Colors: Blue Color

WaterSafe, the UK body for approved plumbers, is urging homeowners in Gloucestershire to wrap up their homes this Christmas to avoid frozen and burst water pipes putting a damper on festivities.

The national accreditation body, which is backed by water companies including Wessex Water and Severn Trent Water, is supporting the Met Office’s Get Ready for Winter Campaign. The campaign includes advice on keeping homes warm and safe during the festive season and beyond.

Derrick Ryall, Executive Head of Public Weather Services at the Met Office, said: “People in the UK are resilient and severe winter weather is something we’re all used to, so we sometimes underestimate its impact on our everyday lives.

“Our research shows that many people are too relaxed, however, and are confused about what they need to do to prepare. This is why we have created the comprehensive winter checklist, so households can ensure they are fully prepared this winter.”

As temperatures drop below zero degrees, frozen and burst water pipes can cause flooding, damage and leave homes without water. New figures from the Association of British Insurers say claims to repair a burst water pipe can reach £7,500.

Despite this, new Met Office research shows that 75% of people it surveyed are unsure if their pipes are insulated and protected against freezing.

WaterSafe is advising homeowners to check water pipes in draughty areas such as attics and garages and outside taps. If they aren’t wrapped in lagging (a foam material designed to prevent freezing) it’s time to act. Insulating pipes not only protects them from winter weather but keeps the heat in, saving money too.

WaterSafe is also encouraging homeowners to fix leaky taps before temperatures drop, as even a trickle can result in a frozen tap. Dealing with leaks as soon as you discover them is also an important water-saving measure as every drop counts. Fixing a dripping tap could save 5,500 litres of water a year, not to mention £18 off water bills.

Top tips for a winter-ready home include:

  • Make sure you know where your stop tap is and check it’s working.
  • Make sure all pipes in unheated areas and outside taps are insulated.
  • Fix any dripping taps or toilet cisterns – this will also save water.
  • Check your central heating boiler has been serviced.
  • If you’re going away, consider leaving your heating on and set the thermostat to 14°C. Ask a neighbour to keep an eye on your property.
  • Keep the name and number of a WaterSafe approved plumber to hand for emergencies.
Julie Spinks, director of WaterSafe said: “Knowing where your stop tap is, so you can turn off the water quickly if a pipe freezes or bursts, is essential.

“However, ‘prevention is better than cure’ so following our tips now will help homeowners enjoy peace of mind and a safe festive period during colder weather. If you’re not confident about insulating water pipes or fixing dripping taps yourself, a WaterSafe recognised plumber can help and offer advice.”

Statistics show an estimated 350,000 trees will be bought in the West Midlands this Christmas, yet only 3,500 of those will be recycled. Local charity, Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice is challenging residents to help increase that figure by recycling their festive firs in the largest tree collection the city has seen.

Volunteers from the Hospice are expected to collect 3,000 trees from residents’ doorsteps on 13 and 14 January across the city, in return for a donation.

The ‘Treecycling’ scheme will reach out to a range of postcodes across Birmingham and Solihull, where all collected trees will be recycled into compost and biomass fuel.

All funds raised from Treecycling will go towards Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, which provides vital care and support to local families living with terminal illness across Birmingham and Sandwell.

Richard Green, Treecycling volunteer at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, said: “After all the festivities are over, getting rid of the tree can feel like a post-Christmas chore. With Treecycling though, we can save you both time and hassle by picking up the tree right from your doorstep, saving you from getting needles in your car and queuing for the tip.

“Not only is this scheme a fantastic way to be eco-friendly in the New Year but it will also help raise crucial funds for our Hospice. All of our services – whether they are provided at the Hospice, in people’s homes or in the local community – are completely free of charge and so we rely on the generosity of local people to help us provide our vital care to everyone who needs it.”

Treecycling is supported by the civil engineering contractor, Fitzgerald, who has generously provided staff for the collection weekend, vans and financial support since the scheme’s inception.

Nick Coley, managing director at Fitzgerald, said: “We have a long-standing partnership with Birmingham St Mary’s and it’s fantastic to be able to work together on the Treecycling campaign. Our employees always enjoy helping out during the collection weekend and it’s brilliant to know that every penny raised goes directly towards the Hospice. I know our staff are already looking forward to this year’s event and want to make it its biggest collection yet.”

Treecycling is part of the Hospice’s ‘Care at Christmas’ campaign – a festive appeal to boost support for individuals and families living with terminal illness. It will cost £22k to run the Hospice on Christmas Day so every penny raised will ensure that the best hospice care is available to people and their loved ones, wherever and whenever they need it.

The postcodes that Treecycling will be collecting from, are: B13, B14, B15, B17, B26, B27, B28, B29, B30, B31, B32, B38, B90 and B90. To book your collection, head to: www.careatchristmas.org/treecycling

Pouring turkey fat and other festive leftovers down the plughole is a recipe for disaster that could make it a costly Christmas for unsuspecting households.

As millions of people prepare to tuck into their Christmas dinner, the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) is urging everyone to stop and think about what they pour down the sink and not run the risk of a blocked drain or seeing their home flooded with sewage.

Fatty substances put a huge strain on the sewer network and can create giant pipe-blocking ‘fatbergs’ which feast on our festive leftovers, enabling them to grow up to 250 metres long.

Blockages are one of the main reasons the number of properties across England and Wales flooded with sewage increased by almost a third in 2016/17.

Greasy leftovers can also clog up a property’s drains, landing the householder with a callout charge for someone to clear up the mess.

Steve Grebby, CCWater’s sewer expert, said: “We all love a surprise at Christmas but seeing your home flooded with raw sewage isn’t one of them.”

“There are lots of simple ways to safely dispose of leftover fat or grease, including letting these substances cool in a container before scraping them straight into the bin. It might cost you a little more time but it could save you a lot of money.”

Consumers can protect their pipes and drains by keeping a ‘fat trap’ or container in their kitchen to collect leftover fat, gravy and grease before emptying it into the bin.

The water industry currently spends up to £100 million a year clearing blockages caused by inappropriate items being put down the sink, drain and toilet, with customers footing the bill through their sewerage charges.

A squad of singing railway workers today released a rowdy rework of the Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

‘We Are The Railway Grafters’ was sung, and later tweeted from @NetworkRailBHM, by a choir of Birmingham New Street station staff.

Their re-written lyrics - to the tune that took Gene Autry to the top of the American Billboard chart in 1949 - tell how 32,000 Network Rail workers will be “making the railway better” around the clock across Britain this Christmas.

Patrick Power, Birmingham New Street station manager and a member of the Railway Grafters choir, said: “What we lack in choral talent we more than make up for in soul.”

He added: “This is our way of reminding people that Railway Grafters up and down the land are working hard to make the railway bigger and better for you this Christmas.”

As part of Britain’s Railway Upgrade Plan this Christmas and New Year, Network Rail is carrying out £160 million of investment at 3,100 work sites under 260 individual projects nationwide.

Some of the big railway upgrades taking place are at Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool (Great North Rail Project), Birmingham (West Midlands Resignalling), London Bridge (Thameslink Programme) and London Paddington (Crossrail).

Train customers planning trips over the festive period are advised to plan ahead and check before travelling on www.nationalrail.co.uk. Information can also be found on Twitter using the #ChristmasBHworks hash tag.

The Railway Grafters recorded their song in one take and at zero cost on a smart phone at Birmingham New Street station.

City of Wolverhampton’s inaugural Victorian Christmas Market has been hailed a success – and will return next year on December 14, 15 and 16.

More than 15,000 people attended the event in the heart of the city from Friday to Sunday – generating around £200,000 for the local business economy.

Families enjoyed the festive fun and snapped up Christmas goodies from more than 100 stalls during the three-day market, delivered by City of Wolverhampton Council’s approved market operator, LSD Promotions.

The whole event was set to the backdrop of a Victorian funfair and the offer included a variety of traditional and international street food, local produce, seasonal handcrafted and home-baked goodies, bespoke Christmas decorations and holly wreaths, festive novelties and exclusive gifts, accessories and jewellery.

Entertainment included street artists, choirs, vocalists, instrumental performances, chimney sweeps, dance displays, and Victorian themed stilt walkers.

City of Wolverhampton Council Cabinet Member for City Environment, Councillor Steve Evans, said: “This was the largest festive market the city has seen and it was wonderful to see it attract thousands of visitors – and boost the local economy.

“There was a great atmosphere around the market over the three days with people of all ages enjoying a variety of stalls offering festive goodies, plenty of food and drink, and fun activities at this special time of year.

“We now intend to build on the success of this year when the market returns next winter.”

Organiser Dermot McGillicuddy, LSD Promotions Director, added: "We are proud to have helped the council deliver such a fabulous event, which we hope will be the first of many over the years.”

New artist’s impressions showcasing the future of City of Wolverhampton’s railway station as part of the wider Interchange area have been revealed.

The images come with contractors, Galliford Try, having started early site works before Christmas to prepare for the start of demolition of the existing railway station in May.

Galliford Try - one of the UK’s leading construction groups, responsible for Birmingham’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire - will also build the new railway station.

This phase of the £150 million Wolverhampton Interchange project also includes the already-completed new railway station entrance from Corn Hill and multi-storey car park extension, as well as the continuation of the Midland Metro line extension works to the railway station.

The development news comes in addition to the announcement last week that the West Midlands railway network has been put in the hands of West Midlands Rail – a consortium of 16 local councils, working in close collaboration with the Department for Transport.

This will bring a near £1 billion investment in regional services over the next eight years that will mean more space on trains, more frequent services and better facilities for passengers.

The Wolverhampton railway station development will put the city in the best position to capitalise on the new franchise, and, prior to Christmas, Galliford Try will continue enabling works, including the removal of trees at the bottom of Railway Drive.

The loss of these trees will be mitigated by the installation of a giant green wall in front of the existing multi-storey car park and new tree planters, with plans for further planting on site.

The Banana Yard, which train companies staff previously used for staff car parking, will also be fenced off in readiness.

City of Wolverhampton Council Cabinet Member for City Economy, Councillor John Reynolds, said: “The Wolverhampton Interchange Partnership has worked hard to get to this point.

“Everything is now in place to begin the main station works early next year and people will soon start seeing big changes on site.

“We can all look forward to the emergence of an iconic railway station befitting of the city.

“There is £3.7 billion of investment currently on site or in the pipeline across Wolverhampton.

“As part of this regeneration it is crucial visitors to our city get the best first impression possible and their travel experience is enhanced - this new state-of-the-art station will deliver that.”

The new station building is expected to be completed in 2020.

It will benefit from an enhanced Birmingham New Street-style ticket office, larger passenger concourse, ample ticket barriers to ease flow onto and off platforms, and much improved retail and café facilities.

Steve Parry, Managing Director of ION Development, added: “As the work at the railway station gets underway, it is a pleasure to unveil the vision of the full masterplan through these new images.

“They depict how the transformation of the railway station and surrounding area will offer a brilliant first impression - welcoming those arriving by train to Wolverhampton and showcasing this entrance to the city.”

Melanie Bryett, Interchange Project Manager for Virgin Trains, added: “The new images really bring the plans for the new-look station alive. There’s a real sense of excitement as we work together to give the city a station to be proud of.”

The first phase of the Wolverhampton Interchange project included the construction of a new £22.5 million state-of-the-art bus station on Pipers Row to replace the old one.

A social media star from Turkey, famous for his colourful portraits of some of the world’s biggest celebrities, has been sharing what it’s like to spend Christmas for the first time in the UK since moving for his studies at Birmingham City University International College (BCUIC).

Nineteen-year-old Emre Süner, known online as Mr Creative, has more than 85,000 followers on Instagram, his how-to-draw tutorial videos on YouTube have been streamed hundreds of thousands of times and the artist counts popstar Rihanna among his fans. Furthermore, an abstract picture he drew of musician Taylor Swift went truly viral in 2015 when it was shared by her friend and actress Sarah Hyland and model Dominic Sherwood – who appeared in Swift’s ‘Style’ video – on Twitter.

Born and raised in the small southern Turkish city of Antakya, Emre moved with his family to live in Doha, Qatar in 2009, where he first discovered his talent for art. Earlier this year, Emre moved to the UK to study an Undergraduate Pathway in Architecture before he plans to embark on a degree in Architecture at Birmingham City University.

Emre Süner said: “I know I come from a warm country and my family now live in the Middle East, but I really love the cold! The festive period is always a special time of year no matter where you are in the world, but with the recent snowfall in the UK it has truly felt like Christmas here in Birmingham.

“I am really enjoying all the food that accompanies this time of year in the UK too! The BCUIC campus is situated in the beautiful Birmingham suburb of Bournville, right next to the world-famous Cadbury chocolate factory, so I am literally surrounded by sweet treats all day long.

“I’m certainly not getting homesick though, as the Christmas lights here in the UK are just as big and bold as the ones used to decorate Turkish homes at this time of year, and the displays in Birmingham remind me of my childhood and how we still celebrate New Year back home.

“Being in the UK, it still feels like a dream. I am loving my life at Birmingham City University and, getting to explore the history and culture of the UK in my spare time, is really inspiring for my art.”

In order to keep his online fans in-the-loop, Emre has been documenting his first Christmas in Birmingham, along with his other offline adventures in the UK, on his YouTube channel.

Self-taught, Emre spent six months crafting his abilities before he first posted one of his pencil drawings – a human eye – online in 2011. Since then, he has developed a distinctive style which reflects his interest in popular culture, music and movies – with his art depicting stars such as Justin Timberlake, Cara Delevingne and Eddie Redmayne, or paying homage to films such as ‘Jurassic World’, ‘Interstellar’ and the ‘Star Wars’ saga.

On his growing popularity online, Emre Süner said: “I think people enjoy my art because it reflects my personality as much as it showcases a skill. I take inspiration from pop culture and everyday experiences, so lots of people can relate to it, no matter where in the world they come from.

“There’s lots of hidden messages peppered throughout my work and I think people like to find the Easter eggs I’ve added as well and try to work out what they might mean.”

Thinking about his plans for 2018, Emre wishes to continue his art alongside his academic studies and hopes in the future he gets the chance to collaborate with some of the artists he has drawn.

He added: “I would love to design tour merchandise for someone like Justin Timberlake, but in the meantime, I will continue to draw, write and direct videos, as my creative outlets give me such joy personally and I am just blessed that others enjoy it so much too.

“As well as preparing me for a successful career, my studies at BCUIC are also helping me develop my skills and absorb new experiences, and I am truly grateful for all the exciting opportunities my life in Birmingham is providing me with.”

This time last year, 6,339 people in the West Midlands spent the colder months homeless. In an effort to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness during winter – and the Christmas season - the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has joined forces with property industry charity, LandAid to launch a campaign to deliver more bed spaces for young homeless people in the region.

As part of RICS’s 150th anniversary in 2018, the campaign known as Pledge150 will see RICS - alongside those working in the region’s built environment - raise £2.25 million by December 2018 for LandAid. This money will be used to fund the creation of at least 150 bed spaces for young people at risk of homelessness.

Matthew Howell, RICS Managing Director, UK & Ireland commented: “The winter months are often the most difficult for young people who are homeless, and sadly, as temperatures plummet those who are forced to sleep rough are at an even greater risk of harm, and even death. It is our hope with this campaign that we can make a real positive change to young vulnerable people’s lives by providing them with a safe, secure and affordable place to live.”

Over the last five years, LandAid has raised over £7million to fund accommodation projects for young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, giving them the chance to rebuild their lives after gaining safe and secure accommodation.

One such person is Chaleka who despite working could not afford local rent. The lack of affordable housing in Birmingham means that many young people, like Chaleka, simply can’t find anywhere suitable to live. Local Charity, St Basils is working to change this situation with their Live and Work Scheme.

The scheme, aimed at young people like Chaleka, looks to help young people who are homeless even when they are in work or education. Now living in a shared flat with other people just like her Chaleka has been given the support network she needs, help to learn valuable life skills and because the rent is affordable the opportunity to save for a deposit for her own home.

Chaleka commented: I’ve lived in St Basils Live and Work for over a year and think this scheme has really worked for me. There is always honest support if and when I need it and the staff her are amazing. I share my flat with other young professionals so we all have similar goals. The Live and Work Scheme is a great scheme for any young professional that has determination and wants to succeed.”

Paul Morrish, CEO LandAid adds: “There are thousands of young people living in overcrowded accommodation or sofa surfing – just like Chaleka, but no one counts them, or keeps records of how many people are suffering as they were. Homelessness is a much bigger issue than rough sleeping – especially for young people. We aim to get as many young people without a safe place to call home, in to secure, affordable accommodation. So, we are delighted to be teaming up with RICS in what is our biggest ever fundraising campaign to end youth homelessness.”

RICS plans to raise funds for the Pledge150 campaign at a variety of corporate events and challenges in the West Midlands, and through staff and partner university initiatives in the region. Those working in the West Midlands’ land, property and construction sectors are also being encouraged to join in and think big, in terms of their fundraising activities and in helping to publicise the campaign.

Matthew Howell of RICS commented: “Individuals as well as companies can get involved with fundraising, or even make Pledge150 their ‘giving something back’ initiative. As part of this campaign, property professionals are also being encouraged to consider providing pro bono property advice to help local charities supporting disadvantaged people, including those experiencing homelessness.”

Stephanie Bloxham, 34, has spoken of the kindness her family received from Birmingham’s John Taylor Hospice as she backs an appeal to fund care services on Christmas Day.

The Gift a Christmas campaign hopes to raise £15,000 – enough to fund hospice running costs on 25 December. Stephanie, from Sutton Coldfield, is lending her support to the festive fundraising appeal to say thank you for the comfort John Taylor staff brought to her father Peter.

Stephanie was only 16 years old when her father, Peter Bloxham, was diagnosed with lung cancer after discovering a lump in his neck. Following the devastating news that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes Peter, a registrar at Birmingham Register Office, was referred to John Taylor Hospice in Erdington for palliative care and practical support.

Stephanie explains: “He received hospice care at home and was also an in-patient several times including at Christmas in 1999. The hospice staff were incredible and they made a very difficult time as bearable as possible.”

Dad-of-three Peter died at John Taylor Hospice surrounded by his family in April 2000, aged 42. “Dad was an amazing man, so lovely, friendly, kind and caring,” said Stephanie, a Development Worker with Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVSC). “He was always cheerful and fun. We shared many special memories and our Christmases together were always wonderful. He was devoted to his family and had a really big heart.

“We’ll always be grateful to John Taylor Hospice as they were fantastic, especially in the last few days. They were so understanding, very supportive and caring. They always ensured Dad was looked after and made as comfortable as possible. Nothing was ever too much trouble – they’re fantastic people and that’s why I’m supporting the Gift a Christmas campaign.”

Earlier this year, Stephanie and her brothers Mark, 39, and Andrew, 36, raised an impressive £2,536 for the hospice by hosting a fundraising birthday party to commemorate what would have been their dad’s 60th birthday.

“We’ll continue to support the hospice as much as possible,” added Stephanie. “We want to make sure other families, just like ours, are able to receive this excellent care and emotional support at a time when they need it most. I really hope in sharing our story people can see what an incredible difference the hospice makes in our community and choose to get behind the Gift a Christmas appeal.”

Kerry McGrath, Community Fundraising Manager at John Taylor, said: “Christmas is a special time for many people and, just like we do every day of the year, we help make every moment matter for families. Our care is free to people who need it but it costs £15,000 a day to provide these services. That’s why we rely so much upon the kindness and generosity of wonderful supporters like Stephanie and her family.

“We’ve set up a Gift a Christmas JustGiving page where people can make a donation and leave a message. We understand that the festive season is an expensive time but any amount people can afford to donate will make a lasting difference to those living with a terminal illness and their families.”

Christmas has come early for a Birmingham-based hospice, after a local ‘Santa’ dropped by to deliver gifts.

The Santa along with his festive elves – otherwise known as David Goddard, Nigel Potter and Rachel Brett – visited Birmingham St Mary’s on Thursday 21 December to hand out presents donated by a number of supporters from across the community.

The friends from Yardley delivered a range of thoughtful gifts to individuals staying at the Hospice, as well as people visiting its Day Hospice facilities.

Nigel first decided to deliver gifts to the Hospice in 2015 as he “liked to give back”. He has since visited the Hospice every Christmas and personally delivers gifts to individuals and their loved ones. He said: “I really enjoy doing something for others, which is why I wanted to bring along Santa to the Hospice. I always feel proud after I’ve been to Birmingham St Mary’s and it’s great to be able to brighten up someone’s day.”

Nathan Johnson from Balsall Heath is just one of the individuals to be handed a present from Santa and his helpers. The 31-year-old visits Birmingham St Mary’s Day Hospice, which provides a therapeutic programme of care that empowers people to focus on living well.

He added: “I really wasn’t expecting a visit from Santa today so it’s fantastic to see him and his jolly elves at the Hospice. Everybody’s enjoyed having him here and he has definitely brought a smile to everyone’s face.”

Inside Santa’s sack this year was a range of presents, including care packs that had been specifically designed to support individuals who are receiving end of life care. All gifts were donated to the Hospice by a number of different people and organisations within the local community

Jenny Evitts, sister at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, said: “No-one spreads Christmas cheer quite like Santa himself, so it’s fantastic to see that he’s paid a visit to Birmingham St Mary’s this year. He’s created a real buzz at the Hospice and we hope everyone enjoyed opening their presents.

“Thank you to Nigel and to all the kind people who have donated gifts this year – the presents are incredibly thoughtful and it’s brilliant to have our very own Santa handing them out.”

Birmingham St Mary’s provides vital care and support to individuals and families living with terminal illness. Every day, the Hospice supports 350 individuals across Birmingham and Sandwell – whether that’s at the Hospice, in people’s own homes or in the local community.

Wolverhampton has been officially been recognised as a Dementia Friendly Community – meaning organisations across the City are working towards making people living with the condition feel better understood, respected and supported.

The Alzheimer's Society granted Wolverhampton Dementia Friendly Community Status for 2017-18 after recognising the work taking place in the City to improve services for people living with dementia, and their families and carers.

It defines a Dementia Friendly Community as one where people living with dementia feel included and involved, have choice and control over their daily lives and are supported to contribute to the local community. It is also a place where other people are aware of dementia and understand the needs of people living with the condition.

The Wolverhampton Dementia Action Alliance, a partnership of dozens of local organisations which are working to become more dementia friendly, submitted the application for Dementia Friendly Community status earlier this month, and it was formally approved last week.

Councillor Sandra Samuels OBE, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Cabinet Member for Adult Services, said: "Dementia is a debilitating condition which affects nearly a million people in the UK, including around 3,400 residents in Wolverhampton.

"The council, together with ours partners, are determined to do all we can to improve the lives of people living with dementia, and the lives of their families and carers, by making Wolverhampton as dementia-friendly as possible, and so it is very pleasing that the Alzheimer's Society has recognised us as a Dementia Friendly Community.

"We have only been able to achieve this thanks to the hard work and help and support of a wide range of local organisations, including retailers, businesses, health and the emergency services, charities, religious groups and education providers.

“I would encourage other organisations who wish to improve the help and support they can offer to people living with dementia to become a member of the Wolverhampton Dementia Action Alliance and help us become even more dementia friendly.”

Joe Edwards, Dementia Friendly Communities Officer for the West Midlands, said: "The Wolverhampton Dementia Action Alliance has put in a great amount of work to achieve Dementia Friendly Community status. The dementia-friendly action of member organisations will make a real difference to the lives of people affected by dementia in the City."

Dr Cheryl Etches, Chief Nurse at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, part of the Wolverhampton Dementia Action Alliance, said: “Being granted this status is a brilliant achievement for everyone in Wolverhampton.

“The fact that we have got so many organisations working together to make Wolverhampton a place where people with dementia can feel included and understood, wherever they go, is great for the community.

“We have been working towards being a dementia-friendly Trust since 2010 as this is an area we are very passionate about.”

The recognition is officially defined as "working to become" a Dementia Friendly Community by the Alzheimer's Society, in recognition that there is always more that can be done to improve a community for people affected by dementia. To retain the status in 2018-19, organisations in Wolverhampton must demonstrate further improvement upon this year’s achievements.

Meanwhile, people living with dementia, their families and carers and professionals are being invited to help shape health, wellbeing and social care services in Wolverhampton.

The City of Wolverhampton Council is carrying out a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment which looks at the current and future health needs of the local population and which will inform and guide service provision.

As part of the assessment, the council is carrying out a survey about the support available for people living with dementia, to understand what services are currently being used and what people think of them, and to identify any unmet needs of people with the condition.

Dear Editor,

Christmas is a precious time for many families, but even more so for many of your readers who may be cherishing every moment they get to spend with a beloved family member living with a terminal illness.

In fact this year, more than one million people in the UK are expected to be supporting a loved one who has a terminal illness over Christmas, while facing the possibility that this could be their last together.

Caring for someone at home can be a very rewarding but also an isolating experience. For some, it will be the first Christmas without their Mum, Dad, husband, wife or partner, which can also be a very difficult time.

People often say that they don’t know where to turn to and don’t know what help is available to them, which is why I am writing to tell you about our free, confidential Support Line – 0800 090 2309, which offers practical information and emotional support about any aspect of terminal illness, as well as offering bereavement support too.

To help everyone who may need us during the festive period, our Support Line will be open from Sunday 24th December – Tuesday 2nd January.

Support Line open hours:

24 December (10am-4pm)

25-26 December (10am-2pm)

27-29 December (8am-6pm)

30 December (11am-5pm)

31 December (10am -4pm)

1 January (10am-2pm)

2 January (8am-6pm)

If you are in need of support, or have any questions about any aspect of terminal illness, the Marie Curie Information & Support Line – 0800 090 2309 - is here for you and can help you make the most of Christmas with your loved ones.

Additionally, our trained Support Line Officers are also on hand to offer support via our online chat service at mariecurie.org.uk/support.

With best wishes,

Joanna Stradling

General Manager for the Midlands at  Marie Curie

2018 will mark 250 years of the modern circus, with performances, exhibitions and activities set to take place throughout the UK to mark the anniversary.

And it's all down to Philip Astley, who was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme, in Staffiordshire, in 1742.

Astley, the son of a Staffordshire cabinetmaker, grew up to become a master equestrian, entrepreneur, war hero, pioneer and showman.  In 1768, having acquired “Ha'Penny Hatch” - a small piece of land on the south bank of the Thames between London Bridge and Westminster Bridge - he opened a riding school, creating performances and then developing the 42-foot diameter circus ring.  This remains the standard-size ring used in circus across the world to this day.

Bringing together acrobats, clowns and trick riders in a 42-foot diameter ring, for over 40 years, Philip Astley entertained both high society and the general public with a series of acts that combined risky and tense displays of skill with comic relief.  Astley himself was at the heart of these performances, simultaneously riding up to three horses while performing ever-more daring tricks.  The 'original' ringmaster, it is believed that the traditional military style wear of the 'ringmaster also stems from Astley.

Astley's Amphitheatre - and his promotional skills - captured the public's imagination.  Building on his success, Astley toured across Europe and had particular success in Paris, performing for Louis XV at Versailles.

The Philip Astley Project has been formed to celebrate the man himself in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and beyond.

Thanks to National Lottery money, and sponsorship from businesses based in North Staffordshire, locals and visitors alike will be able to get involved in workshops, talks, an exhibition, and performances throughout 2018.

Performances, exhibitions and activities will also be taking place throughout the UK to mark this important anniversary.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is one of six key locations identified by the national Circus 250 network. The Philip Astley Project is co-ordinating activities, and is working closely with local and national partners, including the V&A Museum in London and the New Vic Theatre's 'Circus Past, Present and Future' project, supported by Arts Council England.

A local artist will be commissioned to develop a new town centre trail in Newcastle-under-Lyme that includes both historical sites and new art work, illustrating highlights from Astley's incredible life.  Launching in June 2018, it will be possible to pick-up free copies of the trail, be guided by volunteer storytellers, and revel in the circus atmosphere when town centre businesses decorate their windows - taking inspiration from iconic circus posters.

In May 2018, the town will bring an array of circus performers to town centre bars and pubs for drinkers to watch while they enjoy Astley Ale or Tightrope Tequila!

There will also be film-shows; and talks, held from now up to September 2018, and led by Andrew Van Buren and other key figures from the circus industry, will help to illustrate the importance of Astley's ongoing legacy.

From May, visitors to the town's Brampton Museum will be able to discover more about Astley's connection to Newcastle-under-Lyme, learn about his early life, and explore how this might have influenced his later career during a three-month exhibition.

And on Saturday August 4 2018 – the highlight in a year-long calendar of events - there will be an opportunity to celebrate Philip Astley in Lyme Valley Park during the AstleyFest - a free festival, with performances, exhibitions and activities aimed at inspiring everyone to get involved.

Celebrate Chinese New Year at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire on 17 February 2018. For the first time in its 300 year history the UNESCO World Heritage Site will be transformed with traditional Chinese decorations and entertainment.

Enjoy a traditional Double Guan Yin Chinese Lion dance accompanied by a drummer and tuck in to some delicious Chinese street food from a variety of stalls in the Great Court.

Don't miss out on special photos and meet-and-greet opportunities with the lion, then venture into the Palace to warm up and discover the magnificent Great Hall festooned with strings of Chinese lanterns.

The Chinese New Year celebration is a festival for family, where Chinese people get together a make the most of family time. In China, traditionally wherever they are, people come home to celebrate the festival with their families. The New Year's Eve dinner is called 'reunion dinner', and is believed to be the most important meal of the year.

Visitors to Blenheim Palace can dine in The Orangery Restaurant to have their own Reunion Dinner as they enjoy the festivities of this wonderful cultural occasion.

Kate Ballenger, House Manager says: “After winning the Great China Welcome Award this year we looked to see what else we could offer at the palace to celebrate other cultures. Chinese New Year is set to be incredibly exciting.”

An array of talented children from Hallfield School in Edgbaston are to perform at The Crescent Theatre in Birmingham over the Christmas break.

The eight children aged between eight and twelve will be performing in ‘Wind in the Willows’ at the theatre until Friday 22 December.

Former Hallfieldian Tobias Ishaque – who is now at King Edwards School in Birmingham - stars as Toad. He is ably supported by current Hallfield pupils Meher Gazi in Year 5, Laila Mahate in Year 6, Thalia Pigadas in Year 6 and Sophia Ishaque in Year 4 as well as recent leavers Zachary Mukwamba, Lamees Mahate and Harrison Osborne.

The production will be produced by DramaLink Theatre Company, a project which links young people through Drama.

Liz Piddock, Creator & Artistic Director of DramaLink, said: “We are grateful to have the support of Hallfield School not only for the provision of rehearsal space, but also for providing such talented children to be prominent members of the cast.

“Children from across Birmingham are joining together in this outreach community project. The theatre company makes no charge to it’s actors and thus provides actor training and wonderful theatre experience to everyone involved.”

In the lead up to Christmas, the independent crime-fighting charity, Crimestoppers, is today appealing to the public for information on those making, buying or selling counterfeit banknotes.

Washroom advertising is being placed in various pubs and clubs around the area to compliment extensive social media activity, including at The Canalside in Gas Street, The O Bar in Broad Street and The White Swan in Church Street, to help maximise exposure.

In the first half of 2017, over 237,000 worthless counterfeit banknotes with a notional value of over £4.88 million were removed from the UK’s streets.

While less than 0.05% of notes in circulation are counterfeit, this is not a victimless crime. Many retailers, businesses, schools, charities and the elderly have been conned out of money using fake notes.

Christmas is a time when more cash changes hands, especially £20 and £50 notes, and fraudsters take advantage of the festive season by targeting busy shops with temporary staff.

Incidents include scammers tricking innocent members of the public into swapping fake £20 notes for two genuine £10 notes, and businesses being left out of pocket if they take a counterfeit note.

Counterfeit notes are also known to be linked to serious and organised criminal gangs. One gang was sentenced to over three years’ imprisonment for the manufacture of £320,000 worth of fake notes. In another more recent case, three men were prosecuted after £40,000 of fake notes were found in a Kent property that was also used to supply cannabis.

As well as raising public awareness of fake banknotes, in October Crimestoppers partnered with the Bank of England to launch the Banknote Checking Scheme. Aimed at cash-handling businesses, it promotes banknote checking at point of sale through targeted training, with the aim of reducing the number of counterfeit notes being accepted.