Opinion – Could mayor Andy do better?

Sutton Coldfield deserves better than naked electioneering during pandemic

As the coronavirus held us in its deadly grip this year, I have held my tongue as government and local leaders grappled with the horrendous number of fatalities caused by this terrible disease, writes Bill McCarthy.

But with a figure of approaching 70,000 dead, more, depending on which figures you look at, due mostly to government incompetence and the catastrophic consequences for business and jobs, I can hold my tongue no longer.

Why? Well, just the other day we what I can only describe as a propaganda sheet dropped through the letterbox, extolling mainly the virtues and achievements of West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.

My local the Butler’s Arms, on Lichfield Road, being a classic example of keeping customers safe with ingenious and ground-breaking ideas, at some considerable costs, all for nothing it seems.

This is the mayor who speaks of his contacts with health secretary Matt Hancock, but seems to have little influence. Take the vaccination programme where Sutton Coldfield and Birmingham, our second city let’s not forget, is left off the initial rollout.

He says on a recent Twitter feed: “I expect confirmation this afternoon that vaccinations will begin in Birmingham in the coming days. Disappointing and surprising that the city’s NHS trust wasn’t part of the initial roll-out given its size and record, but I’ve been in contact with Matt Hancock to put that right.”

On an electric bike at Sutton Park and e-scooter in Birmingham

Seems par for the course, just like the cosy phone calls about the tier system and how he was ignored on that score as well.

But back to the four-page sheet called Sutton Coldfield Champion. It goes into great detail about the Conservative mayor’s achievements, together with praising other local Tories, including MP Andrew Mitchell, town council leader Simon Ward and West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner candidate Jay Singh-Sohal.

The fine print tells you it is published on behalf of West Midlands Conservatives. Which is fine except Andy Street is mayor of the West Midlands, not just Sutton Coldfield. So the Sutton Champion angle is a bit disingenuous, don’t you think? Especially when his Twitter feed says he is ‘Conservative Mayor of the best region in the world’.

Looking at ‘achievements’. It’s a bit like Frank Sinatra. He’s had a few, but then again, too few to mention.

It seems to be a case of ‘pressing’ for this, ‘supporting’ that or ‘maintaining’ the other. Hardly a roll of honour is it Andy? Constantly lobbying on our behalf. Well the lobbying is buttering few parsnips as far as Sutton’s hospitality industry is concerned.

I have to admit an interest here as family members work within that sector. Furloughed if they’re lucky, but not sure if they have a job to go back to, or already out of work, with a bleak future ahead of them.

The efforts to keep Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield in tier 2 failed miserably. The lobbying was so low key, it was invisible. Hospitality venues have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep premises Covid-secure. My local, the Butler’s Arms, on Lichfield Road, is a classic example of keeping customers safe with ingenious and ground-breaking ideas, at some considerable costs, all for nothing it seems.

Meanwhile, the mayor is never shy of a picture opportunity, wobbling around on e-scooters, electric bikes or digging yet another hole, while the hospitality sector tanks. Bit like Nero with his fiddle.

He boasts of having the ear of Matt Hancock, well try the organ grinder, the Prime Minister, rather than the monkey, although I doubt he will get much joy there either.

For the record, Sutton Park was the venue for unveiling the new cycle hire scheme which is due to launch across the West Midlands next year.

The operator, Santander Cycles, has been appointed by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) to offer bikes for hire in Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Wolverhampton and Walsall from next Spring.

Contractor Serco will initially provide 1,500 bikes for hire, of which 10 per cent will be ebikes. Serco? Think track and trace. What could possibly go wrong?

You really need fewer picture opportunities and more concrete action Mr Street.

Adam’s appeal in memory of beloved Sue

Adam in the garden at St Giles with a picture of him and Sue, who died in march during the lockdown

Husband shares emotional story to support St Giles Hospice after the cared for his dying wife during lockdown

A husband is making a heartfelt appeal for people to support St Giles Hospice after they took such good care of his wife when she died just days into England’s first national Coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Adam Watkinson had to say his final farewells to his wife Sue and go into self-isolation because of COVID-19, but added that even though he could not be with her, the knowledge that she was so well cared for and did not die in fear was the greatest gift the hospice could give him at such a difficult time.

His appeal comes as St Giles, which has centres in Sutton Coldfield and Lichfield, renews its call for people to support Katie’s Appeal, the charity’s response to COVID-19, at a time when it has been forced to close its shops again and cancel fundraising events, leaving the hospice more reliant than ever on donations from the community.

Sue was receiving palliative care as an inpatient at St Giles in Whittington when she called Adam on the morning of Wednesday, 25th March and told him she was struggling to breathe. Adam rushed to her bedside, fearing that she was taking her last breaths, but the nurses helped to reassure Sue and they were able to calm her down.

However, later that morning St Giles Clinical Director, Katie Burbridge, had to tell Adam the devastating news that they suspected she had COVID-19 and that they were waiting for the test results.

Lichfield Diocesan priest Adam said: “At that time – in the height of lockdown – and because I too had possibly been exposed to Coronavirus, I had no choice but to self-isolate for seven days on Government guidance. 

“I sat next to Sue, holding her hand. She was wearing a watch that I had bought her just weeks before and I watched the minutes on it ticking down to 12, knowing from that moment on I’d probably never see her again.

“It was such an emotional moment for everyone, but Katie was so helpful and thoughtful. She knelt down next to Sue, held her hand and told her that she would keep her safe. It was a beautiful moment at such a terrible time. Katie’s reassurance was so important to us both.”

Sue, who worked as Matron-in-College at Eton School, was first diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018.

During term time she and Adam, who is an Anglican Priest and Chaplain at Charterhouse School, lived apart, but during holidays the couple shared a home in Alrewas with Sue’s son Sam.

“Sue’s end – when it came – was quite beautiful. She passed away on the morning of Sunday, March 29, after a night of restful sleep. 

They moved to their new home in July 2019, but only months later Sue fell ill on New Year’s Eve and a scan revealed that her cancer had returned and spread. She began chemotherapy but developed sepsis and was told that the treatment would have to end and that she would receive palliative care.

Sue was admitted to St Giles on Friday 20th March in the hope that her condition could be stabilised enough for her to return home, and Adam spent as much time with her as he could.

Adam added: “Right from day one she was totally reassured that St Giles was the best place for her to be. The nurses started caring for her straight away – no detail was left unchecked and they looked after her so well. 

“The food was lovely and Sue was able to enjoy it – it was wonderful to see her regain her appetite and enjoy eating again. Sue loved birds and her room looked out onto the trees. We were allowed to put bird feeders up so she could watch them, which was such a joy.”

But two days later Adam was told that family visits were being limited to one a day due to the national rise in COVID-19 cases, and further safety measures were then introduced in accordance with Government guidelines. 

“The staff were all so wonderful and we looked upon them as family,” he added. “They started to wear protective clothing – but despite that, we could still see their eyes and could see the love and compassion that was there.

“One of the people who cared for Sue was asthmatic and although she could have been vulnerable to COVID-19 herself I watched as she helped my wife. I preach about love and self-sacrifice but at St Giles I was watching it in action every day.

“They showed such professionalism, with humanity and gentleness. When the nation clapped for the NHS and health staff each week I could put real faces to them.”

Adam feels so grateful for the love and care that his wife received and the support that he and Sam have been offered since Sue died that he is sharing his story to support Katie’s Appeal – the fundraising campaign launched in Spring 2020, which has become vitally important again during the latest lockdown.

Adam has told his story in a moving video which accompanies the appeal, named after Katie Burbridge, the hospice’s Clinical Director who pledged to look after Sue during her final days when Adam was unable to visit.

Katie said: “Sue was going to face death without him, but we made sure we were 100 per cent with her and she was never, ever on her own – that’s the promise I made to Adam and that’s the promise we kept as a team. 

“We are so indebted to Adam for his kind support and honoured that we were able to offer Sue and Adam comfort at such a heart-breaking time.

“With ongoing CVID-19 restrictions this continues to be an extremely worrying time for everyone, especially our patients and their families who are living with a terminal illness. 

“As a hospice we are experiencing a big increase in demand for our care services.

“We are continuing to care for our community’s most vulnerable people which is easing the burden on the NHS and our dedicated care teams are still working 24/7 in our hospices and out in our community.

“We are concerned about the impact the Coronavirus outbreak continues to have on the hospice’s future.

“The fact is that we need to raise £850,000 every single month just to keep our services going. That’s why our message to the community is that we need your help today to ensure that we’re here for you tomorrow.”

Reliving his final moments with Sue, Adam is asking people to help in any way they can. “It’s so important that other families continue to get the care, love and reassurance that Sue and I received,” he said.

“I was devastated when we had to part, but Sue told me not to get too upset and that it would just be like when we went to work at our separate schools. It was a relief to see that she had such acceptance and it helped so much that Katie had promised Sue would be safe.

“Sue’s end – when it came – was quite beautiful. She passed away on the morning of Sunday, March 29, after a night of restful sleep. She could see the birds through the window and one of the nurses who was caring for Sue, noticed a change in her breathing and was holding her hand as she slipped away,” he added.

“The care and support we received as the end approached and the continuing support we have had from St Giles since Sue passed away is very special. They have kept in touch and they genuinely do feel like family to us.

“When we first arrived at St Giles a nurse said that the hospice was about life, not death, and we got a real sense of that. It’s not a place to be feared. There’s a vibrancy, there’s a care and there’s a joy.”

Anyone who would like to make a regular monthly donation or one-off donation to support the work of St Giles to give the hospice a little more certainty in these uncertain times can visit www.stgileshospice.com/katiesappeal

Work under way on Mere Green Lidl

Diggers and bulldozers have converged on a former industrial site as work has finally got under way on the new Lidl store being built in Mere Green, Sutton Coldfield.

The former contaminated Lucas factory site on Mere Green Road, has been an eyesore for many years, following the factory demolition and the time needed to get rid of the contamination at the site.

This two-acre site is now being developed despite some local objections and plans being sent back to the drawing board during the planning process, before finally being approved. One local councillor described the original Lidl design as looking like a brown and white shed.

It will include the store and a number of parking spaces, finally opening up a site that has been blocked off with blue boarding for more than 10 years.

It offers a budget alternative to the giant Sainsbury’s store opposite, but is sure to create extra traffic and congestion in the busy Mere Green area. However there will be new jobs and a likely boost to the local economy with increased footfall.

The development could be the final piece in the jigsaw in the renaissance of Mere Green. The area been blighted for years with rows of boarded up shops, but that finally gave way to the Mulberry Walk development. Anchored by the Marks & Spencer food hall, the new shops and a number of smart bars, restaurants, coffee shops and a gym, complement the existing shops on Lichfield Road.

Now groundworks are under way despite dozens of letters of objection received from residents raising a number of concerns including traffic levels and pollution fears.

Four Oaks ward councillor Maureen Cornish was less than impressed with the original plans but now backs the new development.

She said: “The new Lidl development was scrutinised in depth by planning officers and committee, it covers all legal requirements. It’s never possible to  please all, however this site was derelict for a number of years and desperately needed to be developed.

“Lidl will provide versatile shopping giving the public more choice, it will increase the footfall and competition between similar stores provides shoppers.”

She added: “Lidl provides reasonable parking for shopping only with a limited time for doing so. This is required to prevent those that park but then walk to the train station, which is unacceptable. Highways will monitor area if congestion becomes a problem but are comfortable with the existing arrangements.”

Tree-cycle appeal for festive campaign

St Giles TreeCycle volunteers get ready for a day of tree collecting.


Sutton Coldfield people can give St Giles Hospice a ‘tree-mendous’ Christmas gift this year by supporting the charity’s annual TreeCycle campaign.

St Giles is inviting families and businesses who don’t want to face the mess and inconvenience of disposing of their real Christmas trees to sign up to TreeCycle and have their tree collected in return for a small donation – and the hospice is calling for an army of volunteers to step forward in January to help collect the trees.

The TreeCycle team recycled 3,200 Christmas trees in January 2020 and raised over £35,000 for the hospice, a record-breaking figure which more than doubled the 2019 total.

Now, following a year when the COVID-19 pandemic has forced St Giles to shut its shops during two lockdowns and cancel its organised fundraising events, the hospice has announced that TreeCycle will be going ahead and collecting from more locations than ever before.

Elinor Eustace, Income Generation Director at St Giles Hospice, said: “We’re absolutely delighted that TreeCycle can go ahead in January and we’re hoping that it will be bigger and better than ever. We’d ask everyone to support us this year if they can – we’ve never needed you more than we need you today.

It’s a simple, easy way to get rid of your real tree after Christmas and it raises money for such a good cause at the same time.

“COVID-19 has disrupted so many of our fundraising campaigns in 2020 – heavily impacting our income – but TreeCycle’s doorstep collections are convenient, environmentally-friendly, and completely safe and socially distanced, making them the perfect way to launch our fundraising comeback in 2021.

“We’re so grateful to everyone who signs up for TreeCycle – and especially to all the individuals and businesses who kindly volunteer to work off their Christmas turkey by helping to collect all the real trees.”

All collections will be socially-distanced and managed in line with the most up-to-date COVID-19 guidelines, with appropriate equipment for both hospice staff and volunteers to ensure everyone’s safety. Tree donors do not have to be present when the tree is collected. 

Rachel Brown and Chloe Ingham from the Wincanton for Screwfix team collecting trees for TreeCycle in January

Among the TreeCycle volunteers in January 2020 was Retail Resource Manager Rachel Brown, from Branston, whose father David as well as a close friend were both supported by St Giles after they were diagnosed with cancer. 

Rachel took part in TreeCycle as part of a team from her Fradley-based employer Wincanton for Screwfix, who have already pledged to put together another team for the January 2021 collection.

She said: “My dad was cared for by St Giles nurses at home until his death in 2006, and my friend was cared for at the hospice for two weeks last year (2019) until she died just before Christmas. We had a really positive experience with St Giles so my support for TreeCycle is personal – my dad and my friend had incredible care and we’re so grateful.

“My mum has supported TreeCycle since it started and I was really glad to be a part of it in January 2020. It’s a simple, easy way to get rid of your real tree after Christmas and it raises money for such a good cause at the same time.”

Rachel’s friend and fellow Wincanton team member Chloe Ingham, a Transport HR Adviser from Uttoxeter, added: “It’s a really fun event to be involved in. You don’t have to be a professional driver or able to lift heavy objects to do it and it’s so well planned. Treecycle is really good for the environment and everyone who signs up can be sure that their trees will be disposed of properly.”

This will be the sixth year that St Giles has been running TreeCycle to raise funds for the hospice, and teams will collect trees from around Lichfield, Walsall, Sutton Coldfield, Tamworth, Burton, Rugeley, Burntwood, Uttoxeter, Swadlincote, Stafford and surrounding areas.

TreeCycle will be collecting trees from Wednesday 6th until Wednesday 13th January 2021. The minimum donation for trees up to 8ft is £10 and the donation for trees up to 10ft is £12. For trees over 10ft, please call 01543 432538. Collections must be booked by 5pm on Wednesday 6th January 2021 and trees should be left out overnight on Tuesday 5th January as collections will start early the following morning.

Lichfield Tree Works and Greener Composting in Wall, Lichfield, will be recycling the trees for agricultural uses and as a result artificial trees cannot be accepted.

To find out more about volunteering for TreeCycle, please email fundraising@stgileshospice.com or call 01543 432538. For more information or to book a collection visit www.stgileshospice.com/treecycle or check St Giles Hospice social media pages.

Sutton entrepreneur back to his roots

Edward Cutler leads a funeral cortege from his new business, Royal Town Funerals in Belwell Lane

Businessman who started funeral home at 19 is back in town with a new venture

By Bill McCarthy

Opening a new business in the middle of a deadly pandemic is a tough call, but for Edward Cutler, one of the area’s youngest entrepreneurs, it is a return to his Sutton Coldfield roots.

For Edward, a native of Four Oaks, this is nothing new, having opened his first business, aged 19, in the teeth of the economic meltdown of 2009. Cutler Funeral Directors grew before the business was sold to a corporate firm in 2013.

Now he is back and Sutton Coldfield’s newest funeral business has officially opened its doors in Four Oaks.

I have always planned to return to the area to serve the local community in which I grew up in once again – Ed Cutler

He has opened Royal Town Funerals on Belwell Lane, Four Oaks, with a pledge to serve the people of Sutton Coldfield.

Return – Edward Cutler

People in the Four Oaks and Mere Green area may well remember Edward, when just 19, opening his first funeral business on Little Sutton Road, close to the Fox & Dogs pub.

After selling the business, Edward diversified, spending time in London and becoming involved in international retpatriation. This where if a death occurs overseas, repatriation is the process of transporting a deceased person to another country.

Edward aged 19

Starting out, Edward was backed by the entrepreneurial expertise of his father John, but took his first steps on the road to business success after he left Arthur Terry School, aged 16, to work for two years at Rugeley Co-operative’s funeral parlour.

Cutlers Funeral Directors grew, mainly through word of mouth, to the point where he was able to open additional offices in Lichfield and Kingstanding.

He said at the time of opening the original business: “Death can be taboo with a lot of people but I’ve wanted to be a funeral director from the age of eight or nine. I was always interested in seeing what the job was like behind the scenes.

“My dad backed me financially, which was a great help in a recession. He looks after the business side of things so I can concentrate fully on looking after the funerals.”

Now the young businessman says he is delighted to be back and able to provide a caring personal service.

He said: ” I opened my first funeral home on Little Sutton Road in Four Oaks. We gained an excellent reputation and grew the business on word of mouth, opening additional offices in Lichfield and Kingstanding. In 2013, the family business was sold to a large corporate company, following which I diversified into international repatriation. 

“Being born and bred in Four Oaks and attending The Arthur Terry School, I have many connections in the area. I have always planned to return to the area to serve the local community in which I grew up in once again.”

He added: ” I am extremely pleased to announce the opening of my new funeral home at 3 Belwell Lane, Four Oaks. Royal Town Funerals is a family business and is dedicated to serving the families across Four Oaks and Sutton Coldfield, providing a truly caring and personal service.”