Shed Your Tears and Walk Away

Instead of watching the football this evening, I was at the cinema in Hebden Bridge watching Shed Your Tears and Walk Away, Jez Lewis’s documentary film about people growing up in Hebden Bridge and being drawn into a vicious circle of drink, drugs, and the eventual spiral to overdose and death.

There has been much discussion locally about how much of a drink/drugs ‘problem’ the town has, but it’s clear that there is or has been a problem with kids growing up and ending up in this cycle. The film covered people who’d grown up in the 70s and 80s and were still abusing drugs and alcohol today, as well as those much younger.

What struck me was that the people in the film kept raising the same issues when trying to explain how they’d ended up in their situation. There seemed to be three main problems.

Lack of opportunities

People in the film commented on the lack of jobs in Hebden, and to a certain extent that’s true, but the real problem seemed to be the lack of ideas of what they could do and how to go about doing it. The lads admitted to truanting from a young age, and many of them probably left school with few qualifications at sixteen and little idea about what they were good at. I hope that careers advice is better at Calder High these days but one thing I think is critical is to get vocational subjects into our education system much earlier. Many boys are completely turned off by academic study when they reach their teens. So instead of forcing them to sit in lessons, why don’t we get them learning practical skills for part of the day. How to repair a car. How to build a wall. How to fit a kitchen. I don’t mean we should give up on English and Maths completely, but secondary school should be an opportunity to find out what you’re good at – and not just those who are good at studying for exams.

Unaffordable housing

It’s true that house prices in Hebden have rocketed over the last few years, fuelled by a combination of Gordon Brown’s property boom, and the popularity of Hebden for people like me who live here but commute elsewhere to work – in my case Keighley, 10 miles away. There is a desperate need for more affordable (for purchase) and social (for rent) housing. Derelict land like that opposite my house needs redeveloping and the percentage of affordable housing in each development needs to be much higher. The government really needs to develop the necessary criteria and regulations so that new housing can be developed which is affordable to buy in the first instance, and remains affordable when it is subsequently sold on.

Easy access to drink and drugs

The iconic image of the film was the can of Special Brew, present in somebody’s hand in almost every scene. Heavy drinking is a real problem. When I had visitors from Germany a couple of weeks ago, we came across a youth lying in the street too drunk to get up. I offered to help but their friend was calling an ambulance. So what’s to be done?

For a start I think we should have minimum pricing for alcohol. My libertarian friends tend to be against this but we make cigarettes expensive to dissuade people from buying them, and we make petrol expensive to stop unnecessary journeys. I think the same needs to be done with alcohol. Certainly we should ban selling below price and all of the heavily advertised special promotions that you see so often in supermarkets. I think this would help, but of course the best thing is for young people to have something to do other than just hang around and drink.

I hope that the “fair for youth” organised a few weeks ago by local youngsters together with Hebden Royd Town Council will be a real turning point for the town. It took place on Calder Holmes park, where much of the film was set, but instead of hanging around drinking, there were bands, dance, art, skateboarding, and all sorts. The kids weren’t just getting involved, they were running it. That’s the sort of thing that gives me real hope for the future.

Car parking in Hebden Bridge

Chris in Garden Street Car Park

There is an ongoing debate in Hebden Bridge about car parking. Is there enough of it, do we have the right balance between short and long-term spaces, and are the charges correct?

Late last year, a group of Human Geography and Urban Planning students from Leeds Met University undertook a project to survey car parking in different areas of Hebden Bridge. This fell under the auspices of the Hebden Bridge Parking Working Party. Lesley McKay and myself introduced the students to Hebden Bridge, and went to Leeds to see the students’ presentations in December. A few students also came with their tutor, Lindsay Smales, to present the results to Hebden Royd Town Council.

The students came up with some interesting results, particularly the responses to questions which they had asked of residents, tourists and shop keepers. Most markedly, those who run the shops want cheap parking, but people visiting town would actually be prepared to pay a bit more. Currently most of the car parks are 30p an hour, which is very good value.

Following the report, the parking working party made a number of recommendations to the Town Council. At last week’s council meeting, the council voted to send those recommendations (with a few minor modifications) to Calderdale Council for their consideration. The main recommendations are as follows.

  • A review of car parking charges throughout Hebden Bridge, and a proportionate reduction in car parking charges for residents of Hebden Royd and surrounding villages
  • Residents protected parking times be reduced so that non-residents can park in residents spaces between the hours of 8am and 4pm [when many residents are at work]
  • The need for Calderdale MBC to work with Network Rail to extend car parking at the railway station, in line with the recommendations of the Department for Transport’s (2009) Better Rail Stations
  • The improvement of long and short-stay parking signage in the town centre
  • An investigation of ways in which local residents can be encouraged to walk or cycle, e.g. pavement displays of journey walking/cycling times to town centre/railway station, and greater promotion of Hebden Bridge as being easily accessible by public transport

It will be interesting to see what comes back from Calderdale. Unfortunately they don’t have a great record at replying to our requests on traffic issues!

A big development which will be happening in Hebden Bridge over the next few years is the redevelopment of the Town Hall, which today passed into the hands of Hebden Bridge Community Association. They have all sorts of exciting plans for extending the building, but strangely no provision for more parking. They say:

Our plans – if we can find the funding to implement them – will mean building on land which is currently used for car parking. […] We don’t yet know whether some or all of the current car parking places are likely to be lost. We anticipate that the seven places at the side will go, and some of those at the rear (facing the old health centre). We may be able to retain some limited parking.

I disagree with this approach and have responded to their consultation as follows.

I think the redevelopment of the Town Hall is an ideal opportunity to get some underground car parking in the new part of the development. If you’re trying to attract small businesses, people working in them will in many cases need somewhere to park, especially if they’re coming from rural areas not easily accessible by public transport. Your approach misses a golden opportunity to get a few more car parking spaces in a central part of town. Improving parking elsewhere would be welcome, but if you’re removing existing spaces, I really think you should look at providing an equivalent number elsewhere on site. Underground car parks work well in other places and can be built as part of a new development but not retro-fitted afterwards!

I’m all for encouraging use of public transport, but the fact remains that many people in rural areas rely on their cars to get to places. It will be interesting to see how things develop.

I can’t write a post about parking without mentioning Hebden Bridge’s most controversial proposed development in 30 years – the Garden Street development. It would put a multi-storey car park on the site of the existing Garden Street Car Park, but pay for it with a massive development on top. Whilst I wouldn’t object to seeing some development on the site, the proposals were simply too big – the Calderdale planners thought so, and their decision was upheld on appeal. Will the developers come back with a revised proposal? Only time will tell.

2010: A great year for Hebden Bridge

Chris at the bridge

As 2010 begins, I am looking forward to a great year for Hebden Bridge for many reasons, but two in particular, both of which involve Hebden Royd Town Council.

Firstly, it is the 500th anniversary of the bridge from which the town takes its name. Well, approximately. The bridge was built in c.1510, so we’re having our celebrations this year. It replaced an earlier wooden bridge and has been repaired several times since. If you’re visiting, look out for three carved stones which mark the repairs. The Victorians raised the parapet (an early example of health and safety?) but apart from that it has remained largely unchanged.

Hebden Royd Town Council convened a working party, which has subsequently morphed into a committee comprising Councillors, including myself, and many other key people from the town. We are working to improve the bridge’s environment, including reducing the size of some of the self-seeded trees in the river, improvements to Old Gate, and flags and banners – very sensitively designed – to be installed for a limited period later in the year.

Of course, many local people and organisations are organising events this year. Either special events to commemorate the anniversary, or regular annual events with a special 2010 theme. The committee has done its best to co-ordinate events so that, for example, a children’s choir doesn’t try to sing from the bridge at the same time as a civil war re-enactment takes place. The calendar is kept up-to-date at the Hebden Bridge 500 website. Hebden Royd Town Council is organising several events itself, notably those involving the visitors from our twin towns of St. Pol (France) and Warstein (Germany), as well as a special commemoration event on 20 June which will be… Well, let’s just say it will certainly involve a surprise or two.

The other exciting event which is happening this year is the transfer of the town hall in Hebden Bridge from Calderdale Council’s ownership to a local community-based organisation formed to take over its management. Prior to 1974, the town hall was owned by Hebden Royd Urban District council. It then passed into Calderdale’s hands, and has been allowed to slowly deteriorate ever since. Hebden Royd Town Council is the main tenant, with offices as well as regular use of the council chamber and meeting rooms. However, several surrounding parishes also meet there, Calderdale have some offices, there is a small business in an attic room, and Hebden Bridge Youth Theatre/Light Opera use the upstairs hall at the back.

There were two applications for the asset transfer process – Hebden Bridge Community Association applied to take over the whole site, and the Youth Theatre/Light Opera put in their own bid for the rear part only. Fortunately the community application won through, and is one of the first asset transfers of this type to be approved in the country. I know the trustees will work hard with all existing tenants in their exciting plans to refurbish the existing building, and ultimately expansion into the neighbouring car park. As part of this, an Audit of Internal Architectural Historical Characteristics [PDF] was carried out of all the nooks and crannies of the place. It’s a fascinating read for architecture fanatics like myself. Spot the reference to the wonderful first floor Victorian gents which has survived.

Hebden Royd Town Council recently became a member of the community association – a little on the late side, I felt, but better late than never. I have personally been a member since the association was launched.

So, to summarise, it’s a great year to visit, and for two of the town’s best known landmarks. Come and see what’s happening – although probably best wait until all the snow and ice has melted first!

Edit 8 January 2010: Removed an incorrect statement about HRTC paying rent to the Community Association for use of the building. Janet Battye has pointed out that as part of the asset transfer, Calderdale Council have agreed to pay the rent due for parish councils.