Nestled at the foot of Barr Beacon is a place that could be described as Aldridge’s ‘best kept secret’ – but it is a hidden treasure that more and more people are discovering.
Beacon Farm, off Beacon Road, has been in the Lilwall family for generations, rearing cattle, breeding pigs and growing produce for local people. Peter Lilwall first took over the farm 35 years ago, after his uncle passed away.
“The buildings were derelict, but Peter spent three months living in a caravan on the site, repairing and rebuilding the place and getting it up and running,” says his wife, Pauline.
“We’ve spent the last 22 years extending and improving the farm to create what it is now.”
The result is a thriving working farm that also supports a number of businesses on the site, selling everything from restored furniture to bicycles – but it’s the farm’s own butcher’s shop that has developed a following of loyal customers who are willing to travel miles to buy quality, farm-reared meat.
“We rear cattle on the farm and breed pigs too – all fed on grain that we mill ourselves – which means that the meat we sell in our butcher’s shop is incredibly high quality,” Pauline said.
“Most of our trade comes from word-of-mouth, and people keep coming back once they have tried our produce.”
The butcher’s shop sells meat products, black pudding, bacon, pork pies, fresh eggs and pork to die for.
The farm also has a popular grocery business, selling vegetables grown on the site alongside fresh produce brought in daily from wholesalers.
The COVID pandemic has had a positive effect on the farm’s trade, bringing new interest in quality food.
“During lockdown our trade in the butcher’s shop trebled,” Pauline said, “and now we find we have retained a lot of those new people.
“I think a lot of people didn’t want to queue in supermarkets to buy their food and, if you compare our meat to what you might buy in a large supermarket it really is superior. So I think the lockdown changed people’s shopping habits in a good way.”
Those changing habits have also introduced a new kind of customer to the delights of Beacon Farm.
“We have always had a lot of older customers – some have been coming here or 20 years – but we are now seeing a lot more younger people coming here too,” Pauline said.
“Young people these days care so much about what they eat, and I think they can see that the food we sell here is high quality.”
Throughout the pandemic, the farm has stuck to all the strict guidelines laid down by the Government, following hygiene rules, restricting the numbers of people in the shops at any time and practising social distancing.
All of this has been carefully overseen by staff who pride themselves on friendly, welcoming and homely customer service.
“People have been very understanding,” Pauline said, “they have been amazingly supportive.”
Perhaps the most unusual thing about Beacon Farm is its location – a slice of rural life right on the doorstep of the urban West Midlands.
The couple’s two sons live in Sutton, while their daughter lives in Little Aston.
“I think we get the best of both worlds living here,” Pauline said. “If I look out of any of our windows, the view is trees and countryside, but at the same time we are just a short drive away from Aldridge, Walsall, Sutton and Birmingham.
“I suppose that’s why people are often so surprised when they first discover us. We quite often get a new customer who says: ‘you know, I’ve lived around here all my life, and I had no idea this farm was here!’”
Thanks to the quality food they produce and the recommendations of loyal customers, it seems more and more people are discovering the secret of Beacon Farm.
I know I am not alone in wondering what the collateral damage of Covid-19 will be. Especially when we assess the damage to our high streets, local economy and to our overall health and wellbeing.
In our September/October issue we have an article from Dr Ron Daniels an intensive care doctor working in our local NHS hospitals. I share his concerns about people not seeking medical attention and as a community publisher The Pioneer is doing all we can to spread the word that the NHS is open and don’t leave it too late to go and get help!
The whole of Dr Daniels’ article is below but to summarise. The NHS is reporting that people are leaving it too late to seek help for heart attacks, cancer, pneumonia, and sepsis. Dr Daniels describes it as “…seeing severe pathology.” In layman’s terms the NHS is seeing people who are in a very bad way.
The over-riding message from Dr Daniels is ‘please seek medical help early’. Don’t be put off by news headlines because the reality is that there are few people in hospital with Covid now. And, you are not being a bad person, putting the NHS under pressure, if you seek help because right now they do have the capacity to help you.
In fact, if you don’t seek help and leave it too late you may well end up costing the NHS more. Not to mention suffering unnecessarily.
Dr Daniels is also Founder and Executive Director of The UK Sepsis Trust. He says in his article that in adults the symptoms of sepsis can be mistaken for Covid-19, flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection. He is seeing young, healthy people who have developed sepsis as a consequence of pneumonia. Sepsis can be fatal if not identified and treated early with at least 48,000 people losing their lives every year. To put that into perspective it’s more people than are reported to have died from Covid-19.
If you are feeling unwell, please seek medical help.
Feeling Ill? Seek Medical Attention
A West Midlands NHS doctor is urging people to seek medical attention straight away if they are feeling unwell, following growing evidence that people are going to GPs and doctors too late.
Dr Ron Daniels BEM, an intensive care doctor at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, working at Heartlands and Good Hope Hospitals, said it was imperative that people laid aside their fears of “catching Covid-19” at GP surgeries and other healthcare facilities.
“We are now in a position of unintended consequences and after effects on mental health as a result of lockdown, which means people are not presenting with symptoms early,” he said.
“We’re not seeing a holistic approach to these conditions, perhaps because we’re focusing unilaterally on Covid-19. In making decisions around reopening or restricting society, we need to look at PCR tests <which test for viruses and viral fragments> in the context of case fatality rates, ICU occupancy and how many tests are being done.
“There is a perceived fear around Covid-19 but this has to be balanced by issues caused by other health problems. We’re seeing people come into hospital who are severely ill who would’ve presented earlier, were it not for Covid-19 and this is a massive problem because we’re seeing some severe pathology.
“There’s huge anxiety among the population at the moment even when there are very few patients in hospital with Covid-19.”
“Of course, we have to be mindful of Covid and follow the guidelines but the NHS has capacity and it is open for business – we are urging anyone who is unwell to seek medical attention.”
Dr Daniels, who is also Founder and Executive Director of The UK Sepsis Trust, said clinicians are seeing late cancer, sepsis, pneumonia, and heart attack presentations.
“We are also seeing young, healthy people who have developed sepsis as a consequence of pneumonia,” he said.
Dr Daniels also warned that there is potential for as many as 20% of Covid-19 survivors to be at risk of sepsis within 12 months of being discharged from hospital.
The UK Sepsis Trust has launched its Blurred Lines campaign to raise awareness of the problem, which could save the Government millions of pounds and save lives.
Dr Daniels said a £1 million investment in awareness of the symptoms of sepsis, made right now, could save as much as £200 million in treatment and benefits.
About 245,000 people are affected by sepsis in the UK with at least 48,000 people losing their lives every year.
The UK Sepsis Trust and the York Health Economics Consortium have calculated that for every patient who is diagnosed early there is a cash saving to the NHS of more than £5,500, which means that 20,000 sepsis patients could cost society more than £1 billion in patient care and benefits.
Dr Daniels said: “Covid-19 is a disease caused by the immune system over-reacting to infection, which is exactly what sepsis is. The question to ask is: if I feel ill, could it be sepsis?”
In adults, sepsis may feel like ‘flu, gastroenteritis, or a chest infection at first, with early symptoms including fever, chills and shivering, a fast heartbeat and quick breathing.
Other symptoms of sepsis or septic shock include feeling dizzy or faint, confusion or disorientation, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea and cold, clammy, and pale or mottled skin.
If the residents of Pheasey in Walsall could step back seven decades in time to take a stroll around their estate, they wouldn’t believe their eyes.
What would they see? Smart young soldiers peering from the windows of the estate’s newly-built houses. Armed sentry posts and gate houses guarding access to the streets. The sound of marching boots might fill the air. And outside the Collingwood Centre, which served as a military HQ, stood a flagpole – flying the stars and stripes of the US flag.
Few people who live in this quiet suburb know that during World War Two it was requisitioned by the Government and handed to the American army.
Now a 12-month project, called The Americans Are Here, and backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, aims to help local people find out how their homes were once occupied by GIs, and their streets were filled with jeeps and army trucks.
“We want the project to raise awareness of Pheasey’s past during the second World War,” said organiser Lee Mitchell, “because it’s something that people simply don’t know about.
“Many of the people who lived here at the time are sadly no longer with us, so we can’t rely on their memories to keep the story alive. Newer residents are gobsmacked to find out what went on here, sometimes in their own homes, when war was raging.”
The project aims to get local people to engage with local history and find out for themselves about how the American Army made Pheasey its home.
“We really want to use Pheasey’s wartime history to create community spirit, by getting local people involved,” said Lee, who is organising the project with colleague Dave Crathorne.
“It’s also about reaching out to socially-isolated people and getting local schoolchildren involved. It’s a great story that’s right here on our doorstep.”
At the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, the new Pheasey Estate was still being built. When America entered the conflict in 1942, US troops started to flood into Britain. In Walsall, the War Office requisitioned unfinished properties on the estate, creating a Replacement Depot there, as a staging post for soldiers arriving to replace those killed or wounded in the fighting. American soldiers would sail into the UK via ports like Liverpool, before trains brought them to what was then Great Barr railway station in Hampstead. The GIs would then march up the Queslett Road to Pheasey.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused some disruption for The Americans Are Here, which originally hoped to hold regularly meetings and talks, as well as practical face-to-face sessions to help people discover their area’s history. Lockdown meant that all that had to be cancelled.
But by drawing on true wartime spirit, the project has carried on.
“We launched our The Americans Are Here Facebook page to allow people to still get involved throughout the lockdown,” Lee explained. “In fact, what everyone has been going through with coronavirus has a lot of parallels with what British people experienced during the war.
“There’s an argument that in some ways it has been worse because at least during World War Two you were allowed out of your house. And the pubs were open!”
Some of today’s local pubs were regular haunts of the American soldiers who lived on the Pheasey estate, and have formed part of the project’s photographic work, which aims to bring local history alive.
“We have pictures of what the area looked like at the time, so one of the things we have been doing is tracking down the locations in those images and taking a new picture from the same perspective. It provides a ‘now and then’ version of these fascinating old pictures and really helps to bring home the fact that this happened here,” Lee said.
“We’re also trying to build links with American families whose relatives served here, and track down the families of local women who went back to the US, as ‘GI brides’, when the Americans left in 1945. There is so much to uncover.”
Beneath the surface of today’s Pheasey Estate, evidence can still be found of the area’s wartime past.
“There are lots of stories of local people decorating their homes and finding graffiti on the walls beneath their wallpaper, left by American troops,” Lee said. “One person found the tread marks from a jeep.
All of this history is just under the surface, waiting to be found”. The idea of The Americans Are Here is to make local people aware of their heritage, and help them discover it for themselves.
“It’s so important that this kind of history isn’t forgotten. It helps people better understand the area they live in, and how it played a part in world events.”
We need you!
Are you a Pheasey resident, school or business?
Would you like to find out more about the area in which you live, work or play?
We are looking for people of all ages to join us in discovering Pheasey’s fascinating past during World War Two, when it was home to American soldiers.
Whilst the coronavirus lock-down continues many of us are doing home improvements.
With climate change and plastic waste impacting our everyday lives, there has never been a more important time than now to adopt eco-friendly practices at home. Rebecca Snowden, Interior Style Advisor at FurnitureChoice.co.uk, shares 4 ways to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.
Repurpose old furniture
Defined as a process by which used objects are transformed into new products of higher value, upcycling is a sustainable way to kickstart an eco-friendly lifestyle. It breathes new life into old furniture and is a cost-effective and crafty solution to update home decor. “Upcycling conserves the environment by fully utilising what we already have,” Rebecca explains. “It prevents furniture from being thrown into landfills and is instead updated with a new look.”
“The key is to start small by picking a simple DIY project such as repainting your headboard in the bedroom. It’s an enjoyable activity that you can do in your own time and saves you the money of having to buy new furniture. With its tranquil and lively appeal, opt for green as it perks up the rest of the decor by injecting a soothing feel to the space.”
Switch to non-toxic paint
Making the switch to eco-friendly products has a huge impact on the planet, home and overall health. It’s these small steps that help reduce harm on the environment and pushes people to lead a healthier lifestyle in the long-run. Take this concept to the walls with non-toxic paint which is free from volatile organic compounds (VOC) and removes chemicals such as formaldehyde in the air for a clean breathing space at home.
“Bring the positive qualities of non-toxic paint and the psychological benefits of colours together with a feature wall in the home office,” Rebecca says. “Hobby Wood by Earthborn is a good pick as it exudes relaxation while providing that optimistic boost.”
Incorporate plants into decor
Going green at home literally and metaphorically would not be complete without including houseplants into the decor. Apart from purifying the air, houseplants also create a more welcoming atmosphere. And with proper attention and care, indoor plants will flourish in the right environment and provide plenty of room for experimentation.
Starting an indoor garden in the kitchen is a sustainable solution for urban living. “Being self-sufficient is an important part of an eco-friendly lifestyle,” Rebecca explains. “Learn to grow your own herbs, fruits or vegetables at home which can later be used for cooking. Or if you’re interested in building a green display, a staghorn fern mounting wall appeals to those who favour a raw and natural aesthetic with its warm wood tones. Aside from green plants, you can also channel a rustic, natural vibe by incorporating dried flowers as part of the decor. ”
Use natural materials
Bringing the outdoors in has become an increasingly popular way to infuse nature into the home. Known as biophilia, it’s a concept that combines a love of nature with innovative design to improve health and wellbeing.
“The calming elements of nature are a welcome respite to the senses in the chaotic world we live in,” Rebecca says. “Decorating with natural materials such as wood, cotton and linen establishes a tranquil and relaxing atmosphere when you combine it with the right amount of natural lighting, greenery and colour palette. In the living room, turn your focus towards breathable materials which give the space a cosy and practical touch, such as with a linen sofa and cotton cushion covers. The ambience here is not just for the aesthetics, it’s also about delivering a positive impact on our lifestyle.”
Do you know what to do if you see a ‘stray’ cat in your garden or on your doorstep? The first thing is check if friendly and/or hungry and, if you can coax puss inside, borrow a carrier and get puss to the vet. Vets will check if the cat has a microchip. And if you can’t do that, call Team Cat Rescue or any cat charity who will offer advice.
Recently, Lynne Buffery of Team Cat Rescue took a call from a local resident who had ‘seen a cat in and out of her garden shed for 4 or 5 days – what should she do?’ Says Lynne: “I authorised for the cat to be checked over by Pype Hayes Vets and promised if treatment was needed, we’d foot the bill. And – foster space permitting – we’d take the cat into care. But a quick scan-over and the cat’s ID chip number came up trumps. Puss was promptly back with his rightful owner. And it was thanks to the finder for simply reporting the situation to us.
“My plea is if a cat turns up on your doorstep, don’t ignore it. Call your local vet or a rescue group who can offer advice. The cat could well be chipped – or it could be a pregnant or abandoned cat who needs a loving new home. But there can be no fast-track happy ending unless the finder takes that ‘extra step’ to get help for the cat.”
*A ‘snip and chip’ campaign is operating at several local vets – just £5 for those on low incomes or certain benefits – so check out your vet. Neutering is top priority to stop litters of unwanted kittens being born – but chipping comes a very close second!
We are also pleased to report that the January sale raised £765 to swell the kitty.
TCR volunteers held a table top sale at the Swan at Yardley on the 25th January to raise funds for the felines in their care. Supporters donated bric-a-brac, clothes, unwanted Christmas presents – all sorts. Purrs to everyone involved! Once we get back to normal after the Coronavirus outbreak, anyone who wants to donate items for a future sale can call 0121 373 4596 or message the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pg/TeamCatRescue/
Mayor Andy Street has pledged to protect the Black Country’s green belt – after open spaces around Great Barr were earmarked for possible development.
Mr Street, who heads up the West Midlands Combined Authority, insisted there is enough derelict brownfield sites – former industrial sites – to cater for new homes in our region, without having to build on cherished green belt.
He spoke after a report called the Urban Capacity Review claimed green spaces around Great Barr will need to make way for almost 27,000 new homes.
Great Barr areas identified in the report include: around Red House Park; either side of the M6, just west of Junction 7; west of M6 to the north of Holly Wood Nature Reserve and around Netherall Avenue.
Mr Street said the focus must be on regenerating brownfield sites – previously built-on land such as derelict factories – rather than building on cherished fields and parks.
He said: “I simply don’t accept this report and I will do everything I can to oppose its conclusions. There should not be a need to build on open spaces in Great Barr or anywhere else.
“We can and will find more brownfield sites to regenerate for homes and we can and will find more sites in town centres for housing.
“For years the easy option has been taken in too many cases with green fields sacrificed for building when brownfield sites have been left derelict. The Black Country and Birmingham are full of them – everyone knows a former industrial site that has just been left empty for years.
“Now is the time for us to reclaim them for development – we have the technology, the skills and the government is providing the money.”
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has been buying up brownfield sites to prepare them to be brought back into use as new housing estates.
This has been possible thanks to the £350 million Housing Deal with the Government, which has given the WMCA the cash to regenerate sites such as the huge former sewage works at Friar Park in Wednesbury, where 750 homes will be built on land the size of 32 football pitches.
Friar Park is the biggest example of a former industrial site in the Black Country being reclaimed for housing.
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