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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Henbury pulls off a Cracker

Despite the rain and cold, Henbury's Christmas Crackers event on Crow Lane yesterday was a resounding success.

I'm not yet sure how much money was raised, but an array of snowmen, reindeer, christmas trees a- and a Christmas pudding ( seen here with Chris Windows, our Henbury Councillor, looking charming in a hat) , were out shaking buckets and people were giving generously.

Well done and thanks to everyone who braved numb fingers and toes and the damp to put on a really lovely event - which is a reminder again that Crow Lane gets a lot of bad press, but that the huge majority of people are incredibly community minded and put themselves out to make events like this come together.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Bringing Christmas to the elderly with the Southmead Carol Bus

The snow may have been fake, but it was pretty cold, which is why this photographer's hands were shaking so much, no doubt. The picture shows me, Santa and "Santa's Little Helper" , in the hat, towering over Santa.

This evening, I was invited to join Cliff Howell on his Southmead Carol Bus as it visited elderly people's homes in North West Bristol. It really was an honour. Every year Cliff drives the carol bus to a number of homes, and Father Christmas goes in and visits the elderly residents personally.

Although the aim of the evening was simply to bring some Christmas to those who may otherwise not have much in the way of festivities, I was also holding the collecting tin. All money raised tonight and on Friday night's Southmead Tour will go to local community projects and charities.

I've said before that pictures speak 1000 words. I'm not sure in that case how many words videos speak, but I suspect it's a lot more. So since I'm now obsessed with embedding youtube videos into everything, I'll let these do the talking, and leave you with a very fine picture of the Carol Bus's very own Santa's Little Helper. ( sorry, SLH, I couldn't resist!)

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Brailsford Brothers Christmas Lights finally switched on!

I've got a feeling this isn't the last Christmassy themed post I'm going to write - and it's only the 1st December...

Brentry marked the beginning of advent with the now legendary switch-on of the Brailsford Brothers' Christmas Lights display. This blog has tracked their progress, from when I first came across Lee, taking down the lights one chilly January morning, to putting them back up again on a scorching September day, to the switch-on this evening. Getting anywhere near the house this evening was something of a challenge, due to the crowds of people who had assembled.

I had written to EDF Energy to ask whether they would be able to give the brothers a discount on their electricity bill. They pay for all the lights themselves, out of their own pocket, and this year with the credit crunch, it has been harder for them. Sadly, I was unable to get EDF to help, despite some trenchant pestering, but that didn't stop Lee and Paul from putting on a display bigger and better than ever before, this year.

Wallace and Gromit were there, along with Father Christmas, shaking buckets and raising money for Wallace and Gromit's Grand Appeal for the Royal Hospital for Children - and the collecting boxes are out throughout the Christmas period for donations from passers-by who enjoy the lights display.

So go along and see what is perhaps Bristol's brightest house on Oakbourne Road, in Brentry. And check out their website at, HERE

Monday, 30 November 2009

Carols in November with Bristol Brunel Lions Carol Sleigh

Yes, the scary looking character about to hijack Father Christmas's Carol Sleigh is actually me.

To herald in December, The Bristol Brunel Lions Club launched the first night of their Carol Sleigh, complete with tirelessly waving Father Christmas, a new van, and lights.

We knocked on doors, collecting for Elmfield School for Deaf Children. Not only were we raising money for a very worth while local cause, but it was heart-warming, in the cold night, to see how much parents and children alike enjoyed the carols. As one mum said, " In 10 years, you've always come to visit us, you've never let us down." And more than one person said it was, for them, the beginning of Christmas. And so despite the chill, there were quite a few little people to be seen, running behind the carol bus in pyjamas.

The Bristol Brunel Lions Club has raised literally tens of thousands of pounds for local and international charities over the years. Their slogan is "Ordinary People. Amazing Things." Amazing, and often simple things, like a carol sleigh every year, make the world of difference.

If you'd like to find out more about donating, or joining the Lions, call 0845 833 5848

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Aladdin Comes to Southmead

It was filthy weather today. The perfect day for an afternoon pantomime. And dozens of other people obviously thought so too as Southmead Community Hall was absolutely packed full for the performance of Aladdin today.

Local man Cliff Howell organised the event to raise money for the Southmead Carol Bus Appeal, which raises money for local causes and sports and community groups. This year the pantomime was more successful than ever, with extra chairs having to be brought in, and lots of hushed activity at the back of the hall with teas and coffees being served, and light-sticks being sold to the kids.

What was particularly good to see was the complete age-range of people in the hall - from babies to toddlers, teenagers, young adults right up to grand-parents. Everyone was enjoying the show. In truth, I remember thoroughly hating pantomimes when I was little. I used to be dragged along by my parents as part of the Christmas ritual at the Bristol Hippodrome -I think because my Gran loved the panto. But either I've grown into them, or the production we saw of Aladdin was a cut above what I saw when I was tiny - because I enjoyed every minute of it, along with everyone else.

If you'd like to donate to the Southmead Carol Bus Appeal, click HERE!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Swinging Sixties at Shirehampton's Christmas bash

There's always one, isn't there. Most people attending SCAF's superb annual Christmas Dinner at Kings Weston House on Saturday interpreted the theme 'Swinging Sixties' with a sophisticated nod to the decade - perhaps a slightly shorter skirt than usual, with knee-high boots, or a tasteful 'flower-power' motif in the button hole.

Not our elected Council representative for a ward that shall remain nameless- No. They entered into the swing of things in full wig-wearing style. But everyone was polite enough not to notice.

The SCAF Christmas dinner has become a real annual highlight. The picture here shows the braver guests of the evening attempting a group-version of The 12 Days Of Christmas karaoke style.

It is very good to see the whole community enjoying one of the hidden gems of Bristol - Kings Weston House. An historic beauty of a building, resurrected from the near-dead by John Hardy and his team.

Just the day before, Lord Heseltine had dropped in to see Kings Weston House on his way through Bristol and had admired the suspended staircase - one of just two of its kind in existence. Thankfully there were no luminous shirts or awful wigs in evidence on that occasion - but whether it's a grand event, or a more relaxed evening with the community and friends, Kings Weston House is always a unique, and wonderful venue.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Southmead Rugby Club celebrates new changing rooms -with Darth Vader!

On Sunday, I spent the day at Southmead Rugby Club's celebration of the opening of their brand new changing rooms. I visited the changing rooms only a few weeks ago, and to be honest, when I saw them, I couldn't believe they were going to be ready in time. But thanks to the sterling work of Barry Jakes, Mickey Pierce, Gary Mills, Jason Silcox and the team, I was proved spectacularly wrong! It was particularly impressive because many of those working on building the changing rooms were either local men, or members of the club, working for a reduced fee to get it done for the community.

They laid on a fantastic day; a match with international players, then celebrations in the club house, followed by a superb dinner. Southmead man, Dave Prowse, was the guest of honour - better known as Darth Vader. He gave a speech, including some new words to the Star Wars theme, (which you can see exclusively here thanks to youtube!) and auctioned off his last Light Sabre, which raised well over £2000 for the club.

The dinner was followed by a performance from local band, Hooper - and a good time was had by all.

It was a superb day, and was a good demonstration of the real community spirit of Southmead in action! Well done and thank to all involved.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

We will remember them

At 10.30am, it started to pour down. But the stalwart crowds who were assembled to pay their respects to the fallen brave, and our forces fighting today were not to be put off by a bit of rain.
As we laid our wreaths and sang hymns, and finished with the national anthem, I doubt there were many of us there who were not thinking of the enormous sacrifices our armed forces are taking at this very moment. Our thoughts today go out to all those who have served and fallen in the past, and all those serving in our armed forces today, and their families. Today is a special day of remembrance, but every day is a day to be acutely mindful of the magnitude of the risks being taken, and the sacrifices being made by our armed forces.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Manor Farm Boys Club

It was an inspiration visiting Manor Farm Boys Club. Not only has it resisted the tide of political correctness in holding onto its single-sex status, and it's original name, but it is also an example of what can be done, not by endless meetings and discussion, but by just using initiative and getting on with it.

The club is a bit of a tardis - much larger on the inside than it seems on the outside. And they have made superb use of space, with a new gym and an art room and store-cupboards in every available corner.

The club also owns a cottage in Wales for community adventure weekends, which it lets out to other youth clubs and organisations across Bristol. When I visited, they were also making use of the demand for parking spaces by people coming to watch the (sadly unsuccessful) Rovers game, and charging for car-parking.

It was really encouraging to see community minded people taking the initiative and making the club work - even more so when you realise that most of those now involved in the club came through it themselves and have grown up to want to put something back in. That's real sustainability.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Filton Sea Cadets - fundraising needed!

If more children were given the kind of opportunities those at Filton Sea Cadets get, to learn a multitude of skills and discipline, our antisocial behaviour problem would be much diminished.

I went to visit Scott Stevens, ( pictured) of Filton Sea Cadets to see if I could help them raise much needed funds to renovate their premises at Horfield's T.A Centre.

What struck me most was the manners and courtesy of the young people there. I had a bit of trouble getting in, initially - and one of the boys let me in and pointed me in the right direction, and with exceptional courtesy made sure I knew where I was going and how to find the person I had come to see.

Scott himself has invested huge amounts of his own personal time and money in helping to renovate the crumbling premises in which the Sea Cadets are currently housed. They need all the support they can get - and there are few initiatives that are more valuable than this one. So if you can help, get in touch with the Filton Sea Cadets, by emailing Maz:

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Come to "Southmead's Got Talent" Grand Karaoke Final!

This Sunday, ( 18th October) it's the Grand Final of Southmead's Karaoke competition. It promises to be unmissable. 7 contestants, aged from 11-65 have gone through the heats to reach this final stage.

We are also luck to have Bristol's former WBC Super Middleweight Champion of the World, Glenn Catley on the panel of celebrity judges. I'll be sitting beside Glenn on the celebrity panel. Now there's a man whose decisions you don't want to disagree with too much...

But that's not all that's happening: There is also a full line up of family entertainment, courtesy of local performers, such as The Southmead Pride Majorettes, and the Ds Streets Hip Hop Dance Troop. These are just some of the groups that Southmead Pride sponsors and supports.

A large amount of Southmead Pride's money for the community is raised through The Southmead Carol Bus Appeal. The whole thing has been more or less instigated by one local man - Cliff Howell, and what he has achieved for the community over the years is testament to just what can be achieved by one man.

So come along for a great afternoon, supporting local community groups at the same time.

WHERE? Southmead Community Centre
WHEN? This Sunday, 18th October, 3pm onwards
TICKETS? Just £5

For more information, go to
or call Cliff's Florists on 0117 593999

And this is Southmead's Carol Bus in action...!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

On the Henbury beat with the police

Last Friday between 5.30pm and 1am, I joined the local police as they were out patrolling Henbury - and the notorious Crow Lane. I was wanting to see the youth crime problem from the other side- from the perspective of the police. I followed Sgt. Terry Scoble who explained their Zero Tolerance policing policy for parts of Henbury. To be honest, I was expecting riots on the streets, but on the night I was out the place was remarkably deserted.

As we drove round, meeting and dealing with small clusters of varyingly nuisance young people, one thing struck me: It was Friday night, and the only facility open for young people was... not the Youth Club. Despite reassurances that it would be open on Friday night, the youth club was closed. What about the Youth Bus? The Youth Bus seemed no where to be found. The only place open for young people was the voluntary organisation - where no one was paid to be there- it was Emmanuel Chapel.

For me that spoke volumes, and took me back to David Camerons' conference speech, and what he said about liberating communities from an over-bearing and inefficient state. So often, the best way the state can help the community is to channel all its support and resources into helping other organisations, real, organic, community organisations, do the work.

it was a fascinating and valuable experience coming out with the police. I'd like to thank Sgt. Terry Scoble and his team for being so accommodating, and providing such an informative and educational evening.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

One of Britain's strangest pubs ?

This has little to do with Bristol, but it is so extraordinary, I thought it merited a blog anyway:

On my way up to the Conservative party conference in Manchester, I couldn't resist stopping by at what must be one of Britain's strangest pubs: Somerset House, in Stourbridge.

From the outside, an unremarkable red-brick pub. But Somerset House holds a secret - as yet unexplained by scientists: it is possible to suspend a full pint glass from the wall by rubbing it up and down on the wall until it 'sticks'.

One theory, when the pub was wall-papered instead of painted, was that it was the wall-paper-paste underneath that somehow stuck the glass to the wall: but the wall paper has since been stripped off and the wall painted over. And the pints still stick. A real mystery.

This picture isn't photo-shopped, it's real. Go to Somerset House, in Stourbridge and see for yourself.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Creating a Huge Stir in Henbury

There are certain landmark events in the year of a candidate - and MacMillan's "Big Stir" coffee morning is one of them. This is the third event I've been to as a candidate, and every year I am bowled over by the energy and determination of the local communities who organise them, with Macmillan.

This year, I was once again at Henbury's coffee morning, with Henbury's new Councillor, Chris Windows. (Seen here causing havoc with the raffle). The Scout Hut on Tranmere Avenue was packed out. There was a seemingly never-ending stream of raffle prizes - testament to the generosity of local people - and some superb stalls of locally hand-made crafts, cards and cakes.

And at time of writing, the Henbury Big Stir alone raised over £800.

And a special congratulations must go to Cynthia Reynolds, Carole Lye and their team for making it such a successful day.

Anyone who has had contact with the work the Macmillan nurses do, will know how valuable the cancer care they give really is. They looked after my gran in her last days, and I will never forget their gentleness and expertise, and how reassuring they were to the rest of the family as well. It's hard to find someone who has not in some way come into contact with the work they do.

Even if you could not make the coffee morning, you can still donate to Macmillan - just click here to support.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Christmas starts now, for Brentry's big lights display

Some months ago now,
I bumped into Lee and Paul Brailsford taking down their magnificent Christmas lights display.

Yesterday, I came across Lee Brailsford again - just beginning the mammoth task of erecting their extraordinary, charity-fundraising lights display.

For the Brailsford brothers, Christmas starts in September. The amount of time and effort - not to mention their own money -these local residents invest in providing a focal point to be enjoyed by all the community at Christmas is astounding.

The Big Light Up is on 1st December, and Lee told me how the traditional elements of Christmas provide so much joy for so many people in the community -particularly the elderly. You just have to read their comments page to see how much it means to so many people.

And last year, the brothers raised over £2000 for the Childrens Hospital. Not bad for a tradition that started out as two boys enjoying decking out their mum's house at Christmas... and just shows what can be achieved with a bit of determination, vision and quite a lot of hard work!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Residents turn out in force for Shire's public meeting

When I stood up amongst the crowd who had been refused entry to a meeting about the future of the Daisy Field and Lamplighters land, back in June, I pledged to get them a full public meeting to really discuss the issue.

Under the Council's Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, the Daisy Field and Lamplighters Land are amongst plots of land identified as of potential 'low value' to the community, and susceptible for being sold off for housing.

Three months, a petition, a 'write-to-the-council-campaign' and a Big Picnic later, the council officers responsible came to address a packed public meeting, chaired by Avonmouth's new Councillor, Siobhan Kennedy-Hall.

It is a very good thing we did get this meeting: The level of information, sound argument and strength of feeling displayed by residents at the meeting was impressive. The amount of 'new information' that the council officers gained by listening to residents, many of whom have lived in Shirehampton for many years, was significant.

We got some pledges of action by the council, and Cllr. Kennedy-Hall is following that up. Most importantly, council officers were exposed directly to the thoughts and feelings of the general public.

The decision has yet to go to consultation - but hopefully the campaign will have started early enough to prevent the Daisy Field and Lamplighters land from even appearing in the consultation document.

We have been determined to sort this out before the consultation process because residents sadly now have little faith that they are able to sway any decision that has gone to consultation - they fought to save their swimming pool, and the Robin Cousins Centre - to no avail. Let's hope this campaign, having got in early, is more successful.

And you can still do your bit!

By signing the petition

2. Writing to the council: Send your letter, with specific comments on why the Daisy Field and Lamplighters should not be built on, to:

Rob McGovern
Area Green Space Plan Project Officer
Bristol Parks
Colston 33
Colston Avenue
Bristol, BS1 4UA

Friday, 28 August 2009

Southmead's Bethany Church arts and crafts exhibition

...On Wednesday, I fought through the rain to Bethany's art and craft exhibition in Southmead; it featured the work of local artists and cards were on sale, personalised while you wait.

Afterwards, the church put on a superbly organised sit-down-tea for just £1, with sandwiches and a huge selection of cakes. The hall was packed out, and the organisers worked incredibly hard to make sure we were all topped up with tea.

The exhibition was held to raise money for the children's hospice, and as well as providing an superb afternoon out, particularly for many elderly residents in the area, the afternoon also raised £150 for charity. An afternoon well spent!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Shirehampton Hall Celebrates Vaughan Williams

Bristol North West is full of more literary and cultural history than you might first think; Sea Mills was mentioned in John Betjeman's poetry, and Vaughan William's masterpiece "The Lark Ascending" had its debut in Shirehampton Village Hall on 15th December 1920.

On Wednesday, however, Shirehampton broke its habit of extreme modesty about such things and held a celebration of "The Lark Ascending" debut. There was the unveiling of the plaque by Em Marshall , founder of the English Music Festival and Chair of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, in the morning, seen here - and a booked out concert in the evening.

It was a delight to see Shirehampton Hall celebrating its historic past in such lively form; and a big congratulations must go to all those who spent so long in organising and planning this superb event.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Henbury Fun-day: What it says on the tin, plus.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so here's a several-thousand-word equivalent on Henbury Fun Day, which took place on Saturday.

It was informative, helpful as well as fun - The fire brigade were there, as were Transition Henbury, Henbury pupils cooking up some delicious and healthy dishes, as well as technicolour beards, name the marrow contests, and much more. I also got the chance to catch up with the police to discuss progress on tackling youth crime. Although thankfully, there was no hint of anything but universal good spirits on the Fun-day. Thanks and well done to all involved.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The sun shines on Shire's Big Picnic

At 11.55am, things were looking a bit ropey. The sky was threatening rain, and the only sign of anyone coming to Shire's Big Picnic was a mum with a pushchair some way off, and a dog walker.

But I needn't have worried. Pretty soon, local residents were flooding down to the Lamplighters land in Shirehampton to unfurl their picnic rugs for a peaceful demonstration against the Council's possible plans, under their Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, to put The Daisy Field and Lamplighters Land up for building development.

Over 250 people turned up to Shire's Big Picnic, which is a formidable demonstration of just how much this land is valued by the people in Shirehampton. And sitting there on the grass beside the river, it is easy to see why. This land is one of Bristol's beauty spots. For most cities, this area would be the jewel in their crown. It would be madness to build over it.

It was also very good to see people of all ages sitting down together as a community. Shire's Big Picnic demonstrated that although good facilities for play are important, with just a picnic rug, a bit of food and the company of your friends, family and neighbours, a wonderful day can be had by all.

Lots of people have said to me that Shire's Big Picnic should become an annual event. I am hoping that our campaigning will safeguard this land so Shire's Big Picnic can become a stapel part of the local calendar for many years to come.

If you would like to do your bit to protect the Daisy Field and Lamplighters Land from building development, please sign Cllr. Siobhan Kennedy-Hall's petition HERE

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Less of the bad language, please!

Fed up of reading council-speak documents, full of words that seem to mean nothing at all? Read my Daily Mail blog about it HERE

And send me your 'top-ten' awful politi-speak words and phrases...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Westbury Park Community Fair

There are summer fetes and fairs everywhere at the moment. I love things like that ( which I suppose is a good thing, being a candidate) - and I invariably leave with a bag of stuff I had told myself I wouldn't buy: odds and ends and usually crockery from bric-a-brac stalls and the inevitable home-made cake.

I particularly like the idea of a street-fair, like Westbury Park's fair which was held yesterday. It was absolutely packed, the entertainment -which included what my mum would call a 'good old-fashioned' punch and judy show- was superbly organised and by the looks of things, a healthy amount of money was raised. In fact, I wonder how much money has been raised in total fetes like this across Bristol this year?

I like fairs like this because they always show how much community spirit really is out there, beneath the headlines of recession, an atomised society and family breakdown. And there's something very sturdy about this tradition: I hope and suspect that for many a year to come, regardless of headlines, there will be events like this, with bric-a-brac and cake stalls we just can't resist.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Giving the public the real say on the future of Shire's green spaces

Last night I was at a meeting discussing the future of Shirehampton's Daisy Field and part of the Lamplighters land under the Council's Parks and Green Spaces Strategy. That's the strategy whereby areas of land are identified as 'low value', sold off for housing, in order to enhance remaining areas.

The hoards of people pictured here, however, are not the meeting. They are members of the public who were unable to get into the meeting - and to whom an unfortunate council officer gave an impromptu talk and took questions.

For a full version of what happened, read my Daily Mail blog HERE

But in short the whole thing has ignited great public anger -

1. Because asking the people of Shirehampton to sell off the green space they have left in order to 'enhance' the rest with things like sports facilities and a swimming pool, when there is the scar of the demolished old pool, and the mausoleum of the derelict Robin Cousins centre down the road seems to many absurd to the point of being insulting.

2. Trying to alleviate the public's concern about democratic procedure by asking the public to wait until the formal public consultation to put forward their views does not help: People in Shirehampton have objected in the strongest possible terms to so many decisions about their community to apparently no avail, that , as one lady put it, people wonder "What kind of public objection would it take to change decisions under consultation?"

3. In all the opinion gaining exercises the Council is conducting as to what people in Shirehampton want done with their green space, the overwhelming and simple answer is "Please, please just leave it alone! but reopen our closed facilities and maintain our land better". That's the answer. But it doesn't seem to be sinking in...

If you feel strongly about this issue, you can sign a petition online against the designation of The Daisy Field and Lamplighters land as 'low value' by clicking HERE.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Henleaze Fair success - and over £100 raised for new Youth Group

I don't often sit down to get my nails painted, but when all proceeds are going toward the new Henleaze Youth group, set up by Henleaze mum Liz Radford ( pictured in the white t-shirt) , and the nail painters were local young people, well, how could I refuse?

They were amongst the many groups, charities and local crafts-people who had a stall at St. Peter's Church community fair in Henleaze, which I opened at the weekend. The fair raised funds for the church and continuing activities in the community, as well as for a variety of local and third-world charities.

It was particluarly good to see young people taking the initiative and raising money for their own venture. There was a water-tattoo stall run by some very young helpers as well as the nail-painting. The stalls raised over £100 in a matter of hours, and provided many happy customers with some very exotic nails indeed.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Please sponsor me and support St.Peter's Hospice

I've been putting it off and putting it off, since training has been going so diabolically. But I've finally bitten the bullet and committed myself to running the Bristol Half Marathon for St. Peter's Hospice.

The work that St.Peter's does really cannot be over-estimated. They provide support and care not only for those at the end of their lives, but also their families. And in fact, the network of loyal support that St. Peter's has forged through its work is a bit like a family itself.

But St. Peter's needs donations like yours to keep going with its work. So please, even if it's just a tiny amount, please do sponsor me in running the Bristol Half Marathon 2009 for St. Peter's Hospice. Thank you.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

June Thunder and good language

I've just been inching through a particularly dull report. It's full of what I call 'council-speak' - the kind of stuff that is a language all of its own, and leaves you wondering what on earth it actually means - if it means much at all. And leaves you thinking that the same thing could have been said in about 3 pages, instead of 53. And then I thought of this poem, partly because of the month and the weather, but I thought I would post it up as an example of language used well: Saying an awful lot in really not that many words. The photo is one I took when I was out canvassing in Horfield.

June Thunder

Louis Macneice

The Junes were free and full, driving through tiny
Roads, the mudguards brushing the cowparsley,
Through fields of mustard and under boldly embattled
Mays and chestnuts

Or between beeches verdurous and voluptuous
Or where broom and gorse beflagged the chalkland--
All the flare and gusto of the unenduring
Joys of a season

Now returned but I note as more appropriate
To the maturer mood impending thunder
With an indigo sky and the garden hushed except for
The treetops moving.

Then the curtains in my room blow suddenly inward,
The shrubbery rustles, birds fly heavily homeward,
The white flowers fade to nothing on the trees and rain comes
Down like a dropscene.

Now there comes catharsis, the cleansing downpour
Breaking the blossoms of our overdated fancies
Our old sentimentality and whimsicality
Loves of the morning.

Blackness at half-past eight, the night's precursor,
Clouds like falling masonry and lightning's lavish
Annunciation, the sword of the mad archangel
Flashed from the scabbard.

If only you would come and dare the crystal
Rampart of the rain and the bottomless moat of thunder,
If only now you would come I should be happy
Now if now only.

Local Bristol Girl writes and performs play

I've just come back from watching a rehearsal of a play written by local girl Rae Piper ( That's Rae, in the hoop.)

The play is called "A Sense of Shakespeare" and in fact, it is so good that I assumed it was written by some very well known playwright or something. Until Rae let on it was her.

I'm not going to let on much more about the play except to say it is not Shakespeare as you've seen it before, it is superbly acted ( if the rehearsal I went to is anything to go by), involves some extraordinary acrobatics ( see above) and some very catchy songs and dynamic dance routines. I'm cussing myself for not having the presence of mind to take a video on my digi-camera. But... I guess that means you'll just have to go along and see for yourself!

It's on at : Circomedia, St. Pauls Church, Portland Square, Bristol BS2 8SJ

24th, 25th 26th June - that's THIS Wednesday, Thursday , Friday

Tickets cost a bargain £9, £6 Concessions,
you can get them by calling the box office: 0117 922 3686
Or online at

I've got one thing to say about this play - GO AND SEE IT!

Rae Piper and the cast, and me.

Friday, 19 June 2009

If policy is out of touch, should Ministers do work experience?

It's not only the expenses row that shows how distant Westminster politics has become from normal life ( although it's a pretty strong example) - it's also the amount of legislation made that bears so little relation to the real problems and how things actually work.

So should Ministers with portfolios of responsiblity have to do work experience?
Read my Daily Mail blog on it HERE.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Academy conference in Bristol

--I spent this morning at an academy conference, organised by the Merchant Venturers ( who sponsor two very different academies- the Merchants Academy at the old, seriously challenged Withywood School, and Colstons Girls school, an independent becoming an academy.)

Bristol's education situation ( i.e. not good) has meant that it has been a focus for the academy programme, and the city now has 8 academies up and running. Huge amounts of energy, effort, innovation and talent have gone into determining that these academies are a success. I've so far visited the City Academy , Bristol, Merchants Academy, and new Colstons Girls academy and have already blogged about the opening of Brightstowe academy. The thing all these schools have in common is a determination from the sponsors and the heads to make things work, regardless of what has gone before.

Shadow Schools Minister, Nick Gibb (in the middle of me and Trevor Smallwood, the master of the Merchant Venturers) came down to talk about Conservative policy towards academies, to give the sponsors some idea of what they might expect under a Conservative Government. Nick described some of the ways a Conservative Government would halt the erosion of the academy concept by the Brownites ( who always hated Tony Blair's reforms) and return academies to the original model -(which was an idea based on Conservatives' City Technology Colleges) as well as allow primary schools to become academies. Sponsors gave feedback and, most valuably , their perspective on what makes a good school, and what politicians can do to support their efforts.

It was a fascinating day. I have often felt that one of the problems with politics is that policy makers often don't get enough input from the real world, people who live and work in eg. education; and that too much policy is made on bureaucratic theory. Today was a feast of information, experience and expertise for anyone thinking about the future of education - of the city and of the nation.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Resurrection for Shire's Tithe Barn

It's become a familiar story: Despite local protest, historic sites of enormous local interest get sold off to become yet more blocks of flats. The property developers move in, and gone is a unique heart of a local community - forever.

So it really is a burst of fresh-air when an historic community facility gets bought - not by property developers, but by a community group who want to pump new life back into it, for the community.

That's exactly what's happened with Shire's Tithe Barn. It has been bought from Bristol Charities by the PCC of St.Mary's Church, Shirehampton.

The Barn was opened for the first time in ages, to hold an open day for local people to come in and have an input into how they would like to see The Tithe Barn renovated and put to use.

I escaped from some arduous pre-local election leaflet delivery to have a look round and to have a chat with the dynamic Rev. Canon Christine Froude, vicar of St. Mary's church. She is hoping that the barn will be used to host a variety of community outreach initiatives, including social events, clubs, advice services and counselling, as well as additional church services for the ever growing congregation of St.Mary's.

Good luck - It will be a refreshing to have new additional facilities coming into Shirehampton, instead of watching yet more get stripped away.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Read my Daily Telegraph article on MPs Expenses

The Daily Telegraph rang up and asked what I felt about the expenses fiasco as a prospective MP. You can read what I wrote about it HERE

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Leukemia Research Charity Football Match

We couldn't have asked for better weather for the charity football match for Leukemia Research, on Sunday at the Port of Bristol Sports and Social Club. The event was organised largely thanks to Liz and Phil Radford and their dedicated team of helpers and was a huge success. Matches took place throughout the day , with the winning team playing an all-star cast of celebrity footballers, including our very own Geoff Twentyman.

But it wasn't all about football. There were refreshments (including superb home-made curry) and the stall was so busy that I was drafted in to help out. Though I'm not sure that 'help' is what the organisers might have called it...

We are still waiting to hear how much we raised, but a huge congratulations to everyone who made it such an enjoyable, and successful day.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Help support David from Brentry in the Special Olympics

I was tipped off by Rose, who seems to know just about everything that's going on in Henbury, to go into the flower shop on Crow Lane and talk to the lady in there whose son has autism and plays judo with the KoDachi Special Needs Judo Club in Southvill.

So I did. It turns out that David Woodland ( pictured, middle, ) has autism has been offered a place at the Special Olympics. It's a huge achievement and fantastic news - except for one thing: As anyone who has done international sporting competition knows, it can cost. And David and his family really need help to cover the costs of all the kit, travel and accommodation of the Special Olympics GB, in July, and in the international competitions David has to attend in leading up to it. They told me they'll have to raise around £800-£1000. They've already given up holidays, luxuries and going out to support David, and David has done a sponsored judo-throw to raise funds.

But there's still a long way to go. If you'd like to sponsor David, either get in touch with me, ( or the KoDachi Special Needs Judo Club secretary Helen Goodchild on 01275 874547. Or alternatively, go into the flower shop on Crow Lane to find out more...

Sunday, 26 April 2009

For England...

The church service celebrating St. George's day was well guarded on Sunday. I'd arrived a bit late and had intended to sneak in un-noticed at the back. But the Knights in Shining Armour were having none of it.

The service was superb. I don't think I could ever get sick of singing 'Jerusalem', although sadly it seldom gets sung in your normal church service. But today, we had license to belt it out patriotically to the rafters.

Then the Knights led us off to a St. George's Day lunch. The whole thing was organised by the Bristol Branch of the Royal Society of St. George.

Organisations like The Royal Society of St. George are incredibly important. Not only to keep the identity, heritage and spirit of our nation thriving, but to articulate the patriotism that many feel about our great nation in the open-minded, tolerant manner befitting of England and St. George.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Informal surgery at Henbury is a recipe for success

Today Chris Windows, the council candidate for Henbury, and I held an informal surgery at Emmanuel Chapel, Henbury.

The aim was to meet local people and listen to their concerns and have a general chat about the area, without the formality or pressure of a 'surgery'.

It worked very well. Thanks, no doubt, in part to Rose's exceptional cakes. (Rose is the one wielding the large knife. She may make a mean cake, but don't mess!) I'd like to think people came to meet me and Chris Windows. But with refreshments like that, it's hard to be sure...

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Bangers and Lawrence Weston Community Farm

I'm tucking into these little beauties tonight. Honey and mustard sausages from Lawrence Weston Community Farm. It's good to know that the livestock for these sausages have had good, healthy lives with freedom to roam locally. The Farm run a meat club - produce from the farm. It's limited, so early ordering advised!

And this is what they turned into... The reason the mash is a bit green is not because I am a really appalling cook, but because there are leeks and onions and a bit of old left over cheddar in there. Proper job.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Football is more than just a game

I went up to London for the day yesterday to visit The Football Foundation and The Premier League, to see if they can offer any help to Shirehampton Football Club. Here's me, slightly overwhelmed, with the English Premiership Cup.

Apart from the high-light of seeing the cup, we had an interesting meeting. As expected, there's a lot more work to do to see how they can best help. But while I was there, Alistair Bennett from the Football Foundation ( left) and Dan Johnson from the Premier League ( right) told me about some of the social inclusion work that they do through football.

It's all really simple. If young people are doing something they can engage with and become good at, it changes every aspect of their lives. They told me about one of their boys who was a young offender. He got into football, now earns money coaching his local club and goes back to his old estate as a powerful role model for boys and girls growing up as he did.

I sometimes worry that as the credit crunch bites, schemes like this that use sport ( or music, or drama or anything like that ) will get sidelined. That would be a very false economy. It costs thousands to keep a young offender locked up, and in their lifetime they will cost society hundreds of thousands through lost potential earnings and episodes with the criminal justice system. Social inclusion through sport is not a fun optional-extra. It really works. And as we tighten our purse strings for the future, it makes more sense than ever before.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Henbury Crime Public Meeting

I had become sickened and frustrated by the apparently huge discrepancy between what was officially the state of youth crime in Henbury, and what people actually living in Henbury were telling me.

I'd spoken to Charlie Barron, who's resigning from Henbury Football Club because he is simply tired out of coming to the club to find it vandalised again. I'd spoken to people who'd had kids taking drugs in their back garden who were too afraid to do anything. I've been trying to help vulnerable residents get rehoused because they are bullied to the point they are prisoners in their own homes...

Against that back-drop, I'm afraid I find it hard to believe that home-secretary Jacqui Smith had fully understood what people are going through when she came to Henbury, trailed by the local Labour party, last Autumn to say how great everything was.

I know people are working hard - I work with them where I can. I know lots of good stuff is being done - but that does not mean that the views and experiences of people living in Henbury can simply be white-washed over with statistics, initiatives, Ministerial visits, and official reassurances that Henbury is an 'inspirational example' ( as Jacqui Smith said.)

That's one reason why I called a public meeting - to get out in the open what is really going on. The other reason was to pool all the suggestions and comments together to come up with a plan of action.

When I asked the audience how many of them thought the underlying causes of the problem was that discipline seems to have become a dirty word; police don't have the powers they need, but all the paperwork they don't need; and that human-rights legislation has been absurdly abused to place the welfare of the criminal about that of the victim, nearly everyone raised their hand. But changing that culture and in places the law, is a job for government. In the meantime, there are things we can do:

1. Get the Youth Centre reopened, every night, offering diverse and exciting activities. Ensure that local young people are responsible for decorating and building the centre, so they feel they own it.
2. Press for more police, out on the streets more - not just around Crow Lane, but around other trouble spots as well.
3. Really clamp down hard on alcohol outlets that sell drink to underage kids.
4. Whatever happened to real zero-tolerance? We need it back.

And we haven't got time for all this to be done through a cloud of initiatives and a jungle of agencies and a confusion of a proliferation of partnerships. It needs to be done swiftly and decisively.

Something that's often forgotten in all this, is that it is a minority of young people who give a bad name to all the rest. Two young people from Henbury school - Amy Hillier and Joel Bowd, spoke to the meeting about how fed up they were with a minority wrecking everything for the majority, and how many young people are as afraid of the antisocial behaviour as the adults. It's worth remembering that although a minority of young people are the problem, the majority can be part of the solution.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Bristol's transport challenges taken to Shadow Minister

A few weeks ago, I contacted Stephen Hammond, the Shadow Minister for rail , and asked him to come down and have a look at the success of the more frequent Severn Beach line service - and told him all about our campaign to get Henbury Station and the Henbury Loop line open.

So here we all are, Stephen Hammond MP,with Avonmouth Council Candidate Siobhan Kennedy-Hall, Bernard Lane, Julie Boston, me, Rob Dixon ( members of FOSBR ) outside Angels Transport Cafe, at Avonmouth Station, having enjoyed a proper fry-up. (well, one of us.)

Stephen traveled up to Temple Meads on the line, and in discussion assured us that a Conservative Government would put a moratorium on the sale of railway land - so that the sale of the Henbury station site would be prohibited. Too late for Henbury. But it was good to hear Stephen so supportive of getting local rail services up and running again. The campaign goes on...

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Almost the final installment?

You're not going to be given the chance to get bored of seeing pictures of the ever-developing new Avonmouth National Smelting Boxing Club... because it's almost done.

Ash Bearman, from the superb community group SCAF, Garry Cave the coach and I are standing in the almost-completed new gym. It's got a training ring, punch bags and weights equiptment all installed. All that's needed now is a few finishing touches here and there, some mirrors so the space can be used for other activities like dance and aerobics - and it will be done.

Worth bearing in mind: In the time it's taken for Garry to fundraise and build an entire brand new gym from scratch ... despite all the campaigning, the Government quango The Highways Agency and Bristol City Council STILL haven't come to an agreement on opening the Robin Cousins Centre...