'Piazza' and 'Balance'. **Greek Pancake Day is 3rd March and Easter begins 1st of May, so 40 days before that is the last day of Carnival - 22nd March 2016)

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Simon Baddeley