Hello middle of November

Years ago I had a well liked blog that I updated every day. But blogs aren’t so popular these days, the world has shrunk from long posts into tiny tweets, Facebook posts, Snapchat and Instagram. I still like blogging, so I will use this place to write my thoughts now and then. The months have gone by and I wish I’d found more time to write about some of the things I’ve busy with, here’s a whizz through some of the significant bits.

The Oval Chalet 

As my last post suggests, the council was slow to reveal information about this controversial sale, and as information has been revealed it’s clear mistakes were made. Our seafront is our town’s finest asset. It’s pretty much our Canterbury Cathedral, or  our Big Ben or Eiffel Tower. So of course people care about this bit of land and will be sensitive about any changes. Here’s why many people are understandably upset that this sale :

  • It was sold without us knowing anything about it, or having our say.
  • it was sold for a price that insults it’s value in our eyes. (A reputed £160,000)
  • Mistakes were made, particularly with a contract that makes no real demands for open space.
  • We want open space of some sort, but have no realistic chance to get that now. The council took legal advice and voted that the contract stands, our only chance to fight this now is through the planning process.
project-ssw (1)
Reputed to be an image of the sympathetic development with open space voted for by councillors in the meeting where the £160k  land sale was decided.

I share a passion for putting right these wrongs, but bizarrely I have fallen out with the group leading the protest. They don’t like that I’m a councillor’s wife. I seem to upset them because I try to share the facts that I know, with the unhappy conclusion that there is not a lot we can do now. I hope I am wrong, but I am basing my information on discussions with councillors.  I think facts matter, and I don’t think anything is to be achieved by encouraging false hope. We can fight for a compromise in the planning stages but I don’t see much else we  can do. It won’t be the kind of development I would have wanted for this prime spot by the beach, but I don’t have any ideas to fix this. Believe me, I’ve tried looking for solutions.

The council have been quite open and informative since this issue reached their committee meetings. I think they want to prove they are different from the secretive council who made this bad deal. The report from the council’s chief executive explained a lot, including the honest admission of the mistakes that messed up the deal.

This made me realise that the council don’t really have very good channels to communicate effectively. There have been lots of people demanding answers on Facebook, and there have been a lot of rumours, accusations and misinformation. It’s taken a while but there is now a page on the council site listing all the reports about the sale. It’s not perfect and I’d love to see some kind of fact file or summary of the key points, but it’s information at least.

Poor old Oval Chalet, I do hope it has a happy ending.

Online Local Democracy

This point follows from the last… There were some interesting discussions in the Campaign for Democracy in Canterbury District Facebook group about the Oval Chalet situation and the communication of council information. I’ll be meeting a few like minded people to discuss ideas, either with the aim of encouraging the council to have a better consultation and communication policy, or creating a local democracy site to take on some bits of this task ourselves.

I would hope CCC might be encouraged to create an excellent engagement strategy, but I can see why it might be tricky. It would be an interest plan B to try to create a local democracy site.

Museum of Fun

N4ICiCtZhvzyzoCtEzs70NtyBjkyDifgwPfv8RqStTI (1)The second year of Museum of Fun was loads bigger and better than the first. I’m especially proud that we managed it without any grant funding. It shows you don’t need a huge budget to get things done.

The Museum of Fun entertained over 1,000 Whitstable people in and around the Umbrella Centre on October 4th, and also offered a smaller event at Lucerne Neighbourhood Centre the day before. The Neighbourhood Centre event turned out to be just as rewarding as the big one, we took a smaller version of the event to children who don’t usually get to experience this kind of thing.

The event involved more than 50 volunteers, and bought together groups as diverse as the Twin Towns Association, architecture, event planning & physical sciences departments from the University of Kent, Whit Word, Whitstable Museum, Vattenfall the wind farm people and numerous individuals who wanted to create something arty, sciency or fun for our event.

I love that this event is such a hotch potch of things. The highlights for me were our Whitstable smell museum, and adding a sea to our cardboard Whitstable.  I’m not sure quite where to take it next year, it’s an awful lot of work but it is satisfying creating something with a bunch of amazing people who give time and effort to their community for free.

Secondary Education in Kent

Where to start with this one? I started writing an anonymous blog about Kent education, and somehow got into an intense 10 day Twitter debate with ‘the hated’ Peter Hitchens, a noted supporter of selective education. He ended up linking to my blog from his blog a few times, so I ended up with thousands of people reading about the failings of Kent’s education. Mostly Peter Hitchen’s fans were in favour of grammar schools too, and via the long debate, reading and thinking, I started to see both sides of the debate.

I really enjoyed learning how to argue a point from a master debater. I would go as far as to say that this Twitter conversation was one of the highlights of my year. If I didn’t put my point across well I was dismissed. I fought with facts, he fought with facts, they were the only weapons allowed… I researched, I presented my case, he stuck to his guns and explained his rules of having a principle. I realised I didn’t actually have a principle, at least not a clear one, just a vague sense of injustice.

I admitted some of Mr.Hitchen’s arguments were valid points, I believe he thought about my side of things too. He is one of the grammar school movement’s biggest fans but I think I influenced his opinion a little, if only by presenting some of the issues in Kent. Interestingly he’s not in favour of a one off eleven plus test like we have here.

My problem with Kent education is that there is no answer for the secondary modern schools. The schools denied academic children are not like the comprehensive schools in other parts of the country. The grammar schools take 25% of the high achieving, mostly middle class pupils, and the schools they leave behind have many disadvantaged children, and too many children who see no point to school. These schools are often troubled and get bad Ofsted reports and league table results. Chasing a quick fix drives them still deeper into trouble as they fight to catch up. My daughter’s school bribes children with cookies to attend homework clubs. I don’t know if this is a good use of the pupil premium but I doubt it.

Statistically speaking schools with high numbers of disadvantaged children and low attainment, do badly. So with the grammar school system we are creating a lot of schools with this likelihood of doing badly. We have no real plan to help these schools, and mostly we turn a blind eye to the problems.

At the recent Comprehensive Future conference I was impressed by Jonathan Simons of the right wing think tank Policy Exchange, who explained that the selective system in Kent is a sort of social selection, as advantaged parents use it to further their child’s education.

I have no time here to tell you about my admiration for Kurt Hahn, or my believe that we should aim to find another kind of success for those who might find limited success in exams. I’ll try to write another post on this some time.

Anyway, secondary education has become a bit of a thing for me.  I don’t feel changing the grammar school system in Kent is a winnable fight and I like proper goals. So I am looking at general ideas involving education, rather than trying to change such a big thing.

I’ve considered:

  • A free school in Canterbury, if I can get any support this would be an expeditionary school. I love this model of schooling, it means involving children in challenging projects and experiences to encourage learning, lots of practical projects and exam subjects studied in creative ways.
  • A community project to work with failing schools. These schools have little joy in them, but what if a group got involved to offer after school clubs, and extra curricula stuff? I want to ask demoralised kids in schools, ‘What do you want to learn?’  I believe anyone can discover a love of learning. Sometimes schools are far too narrow in their definition of education. I learned far more  from ZX Spectrum computer programs in magazines, collecting cacti, and Clubs Week than my geography lessons. I have no idea what we did in geography but I can still tell you about the complex biology of cacti grafting.

I’ve whizzed through the explanations for these ideas but I have given them a lot of thought. Both are big things and will take over my life, so I need to make sure anything I do is the right idea, and that I’ve time to do it properly.

Writers of Whitstable short story anthology

A couple of years ago I set up a local writing group and it has grown and thrived. It now meets twice a month,  one group for novels and one group for short stories. Over a glass of wine in the Marine Hotel we share feedback on our work. It’s my perfect sort of writing group, it’s so useful to get notes to help a story find a better direction, and many of the WoW writers have become my friends.

We’re publishing a short story anthology in May next year. The theme is Whitstable and I hope the book will make a small profit and benefit Beanstalk a local children’s charity. I’ve written two stories for the book, one I like, the other I need to get on and finish.

Story Planner

logo-squareStory Planner is my second web app project,  and I’m thrilled with the way the whole thing came together in only two months and launched with excellent feedback from it’s users.

PlayMaker was my first app, and definately my learning project. My son still loves PlayMaker and nags me to go back to it, but I fear it has a lot of  flaws to fix, plus it’s not as easy to monetize as my writing site.

Story Planner is a site offering templates to help plan novels, short stories and screenplays. I think it works pretty well, but not everyone is a story structure nerd like me… The main feedback I get is that it’s hard to know which writing plan to choose. I have a fix for that, and a few tweaks to improve the user journey. My developer friend has been busy with his own projects but will work on a new version of the site in January. It’s a bit of a bore making site changes, but I know it will be worth it. I’ll give Story Planner a relaunch in the new year with a bit of a marketing budget behind it.

It is only a side project, though I hope it may make a bit of a profit. I know I have far too much on in general, with a job and a family too.

I think writing this list has helped me see that I need to prioritise the projects that matter. The tricky bit is deciding which those are.

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