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Monday, 28 September 2020

Virtual celebration of Older People's Day

Reading Borough Council has published details of a virtual celebration this Thursday, 1 October - see below to which everyone is welcome to attend:

Reading will be celebrating National Older People’s Day 2020 with a free online event on Thursday 1st October, highlighting the contribution all older people make to the Reading community.

The event this year is a virtual one which be held on the Reading Culture Live website. In previous years the event has been held at Broad Street Mall and this year we acknowledge the Covid-19 situation which has created increased loneliness and isolation for older people. The aim of this year’s National Older People’s Day event is to demonstrate the resilience of older people in our community and the great work of voluntary organisations and community groups who have supported older people during difficult times.

The event is organised by Age UK Berkshire and Age UK Reading, with support from Reading Borough Council and members of the Older People’s Working Group.

Reading’s Older People’s Day 2020 celebrations start with a live virtual coffee morning event hosted by Age UK Berkshire at 10:30 am. Meet and connect with older people in Reading and share lockdown experiences. To join the virtual coffee morning, register online or email opwg@reading.gov.uk or call 07811 026070.

The online Reading Older People’s Day event then moves to the Reading Culture Live website www.readingculturelive.co.uk. A video introduced by Mayor of Reading, Cllr David Stevens will showcase the rich array of local services that have supported older residents during the pandemic and lockdown. An information booklet with the content of the video and information about local services will be published. If you would like a printed copy, please contact opwg@reading.gov.uk or call 07811 026070.

Memory project video; the second video reflects on the town during Covid-19 and how it has affected the older people. Contributions will be shared featuring stories, thoughts and memories.

The videos will be available on the Reading Culture Live website from 1st October onwards to watch at a convenient time.

Lead Councillor for Adult Social Care, Cllr Tony Jones, said: “Older People’s Day is a lovely chance to celebrate later life and the huge contribution older people make to our communities. This year our event moves online. I’d encourage people to register to join our virtual coffee morning and watch the videos celebrating local services who have supported older residents during the pandemic, and the memory video which has captured a snapshot of this unique time and how it has affected the older people of Reading.

Please spread the word, invite your friends, family and anyone you know who might benefit.”

For more information including support with IT and accessing the event please call, 07811 026070 or email opwg@reading.gov.uk

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Construction progress of The Heights at MPF

On Friday I went to Mapledurham Playing Fields and visited The Heights school building to see how construction was coming along. With me kitted out with my safety hat, high viz and safety glasses, Andy Mason - Kier's Senior Site Manager - kindly showed me around. 

As is visible from outside Kier's boundary fencing, the school's steel frame is encased by scaffolding, with monoflex on the western side to give residents living closest to the school privacy from the workmen.

Inside the site I was struck by the quantity of grey soundproofing panels on the inside of the construction boundary fencing. Also noticeable was the drop in ground level in the north-west corner, the school being at least a metre lower than Hewett Close. 

One challenge the pandemic has created is the need for Kier to increase welfare space. Their canteen, which usually would hold up to 30 people, can only be used by 5. So 2 further canteens are being delivered, plus an extra office and toilet block (the latter will be connected to the tank on the north-eastern side to keep any smells away from residents' homes).These welfare units will take up space on site which means construction material deliveries must be timed meticulously for immediate use.

Andy showed me the ground floor which was being worked on as we spoke. Preparation of the floor slab includes a 250 mm layer of sand then an insulation membrane, finished off with 250 mm of concrete. This should be completed this week.

The first floor's concrete was poured last week. Next goes down the latex. The steel framing system (SFS) arrives this week. It will be installed first on the western side. Then, to minimise future impact to residents nearest the school, this side will have its exterior boarding completed as this will help shield them from the rest of the works.

To minimise noise, the steel panels have been cut to size off site at the manufacturers. This has meant the concrete floors and the frame have had to be constructed incredibly accurately with a tolerance level of just 3 mm instead of the normal 25 mm. 

Kier are going above and beyond too by building a soundproofed room to house a cutting machine, again to minimise disturbance to residents. 

We climbed up the temporary, external stairs to the roof, where all the school's plant will be located as well as a large quantity of solar panels. 

It was fantastic to see the Playing Fields from this view point. They are looking so good. Installation of the path from Chazey Road to the Pavilion, which will make the area much more accessible for all, is nearing completion (visible in the photo).

It was good also to get a bird's eye view of the Pavilion's spanking new roof, completed in the last few weeks. I'll post a picture of this as well as internal photos in the next few days once I've checked out how the Pavilion's refurbishment is going.

The school is on track for Easter 2021 completion. If you have any questions, do let me know. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Unpopular Caversham One-Way System dismantled

I am thrilled by the success of the "One Way No Way" Caversham Facebook Group to get Reading Borough Council's Labour administration to eventually see common sense. The unpopular one-way system's bollards drilled into the road yesterday, were this afternoon removed!


It is a shame Labour didn't listen to local residents and my Conservative colleagues back in May 2020 when we all said the proposals were going to cause congestion, thereby increase pollution and fail in their purpose.

At least it wasn't as colossal a financial fiasco as Labour's "One Way IDR", announced back in 2006 - the plans of which cost residents more than an eye-watering £1 million!

Here's the council's full press release about this welcome, if over-due, u-turn:

Reading Borough Council News Release

Weds Sep 2nd

Caversham One Way Systems to be Removed This Week

TEMPORARY one way systems along Caversham’s Gosbrook Road and Westfield Road will be removed this week in response to concerns raised by the local community.

Reading Borough Council is moving swiftly to revert to the previous road layout after listening to the views of local residents and businesses in Caversham and seeing first-hand the dangerous behaviour of a minority of motorists ignoring the new one way systems. Work to reverse the temporary scheme is expected to be fully complete by the weekend.

The one-way systems in Caversham are just one part of a wider package of Active Travel schemes introduced in Reading under temporary powers afforded to all Councils by the Government in response to the pandemic. The intention is to make social distancing easier by creating more road space for pedestrians and cyclists, whilst recognising the on-going restrictions on the capacity of local public transport.

Central Government awarded funding to local authorities, including Reading, to implement road schemes in response to Covid 19, which continues to be a threat. Both the funding and road schemes were awarded under temporary powers which did not allow for the usual extensive period of consultation with local residents prior to implementation. The Gosbrook Road and Westfield Road schemes were specifically designed to alleviate pressures on social distancing caused by narrow pavements in the area, which are also on routes to schools.

Delays in the supply chain caused by large numbers of councils attempting to source the same road infrastructure at the same time meant the scheme was significantly delayed. As a result it was implemented more than six weeks later than originally planned. The result of this delay was that traffic levels were much higher than anticipated at the point of introduction which - combined with the constrained road network in Caversham - has led to traffic bottlenecks created in the area. A minority of motorists have been observed flouting the one-way systems whilst driving dangerously.

Ward Councillors have been in the area collecting feedback from local residents and businesses since the scheme’s introduction last week. This has been shared with the Council, leading to the decision to reverse the scheme.

Councillor Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:

“I would like to apologise to residents and local businesses in Caversham for the obvious disruption and inconvenience caused by the introduction of this temporary scheme. We are now moving swiftly to reverse it due to the widespread lack of support in the local area.

“The scheme was well intentioned to make travelling by bike or walking easier in response to the pandemic, which was important in the narrow pavements and streets of Caversham. We were also very aware the same constrained road layout in the area meant these changes were challenging. It has quickly become apparent there is a lack of local support for the scheme which is why we are moving quickly this week to revert to the previous road layout.

“It is worth noting the Government guidance issued to all Councils under the Active Travel scheme was that changes could be implemented under temporary powers and without prior consultation. This was understandable in the circumstances, but it does emphasise again the importance of local consultation before any major changes are introduced.

“I would like to thank ward Councillors who I know have been out speaking to local residents and businesses about the scheme and feeding back those views to the Council. We have listened to those views and the old layout will be back in place by the end of this week.”

Councillor Page added:

“It is important to note that the Council continues to fully support the principle of Active Travel schemes and the significant benefits they bring to people and communities. The fact that this specific scheme has not worked does not change that position in the slightest.

“There are a number of Active Travel schemes already in place across the Borough, many operating successfully as part of the first phase of work. We will continue to monitor these closely and will consult widely before any are made permanent.

“We also look forward to the result of our ambitious Phase 2 bid to Government which includes key ‘missing link’ cycle lanes fully segregated from general traffic.”

Details of all Reading Borough Council’s Active Travel schemes can be found at www.reading.gov.uk/activetravel

READING.GOV.UK
With social distancing measures likely to remain in place for some considerable time in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, the Council has moved to design a series of schemes to create more space for…

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Impact of mini heatwave on Mapledurham Playing Fields

Today the council has notified me of a delay to taking down the fencing around the newly levelled and grassed area of pitches. This is because the mini heatwave set back the grass by a week or two. The heavy rainfall that followed has made the ground soft so that any vehicles collecting up the fencing could easily damage the grass.
New growth coming through sun-damaged grass

Although the delay is very frustrating, I support the decision as it is prudent to let the young grass establish itself before allowing us all to use it. Officers will review the situation and hope to take down the fencing in the week commencing 7 September.

As the area between the Kier site and the play area has been churned up it has been raked and the council is in the process of arranging a temporary surface to be laid in the week commencing 24 August. It will be returned to grass after the works are completed but is likely to be in place for the duration of the winter according to officers.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

MPF: Update from Reading BC officers

 A diligent officer sent out the following update about Mapledurham Playing Fields' pitches, the landscaping works and the Pavilion, yesterday (Saturday 8 July). 

The news our community has been eager to hear about is the coming down of the fences to open up the  newly levelled and grassed pitches on the eastern side of MPF. The good news is we shouldn't have to wait long. Monday 24 August is the likely date, though this is dependent on weather conditions.

In other news the central footpath along the desire line walking/running/cycling across MPF from the Pavilion to the entrance on Chazey Road will start later this week. It'll further improve accessibility for all and with the avenue of trees that will be planted along it in the tree planting season, this landscaping will be an attractive and eye-catching feature.

Here is the officer's update:

Thinner stretches of grass visible along drainage lines

Sports pitch works

The new grass sports turf is steadily growing, has been cut several times and is regularly assessed by an independent expert. The area around the play area has been be re-opened for recreational use with the heras fencing adjusted to allow access on the west and south sides of the play area.

 

The main area of new turf is starting to become established in most areas but the grass along the new drain lines is vulnerable to dogs digging and could be damaged by some activities such as informal kickabouts. See the photos to show the differences in the growth of areas of grass. We are hoping that the grass will become more established over the next few weeks.

 

We are looking to remove the fence around the boundary from Monday 24th August to allow access for recreational use. However, if the area becomes damaged in large parts by dogs digging or over use then we may need to re-instate the fencing across the area to protect it. We ask that playing sports eg football is kept to the west side of the playing fields, next to the new play area and will install some goals to encourage use on this area.

 

Other Landscape works

We will be starting work on the central footpath on Thursday 13th August. This will involve moving the heras fence line running north to south to enable the path to be installed. The contractor will form a small compound adjacent to the pavilion works to avoid materials being stored on the playing fields and will maintain access to the popular new play area. Works will continue throughout August and September to install the new path and benches and then the new footpath lighting before the autumn wet weather sets in. In November we aim to plant the avenue of new trees.

 

Pavilion improvement works

AYM are making good progress with the new side extension now taking shape, and new roofs and external cladding being installed. Work will then mainly be inside installing new heating and electrics. The internal fit out and decoration will follow as we aim to complete the works by late October.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

A look inside Mapledurham Pavilion

I was thrilled to check out the progress of the comprehensive refurbishment of Mapledurham Pavilion in July.

View east across the hall, entrance from car park RH corner
The photo to the left shows the main hall. It remains the same size, though without the walls and ceilings in place the wood gives the allusion of a smaller space.  The main entrance from the car park is in the far right corner (to the right of the propped-up orange door). 

Straight ahead are the spaces where two mirror image FA standard football changing rooms are being created. This is a conversion of the old storage rooms and kitchen, as well as a small extension. Access will only be from the western side of the Pavilion through an exterior door to each one, with a wall between them and the hall. 

On the left hand side of the photo you can see the steels - the sole remaining feature from the Warren & District Residents Association's (WADRA) refurbishment in 2019. These gaps will have glazed doors with exterior security shutters. It will be fabulous to have the views across the playing fields restored and improved after over 20 years! Back when my two were little and I ran the parent and toddler group 'Escape', the council boarded up the old, rotting windows following several broken windows.  

New flooring will be going down as there was asbestos under the lino that was laid in 2019. The Football and Tennis clubs both agreed with me that it was sensible to eradicate the asbestos at this opportune time rather than store up problems for the future.

New kitchen
The photo to the left shows the space where the new kitchen will be. You can see that two large serving hatches are being created - one for serving the main hall, the other - which will have security shutters - for serving events on the playing fields.
 
The kitchen is a much more generous size than the old one and also benefits from having two doorways. These improvements should make it fit for catering for large events.

WADRA is paying for kitting the kitchen out with appliances using money fundraised (from residents and Festival Republic's donations).

Storage room off hall
In the hall's north-east corner is a door to what will be a large storage room for the hall's regular user groups (see right).

Widened, reconfigured corridor
Next to the storage room will be a door to a widened, reconfigured corridor giving access to the kitchen, the men's/women's/and accessible loos and the Tennis Club's room.

The corridor also leads to the old changing rooms which are being converted into two rooms available for hire for meetings or other small events. 

Two large windows have been made in the wall facing out onto the car park, transforming the dark cramped old changing rooms into inviting, light spaces. 


View into new meeting room
You can see into the first one in the photo to the left (viewed from the corridor with the doorway to it straight ahead and at the far end of the room the two large windows).

According to the council officers - who have been doing an excellent job overseeing the project - the works should be finished ready for the Pavilion to re-open this October. Hopefully by then covid-19 restrictions will have eased further and the user groups and others in our community will be able to make full use of it.

The improvements have been funded predominantly by Department for Education money paid to the council (Trustee of Mapledurham Playing Fields) as part of the legal agreement for building The Heights School. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Update on Mapledurham Playing Fields

The new grass on the eastern side of Mapledurham Playing Fields' pitches is looking very good! 

The contractors, Agripower, have cut the grass several times now and added feed to help strengthen it. I was keen to take the opportunity in July to inspect it with officers. I took this short video standing in the middle which hopefully gives you a good view.

I'm as keen as anybody to get the fences down so that everyone can enjoy the space and new grass - however for a number of reasons, sensibly officers have held off. 

As can be seen in the photo to the right, there are lines where the grass is thinner - this is above the drainage channels as it is taking a little longer for the grass to establish as a result.

Another reason for the reluctance is that vehicles would need to drive on the new grass so it must be able to withstand this, otherwise the huge investment (funded by part of the developer contribution monies from the DfE) could be put at risk.

I hope to be able to have a better idea when the fences will be coming down later this week.