Being a journalist on the Beestonian brings you into contact with all sorts of people with different stories to tell. And someone with quite a few stories to tell is Dawn Reeves, facilitator, trainer and author of a coffee table book all about various town halls across England; their history, uses and future. That universal symbol of local democracy seems to be under threat from the very councils that they belong to. Beeston’s is a prime example. But more on that later.
We arranged to meet at Greenhoods, and so over a hot drink I chatted to Dawn about herself, her interest in town halls and the purpose of the book. “I was born in London, but moved to Nottingham with my family. I got a job with Nottingham County Council, and then as a manager with Ashfield District Council. Working in those buildings, made me realise how important they are to communities, and not just for paying bills. I’m now back in Beeston and love it. I love the creativity of the town.”
Turning to her generously illustrated volume ‘Town Hall: Buildings, People and Power’. “Working in local government, I realised that there are three main architectural styles of buildings that are used as town halls; the grand Victorian palaces like Bradford, Birmingham and Todmorden; the art deco styles of Torquay, Hornsey and Nottinghamshire and the postmodernist structures at Newcastle, Mansfield and Worcestershire. Although this book is broken down into themes, rather than styles. I touch on four general themes: ‘Purpose’, ‘People’, ‘Power’ and ‘Future’.”
Nearly 30 councils and their town halls are described and evaluated in the book, that includes some eye-catching photography, I asked Dawn how she got the book completed. “I have some friends in Yorkshire, and around the country and I just basically roped them in to either write about their town hall or take photos of it. I am planning another volume. One, which should feature Beeston’s original building. The book is self published through Shared Press and with financial assistance from CCLA.”
The story of Beeston’s town hall would make a worthy inclusion in volume two. How Broxtowe Council sold the building off for £425,000 to the Cornerstone Church, whilst ignoring other interested parties, including Beeston’s Civic Society; who wanted to turn it into a community resource for weddings, arts and theatre events and similar community celebrations. Very much like Brent’s does with theirs. But it was sold, even though the residents of Broxtowe will be out of pocket by some £155,000, as the council will be spending £533k on moving computer servers to it’s newer building, legal fees and doing up the building before the church moves in. But the council claim that it will be saving £85,000 a year on maintenance and repair costs. It is understood that the building will only be available to its church members, therefore excluding the citizens of NG9, whose past relations would have paid for the town hall to be built through their rates bill.
Last year the Civic Society collected over £5000 from residents through crowd funding to raise a legal challenge. But the findings from a barrister suggested that this challenge would not be successful. The group are currently working on some Freedom of Information requests about how the council had reached its unpopular decision on whom it selected to have the building.
With local elections coming up in May, it remains to be seen as to whether the sale will actually go through by then, or maybe a change of administration may have other ideas.
Besides writing about town halls and training businesses, Dawn has also written a couple of novels, ‘Hard Change’ and ‘We Know What We Are’. Also printed by Shared Press. These are urban thrillers that also include the shady dealings of fictional local councils.
If you would like to hear Dawn talk about her love of town halls, then she is appearing at the amazing Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham on the 10th of April at 7pm. Admission will be £3, including refreshments.
It’s not everyday that you get to meet someone that is (at the time of interviewing) just about to turn 100 years old. By Christopher Frost.
The golden number that everyone strives for, but sadly, not many attain. I cycled up to the house, situated in a quiet part of Beeston, and was met at the door by Kay, a close friend who suggested her, and behind was Muriel, who prefers to be called by her maiden name. Not having met anyone of that age before, I didn’t quite know what to expect. But I was gratified to see that Penney is a spritely, warm and friendly person that could easily pass for someone in their late 70s. Being slightly deaf and needing the use of a wheeled walker were the only drawbacks that she appeared to have on reaching her century.
We sat in her living room and started chatting. She had actually written down a lot of information for me that she had remembered. “I was born at ‘The Lodge’, which was part of the City Isolation Hospital on Hucknall Road on 12 October 1918. My father George, worked as the Lodgekeeper there, plus undertaking any other duties that were given to him. While my mum, Eliza, looked after us all. I went to Southwark Street Primary School in Old Basford. I then went to Guilford Central Girls School, where at the age of 14, I passed the E.M.E.U examination in six subjects, and was awarded the Jardine Honours Prize.”
“On leaving school, I got a job with J.B. Lewis and Sons, who were one of the largest hosiery and underwear manufacturers in the Midlands. The company then became Meridian, before being taken over by Courtaulds. Whilst working as an errand girl there, I decided that I wanted to better myself by learning shorthand and typing. So I enrolled on evening classes at Binns Business College. Attaining the qualifications, I landed a job as secretary to the Advertising and Promotions manager at Griffin & Spalding, which is now Debenhams. This was in 1936. Besides the typing, I got to book London theatre tickets, arranged after dinner speakers and entertainers for children’s parties. All for the store’s customers.”
“But this all came to an end in 1939, with the start of World War II. In 1941, I used my secretarial skills for a wartime charity, which was based at the Council House. Then in 1943, I was appointed secretary to the Lord Mayor’s secretary. This was a very enjoyable post, and I got to meet some really exciting people, like the Queen in 1947, who used my very own fountain pen to sign the visitor’s book. I also got Eisenhower to sign a menu from the Black Boy Hotel, when he visited in 1945.”
When I was younger, my friend and I used to go into Beeston about three times a week with our shopping trollies.
“In 1953, I married Leonard, who was director of a family business that made prams. I then had a baby called Philip, and so left my Job at the Council House. Philip did very well at school, and went to Cambridge University to read History and the History of Art and Architecture. I typed out his dissertation about the Nottingham architect T.C. Hine. After graduating, Philip got a job with IPC Magazines in London. He eventually became the editor of ‘The Antique Dealer and Collectors Guide’. He was made redundant in 1990, but continued to publish the magazine under his own name. I helped to type up some of the articles, but computerisation came in, and so I had to learn how to use a computer. This was when I was in my 70s. I didn’t like the idea, but had some encouragement from friends and got used to it. I did it until I was 91. Sadly Philip died in 2009. Leonard had died in 1978, and so I decided to move to Beeston in 1979. My best friend lived in the area, so I thought I would join her. I’ve never regretted moving here. It’s such a friendly place.”
“Beeston has some good shops. When I was younger, my friend and I used to go into Beeston about three times a week with our shopping trollies. We used to like going to Fine Fare and the Co-Op. I miss Woolworths and a ladies’ clothes shop nearby, that I forget the name of. These days I go by taxi. All the assistants in Sainsbury’s know me and look after me when I visit. I also like to go to Hallams. It seems a bigger, better shop now, than when they had assistants picking the produce for you.”
“I’ve always been a fan of Beeston Players, and often go to see their shows. I have some lovely friends and neighbours; 50 of them are coming to my birthday party. Talking of parties, we had a lovely street party around here, for the Queen’s diamond jubilee. Yes, I made the right decision moving here. I never wanted to live in the country. Beeston suits me fine.”
As those who regularly read the Beestonian will know, Beeston resides at the heart of the universe, and despite some failings, everyone enjoys living and working here.
But for some, they have found that the grass is actually greener on the other side, and so, as a twist to the ever popular ‘I Am Beeston’ interviews, we give you two examples of former Beestonians, who packed their suitcases and bought a one way ticket to a far off land.
Firstly let me introduce you to Keith Walker, who emigrated to New Zealand in the early 1960s’. “I was born in September 1932 in Chilwell, near School Lane, and remained in the area until I married in November 1959 and moved to Littleover, as I was working at Rolls Royce and my Cheshire born wife Marian was a radiographer at Derby Royal Infirmary. We decided that we wanted a better life and explored as many possibilities as possible. Canada? Too cold in winter. Rhodesia? It was the time of Ian Smith, just before it became Zimbabwe. So that was out. South Africa? They had recently left the Commonwealth and apartheid was starting, so no! Australia? Maybe. We also looked at New Zealand. It was difficult to get much information other than touristy stuff, which is all very well if you are going for a holiday, but we wanted information like the cost of shopping. It took us two years of filling forms, interviews, medicals etc, before we were accepted and given a sailing date for the six-week voyage to New Zealand on the Shaw Saville liner ‘Southern Cross’”.
“We arrived in Wellington on 19 Oct 1962. The government had paid for our passage and guaranteed employment. We went to Blenheim, a small town in the NE corner of the South Island. It is now a major wine producing area, but then it was all fruit growing. I worked for the Inland Revenue, and as a public servant, if you wanted to get on, you had to be prepared to move, and we did. After leaving Blenheim, we moved from place to place in the North Island eventually settling in Napier on the east coast. A lovely art deco city, which had been devastated in the earthquake of Feb 1931. Marian and I split up in 1976. I eventually remarried and moved to Taupo in 1981, on the NE corner of the North Island, and have been here since. Sadly that marriage ended too. Cameron, the eldest son of that marriage lives with me now”.
I enjoyed exploring the area, looking at where I was born and where I used to live.
“Moving to NZ was a bit of a culture shock. Weatherboarded houses with corrugated iron roofs. When we arrived the population was 2.5 million, now there are about 4.7 million. Was it a good move? Definitely. The best thing I did. NZ is a beautiful place. Our land mass is about one sixth larger than the UK. Very mountainous. We have a relaxed, laid back lifestyle. Apart from our major centres such as Auckland, towns are relatively small and miles apart. The nearest provincial city to Taupo is Rotorua, and is 50 miles away, with virtually nothing in between. Certainly these are the Shaky Isles. We have had several strong earthquakes in the last few years. Taupo is in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, a highly active geothermal area with very hot ground, and relatively frequent eruptions from the three central North Island volcanoes just south of the lake. Taupo is a holiday and tourist destination. But it’s nothing like Skegness! It is an adventure playground, with lots of energetic activities like skydiving on offer”.
“I volunteer at a local geothermal park called ‘Craters of the Moon’. About 9 or 10 years ago, a group of ‘Poms’ arrived. I asked them where they were from. One of them said ‘Nottingham’. After a few minutes I found out he was Dave Tacey from Chilwell, and had been involved in 1st C&A Scouts, just like me. That blew him away. We became very close friends. He had tried to get residency in NZ, but our immigration people decided we have enough accountants and so he moved to Llanbedr in Wales. He visited a few times and we kept in close contact until his death last April”.
“On Dave’s last trip, he spent a day with me recording my memories of my former life in Beeston. I lived with my mum and dad for 27 years, apart from my 3 years in the RAF. I have been in New Zealand now for over 56 years, and in Taupo for nearly 38. I came back to the UK once, for six weeks in 2001. I visited Beeston for a couple of days. I found the crowds especially in Nottingham very claustrophobic and I was homesick after a month. I enjoyed exploring the area, looking at where I was born and where I used to live. Dave spent several weeks in and around Beeston a few years ago looking for anyone from my time, but was unable to. Although I have contacted the parish church to see if they had anyone in their congregation with memories of those times, I’ve had no response”.
If you knew Keith, or fancy reminiscing about Beeston with him, then please contact us, and we will let him know.
Next is Amy Roberts, who currently resides in Reno, Nevada, but would love to return to Beeston. Unfortunately due to present UK immigration laws, she can’t. But more of that later. “I was born in the QMC in February 1985 and lived in Beeston until 2003, when I attended Manchester University. I fell in love with the city and its incredible music scene. However, Beeston’s siren song was strong and after I graduated, I headed home and started my first ‘real’ job. I lived happily in my wonderful hometown until August 2011, when I headed to Satsumasendai, a small city in semi-rural Japan. I lived there for two years, teaching English to high school students and having the most incredible experience of my life, which will stay with me forever”.
“I returned to Beeston in 2013, and there I remained until January 2016. You could call me the ‘Beeston Boomerang’. This time I headed west to be with my husband Andrus, whom I had met in 2013, whilst travelling in the States. I was working and lived with my parents. So, we made the very difficult decision that I would apply for a Green Card and move to the US so we could finally be together. This was incredibly hard for me, as all my family are in the UK, and I had a wonderful network of friends. But I accepted it, as naturally I wanted to be with Andrus. Unfortunately, it took 19 months to actually hold it in my hand, and was an extremely stressful process. By that point I had a good job at East Midlands Airport. I had been married for over two years, but had spent all that time apart, and we didn’t want to wait any longer to be together. So with an extremely heavy heart, I left Beeston, my family, friends and my job for the last time and travelled to the medium-sized town of Reno, Nevada”.
I do sometimes find myself wondering what would have happened if I had remained in Beeston.
“Reno is as different from Beeston as it is possible to get. Neon-lit casinos dominate the downtown skyline. Guns and marijuana are legal. Beautiful mountains rear up into the clear blue sky. We get 300+ days of sunshine a year. Thousands of wild horses run free in the mountains. The stunning sapphire blue Lake Tahoe is just 45 minutes drive away. It gets up to a sweltering 36 degrees in the summer, no rain for six months but then proper, up to your knees snow in winter. It’s high, dry, harsh, but beautiful”.
“I found out I was pregnant less than three weeks after I arrived in the USA, and had Audrey was born in October 2016. While she was obviously a wonderful gift and lights up our lives, it was and still is indescribably hard to have a child so far away from home and the NHS, in a country where maternity leave is non-existent and once you leave the hospital, you’re presented with a huge bill, but with no support. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. But it’s not all bad. People that I meet love my accent and are fascinated with my life story. But I do sometimes find myself wondering what would have happened if I had remained in Beeston”.
I miss being able to walk everywhere and feeling safe. I miss Beeston with every fibre of my being, and I long to return.
“It was a massive wrench to leave, but I had to in order to finally be with my husband. You see in 2012, the year before I got married, the then Home Secretary Theresa May introduced extremely harsh immigration laws. There are strict financial requirements on British citizens who dare to fall in love with someone from outside the EU, and the result is that there are thousands of ‘Skype’ families like mine, forced to live half a world away from their loved ones. Because I married an American, I either have to find £62,500 in savings or I have to earn at least £18,600 per year in the UK before I can apply for my husband’s visa. This can cost thousands of pounds and has a high rejection rate. It’s my heart’s desire to reunite my family, and I won’t stop until I achieve it. There are so many things I miss about Beeston, the vibrant town centre, the Beeman and the distant sound of the bells ringing at the Parish Church where I was christened. I miss being able to walk everywhere and feeling safe. I miss Beeston with every fibre of my being, and I long to return”.
“As I have no other way of raising the money needed for my husband’s visa application, I created a ‘GoFundMe’ page. This has been featured in the Nottingham Post and Daily Mirror. I hate asking strangers for money, but if my story has struck a chord, please, please help me get home. You can find my page at https://www.gofundme.com/4ptaah-please-help-reunite-my-family
The use of aerosol paint to spray shapes, words or figures on a wall or surface is often seen as vandalism to some, but art to others.
Some of the country’s best spray can artists descended on Beeston recently, to colour the town in more colours than your average bag of Skittles. They didn’t arrive under the cover of darkness like Banksy appears to do, but in broad daylight and an audience watched while they created their unique works of art, with their £3.50 a can of spray paint. They were here to participate in Beeston’s first Street Art Festival, which took place around the town on the weekend of the 16th June.
I caught up with Jeanie Barton, the driving force behind the project, who welcomed the break from gardening, to talk about the weekend and how things went. “It was brilliant. It went really well. I’ve had lots of emails from people saying how happy the artwork has made them. The artists were happy with how things went too. Which is rewarding in itself. People are really impressed with the quality of the work created. I don’t think there’s been a single complaint about it. There was a bottleneck at the top of the twitchell by Round Hill School on the Monday, as parents and children wanted to see how their school looked now. There’s a great mix of styles. Something for everyone.”
Turning to the original plan, which was to decorate that dull part of Station Road, between Birds and B&M. I asked Jeanie about the origins of the idea and why it hasn’t taken place yet. “It started with a posting on Beeston Updated. Someone said how street art could make a town more colourful and that something should be done with that wall near Birds. Other people agreed, so I set up a separate Facebook page and people started to join and shared photos of walls from across the world that had been decorated. This was in April last year. Broxtowe Borough Council was approached and liked the idea. They have £8000 that’s ready to be spent on art. But things went quiet, so we thought we could decorate some other bare walls around the town instead and went for sponsorship and Crowdfunding. Altogether we raised over £3000.”
I then asked Jeanie about what’s next. “We have a few more areas to do, such as Hallams and the Victory Club. Hopefully more owners of buildings will come forward that they’d like decorating. We will also be producing a proper guide to them all later this year, with photos of the work, together with profiles of the artists. People from Cheltenham, Bristol etc have been to see the designs. Bristol has its own annual street art festival. So I don’t see why we can’t have one too.”
By the time you are reading this, hopefully there will be some good news about those grim walls on Station Road and how they are going to be transformed into something more in keeping with the artistic identity of Beeston.
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The names of the artists include Tunn, Boster, Onga and Emily Catherine, Zane, Zabou and Goya.
The #IAmBeeston project is now in its third successful year of interviewing and photographing people that either live or work or both in the NG9 area. Up to now mainly adults have been featured. But for this first special colour edition, we’ve turned our attention on a member of our younger population. Someone who aims to help and support others under the age of eighteen through their influence and involvement with Broxtowe Borough Council.
I met up with Alfie and his mum Catherine at their house and had a chat with them, in their large sunny kitchen, whilst Alfie’s younger brother Frank was watching some World Cup action. Catherine is a neighbour of mine, so I have known Alfie since he was a mere bump, which is going on for nearly fourteen years now. So I thought Alfie would be an excellent addition to the project, when Catherine told me about his important role in the community.
“Beeston is a very nice place to live. It’s great. It’s somewhere where you know everyone, and there’s a considerable amount of support for young people.”
“I’ve been the Youth Mayor for Broxtowe since November last year. I had to go through an interview process before I was selected. This means that I am also part of the Youth Parliament, and I’m looking at transport and LBGT issues. At the moment I’m currently working on life skills. Helping others to learn about finances, money etc. Also being part of the Broxtowe Youth Voice, I am helping to promote new groups at the ‘Shed’, the Beeston Youth and Community Centre.”
“I’m a pupil at Alderman White School, which enjoy going to. It’s a good school. Beeston is a very nice place to live. It’s great. It’s somewhere where you know everyone, and there’s a considerable amount of support for young people, with sports clubs, the Cubs and Scouts. I am a member of the Boys Brigade, and I help the younger boys with their activities. They usually have a subject or theme to work with. This is going towards getting my bronze in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme. I also go to the Pathfinders Youth Club at Christ Church on Chilwell Road.”
“Beeston is full of friendly people, who are only to happy to help if you’re out and have a problem, like getting lost. It’s a good community. The library is very good now that it’s been updated. There are some good resources there. I like looking at all the old photographs of how Beeston used to look.”
“I think Beeston has some good shops. I buy things from lots of different places, but I especially like Poundland and WH Smiths. I like to take our dog Lenny for walks in Highfields, or down by the weir fields. We might then stop off for a drink at the Canalside Heritage Centre. I’d like to see a cinema here, as there would be somewhere else to go on my doorstep. I’d also like to see a Pizza Express. We sometimes get a tasty takeaway from the Cottage Balti. I always like to meet my friends at the Beeman and I think the recent Street Art festival has made Beeston a lot more colourful.”
Beeston born Christopher has been taking photographs and writing articles for the Beestonian for a number of years now. In fact his photo of the Beeman appeared on the front cover of the very first edition. Besides writing articles for both the magazine and Facebook page, Christopher looks after the ‘I Am Beeston’ project. It is now in its third year, and nearly 200 people have talked about themselves, and said why they think Beeston is the best place in the world to live. Christopher can often be seen wandering around the streets of Beeston, in search of his next victim. Sorry, subject.
One of the opening lines of Wind in the Willows. Spoken by Mole, as he gets fed up with tidying up his home, and so leaves it to get involved in adventures with his friends Ratty and Toad.
Some people, for whatever reason find it hard to keep their homes tidy, and it can soon become overrun with stuff, piled high and falling out of cupboards. Some have been featured on TV. The most well known is Edmund Trebus, who was a compulsive hoarder and was always in trouble with the local council’s environmental department for the way he lived. Whilst we may not all suffer to this extent, people do struggle sometimes with their possessions. I know, as I’m one. So that’s where professional organisers like Laura Williams can work their magic, and return a house into a home. Laura runs a business called ‘OrganisedWell’, which she started from scratch in January of this year from her home in Beeston, which shares with her husband and young family.
I met Laura at the Bean, and we started to chat about what she does. I have some interest in the subject, as my home has begun to bulge at the seams with an overload of LPs, DVDs, books, camera equipment and the general ephemera of life. I firstly asked Laura about herself and why she started the business.
“I was born in Bromsgrove and used to work in HR in London. I moved to Beeston about ten years ago, due to my husband’s job. I have always been a tidy and well organised person, so I thought I would use my skills to help other people. We all have that spare room, garage or under the stairs area that is a bit overrun with stuff. So I come along and help clients to bring some structure and calmness to their home. A lot of people can’t afford to move house these days, so I help them make the best of their home and the space available. Sometimes they just need a little encouragement and some practical support. I also find enjoyment and am interested in working with people.”
What you have in your home should be important to you
Sipping her coffee, Laura continued. “People tend to keep things, as they might use them sometime, or they were a present, or family heirloom and feel that they can’t let go of them. Sometimes it might be life changing events or problems at work that puts people off sorting things out. I help them focus on what they want to achieve and help them consider their items. I tend to firstly ask a couple of simple questions like, what’s important about this item? And would you use an external storage company to store such items? It makes people analyse the reason why they are keeping it.”
“My sessions are tailored to the individual, but tend to be four hours in length. Any longer and it can be very tiring for the client. People may just need to speak to someone about their clutter. Talking to a stranger can be more useful than chatting to a family member or friend, as there’s no emotional attachment to the items being discussed. People do notice a big difference when we have finished a project. My clients say it feels like a weight has been lifted, they feel much calmer, and their house feels like a home again.”
I asked Laura about minimalism, as that seems to me to be the next stage on from decluttering. The bareness of a room, with hardly any furniture, ornaments or pictures on the wall. “I’m not really a fan of minimalism as such, what you have in your home should be important to you. It’s personal choice.” Of course I had to ask what Laura’s own house was like. “I strive to be organised at home. My husband isn’t as organised as me. But I keep trying to encourage him!”
Finally I asked Laura what she does in her spare time. “I like running and took part in the 2017 Nottingham half marathon. I’m hoping to do it again this year. I was also involved as part of a team of fifteen in the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. You are given twelve hours to complete it. I did it, with ten minutes to spare. We raised £20,000 for a quiet room to be created in the Haematology Unit at Nottingham City Hospital.”
“Can I also mention that ‘Spring Clearing Week’ begins on 24th March. This is being championed by APDO (of which I am a member) across the country and aims to help people think about tackling and sorting out their clutter. See my Spring Clearing tips and enter my competition to win free decluttering support via my website!”
Should this article ignite your enthusiasm to sort out your own home, but you don’t know where to start, then Laura has an OrganisedWell Facebook Page and a website: organisedwell.co.uk where you can find out more details about what she can offer and ideas to help you organise your home, so you can spend more time enjoying yourself, rather than looking for some item or other.
“I was born in the Accrington area of Lancashire and moved to Beeston some eighteen years ago now, when I got the post of lecturer on American Literature at the local university.”
“Beeston is home to me now. Manchester wasn’t really part of me, due to its distance from Accrington. But Nottingham is certainly my home city. And I’m proud to be part of it. Beeston has a separate identity, even though Nottingham is close by.”
“Beeston has a real mix of people. I like the diversity and the tolerance towards others. People arrive here for whatever reason and tend to stay. Locals in some places can resent these incomers, but it doesn’t seem to happen here.”
“Beeston has a great deal of culture, with poets like Jenny Swann and John Lucas and bands like the Madeline Rust. I used to like going to the Greyhound. I attend a local yoga class. I also like going to Highfields and seeing the lake. I can get the tram into the city centre in about twenty minutes, or I might walk there using the towpath.”
“I don’t drink now, so I tend to just go into coffee shops. The Bean is my favourite. I also like the Flying Goose and the Bendigo Lounge. One thing that I’d like to see in Beeston is a Labour MP. I’m all for having a cinema here, but I do think that we now have enough coffee and charity shops.”
Everyone likes to be near or in water. Most of the time, it’s harmless fun, but sometimes tragedy can occur.
Like last summer, when twelve-year-old Owen Jenkins drowned in Beeston Weir. He tried to save the lives of two girls who had fallen in. He managed to save one, but lost his life whilst trying to save the other. Through this act of selflessness, a hero was born. And as a community, Beeston cried. It felt the pain, the agony, and the loss. Just like his parents. Beeston found its way of supporting the family. It painted the town purple, through bows of ribbon, which appeared everywhere.
Owen’s mum Nicola shares her thoughts on how Beeston supported her and her family through those dark days of July and beyond in this I Am Beeston special. “I had that feeling that parents get when they know something has happened to their children.” Nicola related on how the events unfolded until Owen’s body was found. “Around four hundred people from the Rylands came out to help, and two hundred from the Clifton side. There had been a similar incident at Attenborough earlier, and the police frogmen ran to the weir, as it was quicker than driving. When I did the identification, I was expecting him to be all battered and bruised. But he had been cleaned up and looked like he was asleep.”
I wanted to know what Owen was like as a person. He looked a lot older than his tender years, and could easily pass for say sixteen. Especially as he was already six foot one. “He was into sport. Especially rugby. He was a member of the Nottingham Casuals. Due to his size and talent, he played in the Under 14s, rather than the Under 12s But he liked hockey and had just got into free running. He also played football, but wasn’t very good at it, due to his big feet. His friends called him the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) or ‘Giraffe’. He might have got his height from his granddad, or from his healthy lifestyle. He was never in. He just liked to be outside. He was also a bit of a joker. Even in death. As he was twelve, staff at the QMC bought out a child sized trolley. They had to raise his knees up, so they could fit him on it!
Turning back to the community response, Nicola told me that she hadn’t touched her mobile phone for three days after the event, so had no idea of the comments that had appeared on social media. “When I switched my phone on, I had over three hundred Facebook messages. We then started getting visitors. We only live in a small house, so it was getting a bit difficult with so many people turning up. So we met up at Owen’s Place by the weir instead, where we had picnics and played music. People brought flowers and food round, as you don’t really feel like cooking in that situation.”
“We’ve had overwhelming support from everyone. We got a donation of a hamper at Christmas. Christmas was difficult. Owen wasn’t one for asking for presents. He was happy with anything he got. He did like an extra Crunchie with his selection box though.”
Talking of Christmas, I wondered how the Jenkins’ had felt about being asked to switch the lights on in Beeston. “It was a surreal experience. Why us, we asked? But it was something that the community had wanted. It was lovely to see all the purple lights on the tree. In our thanks, I said that the tree was not just for Owen, but for all lost loved ones.”
We also aim to get leaflets printed that explain the dangers of playing near water. It might look calm on the surface, but the danger is underneath
Owen’s funeral bought Beeston to a standstill as the cavalcade went through the town. “It felt like a celebrity funeral, with all the motorbikes and press interest. Owen wanted to be famous. He wanted to be a famous Leicester Tigers rugby player.”
Owen’s name will certainly live on through the creation of the OWEN (Open Water Education Network) charity, which is being set up by Nicola, in conjunction with the Royal Life Saving Society. Its aim is to educate children on the dangers of playing near water. Broxtowe Council has already started, through the installation of throwline stations and better signage at the weir. “The plan is make twelve, Year 8 students at Chilwell School water safety ambassadors, so they can teach younger pupils. This will be done through Liberty Leisure and the Fire and Rescue Service. We also aim to get leaflets printed that explain the dangers of playing near water. It might look calm on the surface, but the danger is underneath.”
“Owen’s Place is now on Google Maps,” said Nicola proudly. “Why did Owen like purple so much?” “He used to like pink, but then one day it changed to purple. Maybe because it’s the colour of a Cadbury’s wrapper. He loved chocolate. Rainbows always appear when our charity events take place. Owen must send them. The next one is a ‘cake off’ at the Boat & Horses on March 10th. Vicky McClure and TV Bake Off contestant Jordan Cox are judging. Charlie Fogg has created the trophies. Local businesses have been very supportive. Hallam’s of course, and Hairven, through their events.”
Nicola then mentioned the memorial statue that will hopefully be installed on the anniversary of Owen’s passing. “I write to Owen every day. Just a few lines, to tell him what’s been happening. Maybe one day I’ll get them published.”
I thank Nicola for her time and give her a hug. “I’m off to watch the rugby now,” she says, getting in her car.
For this issue of the magazine, I was asked by Matt, our editor in chief if I could do a more in depth interview for the #IamBeeston project.
“Who was going to be the subject?” I enquired. “Sandie Deacon of the Boathouse Café at Beeston Marina. She’s retiring after spending twenty five years in catering”.
Beeston Marina is always a great place to visit, with the narrow boats, the water and the scenery. There were quite a few people in the Café drinking tea and eating cake when I arrived to chat to Sandie. She was busy in the kitchen. So I drank a cup of hot chocolate whilst I waited.
To begin the interview I asked Sandie where she was born, and how she came to the Rylands. “I was born in Hurley, Berkshire. It was similar to the Rylands as there was one road in and out and close to the river. When I left school, I went to catering college in Slough. I got into cooking through my aunty. She was the catering manager at Handley Page, the aircraft manufacturer. I sometimes went to see her and she let me do some cooking. She used to cook for big events like Ascot and the Farnborough Air Show. I got my City & Guilds 706/1 and 706/2, which meant that I was allowed to wear the big white chef’s hat.”
Moving through the years a bit, Sandie met her partner Tony when they were both doing a sports course at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre in Shropshire. But Tony, a qualified PT instructor, lived in Birmingham, whilst Sandie was nearly a three hour journey away in Wokingham. So Sandie moved to this area, so she wouldn’t have so far to travel to be with Tony. “I saw a vacancy at a place in Stapleford, but was turned down, as I was over qualified. But Tony and I saw a job going at the bar next door to here. So I started there in October 2006. Then a few weeks later this café came up for sale. So we took it over, and have been here ever since. We also do outside catering for weddings, parties etc. We live in a mobile home around the corner. Which is good, as we are often here from five thirty in the morning.”
“Tony works four to five days a week. My daughter Sarah is the manager now that I’ve retired. Although I do help out when needed, as we sometimes get very, very busy. Take this morning, when we had a lot of fishermen in wanting a breakfast.” I asked Sandie how she would be spending her time, now that she’s put down her mixing bowl. “I like photography. Especially birds. I’m always at the nature reserve, seeing what’s flown in. I do like kingfishers. I see them a lot, but they are difficult to photograph. I got a new Nikon camera for my birthday. I’m just saving up now for a better lens. I also like walking and reading.”
I asked Sandie about the history of the café. “It’s been here about twenty five to thirty years. Tony is into local history, and is a member of the Bramcote History Group.” Sandie highlighted a number of wooden plaques that were fixed to one of the doors. “These are of local people and customers that had sadly died. Here’s Owen’s.” Sandi touches the carved rugby ball with affection, and remembers Owen Jenkins, who unfortunately drowned this summer in the nearby weir whilst saving two girls that had fallen in the water. “It was so sad when Owen went. I knew him and his family. The way in which the people of Beeston responded was amazing. We did the catering at the funeral. No charge. It was the least we could have done.”
“We received four thousand votes on the Canal & River Trust’s recent ‘Best Riverside Café’ competition. We had a mystery diner in here.”
I noticed a photo of the late Mikk Skinner, who I had photographed for the #IamBeeston project a few weeks before he died. “He lived in one of the mobile homes too. Lovely bloke. The photo was given to us by one of his friends. Beeston is such a friendly place and the people are lovely. So laid back. I love it here. I sometimes think I’m at the seaside when I look out the window. There’s always something different to see throughout the year. There’s always something to do in Beeston, but I do wish events etc would be advertised more. There always seems to be a lack of advertising for events, even down here. I don’t know whose fault it is, but it should be improved.”
I also noticed some certificates and press cuttings about the café. “We are best known for our breakfasts and have received many comments in the Post newspaper. We received four thousand votes on the Canal & River Trust’s recent ‘Best Riverside Café’ competition. We had a mystery diner in here. The final is in Loughborough next week.”
Congratulations are now in order; as the Boathouse did indeed win in the East Midlands Waterside Hospitality Awards, and now have a certificate to prove it. I saw a photo on the back end of a Nottingham City Transport bus of the cafe. “I took that photo of the café. One of our customers spotted it on Mansfield Road and managed to get a shot of it.” The number of the bus is 908. So if you see it on your travels around Nottingham, give it a wave. “Buses around here are a bit hit an miss. I think there should be better transport in the Rylands, as people have missed hospital appointments, as their bus hasn’t turned up. I think the tram is good, and I will drive into Beeston and take it into town. You can park all day for two pounds.”
On the subject of transport, I’m sure many people will have seen the old World War II landing craft moored near the café. “That’s been in quite a few films now. The latest one starred George Clooney and Matt Damon (The Monuments Men) and we were hoping that they would have paid us a visit. But alas they didn’t. Suggs from Madness filmed here for an episode of a TV series called ‘WW2 Treasure Hunters’, which is shown on the History channel.”
The late afternoon sun was starting to set as we went outside, so I could take Sandie’s photo of her holding the now famous I Am Beeston sign. The last of the customers were leaving, and Sarah was collecting cups and plates from the tables as I said goodbye. And yes, I can see Sandie’s point about being at the seaside, with the water, the seagulls flying by and the pirate staring out from his crow’s nest.