Unclutter my life. Day Seven. The Bearwood Jumble Trail.

It an attempt to sell some of the things I am unearthing during this unclutter my life process I am taking part in the Bearwood summer Jumble Trail. Think yard sale with lots of people all holding one on the same day in the same neighbourhood.

I am hoping to offload some of the cookery books I sorted through, and have been going throught the last few things that I still have from Mom after sorting through her stuff. The amount of stuff she had was staggering for just one room. And I am sorting through my stuff so my kids don’t have to.

At the moment this is what is going into the jumble.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBrownie badges circa 1989.

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Including the sash.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESEnamel souvenir charms.

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Soft toys.

And a selection of Bionicles, donated by my son. He too has the declutter bug. He has a vested interest in this declutter exercise as when he saw how much stuff Mom had, he realised that one day he may have to go through my stuff. And as a person who is not a hoarder, has enough clothes to last a week and only one pair of shoes, this one collection of stuff was a blip.

Let us hope the sun shines and the people of Bearwood want some decent cookbooks, Bionicles and Brownie Badges.

 

 

 

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The April Shopping Challenge

Following on from my post yesterday, about living on a low budget, here is my spend today. All bought in Aldi. I am going to make toad in the hole, working out at £1.11 per portion including mashed potatoes and vegetables and baked beans. This again takes me over the £1 Live Below the Line budget so I can see that I need to some serious re thinking if I decide to take on that challenge.

 £       0.18 potatoes  £          1.99
broccoli  £          0.49
 £       0.31 baked beans  £          1.25
 £       0.33 Sausages  £          1.99
toothpaste  £          0.69
toilet cleaner  £          0.85
Handwash  £          0.75
 £          8.01

After all the comments about how IDS can live on £53 per week (not if he eats a £39 breakfast, he can’t) I am continuing to track my spending for a month. I am also using ingredients from my store cupboard and discovering what lurks in the freezer, and costing out all meals. At the end of April I should have a pretty good picture as to what it actually costs to feed 3 adults and to keep a house relatively clean. If we eat out, I will also add that to the spend.

And because I rant on all the time about how shopping locally is the only way to keep what is left of our high street alive, I am only using shops withing walking distance of my home. Which means shopping only in Bearwood.

Bearwood is in Smethwick, predominately in the Abbey Ward of Sandwell. It is bordered on three sides by the Harborne Ward in Birmingham. The high street like many others has a number of empty shops.  Arguably, a major contribution to the decline of this particular high street was when Morrisons took over and then closed the Safeway store, in which the post office was located, so we lost a post office as well as a large supermarket. For quite a while the lot stood vacant. Eventually Aldi and Argos took over the space and bit by bit some shoppers returned. Yet shopping habits had changed, a big retail park including a new indoor market and a huge Asda had opened at Cape Hill, and Bearwood really was never the same.

Shopping locally has it challenges due to lack of good independents or a market selling fresh produce. Bearwood has numerous charity shops, a handful of pawnbrokers and betting shops. Poundland wanted the prime space that was occupied by a green grocer and the big boys won so we lost that too. In addition to Aldi, Bearwood has a small Co Op (limited range and quite expensive), a Tesco Express at the other end of the high street and an Iceland. There are 4 butchers, yet not one supplies organic or free range meat.

International Food and Atlantic Grocers are independents that migrants have opened and are gems for ethnic food and some vegetables. Two African/Caribbean shops have also recently opened, again selling items not found in most supermarkets. There are no independent bakers, Firkins has just closed which leaves us Greggs if we want anything approaching fresh bread.

About a year ago I took part in the 4 week Shopping in Bearwood Challenge, an inspired experiment of one of the founding members of The Bearwood Pantry. We were all involved in the Portas Pilot bid and we took part, as an evidence base to find out what the local high street needed and what it already had. It was a useful and interesting experiment that led to the formation of a food cooperative, Bearwood Pantry who source meat and vegetables direct from the farm and handmade bread from Ubuntu. Membership has grown, they have recently received a pot of funding, which is marvelous news. And perhaps this is the future for people who want good quality food and want to avoid the supermarkets.

Through the Portas Pilot bid I got in touch with some of the other towns going through the process, one of which was Warwick and started to follow @WarwickTweetUp on Twitter. This week I discovered that Todd who is @WarwickTweetUp  is carrying out a similar challenge, Todd Buys Local in April. His experience in Warwick will be different to shopping in Bearwood I am sure. Nonetheless an interesting one that I will follow. His is more about what he can source in Warwick and not about how much one spends to live in the UK today. Warwick also seems that have lot of lovely independents and some good coffee shops. And a decent pub.

Coffee shops (and pubs) are a blog subject for another day. However, if you want to trawl back over past posts you will see I have written about coffee shops too. Well once you have had Melbourne coffee, the bar is set high and that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.

The #4amproject

What is the 4 am project?

I first heard of the 4 am project over a year ago. I had started following @karenstrunks on twitter via people I had met at Social Media Surgeries. Karen had been driving home one night at 4 am and it had struck her how different the world looks at that time. The idea for the project was born.

Made in Birmingham

This is now a global project but it all started here in Birmingham in 2008. Social media has enabled us to play a part in building a global picture of the world at 4am.

My involvement

I met with Karen at one of the monthly Social Media Cafes she organises in Birmingham.  I have been on a bit of a mission to actually meet people I met first through twitter and she was on the list. Her blogs are brilliant and she is a real enabler in so many ways. The next 4 am project was coming up and she persuaded me to join in.

Street furniture

When I attended Planning Camp I learnt a lot about street furniture. So it seems has Winchester.

The decline of the high street

This was the theme  of my first contribution to the 4 am project. I had got involved with the Portas Pilot bid for Bearwood and I had started noticing the empty shops more and also the general neglect of what is essentially community space. I wrote a bit about it on my blog Post Travelling Blues. I called it litter and light.

Litter and Light

We chose a different location for the 4am project this time and we knew it would be interesting to see the contrast between Bearwood in Sandwell and Winchester in Hampshire. There were some common themes, again in litter and light.

Turn off the lights?

It was shocking to see how many empty shops in Bearwood had lights left on all night. The wast is shameful. Yet in Winchester we found that so many of the Building Societies and shops also left not the odd one of two lights on but loads of them blazing away. From a security point of view there may be valid reasons to do this, yet the waste of power appalls me.

Things really look different at 4am

They really do. Looking at the photographs today a few things struck me. I had walked past this shop in daylight (well gloomy rain filled light ) earlier and never noticed this display. Now all I can see is legs and handbags.

Or this one.

The once busy pubs were all shut up and chairs on top of tables.

Yet here there was a whole team of staff laying tables at 4am.

Who would have seen this in the daylight?

And what a gloomy, dirty and neglected bus station for such a beautiful city.

Yet again, I was glad I was not waiting for a bus…..

Not so much #indielove

I’m sitting in what is probably the best coffee shop in Bearwood. It has free wifi. I should be happy. I’m not.

I am not happy, because I have been spoiled. By Brewsmiths, by Yorks Bakery Cafe, by SixEight and by the Urban Coffee Company.

I am in We are Mud, a coffee shop that is also a pottery painting shop. The only people I have ever seen on line here is my friends. They don’t let you use the electric sockets to charge your laptop like all the cafes in Birmingham do. They don’t seem to get get the online community, they have probably never heard of Coffee Birmingham and would not let me hold a Social Media Surgery here without me hiring the space. Which is why the next one will be at Warley Woods cafe.

I have been banging on quite a bit about supporting independent traders in Bearwood, and quite honestly from some of the reactions I have got, you would have thought I had proposed opening up a brothel.

Some of the comments on The Bearwood Page on Facebook are incredibly mean spirited and I will be honest, have upset me. I dared to comment that Poundland has a poor employee engagement record and that they actively contribute to third world wage slavery. I added that a Poundland is preferable to boarded up shops, yet I believe that a pound spent there will never be as valued as a pound spent in a indie, run by a local entrepreneur. A pound spent with one of our lovely independents such as Vangelis, Miss Molly’s Flower Room, Andrew’s Plants or Webbs Walled Garden makes a huge difference to them. The owners of these businesses know their customers names and don’t have to write it on a cup. Yet apparently others do not agree with me, are fed up of hearing about indies and are practically falling over themselves to get to Poundland.

So back to Mud. An indie I’ve tried hard to love. I don’t get pretty pictures on my latte and you cleaned around me and my friends when there was still half an hour till closing time. You don’t tweet your offers or have loyalty scheme. Yet you are local, and I will steadfastly continue to support local indies. And it is lovely to meet with other local people and catch up over coffee or tea.

Birmingham coffee shops will still be first choice for me, with book shelves, music I like and yummy food and baked goods to bring home to my family.

I visit every new shop that opens in Bearwood to welcome them. I photograph them and promote them via social media. I drive business to them. I offer to help them with PR and marketing. I do this for love. Yet the people on The Bearwood Page don’t care. Poundland and a non local B list celebrity seems to be valued higher than hardworking local independent traders trying to make a living.

Bearwood, be careful for what you wish for, a high street full of multiples who put profit before people. Before their customers. If you don’t use your local independent shops, you will lose them. And what will your high street look like then?

Far sickness part two and why some things in Bearwood are less than awesome

Bearwood Interchange

Bearwood Interchange (Photo credit: tim ellis)

I chose to live in Bearwood because almost everything I needed was in walking distance including schools, a range of shops, green space, a library and a swimming pool. When I moved here about 25 years ago I could buy lovely bread from The Old Bakery, get almost every type of fruit and vegetable from Mike Drapers and meat from a number of butchers. We had a book shop, a music shop, a toy shop, a post office. Now most of them have gone. Slowly Bearwood is changing. Our high street like many others across the country is dominated by pawnbrokers, multiples, fast food and charity shops. And empty shops.

And I hardly noticed that this was happening.

Three things made me realise how bad it really was.

  1. I went around the world.
  2. I took part in the 4am project.
  3. I got involved with the Portas Pilot bid.

I had enjoyed vibrant neighbourhoods in Melbourne such as Brunswick, Armadale and in St Kilda I volunteered for Lentil as Anything. I visited fantastic markets with an amazing range of produce. Bearwood is closer to Birmingham than most of these Melbourne suburbs are to the CBD and equally well served by public transport, yet they each seem to be able to support a thriving and unique high street. They were social spaces where people met, worked and shopped.

I photographed Bearwood at 4 am and the bleakness of the high street at that time shocked me. Litter from the fast food outlets, lights flickering in empty shops and battered litter bins. This is Bearwood.

The Portas Pilot bid was an opportunity to transform the high street into one that reflected the community that lived in Bearwood. The vibrant, musical community who organise brilliant concerts in Lightwoods Park and Warley Woods. The crafty community who transform a church hall into a bunting strewn lively craft fair. A community that makes Bearwood a destination. A community full of hope and optimism.

And that was reflected in The Bearwood Blog post Has West Norwood got it right?

Yet somewhere along the line it has all gone horribly wrong. There is now a community hiding behind keyboards, determined to jump on any suggestion of an independent coffee shop where home workers could network. A community that believes that artisan bread and organic produce is not wanted ’round here’. A community that believes farmers market are a threat, not an opportunity. A community that doesn’t seem to want change. A community who wants it like it was when they were children back in the good old days. While I miss some of the old shops, I believe we have to look forward and not back if we are to bring the high street back to life. We need to be realistic that the high street is changing. And we can influence this change by developing a Neighbourhood Plan.

We need to capture aspirations and ambitions to ensure we all contribute to the function, liveability, economic advantages and environmental credentials of Bearwood. And I admit I have borrowed those words from here. They were good words! I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, just Bearwood.

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Beer and Bread

Regular readers will know that I endeavor to shop locally whenever I can. I think it is important to buy local, to support local traders and to protect the environment by not using a car when I can walk.

However today I made a 6 mile round trip to buy a loaf of bread. My new Aussie friend and I went to Stirchley, a suburb of Birmingham.

I had visited the Stirchley Community Market earlier in the week with two of my foodie friends but had got there too late to get some bread from Loaf Online. To overcome our disappointment we indulged in delicious burgers from The Meat Shack and bought some interesting beers from Stirchely Wines. This has to be the best off license in Birmingham,  run by a very customer focused man, who tweets when the bread is delivered.

Despite the cold torrential rain , yes this is summer in England, we practically had to beat a path to his door and form an orderly queue for the bread. One he has tweeted the customers come.

And this is what I bought.

While I admire Stirchley and its traders and community for fighting back against the big retailers and giving people the opportunity to buy local good on the high street, there’s a bit inside me that is sad. I am sad because I cant buy bread like this on my high street. who tweets to tell his customers what special beers have just come in and that this week the bread will be olive and sun dried tomato.

Mary Portas wants to support local high streets to revitalise and a lucky 12 have just been announced as Portas Pilots. Stirchley Happenings knows what it is doing and is a blue print for other local communities. Bearwood can learn a lot from them.

So, I and many other Bearwood residents will beat a path to Stirchley Community Market once a month. We will plot how we can do something similar for our community, because Bearwood deserves a high street that reflect its community, one that provides social space for local artists and artisans to sell what they make.

In the meantime, Stirchley, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back!

Post travelling blues

Phil Musgrave, my body guard

Reverse Home Sickness is something I had not heard about before, until I read this post by Life’s Great Adventures but boy have I been suffering with it since getting back to normal life in the UK. This has been one of the main reasons I have not blogged for months or didn’t start to try and organise all the thousands of photos I have on three memory cards and the iPad.

Add to that the defeating business of job hunting, which I am sure will be the subject of a future blog I really I have been rather miserable since coming home. It’s been great to see the kids and my mom, and catch up with some of my friends, but truth be told I really could stay in bed and never go out.

The sky is too small, people are so grey and miserable and the house is too big and I have too much stuff. I lived out of a bag for 4 months and now don’t need a wardrobe and hundreds of books. And no one is really interested in what we did and saw on our trip.

One thing has helped, getting involved in new projects. One has been to support the local community for the bid for cash to improve our high street via BetterBearwood

Another project I got involved with was via my links with The Social Media Cafe organised by the very talented Karen Strunks, who is also director of the 4amproject

Social Media Cafe

Social Media Cafe (Photo credit: Cristiano Betta)

This involved getting up to take photos of Bearwood between 4 am and 5 am.

People were meeting up to do this in groups all over the world. In Bearwood there was just me, with Phil to keep me safe. Good job I didn’t have to wait for a bus!