Tag Archives: Newton Solar Array Fund

Planters project – done!

Over the last four years, the Draycott planters project has gradually come to fruition. It’s been a long and hard slog, but it now seems complete, and this summer has seen a lovely flowering of the plants in them.

The village ended up with eleven planters in all: two at the eastern ‘gateway’, two at the end of Stuart Avenue, two at the Cheadle Rd bus top, and one each at the ‘Village Centre’, Brookside, and Totmonslow – though the ones at Draycott West and at Cresswell have sadly been stolen in the last couple of months.

The whole initiative (see pics of examples, below) was the brain-child of local resident Lee Warburton, who took it on himself to construct most of the planters, with donations for the wood coming from the community (firstly through a Crowdfunder scheme in 2017) and a matching grant from the ‘Draycott Solar Fund’. Combined, all this raised around £500.

  • Planters, Draycott bus shelter
  • Planter sponsored by Horizon, Stuart avenue
  • Planters at Stuart Avenue
  • Planter, by Lee Warburton

However, then there was a big hiccup – the County Council introduced some red tape into the process. As ‘street furniture’, the planters needed licences. And so followed a pause of a frustrating few months!
Things only got fully rolling again in 2020, with the purchase of compost and flowers via the Staffordshire Covid-19 Fund, at which time students at Draycott Moor College came along, giving much-needed help with the planting.

Also round about this time, the village council felt it was time to make the whole scheme ‘official’, and stepped in to adopt the project (though its involvement did cause some £500 of unforeseen extra costs).
A further grant of £250 from the Solar Array Fund was sought, to pay our local horticulturalists (at Draycott Nurseries) to maintain the planters professionally for 2021 – and so keep the good blooms in fine shape!
All in all, the project has cost around £1500 since it kicked off, including those grants and donations from residents.

(Pic: Facebook)

It should be remembered however that much of the effort, including building and varnishing the planters, has been voluntary. Lee should get the most of the thanks, but a number of other residents have been instrumental too.
And now, the project is complete.

Future

The future seems safe too, as Draycott Nurseries have offered a sponsor arrangement, in which they will stock the planters each year. Grateful thanks go to Draycott Nurseries.

The ultimate responsibility (and maintenance) lies with the village council however. So, it has been out there recruiting volunteer local residents, who it wants to look after the individual planters – watering, weeding, feeding, and keeping a watchful eye.

With a little luck, and some good growing years, these nine planters will keep the village looking colourful for some time to come…

Just a little addition…

It shouldn’t be forgotten that the nine ‘official’ planters are not the only attractive horticultural sights in the neighbourhood.

Church Lane car park display

The planter at the end of Draycott Old Road has been there for over five years, tended by a local resident there, while the displays at the Church Lane car-park, Grange Farm (on Cheadle Road) and at the entrance to Meadowside, all also tended by local residents as a labour of love, are always guaranteed to lift the spirits.

You never know: at this rate, Draycott could start thinking about entering the Britain In Bloom competition!

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Whose Community-Fund is it?

In the last few weeks, there has been a flurry of applications to the Draycott Community ‘Solar’ Fund. There have been some very interesting ideas, from a range of groups and individuals from our district – DCAT asked for money for upkeep of the village planters, another group asked for money for flower bulbs for a community display etc -, each project asking for a couple of hundred pounds or so.
Then suddenly it was realised that, over the last year, just one organisation alone has been getting thousands of pounds from the fund… in fact, much more than all the rest combined…

Checking over the paperwork, it turns out, over the last few months, that Draycott Council, which has the responsibility of administering the fund in trust for the use of the community, has itself in fact been dipping into it – and has awarded itself over £4000, which amounts to two years worth of the annual income of the fund! This struck some of us as fairly egregious…

Solar Array Fund

The Draycott Community Solar Fund was set up in 2016 by the ‘Lower Newton Farm Solar Array’ firm as a charitable gesture to the surrounding district. Through the fund, the business was passing on some of its profits to the community – as a kind of thank-you to the local people. The idea behind the fund was to specifically help local projects (ones that would ‘benefit the community’).

Lower Newton solar panels
Lower Newton solar farm, seen from Cresswell

Instead of administering it itself though, the firm arranged for around £2000 a year to be transferred to Draycott Council – and it asked Draycott Council to take the responsibility, in trust, for handing out this cash.
Over the years, the annual Community Fund papers reveal that the fund has helped the Church Hall Committee, the Cresswell Community Group, the Draycott Planters Project, the Children’s Ju-Jitsu Centre in Cresswell, the ‘Gaming Potion’ children’s play sessions, the St Margaret’s Bell-Ringers, the local First Responders, and more. The largest amount given out to any one group was £500 and no group has ever had more than one award.

Draycott Church hall interior
Draycott Church Hall’s new curtains were paid for by the Community Fund

The process was straightforward – filling in a simple application form, going through a basic interview with councillors (discussing the merits and potential difficulties of the project, and the possibilities of raising other, matching funding) and later submitting a short report on how it went. Then, last year, things seemed to change.

Late in 2019, the village council found it had under-estimated the cost of installing the speed-signs for its traffic management project.
So, one councillor said, why not take the outstanding amount out of the Community Fund? The idea was nodded through; no councillor opposed the idea. We’ve seen no formal application form, and observed no full discussion on the merits of the application in the records. The fund’s current balance sheet shows that this amount came to around £3000.
(In the end, none of the council’s own money was spent on this speed-signs project).

Since then, the council has used the Community Fund more than once to defray some of its costs – it has earmarked money from the fund for printing its own newsletter (!) and for the cost of a new council noticeboard, the total of which will amount to over £1000.
Application forms should have been submitted, and proper discussions held for these applications – so we have asked for more information to see if these happened, but got no info yet.

Whose money is it anyway?

The councillors are not doing anything ‘wrong’, as such. The wording of the original gift from the Solar Array business is simply that the community must benefit from it, and that the councillors must dispense the money according to their own policies.

When challenged, one councillor said, “our projects DO benefit the community”. (We found that a slightly feeble justification as everything the council does should ‘benefit the community’, even down to stuff like purchases of printer-ink, though we hope they don’t want to take the fund’s cash for that too…).
Another justification that a councillor put forward is that ‘no-one is using the fund’. It is true that, after some busy years, there was a quiet period for the fund in 2020 – but that seems slim justification.
Is the council desperately poor? No. It is funded by the council tax to the tune of £9000 a year, of which £5000 a year is income which it can freely dispose of. In fact the councillors are currently sitting on a very healthy bank balance of almost £20,000.

Draycott VAS speed sign
Draycott speed sign – paid for using Solar Fund money

So, surely, isn’t what the councillors are doing flying in the face of the spirit of a Community-Fund?
The accounts of the fund show that, down the years, the council has awarded local community-based groups around £2500, but has awarded itself the lion’s share of the fund, some £4000.

What to do?

Well, what can one do? One would hope the councillors would be embarrassed, but – unless residents email the council to express their dissatisfaction – the councillors will probably just carry on dipping into the fund for the council’s own projects.
Our big hope is that the council will simply realise that the fund is best spent by community groups, not by itself.

We would hope too that the council now gives the Solar Fund a proper, pro-active publicity campaign (through the local newspapers, and direct publicity mail to local grass-roots organisations) so that more local people realise just what monies are available to them, and then use it.
Also, for the sake of transparency, we would hope that, in future, we could see on the council’s website: the full criteria for awards; and each application form as soon as it is submitted.

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Speed signs in place

One success in what was otherwise a distinctly under-achieving year for Draycott’s village council has been the installation by it in the district of two SIDs/Speed Indication Devices, (also known as VAS / Vehicle Activation Signs), i.e. speed signs.
The first sign can be found at the west end of the village where cars come off the dual carriageway on to Draycott Level; and the second is between the Draycott Arms and the churchyard.

SID at west end of Draycott, with solar panel

As anyone who has driven past them will know, they flash up the speed your car is going at: 35mph-40mph flashes green, anything over that flashes red. The speed limit through Draycott and through Cresswell is 40mph.

Any use?
It has been difficult to prove just how useful SIDs actually are.

Cameras – best deterrent

In some areas, the data reveals that motorists do drop their excessive speeds – which is good -, but continue to break the actual speed limit anyway – which is bad. And, human nature being what it is, regular motorists just start to ignore them over time.
So, the SIDs are no substitute for local authority or police speed cameras.

However, speeding is one of the issues that bothers Draycott’s residents the most, according to council correspondence, so at least something is being done by the village council to address electors’ concerns.

Hard work
This whole project has been ongoing for two, very difficult years. Indeed, you have to feel sorry for the council’s administrator (the main paid member of the village council’s staff) who has had to sort the whole business out.
It’s been difficult because: you can’t just put the poles where you’d like best; you can’t dig the holes for them without filling in proper permission forms; you have to get land-owner permissions; you can’t load them on other structures; you have to consult with nearby householders; you have to deal with the different demands set by the councillors; you have to get approval from Highways… etc etc. No one envied her the job of sorting this one out – and congratulations to her for persevering!
One less headache though is the fact that no electricity supply is needed; they are powered by the solar-panel attached to the pole.

Cost?
The SIDs (made by Unipart Dorman) have cost the council nothing.
Although the total price – all in – came to some £8,000 for the two, most of it (£5000) came from The Staffordshire County Road Safety Grant, the rest from the Draycott District Community Fund (the ‘SA Fund’).
In fact, Draycott’s SIDs are the basic unit, cheaper than those in other villages because they do not have any ‘extras’ (such as a flashing ‘SLOW DOWN’ message).

The councillors are pleased by the project, so they are now considering installing two other SIDs, one possibly on Cheadle Road.

Worth the trouble?
The jury is out on whether the signs actually change motorist behaviour much.
So, to properly find that out we’d need to get and analyse data collected by the SIDs. That data would help with getting a picture of local speeding patterns and would tell us whether local speeding really is a problem, or just an impression.
(The way it works is pretty straightforward: the SIDs contain an internal recording unit, which stores all the speeds it registers, and the SID’s owner can then download the data in order to get a picture of local speeding patterns. In case you were wondering, there is no camera inside the SID, so no number-plates can be recorded).
But…. – quite surprisingly – the councillors did not choose to request data-collection. It’s not clear why not.

Another factor is that a large roundabout on Draycott Level is due to be built on the crossroads at Church Lane-Uttoxeter Road-Cresswell Lane. Traffic approaching that will have to slow down obviously anyway (and be subject to a new 30mph limit for 200 yards anyway) so the SID near the churchyard will be virtually redundant when that’s built. (Though, admittedly, it could then just be moved).

But there’s no doubt that the SID at the west end of the village is a bonus. Traffic coming off the A50 and on to the dual carriageway into Draycott has been hitting high speeds!
Admittedly, the speed limit on the dual carriageway stretch has recently been reduced from 60mph to 40mph, but many motorists were taking little notice. The SID may just (one hopes) remind them to slow down.
But… only time will tell.

Speed-kings
By the way, you may have wondered why the SIDs do not flash when a car is doing over 60mph – instead, it just goes blank. This is not a fault; it’s deliberate.
Psychologists have worked out that some boy-racers enjoy the ‘thrill’ of seeing themselves clocked at high speeds – so the SIDs cut out, rather than encourage them. People (especially boy-racers) are strange, huh?

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NEWS: buses / roads-meeting / planters! / cricket drop

News-in-brief  from Draycott-In-The-Moors in early October 2019
In this post we have news of…: buses – but not for us / roadworks press on regardless / one man’s flower campaign / cricket gloom
(NB – There are also dozens of events coming up soon in our locality – including a Draycott Neighbourhood Plan workshop …  Check out the Events page)

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St Mods press on

The ‘information-day’ that St Modwen Homes and Staffs County Highways put together yesterday to explain the forthcoming roadworks was fairly unsatisfactory all round.
Instead of using the big room at Blythe Village Hall, the organisers funnelled people in and out of the back-room (where basically you can’t hold more than a dozen people comfortably) so it was very crowded at times; it was a poor effort frankly, and most reaction was, unsurprisingly, negative.
It was pretty difficult to get close to one of the officers, let alone hear what they were saying, but the gist of it was that the roadworks would go ahead come what may.
When it came to how Blythe Bridge & Draycott would cope with the potential gridlock, it seemed few of the questions we posed had ready answers.

A521 closure plans (2) Sept 2019

No way through to the A50 – for ten weeks

So … all we can hope is that the huge publicity that we as residents have generated (well done to us!) will have alerted a lot of motorists to the problem; and so those motorists will already be looking for alternative routes. Let’s hope so.
Good luck to everyone – the roadworks start on Monday (Oct 7th)!

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Bright array

If a motorist does get stuck in the roadworks jam, at least they will have a bright sight to look at.
New roadside planters, put up by local volunteer Lee Warburton, have been a real success.
The colourful flower arrangements in the containers have been dazzling on sunny days (…Draycott Plant Nurseries provided the displays).

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The whole project has been put together by Lee, who decided that Draycott Level, from the A50 to the Arms, just needed a little love (!).
He himself constructed the planters (more than half-a-dozen so far along the stretch), using a grant from the local ‘Draycott Community Solar Array Fund’ to pay for materials; got approval from the village council; and then got the official permissions from Highways to site them.The project is far from over – more planters are to come -, but with autumn setting in, we won’t see the best of of the scheme for another six months.
But then we expect Draycott Level to be bursting with colour again…!

It just shows what one volunteer can do with a little bit of good-will and determination. We owe Lee some thanks…

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No buses … and new buses

If a Draycott Council plan had come off, a bus service would have been running through Draycott-Cresswell by now.
Sadly, the plan has fallen apart, mostly because of legal issues.
However, it was a brave attempt and the council should be congratulated for having a go at least.

But … if you can get yourself to Tean or Cheadle or Blythe, there are some new services to try out.
Stantons have just started a twice-daily (Mon-Fri) ‘INR’ Cheadle-Hanley route which goes via Blythe.
D&G Buses have also just started a 32 service which goes Tean-Hanley via Cheadle.
Confusingly, First Potteries Buses also ran a 32 service, so that is now being renamed the ‘Kingfisher’ (!) service ; it runs Hanley-Uttoxeter via Tean and Blythe.
Meanwhile the long-established First Potteries 6A, which plies the Blythe-Hanley route, continues but some early-morning trips are now cancelled.
… the actual nearest working bus-stop to us is at Blythe Village Hall – and that serves the First Potteries 6A.
But, despite all that – still no buses through Draycott!

So, our recommendation is: if you are having difficulties, use the Moorlands Voluntary Transport scheme. Their local volunteer, Brian Blackwood, will pick you up and take you where you want to go, even as far as Stoke Hospital – and for around half what a normal taxi would cost you. You have to register, but, if you have no transport, it’s a real boon.

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Cricketing gloom

It was a sad day at Blythe CC’s ground in Cresswell two weeks ago when the First XI played their last match of the season. Having had two successful seasons in the NSCCL Premier Division, this third season’s results had been grim, dooming them to relegation.
Such is the spirit of deflation at the club, even their Facebook page has fallen silent.

But the gloom will not last long we are pretty sure. Already a professional has been signed for next season, and there is a lot else to be proud of at the club, including the junior teams.

In front of the new hub: Austin Knott (club secretary), Brian Lawton (cricket league chairman), Alison Grimley (chair of the club's Lottery Bid), Simon Owen (club chairman)

Blythe Cricket Club’s ‘Community Hub’ (aka the pavilion)

Personally, we’d also like to see more publicity about the ground’s ‘Community Hub’ (which you barely hear much of these days), as more use of it would keep Cresswell buzzing in the winter months.

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Want to comment on any of the items on this page?  Just use the comments box – near the bottom of this page.
(The form will ask if you wish to put in your email address.  You don’t have to – and it is always kept private anyway and never published -, but, if you don’t add your email address, that means you might miss any responses to your comment)

If you’d like an email from us each fortnight alerting you to the latest Draycott & District news, please click the ‘Follow’ button in the top right-hand corner of this webpage

Do you have news or information snippets that you think residents would like to see up on this website? If so – email us