Saturday, August 15, 2020
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Reopening all Leeds play areas ‘impossible’ under current Covid-19 restrictions says West Leeds councillor

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A West Leeds councillor has claimed it is “simply not possible” for the authority to safely reopen all of its local play areas due to government Covid-19 restrictions, writes Richard Beecham.

The claims come after the leader of the council’s opposition Conservatives group accused decision makers of “a failure of leadership” for their handling of reopening playgrounds in local parks.

Coun Andrew Carter (Con. Calverley & Farsley) claimed a plan coming forward on how to open playgrounds under the current government guidance, claiming decision-makers in the Labour-run authority were “hiding behind overly risk-averse advice”.

The council’s executive board member responsible Coun Mohammed Rafique (Lab) claimed the authority had already reopened seven playgrounds and was finalising plans to open “significantly more very soon”.

But he added the council has requested the government redraws its Covid safety guidance for play areas in large cities, warning it was “simply not possible” for the authority to safely open every play area in line with the current safety restrictions.

But Coun Carter claimed the number opened so far did not go far enough, and that a plan should have already been in place to ensure more could open safely.

He said:

“Sadly I feel Leeds City Council is being embarrassed by our constituent town and parish councils with regard to the re-opening of playgrounds.

“Under the same government guidance, they have managed to do what the city council has singularly avoided by hiding behind overly risk-averse advice.

“I believe it simply comes from a complete breakdown in political leadership from this administration. If the will were there, a way would have been found to make it happen.”

Play areas had originally been declared out of bounds back in the Spring due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Original plans to reopen parks announced in mid-July had been delayed for a week following further government advice on public safety. The authority then confirmed it would begin reopening six of its play areas on July 23.

However, since then only one further play area has been reopened, meaning that out of 200 council-run play areas, only seven are able to be used.

Coun Carter stressed he did not want to suggest taking a “cavalier” attitude to public safety, but added the public “understand the situation much more than we give them credit for”.

He added: “Regrettably, I am now of the opinion there is no plan to get them open, only a plan to keep them closed. Our children have lost so much this year due to Covid, through not seeing friends while home schooling, now is the time they should be out in the park playing during the holidays and just being children.”

According to government guidance published last month, all owners of play areas and outdoor gyms need to carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment on each facility.

It added users should be able to safely observe one metre-plus social distancing rules and, if possible, introduce a maximum number of users, or even a booking system. Regular cleaning should also take place on equipment.

Coun Mohammed Rafique, the council’s executive member for environment and active lifestyles, claimed this was unrealistic for an area the size of Leeds to undertake.

He said:

“People will appreciate the need to be cautious when it comes to managing the risks of Covid-19. For playgrounds our primary focus has to be on the safety of children and families using them.

“However we understand that many families want to see playgrounds reopen safely which is why we have already reopened seven and we are finalising a detailed plan and risk assessment to open significantly more across the city very soon. In the meantime, we thank everyone for their patience and for following the guidance on safe use of public spaces.

He added the parish and district councils referred to by Coun Carter only managed a “very small” number of playgrounds, and it was therefore easier for them to meet government safety guidelines.

“There are around 2,000 pieces of play equipment in playgrounds under Leeds City Council’s responsibility,” he said. “This means it is simply not possible for us to keep them all safe to use in line with the government guidance.

“As a result, we have written to the government to demand they review the guidance for councils who manage a large number of playgrounds over a large geographic area like we do in Leeds.

“To date we have had no response from the government on this and I would remind Coun Carter that it is paramount that we all work together at this time of national crisis to keep the people of Leeds safe while doing everything we can to reopen facilities.”

Bramley Park playground re-opens

Bramley and Stanningley’s councillors have announced that the playground in Bramley Park will be open at the weekend. Posting on Facebook, councillors Caroline Gruen, Jools Heselwood and Kevin Ritchie said:

“Obviously hand sanitising and social distancing within bubbles should be adhered to and you may have to wait your turn, but the playground will be open this weekend. Bramley and stanningley councillors and Rachel Reeves MP have lobbied for the playground to be opened and we’re very pleased that it now is.”

Armley: Woman killed after being hit by a van

A 69-year-old woman has died after being hit by a van in Armley.

Police are appealing for witnesses to the incident yesterday morning, in which a pedestrian died.

At 10.14am on Thursday (13 August) police were called to the incident on Back Athlone Grove, Armley, where a Ford Transit van had been involved in a collision with the woman.

She was taken to hospital by ambulance but was pronounced dead a short time later.

The driver of the van, a man in his fifties, was arrested on suspicion of causing death by driving without due care and attention. He was later released under investigation.

Anyone who witnessed the collision or the circumstances leading up to it is asked to contact West Yorkshire Police Major Collision Enquiry Team via 101 quoting Operation Pestlebank or online via www.westyorkshire.police.uk/101livechat.

Team door-knocks Kirkstall homes to offer Covid-19 advice

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A team of eight people have leafleted houses in parts of Kirkstall to advise residents on how to stay safe after a cluster of Covid-19 cases in the area.

It’s understood this was the first door-knocking activity in Leeds to help keep people aware of what they need to do, where to get a test and how to keep safe  in a bid to stop the number of cases from escalating. The team included volunteers, Barca Leeds staff and a member of Leeds City Council’s public health team.

A council spokesperson said more people answered doors than expected and added:

“A diverse and wide spectrum of residents were spoken to. For example within three streets we spoke to five families outside their homes and they selected which leaflets in which languages they wanted. The families we met were very warm, very receptive and very grateful.”

Mobile testing units have also been made available at Kirkstall Leisure Centre and people with symptoms can also book tests at other locations in Leeds. A testing facility is also being set up at Pudsey Civic Hall next week.

Advice on how to keep safe includes keep a safe distance from others, wash your hands regularly, for 20 seconds, wearing a face covering on public transport, shops and in healthcare settings and no-one in your household should leave home if any one person has symptoms.

If you have symptoms, stay at home and book a free test at nhs.uk/coronavirus or ring 119.

More advice and guidance over Coronavirus can be found here.

Harehills is the other area of Leeds to see a cluster of cases recorded.

Tonnes of dumped rubbish removed from Farnley road

Several tonnes of illegally dumped waste had to be removed from a road in Farnley after it blocked access for emergency vehicles.

Clean Leeds team from Leeds City Council cleared the plasterboard, cardboard and loft insulation that had been dumped in Green Lane.

Posting on Twitter, Clean Leeds said:

“Tonnes of Plaster Board & loft insulation removed today from #green lane #LS12 after someone decided to Dump it & block access for Emergency services & Refuse #Yourwaste #Yourresponsibility #crimenottocare please #report it if you see it #oneleeds #onelove @James_A_Rogers.”

The clean-up came after Wortley resident Matt Gibson tweeted:

Mental health foundation sets up new base in West Leeds

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THE James Burke Foundation, a charity to set up to provide education and support on mental health and suicide prevention has set up its national office at Proton business park in New Wortley, writes Paul Abraham.

The foundation was formed after 21-year-old law student and commonwealth games rugby player James Burke took his own life in 2017.

His mother Sharon Burke is the driving force to make sure that her son’s death will prove a catalyst to bring an end to the stigma of mental health issues and reduce the numbers of suicides by showing that there is another way. Sharon said:

“To be based in West Leeds is tremendous for us with the support we already receive from the area and is now going to give the foundation the solid base to move things forward.

“The office represents a significant investment in the area and our desire to provide support training, one-to-one counselling, coaching and support to anyone who needs it.

“The amazing positivity the charity has received (over 20,000 views in total) following a series of videos produced during the recent Mental Health Awareness Week has given the foundation some incredible feedback.

“It illustrates the need for pro-active training to help people cope with their mental health issues during these incredibly stressful and trying times.”

Sharon added: “I want James to have been for something.

“I desperately want to turn this huge negative into a positive. The James Burke Foundation needs to be and will be synonymous with positive things.

“If I can stop one person feeling the way I do then it will have been a success, if we can stop one young person feeling they’re at the point of no return then it’s a success.

“I just want James’ legacy to be positive because that’s how he lived his life.”

The Foundation wants to say a huge thank you to Bramley-based Paul Abraham, of www.headingonwards.com, for sponsoring the furniture which meant the office could open and also to Bramley Buffaloes Rugby League Club, who proudly promote the charity on their first-team strip.

The Foundation is looking for people to get involved with the work they do, as volunteers, fundraisers or to take part in the training and support available,
Proton Business Park is based off Percy Street, at the bottom of Tong Road.

For more information on the foundation and how it could help you please visit The James Burke Foundation Facebook page or e-mail sharon@thejamesburkefoundation.com.

‘Lonely and isolating’ – how this Bramley mum gave birth during lockdown

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ALMOST as an afterthought, Bramley resident Ellie, 37, mentioned she was having abdominal pains during her regular Saturday Zoom call to her sister, writes Jo Fiddes.

At 34 weeks pregnant, she was still working full time and had been making the best of her first pregnancy, where coronavirus restrictions meant most midwife consultations were by phone and partners weren’t allowed at the scans.

Just getting on with it seemed the best way to approach the whole situation, but as she became increasingly uncomfortable Ellie decided to take her sister’s advice and make a precautionary visit to the hospital.

After some monitoring the staff decided to keep Ellie in overnight so partner Christian, 42, was despatched home with an optimistic wave and a shout of “I’ll ring you tomorrow so you can come and pick me up.”

When Ellie did ring Christian the following day, the message was rather different – “Come now, they’ve decided I need an emergency caesarean.”

Six weeks before his due date, baby Theo had decided enough was enough and wanted to make an appearance. Weighing in at 5lb 3oz he needed specialist care and Ellie and Theo spent 11 days on the transitional care unit.

As he was so premature, Theo struggled to take milk and was initially fed via a naso-gastric tube.

Christian was able to be at the birth and spend a couple of precious hours with the new addition – but then he had to leave and wasn’t allowed back in the hospital throughout Ellie’s stay because of Covid restrictions.

This meant Ellie had to navigate the first days of parenthood by herself, with Christian providing emotional support as best he could through telephone and Facetime conversations.

A lack of private space in the hospital itself meant these “private” conversations were anything but…which added another level of stress in an already stressful situation.

Everyone wearing face masks was something Ellie found really difficult, not being able to see people’s expressions when they were trying to convey information, offer support or words of encouragement – it led to misunderstandings too, including Ellie thinking she wasn’t allowed to shower for four days after her operation, an instruction she misheard because it was muffled by the consultant’s mask.

After 11 long and lonely days, Ellie and Theo were eventually allowed home, much to the relief of everyone.

Reflecting on the experience of having a premature baby in lockdown, first and foremost Elli acknowledges the dedication of the staff on the ward.

As an NHS mental health worker herself, she knows first-hand how hard they work.
But she added:

“I would say I feel a bit cheated by the whole situation.

“I had hoped my first pregnancy would be really special – I was looking forward to baby showers and antenatal classes and meeting new mums at baby massage classes.

“I really missed things I had taken for granted, like my mum feeling my baby kick. The birth itself was a bit of a blur, as it all seemed to happen so quickly and obviously we were worried as he was coming so early.

“I hated being in the hospital – it was a really lonely and isolating experience. I had to say goodbye to Christian hours after Theo‘s birth. This was really upsetting for me but also for him.

“Then when we eventually came home not being able to show him off, and family not being able to give him cuddles was really hard too.

“I feel I’ve really missed out on so many of the joyful experiences of pregnancy, although of course we have Theo so that’s made up for all the bad bits.

“On the plus side, Christian is working from home so it has meant we have had extra precious time as a family unit. Not being able to go out has also meant we have saved money, which has come in handy with a new baby!”

Christian added:

“I just keep thinking we got through it as a family. It was really hard and I feel we’ve all missed out, especially Ellie, but at least it’s a story for the grandkids!”

Comment: Why A-level results decision is a flawed idea with grave consequences

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A-level and vocational results are arriving for thousands of students today – but unlike other years, these results have been estimated after exams were cancelled by the Covid-19 pandemic. Fulneck School Principal Paul Taylor writes about his initial thoughts on the Government’s announcement over the use of mock exam grades.

Back in April when it was announced that all public examinations had been cancelled, our students’ initial jubilation was quickly replaced with anxiety over how their final results would be calculated, anxiety that has only been exacerbated by recent headlines and changes to the process in both Scotland and then England.

Led by our Vice Principal, Gemma Carver, and Exams Officer, Alison Taylor, our teachers worked hard to calculate Centre Assessment Grades that, in our professional opinion, best represented each student’s likely final grade.

This estimate was based on a range of evidence, including baseline ability testing, progress through the course and mock examinations. Within each grade for every subject, students were also placed in a rank order.

We are very fortunate to have a Vice Principal of Mrs Carver’s experience – in education and as a psychologist – to ensure that our teachers were aware of all potential biases and that the results ensure the integrity of the system and of our school. I have little doubt that most schools will have approached the process in a similarly diligent and professional manner.

The news that the Government had introduced a “triple lock” on results – news explained on the day that schools received A Level results – will have done as much to confuse as reassure students and was inevitably met with a backlash from the teaching profession. As well as a “re-sit” exam in the Autumn and an appeals process, the Government announced that mock results could also be used as the basis of an appeal.

Mock exams are an important part of the process through which students prepare for their final GCSE and A Level exams. To use the results, however, as the basis for an appeal is a ridiculous idea, born out of panic following the backlash against the results announced in Scotland earlier in the week. I can’t recall a more flawed idea with as grave consequences for the future of young people in my nearly 25 years in education.

To start with, schools hold their mock exams at different times, some in November, some in January and some in March in my experience.

Indeed, one school that I worked in held two rounds of mocks! I favour January as sufficient content will have been covered to make a mock worthwhile and enough time remains to put right what went wrong.  The only down-side is that the Christmas period is not always conducive to the most thorough revision.

However hard students prepare for them (and that varies massively), the key strength of mocks for me is in telling the students what they don’t know – whether that be content, technique or revision skills.

Depending on when the mocks are held, it may be possible to use the full paper from the previous year, at other times not. Afterall, what’s the point of setting an exam on material that hasn’t been covered yet? Some pupils may even have had access to the questions, completely innocently as part of their preparation or through a tutor, as past papers are not hard to get hold of.

Add in the fact that the exams are crammed into a week or ten days and inevitably students perform far worse than in the real thing. Schools will all have calculated their average grade increase between mocks and final results. The students themselves are also well aware of that fact!

Of course, there is no standardised procedures across schools for how mocks are used. Some schools will stick rigidly to past papers and mark schemes, though very few of their teachers will actually be trained examiners.

Some schools will use the process to boost students’ confidence, others as a last kick up the rear as the final run-in to the summer begins. Sometimes the approach even varies within a school!

Personally, I favour the stricter, reduce complacency approach, but that wouldn’t have done my students any favours this year, it appears.

Kirkstall Valley: People-powered farm captures imaginations over summer

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Kirkstall Valley Farm has been very busy lately since lockdown measures were reduced, writes Ramona Green.

Family activities were being run there up until the 5th of this month when sadly, it
had to be cancelled due to a spike in local cases in Kirkstall.

These activities subsequently only ran for two weeks and were dependent upon weather but many children enjoyed themselves, along with their parents and guardians.

KVDT (Kirkstall Valley Development Trust), who are leasing the farm, had small circus
performances, mini-games, arts and crafts, scavenger hunts etc for the families.

There was also a light lunch provided including fresh fruit and veg, mostly grown on the farm itself.

As for the farming side of things, there will be a farm open weekend on the 14th – 16th of this month to give those people who are interested in what plans have been drawn up and organised to get more involved and see hands-on what will be happening.

They start at 6pm on Friday and then 10am, 1pm and 3pm on Saturday amd Sunday. The farm is based just off Kirkstall Road, behind the Ready Steady Store storage facility.

Roger Plumtree, the farm’s Project Lead said that because it is a farm and covers wide open spaces, social distancing is so much easier than at other projects.

There are still plans for events, depending on updated government guidelines, for late summer and early autumn.

Roger wants the farm to be known as the “local social space” to go to for safe outdoor activities and which will also assist in combating some of the mental
and physical health difficulties of local people, felt especially so at a time like this.

Another idea is to reach out to local businesses like bars, entertainment venues and charities for example and suggest co-hosting events with Kirkstall Valley Farm.

This way the local businesses still get to keep revenue and employment up while still
keeping to the government’s guidelines and the farm gets more publicity.

Now, with the current easing of restrictions, workshops are another idea that is being readdressed from previous meetings and conversations.

Part of that could be “community built structures” where local individuals or small groups help to assemble temporary structures on the farm and learn new skills while doing so.

Roger also told me that a farm grower will be employed from around December to April 2021 which is very exciting and the chosen applicant will be bringing a whole host of skills and experience with them.

The farm has also secured some polytunnels from a place in Horsforth and will be needing volunteers to assist in disassembling, transporting and reassembling them again at the farm.

Anyone who is interested in helping with this or wanting more details,
contact Roger Plumtree, Farm Project Lead, on roger.plumtree@kvdt.org.uk.

Please contact Roger on the e-mail above if you have any queries
regarding updated government guidelines.

Council cash to carry out West Leeds youth work

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Two West Leeds organisations have won council contracts to carry out vital post lockdown youth work in the area.

A six-month contract worth £31,875 has been awarded to community development organisation Barca-Leeds for targeted youth work, with an option to extend for a further six months.

And charity The Cardigan Centre has been awarded a six-month contract worth £23,104, with the option to extend for a similar price.

A council report released today – which can be read here – says the work will cover three council wards: Bramley and Stanningley, Headingley & Hyde Park ward and Weetwood Wards.

Council clamps down on fireworks nuisance in Pudsey and Burley parks

An injunction could stop nuisance fireworks across the city – and will target antisocial behaviour in public parks in Burley and Pudsey.

The city-wide injunction to stop people using fireworks “in an anti-social manner” or gathering in certain parks at night is being sought by Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police.

A similar injunction was sought in Burley last year to tackle anti-social behaviour and firework misuse. Residents in The Kelsalls area had their lives made a misery by large groups congregating on the streets and indiscriminately letting off fireworks, often aiming them at people, homes, cars and the emergency services.

The council and police are applying for an injunction to ban the misuse of fireworks and to prevent more than three people gathering in three named parks after 6pm until 7pm the following morning.

The parks are Alexandra Park (between Burley Lodge Road and Alexandra Road) in Burley, Pudsey Park and Banstead in Harehills.

If granted, the injunction would come into force on 28 August and run until 30 January 2021.

Anyone breaching it would be liable to be arrested.

The proposed injunction would also include

  • Setting fire to buildings anywhere in Leeds.
  • Using abusive words or gestures to, threatening or obstructing or interfering with any emergency worker sealing with any firework-related incident across Leeds.

If anyone wishes to support the application they should send an e-mail to lasbt@leeds.gov.uk

If anyone wishes to oppose the application then they will need to be added as a defendant. Anyone wishing to oppose the application can do so by e-mailing: legal.services.enforcement@leeds.gov.uk

The deadline to support or oppose the application is: Monday, 24 August. The injunction is set to be heard at Leeds County Court on Friday, 28 August.

Developer told to pull down home in Burley Road planning saga

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Latest plans to build a new house on the site of a historic former lodge house in Burley have been refused by Leeds City Council planners.

It’s the latest twist in a long-running planning saga the council has also issued an enforcement notice that a new property at former St Anne’s Villa site at 378 Burley Road has to be demolished as it is not in line with the original planning consent.

As previously reported, residents have opposed a number of applications on the site.

The proposals would create a new dwelling in place of the original lodge house, the total demolition of which was approved in 2014.

fiona venner kirkstall
Cllr Fiona Venner

Posting on social media, Cllr Fiona Venner (Lab, Kirkstall) welcomed the decision and said:

“The developer has appealed this, but only on the grounds of the time frame. The appeal goes to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol who are an independent body and will decide whether to uphold our time frame, or give him more time. But, either way; the current application has been refused and the enforcement notice to demolish the building stands.”

Armley pupils become pen pals with shielding residents

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West Leeds children attending school during lockdown have become pen pals with local people shielding in the community, writes Josie Armitage.

At the start of lockdown, New Wortley Community Centre received funding from Leeds Community Foundation to provide family food parcels, activity packs and recipes.

One of the activities was a letter writing pack so that local children and young people could write letters that would be passed onto older service users that were also isolated due to shielding or self-isolating.

50 letter packs were sent out to Castleton Primary, St Bartholomew’s, and Holy Family Primary Schools. The centre received 45 letters back and the Penpals scheme was born!

Some of these letters have been distributed to older people that are isolated who have enjoyed them and written back. Others have been distributed to local care and residential homes.

Feedback from the teachers at Castleton Primary School was how great the packs had been for those still accessing education in helping with letter writing as part of their English curriculum.

St Bartholomews’ children had drawn lovely pictures to accompany the letters and the school have commented that it has helped children focus and chat about how Covid-19 has affected them. They included funny jokes to make people smile.

Rebecca Houlding, Operations Manager at New Wortley Community Centre, said:

“This started out as a simple exercise which turned into a fabulous little project helping those most isolated. We would like to build on this in the future and the intergenerational interaction that takes place.  If you are a care home that would benefit from this project, please get in touch.”

Rebecca can be contacted through the centre’s Facebook page or by phoning the centre on 0113 2793466.