23 June 2023 – Message from Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council
It’s been rather a busy week this week and consequently this is a packed edition. Armed Forces Day, Refugee Week, and news of the impending opening of the Urgent Treatment Centre at Solihull Hospital are all to follow but I’ll start with a visit I made to the Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands, in Solihull earlier this week. Marie Curie do incredible work all across the country, and Solihull is no exception. The help they give to people at the end of their lives, and to their families, is invaluable and this week I was honoured to visit them alongside our Mayor, Cllr Holl-Allen, as part of their celebrations to mark their 10th anniversary at the Marsh Lane site. In those 10 years they’ve provided nursing care in their hospice to so many, and comfort and support to their loved ones. To visit the facility a decade on felt particularly poignant as I was involved in the original fundraising effort to get it built. Marie Curie held an event in the council chamber to launch the campaign during my time as mayor in 2011, which I wrote about on my blog.
During this recent visit, I was particularly taken with their ‘Men’s Shed’ project, which provides a space for men who have lost friends and loved ones, or are terminally ill themselves, to connect with people who are in the same situation. It’s a great idea and is well used. Loneliness is such a dreadful thing, and we know that older men in particular find it hard to make connections, so something like this is doing an almost immeasurable amount of good. I hope their work continues for 10 more years and long after that. They’re raising money to add toilet facilities to the men’s shed at the moment, alongside the over £10k they have to raise every day to keep the lights on and doing all the great work I’ve mentioned. There’s lots of ways to support them, you can find out more here or call their fundraising team on 0121 703 3715.
After a successful bid for funds from the Community and Environment Fund managed by Groundwork UK on behalf of HS2, I’m delighted to say that residents will soon be able to enjoy a brand new nature trail in Balsall Common. The site at Frog Lane, which was purchased by the Council in 2021, will be transformed, featuring native species of trees and hedges, there will also be new ponds created and footpaths to get around the site. It’ll be an excellent habitat for insects and animals, and will include benches and an information board to enhance people’s enjoyment of a lovely space in nature. I’m very excited for work to get underway this autumn, and eager to see the finished result next year when I promise I’ll be among the first to enjoy this brilliant project which preserves and enhances our natural environment.
On Monday, it was an honour to be present at the war memorial in Shirley Park as the Mayor raised the Armed Forces Day flag to mark the start of the celebrations that culminate on Saturday with Armed Forces Day itself. The events are a chance for people to show their support and gratitude to our servicemen and women, from currently serving troops to service families, and veterans.
This week is Refugee Week, and here that’s coincided with our ‘Together in Solihull’ festival. I was in attendance on Monday and gave a speech along with the Mayor and Cllr Wazma Qais, our Cabinet Member for Communities and Leisure. I spoke about the long history Solihull has as a place of refuge, and of welcome, going back to Belgian families fleeing World War 1 and all the way to the present day as we have become a home for people fleeing Putin’s appalling war of aggression in Ukraine and the increasing repression in Hong Kong.
The event in the square outside The Core was a roaring success, featuring excellent performances from a local Bhangra group and a Cantonese opera. There were also stalls offering wonderful food from our various communities. I stand by what I said at that event, ours is a town and a borough that welcomes those in need, and we can be proud of that, and proud of what we achieve when we celebrate all that we have in common.
Our Arden Free Tree Scheme is once again open for applications. Now into its fifteenth year, this initiative, run in partnership with Birmingham Airport, is open to local individuals and groups wishing to create hedgerows or small woodlands on their own land within Solihull. A total of 10,710 native trees and shrubs were planted through the scheme last year, contributing significantly to our target to plant 250,000 trees in ten years and our net zero ambitions. The deadline for applications is in early July and successful applicants will receive their free trees in time for the planting season (November – March). Find out more about the scheme and how to apply on our website.
Our HAF (Holiday Activities & Food) programme is running again over this school summer holiday period, providing free holiday activity places to children whose parents are eligible for benefits-related free school meals. I’m extremely proud of the crucial support the programme provides to Solihull families, during what is often a challenging time in juggling work commitments and childcare.
More than 35 venues across the borough are offering a wide range of sports activities, plus craft, drama, cooking and many more. Families can find out more and book activities here.
The Urgent Treatment Centre at Solihull Hospital will open to the public next Wednesday (28/06). It’s very welcome news for residents, as it will mean a much shorter trip in the event of injury or illness that doesn’t require a visit to A&E. It’s particularly welcome news for those of us here at the Council who have been campaigning for an urgent walk-in facility for local people since the Covid-enforced closure of the Minor Injuries Unit at the site. Our Deputy Leader Councillor Karen Grinsell has been particularly strident in making her voice heard on this issue, and I know she’s welcomed the news. I’ll have much much more about this next week.
Finally, I was disappointed to read about the impending closure of House of Fraser, but I’d also like to highlight what an opportunity we have to make the town centre the best it can be for everyone going forward. I mentioned our Public Realm Strategy consultation last week, and that’s still running so we’d really like to hear your views.
Thanks, and have a good weekend,
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council