Friday, 31 August 2018

The way I work: Luke Agnew

The way I work: Luke Agnew 
Big Issue North 27 Aug - 2 Sept 
The grounds maintenance supervisor at a Wirral cemetery on tending graves, helping people find their way around them – and encouraging life in the shadow of death. Interview: Mark Metcalf. 

As a landscape gardener who started as an apprentice golf course greenkeeper for Wirral Borough Council in 2002 I was unhappy when I applied for a council supervisor job and they offered me one at a municipal cemetery. 
I did not fancy burying people. But I spoke to people working here and realised that Flaybrick Memorial Gardens in Birkenhead has a rich history and is a nice place. So I accepted and over two years later I love where I work and the job, which is extremely varied with lots of interaction with the public. 
When it opened in 1864 it was named Birkenhead Cemetery. It had three separate denominational chapels. The Roman Catholic chapel had to be demolished in 1971 and the other two chapels are for non-conformists and the Church of England. There is renovation work taking place to make the two chapels safe for the public to visit. 
The cemetery, which was given its current name in 1975, is 30 acres in size and contains the remains of 100,000 people in 10,000 graves. 
There are 219 Commonwealth personnel war graves from both world wars. We have a military support group that every weekend tends to these graves and we try to support and interlink our own work with them. We do the same with other volunteer groups. The biggest is the Friends Group. 
I supervise two co-workers and we try to make sure that the grass is cut regularly, especially in the summer. We want visitors who come looking for a particular grave to find it and read any headstones. We aim to cut five acres each a week. My working week is 36 hours long. I work Monday to Friday, when I finish at lunchtime. 
Local landscape architect Edward Kemp was the curator of Birkenhead Park when he won a competition to design the cemetery. Kemp is buried here and his grave and headstone are one of many that are in a healthy state. They include famous people who are buried here. I am doing my best to find out more about them. There are also some infamous murderers. 
But many graves aren’t in great condition. Some have not had visitors for years. We also suffer from antisocial behaviour and one night three young people shoved over 300 headstones. Each grave was sold decades ago in perpetuity and ownership passes to the descendants. That means we cannot legally remount the headstones. What we are allowed to do – using a machine, as many weigh more than a quarter of a ton – is to put them back on the grave face upwards.
We also lie down any headstones that are wobbling and may fall down. 
Kemp wrote his first book, How to Lay Out A Small Garden, in 1850 and he designed lots of gardens. You can still buy his books. I am reading one because we are trying to keep as near as possible to his original garden and decorative gothic chapel designs. 
At Flaybrick, Kemp employed an army of young labourers to dig and chip out what was an old quarry. It took over a decade. Sand and a small bit of top soil were used to fill in the 15 foot deep holes. As each generation died the graves were opened up and coffins placed on top. Six coffins per grave were allowed. 
There are now no new plots for sale but we have about 50 families who own plots and we have 20-25 burials each year. 
Until two years ago we used a shovel. It was hard work because a grave may not have been opened for decades. The sand compacts and it becomes like digging through stone. We now use a machine, which makes it easier, but it is unpleasant. 
We know how many people are in a grave. Each coffin is around two feet deep. If there are five coffins it means that at around four feet below the surface we can expect things to happen. The first sign we have reached our destination is when you get little water bubbles. Then there is a very distinct, indescribable smell, which you never get used to. 
The cemetery was designated as a conservation area in 1990 and five years later an arboretum, a botanical collection of trees, was created. We are following Kemp’s plans in that we are also celebrating life and it is wonderful to be able to listen to the birds singing and see the trees. All animals are welcome and we encourage the growth of flowers. These attract insects, which attract grubs, which attract birds.
We encourage the banks, which are hard to mow, to become wildlife sanctuaries. It appears to be working as the strips we have left undisturbed have become acid grassland, which is quite rare. 
The trees are beautiful. Twelve are recorded as significantly important to the British Isles. Trees shed many leaves in the winter. We are continuously clearing them from the paths as we have a lot of elderly visitors. We have to look out for damaged trees. If a branch has broken then John Collins, a grounds maintenance man with specialist tree knowledge, will remove it. 
Making sure the cemetery is safe for our many visitors is one of my major tasks. We are often approached to find a specific grave. We have the specialist knowledge to do so and we can also consult the central records office in the borough. People are delighted when they finally get to see the grave of someone they have been searching for over a long time period. 
Recently a woman asked about finding the grave of her dead baby. She had lost the child when she was a young woman and the family who she had married into had taken over the burial arrangements. She lost a number of infants who were born with terminal diseases. She had visited the cemetery gates regularly but it had taken her over a decade to summon up the courage to enter. 
When me and my colleague Trevor Clark found the grave she hugged and kissed us and tears streamed down her face. It was very emotional. It was very sad but I was happy to have helped. 
There are other parts to my job, like buying tools, making sure the machines we use are properly maintained and going to the monthly steering group that gives direction to our work. It now has a representative from Historic England on it. 
In a few weeks time a new ranger will start work here. We have lots of ideas so I’m looking forward to working with him. I am enjoying my job.

Saturday, 18 August 2018


Boris Johnson is not that daft, he knows his history and that racism and flirting with fascism wins elections.

Book review from 2014.

Published by Cambridge University Press

Enoch Powell was one of the most influential and divisive political figures of the post-war period in which Britain was forced to withdraw from its Empire and become a junior partner to the USA. Best known for his explosive rhetoric against black immigration, Powell was loved by many of his political generation. Camilla Schofield analyses why in this highly informative book.

1) What is the book’s theme?

It is ‘biography meets social history’. It tracks Enoch Powell’s political ideas from the 1930s onwards. It seeks to understand Powell’s popular appeal by analysing some of the thousands of letters he received in the years after the ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. The letters are packed with popular racism. But they also reveal working people facing dramatic social and political changes, due to housing shortages, economic uncertainty and imperial decline.

2) Why did Powell hate the US?

This is key to Powell’s understanding of international relations and his strident US criticism meant he was sometimes accused of being a Soviet spy! He attacked ‘Cold War’ America for simply dividing the world into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. In contrast, he felt the British Empire, at its best, respected the diversity and uniqueness of different peoples. American imperialism was, therefore, far more threatening to national cultures. He read post-war internationalism—like the United Nations and human rights law—as new forms of empire that profoundly threatened national sovereignty and political survival.

3) Why did Powell suggest Britons read the histories written in the two generations before 1880?

He felt an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ could be found in those years, which had been dampened by postwar economic controls. More importantly, in 1965, amidst talk of British decline, he insisted Britain must put the ‘imperial episode in parenthesis’. Preoccupation with the history of empire just doomed British national culture to a state of decline.

4) What motivated Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in which black immigrants wrongly became transformed into hostile invaders?

Its immediate cause was the 1968 Race Relations Act, which made it a civil offence for private businesses, like pubs or boarding houses, to refuse to serve individuals because of their ethnic background. At the time, Sikh bus- drivers in Powell’s town of Wolverhampton were demonstrating for the right to wear a turban and beard to work. Powell viewed this as a threatening example of ‘communalism’ that would be strengthened by the Act’s legal protection of minorities.

Additionally, two weeks prior to the speech, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. African-American protest and unrest was at its height at that time. In 1967, Powell had travelled to the US soon after Detroit witnessed one of the deadliest riots in US history. This cast a shadow on Powell’s understanding of race in Britain and contributed to his apocalyptic visions.

5) How was Powell’s supporters’ concept of the welfare state reinforced by a belief in upper class obligation?
Britain remained a class-bound society in 1968. We see among Powell’s supporters a respect for tradition, social deference and—partially—an acceptance of the ‘natural’ rule of the upper classes. Clearly any community’s understanding of government power—or state legitimacy— comes from a vast array of beliefs and traditions. Among Powell’s generation, understandings of the welfare state contained a complex, contradictory mix of beliefs. Welfare services could represent the expansion of social rights and egalitarian principles, but could also be seen as part of a traditional, charitable relationship between social classes.

6) Did Powell’s ‘enemies within’ speech - in which he attacked ‘organised disorder’ by students and union militants, the liberal media and clergy - assist the Tories to win the 1970 General Election?

Powell thought so—and those who have studied the election have tended to agree. There were major swings to the Conservative party in areas that showed support for Powell’s views. This is when he clearly articulated an anti-liberal populism. Right before Margaret Thatcher’s 1978 statement that Britons feared being ‘swamped’ by newcomers, she had been reading a book that argued that it was Powell who had won the 1970 General Election.

7) How did Powell help make the electorate more receptive to Thatcher’s radical politics?

Powell’s apocalyptic visions of racial violence profoundly contributed to fears of revolution in the 1970s and to the notion that Britain’s very existence as a nation was threatened. According to Powell, the liberal ‘enemies’ of the nation were everywhere—on television, in the Church, in the unions, and even within the Home Office. These liberal enemies had, among other things,
failed to protect working people from the ‘unarmed invasion’ of black immigration. Like Powell, Thatcher adopted the argument that the liberal establishment had grown too powerful and could not be trusted. With all this, Powell offered a holistic way of seeing the unrest and economic uncertainty of the 1970s—and called for radical political solutions.

Bradford Park Avenue 1 Stockport County 1

The home side earned a deserved draw against the team tipped by the bookies to finish top of the National League North, English football's sixth tier. 

Sadly, the reputation of some Stockport fans meant the crowd was segregated with decent Avenue and County fans unable to sit or stand next to one another and enjoy the craic. 

The away fans did include some idiots and the stewards faced a difficult afternoon and needed to throw out a number of County fans, some of whom invaded the pitch when their side took the lead late in the second period. At this point it was a deserved lead and the goal by Matty Warburton was a real belter of a shot from a good 25 yards out. 

County, for whom Warburton missed a first half penalty, harshly awarded I felt, then sat back. As a small number of police officers turned up to make sure everyone behaved themselves, Avenue fashioned a number of chances in the final 15 minutes of time that was played. The equaliser was a beauty with substitute Adam Nowakowski volleying home a superb cross by Beesley. 

Some photos of a game that failed to sparkle in the first period but was much better to watch in the second.

Steven Drench saves Matty Warburton's first half penalty

No Standing please!

The home side needed to employ additional stewards
because of the poor reputation of Stockport fans, some of whom did fail to behave themselves.

Avenue players congratulate scorer Adam Nowakowski on his late equaliser 

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Community rebuilds Grimsby

Apprentices trained to renovate local housing 
Project aims to create quality jobs and homes 

A retired businessman who began work as a teacher in the late 1960s on Grimsby’s East Marsh has joined with a local residents group to try to create long-term, well-paid skilled jobs that will revitalise the local economy and community pride. 
After a 20 year education career, Peter Rowley established his own manufacturing company, employing 40 people. 
Throughout his working life, Rowley, who sold his business seven years ago, warned that a lack of investment in skills training was damaging Britain’s industrial base, leading to a long term decline in manufacturing. 
Working-class pride 
Now he has linked up with local community group East Marsh United (EMU) to set up a construction training centre, offering apprenticeships to local people who will also refurbish and build much needed housing. 
Rowley witnessed the collapse of Grimsby’s fishing industry. Scotsman Bruce Forbes, an East Marsh resident of 42 years, first went to sea in 1970. “The pay rates were never good but jobs were plentiful,” said Forbes. “That helped breed a working-class community that prided itself on being self-sufficient and supportive of each other. The death of the fishing industry created high levels
of unemployment, crime, antisocial behaviour and drug use.” 
Late last year, Rowley published Class Work, a book examining an economy “on a roller-coaster as seen through the eyes of Grimsby school leavers from the 1970s to the present”. Their life experiences are mirrored in many northern towns. 
In the book Rowley interviewed Tony McLernon, a former pupil who became a training provider, lately with North East Lincolnshire Council. McLernon admitted: “Looking at Grimsby today it is hard not to be negative.” 
"Out of control" 
This downbeat assessment was being mirrored in the summer of 2017 on the boarded-up East Marsh streets, where, according to resident Billy Dasein, a former teacher, things were "out of control. Residents feared leaving their homes because of antisocial behaviour and drug dealing.” 
EMU was then formed with the backing of Canon John Ellis, an inspirational character who has run the local Shalom Youth Centre next to his church since 1971. 
Ellis outlined his experiences in Chicago at the Lawndale Community Church, where residents transformed their rundown area by purchasing houses and transforming them using construction teams they had trained. Newly moved-in couples completed the indoor decorations. 
Dasein, who joined EMU, said: “People want decent homes, employment and interesting things to do. It is hard getting motivated when you see a rundown neighbourhood. We first cleared up the litter. Flower baskets were hung up. Children now help water them. We have developed relationships with the council and police. 
“When Peter and Tony joined EMU, which has around 20 activists, our horizons expanded. We are conducting a Community Asset Transfer from the council of all of the abandoned Edwardian Holme Hill school. This will house a construction training centre and multi-skilled apprenticeships can
be created, all EMU-employed.” 
Rowley, who describes himself as a socialist, added: “We have secured £200k of funding to deliver a community housing project. We will buy two houses and refurbish them using an initial group of six apprentices.
We will then leverage in additional funds in order to complete a further 40 houses and complete our recruitment of the full apprenticeship cohort of 18.” 
EMU has partnered with Doorstep, a charity that acts as a social and ethical landlord to house young people and deliver support. It has given EMU the maintenance contract on all its East Marsh property portfolio. All the refurbished properties will be rented out. The aim is to provide a real alternative to the absentee landlords who are all too prevalent in the area. 
“In addition we are linking with a Hull-based national charity which specialises in providing workspace for young people in business start-ups and routes into self-employment,” said Rowley. “They wish to rent space from us. We have bid for some very significant projects. 

“Tony is a lifelong friend whose training sector knowledge is vital. I have always had a big feeling for this area and want to aid what was once a fantastic community. This is a 20-year rebuilding project to provide training that should lead to permanent jobs. In turn this will revitalise the East Marsh.” 

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Jojn the family and friends of Frank Swift and Jimmy Armfield at the plaque unveiling on 6 September

Doubts over Northern Forest

Doubts over Northern Forest 
Public money forms small part of project 
Environmental campaigners have cast doubts on the feasibility of government plans to create a Northern Forest, with up to 50 million new trees stretching from Hull to Liverpool. Tree cover around major cities would be expected to grow from eight to 17 per cent. 
The announcement by environment secretary Michael Gove in January came after just 1,000 hectares of trees were planted in England last year – the smallest figure for many years. Critics have also highlighted how the current HS2 high-speed rail link will decimate 97 ancient woodlands, including 35 north of Birmingham. Sceptics also say a similar new forest announcement in the 1990s has produced only mixed results. 
The 25-year Northern Forest project is expected to cost £500 million. The government has promised to provide just £5.7 million, with the rest to be raised by charity. Management of the project will lie with the Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust. 
Unused land for planting 
Local tree planting groups are engaged with the Woodland Trust on drawing up its final plans, including how to unlock further funding, a Woodland Trust spokesperson said. 
Under the proposals existing community forests such as the White Rose Forest and South Yorkshire Forest will be linked together by getting landowners within the schemes’ boundaries to give over unused land for planting. The Northern Forest will be a mix of native broadleaves, such as oaks, plus coniferous species such as spruce and pine. Landowners will be required to undertake the long-term maintenance of the trees. 
Roly Smith from the Peak District, an environmental campaigner and writer, said there are “far too many questions that need answering before the Northern Forest can be taken seriously” and pointed out that the National Forest in the Midlands has only just over half of its planned 13,500 hectares planted since being announced in 1995. 
“They intended joining up patchy woodlands but that hasn’t happened,” he said. 
Kate Dewey, planning officer from the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, added that much of the tree planting in the National Forest “is not particularly amazing for wildlife”. Planting trees in itself is not sufficient, she said. “The trees in a Northern Forest need to be part of new projects that create new meadows and habitats. That requires long-term management and landowners will be unsure of getting involved if it costs them money. Public money of £5.7 million is not much.” 
Dewey warned against clearing existing ancient forests for HS2. “Many species such as barn owls and great crested newts will be damaged,” she said. “We are trying to get planners to consider some route diversions to reduce the environmental impacts.” 
Sheffield Wildlife Trust has also spoken out against HS2, expressing concerns that the loss of ancient woodlands and “their soils, wildlife and historical meaning cannot be compensated for by mitigation techniques”. 
Fewer trees being planted 
Smith urged the Woodland Trust to make clear how it intended to take forward the government proposals for the Northern Forest. “I hope it is not a case of there being a big announcement to take attention away from the fact that fewer trees than ever are being planted nationally, whilst ancient trees are also set to be sliced down,” he said. 
A Woodland Trust spokesperson said: “Once we have more information we will let people know. We believe we have the knowhow to make the Northern Forest a success, but it will rely on many different stakeholders. 
“The Northern Forest will be established across all sorts of different landholdings. Paying for projects is usually the hardest thing. A business plan is being drawn up. Sources will undoubtedly include direct tree planting funding, agri-forestry schemes, farming support payments, development levy payments, major donations and philanthropy, corporate sponsorship and individual donations.” 

30 July - 5 August Big Issue North 

Jobs, apprenticeships and an industrial strategy to revive former industrial heartlands - public meeting

Weymouth Unite bus workers back RMT strikers