Friday, 10 March 2017

'A fortnight ago things changed...'

A summer meet of the Friends of Black Patch Park outside the Soho Foundry Tavern
.... for Black Patch Park and its friends. It was not as if The Friends haven't left a lobbying trail since we founded ourselves 13 years ago. But last year - 16th March 2016 - we met the late Darren Cooper when he was the Leader of Sandwell MBC. Unofficially he assured us that things must change. We had prepared a draft report on the case for bringing back housing along the edges of the Black Patch, arguing that only by having people who opened their windows and doors onto the park was there a hope of restoring and maintaining it.
In the meantime the park became more and more ravaged by fly-tipping - with the worst we'd ever seen hitting even the national press at the end of February. Given the amplifying repetitiousness of these problems I didn't hold out much hope for the meeting we'd sought with the new Leader of the Council several weeks earlier. Phil Crumpton and I had sat in the middle of a wrecked space venting - feeling our hopes were futile, wasted.
Three years ago we'd designed a visitor's trail for the Black Patch - 'striving to renew a place' 
In February last year we'd written about 'bringing people back to the Black Patch'
Leader's Office - Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council 23 Feb 2017
L-R Simon B, Andrew Simon, Phil Crumpton (FoBPP), Cllr Richard Marshall, Cabinet member for Leisure, Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell MBC, Ajman Ali, Interim Director, Neighbourhood Strategy, Sandwell, 
Ash Barker and Harjinder Jheet (FoBPP)  (photo: Max Cookson, Transport & Waste Operations Manager)

At the meeting between Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell MBC and the Friends of Black Patch Park on 23 Feb 2017, Cllr Eling said he was impressed at the comprehensiveness of the report that the Friends had produced, recommending that people be brought back to Black Patch Park as the only solution to its neglect and blighting. His Cabinet had walked around the park a few weeks earlier. He had followed our case. He agreed with our plan and its arguments for rezoning the area for new housing around the park and beyond. This, the Leader agreed, was the only way to resolve what he described as the ‘conundrum of the Black Patch’ - a problem created by a prolonged series of failed piece-meal measures; in particular, a repetitive cycle of forced illegal entry, consequent trashing, expensive clearance, inadequate boundary securing and monitoring. “Black Patch” he declared “has been historically disadvantaged by its lack of connectivity. But there’s a new connectivity which changes the fortunes of the Black Patch”. There would be no solution to the ‘Black Patch conundrum’ without a restorative strategy for this part of the Borough.
- Such a strategy must not be implemented piecemeal, since piecemeal actions have brought about the notorious problems of the Black Patch,
- The strategy must reconfigure ‘a new space’ that visibly and physically breaks out of the ‘isolation’ of the park created by transport and former industrial infrastructure – such as railway embankments and the ‘tunnel’ of Queenshead bridge,
- This new space is an answer to the challenge of how to create a sustainable community in the area; bringing new tenants and residents in affordable housing, not only to the borders of the park, but to a wider area, via additional housing along a new hub-walkway linking Black Patch to the Metro station on Handsworth New Road and the neighbourhood of Birmingham’s Soho district.
Note: These are the views of the FoBPP following their meeting at Sandwell Council offices but I received this email y'day:
'Good Afternoon Simon. Both the Leader, Cllr Steve Eling and Cabinet Member for Leisure, Cllr Richard Marshall have agreed that your draft notes are an acceptable account of the meeting and are happy for them to be in the public domain. If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me. Many Thanks, Jane Perham, PA to The Leader'
The Friends of Black Patch Park - "We can't go on meeting like this!"
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Last May I got an email from Gill, the apiarist, who keeps bees on Plot 14.
I now have a nucleus colony which can go to your allotment. They are Buckfast bees, specially bred to be both docile and prolific.
So they were - a source of quiet satisfaction through the seasons, a presence on the plot, peered at carefully now and then; seen individually in flowers on the allotment and beyond. Sometimes I imagined them before I went to sleep.

In September 2016 we had our first honey off the plot. For winter Gill insulated the hive. This February I emailed her
Dear Gill. Do you have any idea how the colony on Plot 14 has weathered the winter? Last year was such a good surprise.  X Simon 
28th Feb: Simon. Unfortunately, it has not survived. Varroa depleted the colony and the cold weather put paid to the rest. I shall be getting another colony in the spring, though. Gill
Winnie and I wonder if the siting of the hive backing onto the to park fence, next to the plot shed, trees and brambles, confines the bees to a space that holds damp. We wonder about moving it to a different place on the plot - possibly a chamber inside the fruit cage open to the sky - placing any new colony in the centre of the plot. Now looking at the hive what I thought was sleep and winter quiet, is an emptied hive. Oliver has been curious about the malign work of the Varroa mite. We sat in the kitchen and I called up an animated youtube clip...
I guess fear adds to my feelings. I hate this 'thing' whose reproductive cycle parallels the bee's; that east its way into the bee's young, sucks their blood, breeds in their chambers, excretes on them, uses the bees to spread - vampires. It's not the insect that does the harm, but the diseases it carries in its parasitic life. I know that Buddhism could calm me, show how all is part of the great cycle, and even Christianity would strive to teach me that 'they know not what they do'. A test of love. Before he went to sleep - staying our house tonight - I said "Sleep tight, don't..." He completed "...let the Varroa bugs bite". 
Varroa destructor on its honeybee host





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