Category Archives: Lifestyle

Caravans invade Sutton Park

Visitors shocked as travellers set up camp

Revellers looking to enjoy the early summer sunshine in Sutton Park were left puzzled when they arrived to see around a dozen traveller caravans parked near the Town Gate.

The travellers are thought to have arrived at the 2,400 acre beauty spot on Tuesday night (June 8) and appear to have gained access to the green space next to the children’s playground and rangers’ hut through a broken fence.

Rows of vehicles, thought to belong to the travellers were parked alongside the fence.

Claire McFarland, from Mere Green, was visiting with her two children. She said she was shocked to see the travellers.

Whether they broke or removed the fence is unclear.

“It’s not a pretty sight,” she said. “But the kids were fascinated by the caravans.”

Park ranger Matthew Barker posting on Facebook said: “I’ve spoken with the police and reminded them that accessing SSSI land without consent is potentially a criminal offence rather than the usual civil matter within normal parks.”

A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said: “The council is committed to actively protecting its land and will take steps to recover this land where illegal encampments encroach upon it.”

It is not know whether they are the same group of travellers who were recently camped on the field at Coleshill Nurseries Sports Ground.

That site is near the tip at Norris Way and near the Porsche garage

Thai time for new restaurant

Chain set to open in Sutton Coldfield

A specialist Thai restaurant chain, which prides itself on its tapas-style simplicity and ethical approach to business, is to open its doors in Sutton Coldfield.

A spokesperson for Giggling Squid, which offers ‘simple, rustic, fresh Thai food,’ confirmed the company is set to move into Mulberry Walk in Mere Green.

It will join a diverse group of restaurants operating in Mulberry Walk and Mere Green, with a specialist offering of Thai food.

It will take over the former Gustos restaurant which closed last year, subject to planning approval.

Giggling Squid opened its first restaurant in 2009 and currently operate over 35 restaurants, including an establishment in Harborne, Birmingham, employing around 900 employees who are all directly employed rather than agency staff.

The brand founded by husband and wife Andrew and Pranee Laurillard,  prides itself on serving ‘staggeringly good Thai food.’

Pranee said: “My husband and I sat in the basement of a tiny, tiny fisherman’s cottage (now our Brighton restaurant!) way back in 2002 and pulled together our first Thai Tapas menu.

” Our idea was to cook simple, rustic, fresh Thai food. We wanted a menu that people could eat like they do at home. In Thailand, mealtimes are all about lots of dishes that everyone shares.”

The opening date has not been confirmed yet, but all of its other venues will open for dine-in guests on Monday 17th May. A typical selection of what it offers can be found here

The group say it is proud to its ethical manner and works to key values such as integrity, quality and treating everyone fairly and this ethos runs through our business decisions including employment policies and supply chain management.

In a statement on its website, Giggling Squid says: “We have long-standing, close relationships with suppliers and prioritise quality and provenance. We continue to monitor suppliers that we believe may present high modern slavery risks in our supply chain.

“We are committed to continuously improving our practices to eliminate any slavery and human trafficking in the supply chain and to act ethically and with integrity in all business relationships.

“Over the course of the next financial year we will be implementing new policies, training and key performance indicators to help us identify, prevent and mitigate any risks of modern slavery or human trafficking in relation to new and existing suppliers and in relation to our own operations.”

A statement from Gustos said COVID-19 has had a significant impact on its business, like many in the industry, and it had to make the incredibly tough decision to close four of its restaurants in order to protect the future of Gusto.

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Pubs back in business … mostly

Sutton Coldfield opens up as restrictions lifted

“While the new ways of working have been a little challenging, the rewards have far outweighed the negatives.”

Those are the optimistic words of a Sutton Coldfield pub manager whose premises enjoyed a better than expected return to business than anticipated.

For Clare Moran, manager at The Crown in Four Oaks, it’s so far so good.

But into the second week of latest lifting of lockdown restrictions and it would appear the glass is half full, certainly as far as the pubs in Sutton are concerned. With many keeping their doors shut and those that are open operating with restricted hours.

While many celebrated better-than-expected business thanks mainly to the fine weather, which is expected to continue, pubgoers returned to release months of pent-up demand, eager to get out for a meal or just a couple of pints during the continuing fine weather. Things appear to have slowed after the initial rush during the Easter break, but pubs are still busy.

Clare is delighted to be back in business. She said: “We were over the moon when Boris announced his roadmap out of lockdown and that we could begin to serve the great folks of Four Oaks again.

“It has certainly been busier than we anticipated and I think this is down to the nation’s confidence in the vaccine scheme and the measures we have in place to protect our team and guests. People trust their local, it’s ‘home from home’.

“It’s important to remember we are publicans not politicians, we must follow and enforce the guidelines, which we do, but we still have to ensure our guests enjoy our hospitality, albeit safely.”

Clare with customers enjoying the sun at The Crown

“Initially, the company I work for, only had plans to open around 200 pubs, but as we are proving more and more successful, they now have plans to open more pubs before the re-opening of our indoor areas.

“I’m optimistic that lockdown life is over, I have faith that the majority of people know and will follow the guidelines set for us.”

The boost in trade could also have been helped by the number of pubs that remained closed, with many choosing to sit it out until the next round of restrictions are lifted next month.

Many are also geared to to providing carvery-like menus which mean customers would not be allowed onto the premises to serve their own food.

A straw poll of the general area around showed up to half of pubs remained closed.

The reopening of non-essential shops, pubs, hairdressers and gyms and other venues was blessed with fine weather as those businesses appeared to being doing a roaring trade.

One barber shop owner in Four Oaks, Graham Whitehouse, said he was snowed under with demand. He usually took booking a couple of days in advance, but was fully booked initially.

Graham, who has been at the premises at Walsall Road for nearly 50 years, said: “It was manic. We had loads of bookings in the first week, but in the second week it levelled off again.

“Everyone was keen to get haircut.”

But retail business was also on a roll with one observer describing the re-opening as a carnival atmosphere and the first day reminiscent of VE Day celebrations.

The next round of lifting restriction is due on May 17, Covid cases permitting, when people will be allowed back inside hospitality venues.

Fun in the sun as lockdown eased

Enjoying a pint at the Mare Pool in Mere Green

Sutton rocking as restrictions lifted

“It’s like a carnival out there”, said one businessman returning from his first shopping trip to Sutton Coldfield town centre in months. “There’s crowds of people everywhere, ” he added.

He was, of course, referring to the latest relaxation of lockdown rules, which saw hundreds of people flock into the town and fill the pub gardens in what another observer described as like a VE Day celebration.

In the town centre, both The Station and The Town House, formerly The Royal, were packed out in their gardens.

But in a sobering reminder, just down the road at Sutton town hall, vaccinations were still taking place.

The reopening of non-essential shops, pubs, hairdressers and gyms and other venues was blessed with fine weather as the sun shone on drinkers and shoppers.

Not all pubs have reopened with some waiting for a further relaxation next month when, Covid cases permitting, people will be allowed back inside, but for those that did open it was boom time.

In Four Oaks, The Butlers Arms, The Crown, The Old School House and Wetherspoons were doing a roaring trade is people wrapped up against the early spring chill.

It seemed, however, that many had thrown caution to the wind, with social distancing being at best patchy and in some cases non existent.

But for Sutton businesses and those across the rest of the UK, it is a welcome release from the icy grip of winter and the death grip of the coronavirus.

Fingers crossed we have seen the last of lockdown and there are better times ahead.

Restoration project flowers

Image showing stitched poppies in different colours together with a poppy timeline: red 1921, white 1933, black 2010, purple 2016.

Poppies in the Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries

The Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries Project is a two-year programme of restoration works in Key Hill and Warstone Lane cemeteries, funded in partnership with National Lottery Heritage FundBirmingham City Council and Jewellery Quarter Development Trust.

Alongside the restoration there is a programme of events and activities to encourage more people to engage with, visit and learn about the cemeteries in the Jewellery Quarter (JQ), both their history and value as green spaces.

During lockdown, the cemeteries have been a lifeline for the local community as places to take daily walks, but restrictions mean that many people cannot visit and so many events have changed to accommodate this.

One recent example is the JQ Poppy Project which was run in partnership with Woolly Mammoth Stitchworks and funded by the Birmingham Municipal Charity.

In order to commemorate not only those who died in WWI and WWII who are remembered on gravestones and war memorials in the JQ, but also those of all nations killed in all conflict, we have been stitching hundreds of tapestry poppies to make a community artwork, which will be displayed at Remembrance events throughout the project and for many years to come.

The poppy stitching kits were sent to participants by post and nearly all of them have now found their way home! The kits included a postcard explaining the meanings of the 4 colours of poppy.

Colour phot showing a pile of stitched poppies in white, red, black and purple.

Nearly 150 members of the public have stitched a poppy for us and we are now just waiting for our school groups to return their poppies, as their stitching sessions were delayed due to remote learning, and then artist Tina Francis will put them all together!

We originally intended to debut the artwork in April but this will not be possible now due to COVID restrictions. We plan to have the artwork on display in the cemeteries on June 4 and 5 in Warstone Lane Cemetery (COVID roadmap permitting).

Project staff and volunteers will be on hand throughout both days to chat about the project and hand out self-guided war graves trails for those who wish to explore further.

We are so grateful to everyone who took part in the project, it was amazing to have people from across Birmingham, the Midlands and beyond, come together to stitch and remember those who have been lost – spending collectively over 200 hours on the project!

We know from the feedback comments that the participants really valued the fantastic kits created by Woolly Mammoth and being part of the project.

One stitcher said: “It’s been nice to think that my small contribution will be part of a tribute that is so significant and a cause close to my heart”.

Although our project is now drawing to a close, Woolly Mammoth Stitchworks are involved with other projects all the time, so there are often opportunities to get involved. Check their website for the latest projects.

We hope to see many of our stitchers and other interested people in person in June, but for those who can’t attend, you can find out more about the cemeteries from the comfort of your own home on our website.

Josie Wall, Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries Project.

This article is part of  a collaboration between Birmingham Archives, Community Libraries, the Library of Birmingham, Library Services at Home, the Mobile Library, and the Prison Library. Our aim is to share Birmingham’s history, archives, and community heritage activities, showcasing our city’s unique and irreplaceable archival collections, keeping you updated about projects and events you can get involved with.

Raising a glass to the great outdoors

The Butlers Arms has created a marquee which will complement the decking areas
Pubs and hospitality venues show versatility for big reopening

As hospitality venues in Sutton prepare to tentatively come out of lockdown on April 12, pubs and restaurants are coming up with some ingenious solutions to the problem of eating and drinking outside.

From that date hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors and there will be no need for customers to order a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks and no curfew, although customers must order, eat and drink while seated (‘table service’), as before the last hospitality closure in October. 

Wider social contact rules will apply in all these settings to prevent indoor mixing between different households.

It will be a welcome return to business for hospitality venues, with many having gone to the wall and others surviving through grants, loans and the use of the Job Retention Scheme (furlough).

Now they hope to be back for good with a return to full opening on May 17, providing there is no further surge in Covid-19 cases.

To cope with this, pubs in particular are adapting their premises to allow groups of people to drink and dine together when the weather is poor

These include these of shelters, which look like kiosks used at the Birmingham German markets, seen at the Crown at Four Oaks and the Hardwick Arms at Streetly and strengthened open marquees, like at the Butlers Arms on Lichfield Road, covered outdoor areas, like The Bracebridge in Sutton Park and some, turning their gardens into the equivalent of a German beer garden, like the Town House in Sutton Coldfield Town centre, similar to those seen at Munich’s Oktoberfest.

It is anticipated there will be a huge rush and many venues are contacting customers through the use of apps to invite them back and book a table where available.

The team at the Bulters Arms said on their Facebook page: “Have a sneak peak at our menu for The Butlers Outdoors… We’re not taking bookings for outside tables. Tables will be available on a strictly first come, first serve basis. We can’t wait to welcome you all back on April 12th (hopefully 🤞).”

Other indoor locations to open on May 17 include indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas and children’s play areas; the rest of the accommodation sector, including hotels, hostels and B&Bs; and indoor adult group sports and exercise classes.

 The government will also allow some larger performances and sporting events in indoor venues. In the largest outdoor seated venues, where crowds can be spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend.

By that point hospitality in Sutton and across the country will be hoping to be fully back in business by June 21. All dates are subject to change, depending on any sign of a further wave of coronavirus infection.  

New player in Sutton store wars battle

Store wars in Sutton Coldfield could be stepped with supermarket Aldi’s plans to build a new store on a derelict site in Sutton Coldfield.

The German grocery giant plans to build a new store in Brassington Avenue in the town centre, a site that been an eyesore in the town for many years.

It is believed Aldi is planning to move from its Sutton town centre store on The Parade, where there are parking problems, to the new site.

The land, which is on the edge of the Sutton ring road has been empty for many years despite many ambitious plans which have come and gone with no end result. As far back as 2009, a scheme to build more than 250 apartments earmarked for the site were finally abandoned due to problems brought about by the financial crash.

The development will form part of the Sutton Coldfield master plan, which includes a major transformation of Brassington Avenue, with more housing, shopping and leisure facilities.

Clockwise from the top, the for sale sign at Brassington Avenue, the former Waitrose in Belwell Lane, work continuing on the new Lidl and the current Aldi store in the town centre

It will be the second Aldi in Sutton Coldfield, following plans for the conversion of the former Waitrose in Belwell Lane, Mere Green and will join the new Lidl, currently being built in Mere Green on the former Lucas site.

The framework for the building is now in place with work nearly complete on the car park.

The Lidl store and panned Aldi in Mere Green have sparked fears of traffic chaos in what is already a congested area.

The future’s orange for fundraiser

Amy Foster will be dressing in orange, organising a fundraising tea and taking part in a sponsored space hopper race.

Get up and go this April to support St Giles Hospice

Everyone in Sutton Coldfield is being invited to get up and go orange this April to brighten up their spring and support St Giles Hospice.

The charity, which has centres in Whittington and Sutton Coldfield, is calling on supporters to dress up or dress down in orange for a day, a week or for the entire month this April. They can then text to make a donation to raise funds to support the hospice’s work caring for people living with a terminal illness and their families.

St Giles has also drawn up a host of other fun, colourful fundraising ideas to keep supporters entertained throughout the month as they take part in Orange April with friends, family or colleagues, whether at home, at work or even on Zoom.

Chloe Herbert, Head of Fundraising at St Giles Hospice, said: “We’re hoping to add an extra splash of colour to everybody’s April this year by asking our supporters to get up and go orange for St Giles.

“It takes a community to make a hospice and we’ve never need you more than we do today. By dressing in orange and taking part in other orange-inspired fundraising activities you can show your support for St Giles and make a real difference to the lives of local patients and their families.

“We rely on voluntary contributions to fund two thirds of the £10m we need to raise each year to fund the care we offer, and throughout the current Coronavirus crisis our services have faced unprecedented demand at a time when we have had to cancel our fundraising events and close our shops.

“Over the past 12 months our clinical and fundraising teams have had to adapt to ensure that we meet the increased demand and deliver our services in different ways – and our supporters have been so imaginative in finding ways to raise funds for us despite the lockdowns and social distancing.”

Everyone wanting to get up and go orange this April can request a fundraising pack in the post, which includes a special orange St Giles Hospice ribbon to add to their outfit along with a whole host of entertaining fundraising ideas and activities, or receive their pack digitally.

These ideas include a special orange Zoom background, a Zoom-based orange-themed scavenger hunt, a ‘guess the weight of your carrot cake’ competition, a ‘guess how many orange Smarties are in the jar’ competition and a new Olly the Orange activity pack for the kids.

Amy said: “We would urge everybody to Get Up and Go Orange to support St Giles this April and hope people will be happy to take part this year as we’re all in need of a good laugh!

“We want everyone to wear their orange ribbon with pride this April, knowing that they are helping us to continue providing care to people in our local community living with a terminal illness,” added Chloe.

The Hospice at Home team at St Giles will be among those dressing in orange to mark Orange April while they are out in the community caring for patients and their families at home next month.

Healthcare Assistant Amy Foster will also be organising a fundraising afternoon tea takeaway service and taking part in a sponsored space hopper race with her daughter to raise funds for St Giles.

“It’s so important to have our community supporting us and raising funds for us, this year more than ever. Whether it’s doing a sponsored walk or a cake sale, raising a couple of pounds or a thousand, it makes such a difference to the care we can provide to local families.”

Amy visits between six and eight people every day, offering personal and respite care, night support and emotional support to patients and their families. She has been a supporter of St Giles for many years but was inspired to join the Hospice at Home team after her mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and supported by the hospice until her death in 2019.

“The hospice staff were absolute angels and I wanted to give other people some of the love and support that I had received from St Giles,” Amy added. “It’s such a rewarding job.

“Hospice at Home support gives patients the opportunity to stay in their own home with their loved ones rather than having to go into hospital. It really means the world to people and shines so much light and positivity onto patients and their families at a time when they are in such a difficult and challenging situation.”

As well as caring for patients at home, St Giles also supports patients at its Inpatient Unit in Whittington. Many people who are admitted stay for just a few days and nights to have their symptoms controlled and their condition stabilised before returning home, while some require an extended stay involving specialist care, especially during the final stages of their illness.

Orange April has been launched as part of St Giles Hospice’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Find out more at http://www.stgileshospice.com/orangeappeal

For more information about St Giles Hospice and the expert care it provides, please visit http://www.stgileshospice.com

Wedding fayre launched

Sutton Coldfield Town Hall to host virtual event

Sutton Coldfield Town hall is to launch a virtual wedding fayre to help locked down engaged couples plan their big day.
The online event, to be streamed from 10.30am this Saturday 27 March, is part of a relaunch of wedding services at the town hall, which received a business grant in 2020 to develop wedding services during the pandemic. The £40,000 project included a £30,000 grant from Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership. Under the ‘Pivot and Prosper’ scheme, it was able to decorate key areas, upgrade digital marketing and install wedding streaming cameras as well as pay for sales and planning staff to improve services.
The virtual fayre, streamed and then stored on the venue website, will be hosted by Jane Dayus-Hinch, local wedding expert and host of the Canadian series ‘Wedding SOS’, which is currently being streamed on Pluto TV and YouTube.
There will be advice and features from Midlands Wedding Caterer of the Year – Caviar and Chips and Midlands Asian Wedding Awards winner, The Juci Luci Cake Company. They will be joined by Sutton experts Floral Jazz and bespoke celebrant Carol Joy.

Included in the 30 suppliers featured will be specialist in South Asian weddings, Arum Javed from Sovereignty Event Management and local five-star company Nothing But Wedding Cars.
The Town Hall’s Hannah Matthews has produced the project, and as a wedding dress and tailoring specialist, she will be giving tips for all members of the wedding party. Filmed by digital specialist Cormac Wade, it marks the official launch of the venue’s new services. A sales team, led by Leyanne Jarvis and Judith Howard, is already receiving renewed interest in the venue, particularly for key  dates in summer 2022.
Hannah has been working with local suppliers in the run up to the event. She said: “We have over 30 local, reputable suppliers and professionals, and after a complex and turbulent year for the wedding and events industries, we’re proud to be using our funding as a springboard for some of these fantastic businesses in the West Midlands.

 “We’re ensuring that the fayre is accessible until restrictions begin to lift, and these companies are then able to start to trade at a more normal pace, as any additional business we can direct to them will help make for a far more positive 2021.”
 To access the stream, visitors can pre-register via the venue’s Facebook events, or visit scth.org/fayre-registration, and on the day take part via the website scth.org/wedding-fayre.
Photos: Mike Wade.

All Jazzed up with Crosstar

2020 Honda Jazz Crosstar

Honda Jazz Crosstar EX e:HEV

By Bill McCarthy


With crossovers all the rage, it seems even established models are getting the treatment Such is the case with the new Jazz, a supermini which has been around since 2001, and is now offering smart styling in two forms, the traditional best-selling hatch and the more SUV-like Crosstar driven here.

The result remains affordability and practicality, with this latest hybrid version, carrying Honda’s new e:HEV badge, delivering amazing fuel economy. 

Driving many cars over the years, despite what official mpg figures may say, experience gives an indication of what kind of economy is being delivered, not to mention the clear evidence of the fuel level indicator on the dash. While official figures are around the 60mpg mark, I was getting nearer 70mph with really trying too hard. This included town, country and motorway driving.

The new Crosstar variant is designed, says Honda, to target those with active lifestyles with a more rugged appearance which includes, increased ride height, new grille, black cladding to wheel arches, roof bars and silver and black alloys. It also has its own blue colour scheme with the option contrasting black roof.

‘On the road, the car feels nippy enough and is a very comfortable place to be’

|nside it features a very less-is-more set up. The firm says its ‘Yoo no bi’ philosophy offers a clean, minimalist interior, wrapping utility, practicality and functionality in a simple, uncluttered ergonomic cabin.

In other words it’s a fairly minimalist setup, with no-nonsense, durable plastics, offset by the occasional soft-touch areas and features wipe-clean seats. It has a central touchscreen, seven or nine-inch, depending on model, which controls navigation, smartphone connectivity with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and an uprated, eight-speaker sound system. Also included are WiFi hotspot capability, while ‘Honda Personal Assistant’ delivers voice-enabled features and My Honda+ app keeps owners connected when they are away from the car

Other rotary controls are simple to use and supplemented by a seven-inch full TFT instrument cluster and multi-function steering wheel.

It feels roomy for a smallish car with the upright driving position, loads of head and legroom both in the front, and, importantly for a family vehicle, class leading legroom to the rear. In addition a large glass windscreen, flanked by narrower A pillars, allows plenty of light into the cabin.

Stowage space is impressive with central bin and side pockets while the boot offers 298 litres, increasing to a maximum 1,199 litres to the roof with the rear seats down. Honda’s uprated ‘Magic Seat’ configuration offers both fold-flat or flip-up seat flexibility to accommodate cargo of various shapes and sizes and a wider tailgate opening and new flat floor eases loading and unloading. A rubber protective mat is also included in the boot space.

The power setup includes two electric motors connected to a 1.5-litre petrol engine and lithium-ion battery. The combination propels the car to 62mph in not-too-pedestrian 9.9 seconds and on to a maximum speed of 109mph. 

Drivers are offered three drive modes: EV Drive where the battery drives the electric motor directly, ideal for congestion charge zones and fuel saving; hybrid drive where the engine supplies power to the electric generator motor, which in turn supplies it to the electric  motor and full combustion engine drive.

In most cases it is a combination of EV  and Hybrid. Engine drive also kicks in where extra power is needed for greater acceleration.The power units are mated to a new e-CVT setup, not my favourite type transmission. There is no doubt it is fuel efficient, but the accelerating hard has your teeth on edge, until it settles down at the required speed.

On the road, the car feels nippy enough and is a comfortable place to be. The higher stance means there is some body roll, but occupants are well insulated from road and engine noise, apart from under heavy acceleration.

It is packed with safety kit, with a full complement of 10 airbags, including a new front centre airbag. Also new is  Honda SENSING technology, which includes new wider angle high-definition camera, collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane assist system, road departure adjustment, blind spot and traffic sign system and speed limiter.

Factfile

Honda Jazz Crosstar EX e:HEV

Price: £23,585

Mechanical: 107bhp, 1,498cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving and electric motors, driving front wheels via CVT transmission

Max speed: 109mph

0-60mph: 9.9 seconds

Combined mpg: 58.9

Insurance group: 26

CO2 emissions: 110g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/90,000 miles