Monday, February 24, 2014

Photos from Saturday's action day

On Saturday we had our latest Blaydon and Gateshead action day, this time in Whickham, Dunston and Lobley Hill. 24 people joined in. HQ for the day was Whickham Church Hall (see photo above - lunch time at HQ).

We were joined by Angelika Schneider, our prospective European candidate (2nd from right in the photo above).

I provided the lunchtime cake (homemade of course!)

I spent the morning delivering in Dunston but after lunch I headed down to Lobley Hill and Bensham ward with Angelika, our prospective council candidate Dave Fawcett, Susan Craig, (Councillor for Low Fell who cut her political teeth in Lobley Hill and Bensham ward in 2006 when she cut Labour's lead to less than 100 votes) and Owen Temple, number two on our Euro list, for some photos and campaigning. When I got back to HQ, I was just in time to be given the last bundle of leaflets for Whickham North ward. Delivery was completed by 4pm.

Friday, February 21, 2014

At action days, let them eat cake

Tomorrow we will be having our next action day in Blaydon constituency (and a bit of Gateshead constituency). Members will be out campaigning in Dunston Hill, Lobley Hill and Whickham. Each ward has its own leaflets and letters to delivery and there will be some door knocking as well. Events kick off at 10am. As usual, there will be food provided for helpers. I was drafted in to provide cake. Lots of cake. David has just finished baking them!

Of the wards in the area, one is Whickham South and Sunniside (my ward) which has a strong Lib Dem majority. The 2nd is Whickham North which is Lib Dem held but where the majority over Labour is small. The 3rd is Dunston Hill and Whickham East which is split 2 Labour and 1 Lib Dem. We won there last time so it is one of the Labour councillors up for election in May. This will be the most closely fought of the 4 wards though Labour seem to be doing a superb imitation of the invisible man in the ward with no noticeable activity so far this year. We are not being complacent however - which is why we are out tomorrow campaigning in the ward.

The final ward is Lobley Hill and Bensham which is normally a rock solid Labour seat but which we nearly won after a 3 month campaign in 2006. More recently it reverted back to being strongly Labour but we have a history of campaigning there which we are not going to give up easily. As we won Dunston Hill ward last time, and retained Whickham North with an improved though still marginal majority, to some extend the pressure on us is less so we are putting much more into Lobley Hill. It will be interesting to see what happens in May.

My next email newsletter in Blaydon constituency

My next email newsletter to people in Blaydon constituency went out last night. It covers Ryton, Crawcrook and Greenside, Winlaton and High Spen, Chopwell and Rowlands Gill and Blaydon wards. It leads with the story about Labour's plans to build on local greenbelt, but also includes material about landfill, improvements to the A1 and a bit about my appearance on BBC's Inside Out programme last autumn about self-sufficiency. You can view the newsletter on this link.

Monday, February 10, 2014

From goat poo to UKIP

Yesterday morning I was working in my goat paddock and once I had dealt with the goat poo, I headed home to find the first ever non-election UKIP leaflet in my ward stuffed through my door. It was a national leaflet, not a local one. I was struck however about how negative the leaflet was. It was a call to join UKIP and the reasons for signing up said nothing at all about what UKIP are for. Indeed, a screaming headline shouts "UKIP'S FIGHTING FOR YOU AGAINST..." which was then followed by one negative for each of the 3 main parties and one for the Greens. On the back of the leaflet, the headline claimed, "THAT'S WHY THIS YEAR WE'RE ALL GOING UKIP." Whilst negative campaigning is a part of all parties' campaigning, it is reasonable to expect some explanation from any party what is is FOR. Founding a political party on the basis of being purely against whatever happens to irritate you strikes me as being an easy way to get a short term gain but provides no long term basis for the survival of a party. Alas, this leaflet had nothing whatsoever to say about UKIP policy.

Our contact work with voters in Gateshead suggests that UKIP are doing better in wards which are very strongly Labour and where turnouts tend to be lower. In other words, where political engagement with the people is poor, UKIP could fill the vacuum. Indeed, in one ward in particular, represented by a key member of the Labour group, UKIP could run Labour quite close if turnout is low in the local elections in May. The Euro-elections on the same day could add another complicating factor to that ward. In our held wards, and those wards in which we are regularly campaigning, UKIP vote is only just registering though they are level pegging with the Conservatives for a distant 3rd place.

Anyway, that's the politics done for this morning. I need to get back outside and this time deal with all the hen poo in our 4 henhouses. At least we're not being flooded out here in Gateshead. Presumably that means there's been no gay weddings on our patch recently.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Letters done

Pelaw and Heworth action day was a success! Cllr Marilynn Ord and I were sent off to deliver letters to people with whom we are particularly keen to engage in 3 patches in Pelaw. I knew the main road through that area as it is on the way to Bill Quay Community Farm which I visit regularly to help look after the bees. When we got back to our temporary HQ after finishing the deliveries, we found that all the patches had been delivered. Surplus manpower had been sent to Low Fell and Chowdene to do a survey of residents. Alas, I couldn't join them there - I had henhouses to clean out back on the allotment instead.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The pile of Focuses has gone

The large pile of Focuses that had been staring at me has now been delivered. 400 for the Whickham part of my ward took me 2 hours to deliver this afternoon. Job done. It now clears the deck to go to Pelaw and Heworth ward in Gateshead tomorrow for our action day there. I think we have a load of letters to deliver. The ward used to be rock-solid Labour until 2000 when we won it. We then picked up the other two Labour seats in subsequent elections. Unfortunately, they have subsequently swung back to Labour though their majority last year was not so comfortable. We have no intention of standing back and letting Labour continue to hold on there. Hence the action day there tomorrow.

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia: Winter 2013-14

This is the latest edition of my monthly webcast from the world of self-sufficiency. Despite the weather, we have been raising ducklings, hatching hen eggs, making fruit liqueurs, using up the supply of pumpkins from the autumn and skinning rabbits. You can see more on my self-sufficiency blog.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A large pile of Focuses staring at me

Writing Focus newsletters does not mean I get off delivering them. At the end of last week, I delivered 370 in Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward here in Blaydon constituency. We are hoping to take the seat in May from the Labour who are not exactly high profile in the ward. The representation is currently split between 2 Labour and one Lib Dem councillors. With only one councillor up for election each year (and every 4th year we are election free), we occasionally get a scenario of a sitting councillor defending a seat from 2nd position. Our councillor, Peter Maughan, had to overturn a Labour majority of 600 in 2011 to hold on in 2012. He did, beating Labour by 200 votes. This year, the roles are reversed. Labour are defending from 200 behind. This ward is one of a number that will be fiercely contested in Gateshead, though few Labour councillors have been seen coming to the campaigning aid of their two Labour "comrades" in the ward.

Last week, I was also on home territory, delivering my village Focus in Sunniside. 400 done in one day. We were up against a deadline - we had an event on Sunday we were promoting. And today, I delivered 200 Focuses in Blaydon ward. This is development territory for us - we are looking to build up our strength in this ward despite not having held it before.

So that leaves me with a large pile of Focuses staring at me from across the table still to deliver. They are for the Whickham part of my ward. They will have to wait until tomorrow to be delivered however as tonight I am off to the monthly meeting of Sunniside History Society.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Community Beekeeping at Bill Quay Farm

We are just back from Bill Quay Community Farm in Gateshead where we help look after the bees. The purpose of the visit today was to carry out the varroa treatment on the hives. This is the mite that has spread throughout the UK's beehives over the past 20 years. Varroa will probably never be eradicated. Instead, we have to manage it. To treat it, we inject oxalic acid in a sugar syrup into the hives where the bees are clustered. This is the time of year to do it, before the hive fills with brood in the spring.

There are three hives at Bill Quay Farm but we found that one of them has died out. This bad news at least meant we were able to take off the honey crop the dead hive left behind. We have brought it home to put through our honey press and will put it into jars before returning it to the farm where it will be sold in the cafe. We will also process the squeezed honeycomb in our wax extractor - indeed, we need to to process the large bucket of honeycomb from our own hives from last year as well. The extracted wax will go back to Bill Quay though I'm not sure what they plan to do with it yet. We are going to use ours to make candles but may also have a go at making table wax.

Bill Quay are keen to sell the honey. They are no longer financed by Gateshead Council and are now self-supporting. The honey will be a useful addition to the cafe.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Tree planting in Sunniside

I was recently contacted by a nursery in Norfolk ( offering me some fruit trees in exchange for a link on my food blog ( I persuaded the company to donate the trees instead to a community orchard project we have on Kingsway in Sunniside, my home village. For the past week or so, the trees have been sitting in my garage but tomorrow we plant them on the orchard.

I emailed 1200 people on my list to ask for help to plant them. I have no idea how many will turn up but I do know that the local police and police cadets are coming along to give a hand.

The site itself is huge and it could take years to get it fully planted. We are totally reliant on donations if we are ever to complete the project but up to now we have 40 fruit trees on the orchard. I am also hoping that we can plant some traditional hedgerows there as well, though that is a job for the future.

The site belongs to Gateshead Council but was never used by them. Before the years of austerity, the grass was cut there in the summer once every 3 weeks though what purpose that served I'm not sure as no one used the area, not even kids to play football. Turning it into an orchard - and using donations and voluntary effort to do so - means in coming years we will have a great local asset at no cost to the local taxpayer.