South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has called on the Government to cut business rates to give South Shields’ struggling shops a chance to survive.
The plight of her constituency’s beleaguered shopping centre was raised in Parliament last night in an adjournment debate with High Street minister Brandon Lewis.
The move came amid concern for the retail viability of the town centre, following the recent departure of such big-name outlets as Marks & Spencer and Mothercare.
To prepare for the debate, Mrs Lewell-Buck paid a fact-finding visit to King Street to find out what the main concerns of traders are.
She said that the clear message was an alarming decline in both income and customer numbers in the last two years – and the high cost of business rates.
She said: “Shops in King Street have reported that footfall is down in the last two or three years, at the same time as incomes are being squeezed and families have less money to spend.”
Last night, Ms Lewell-Buck called on the minister to take more action to cut business rates.
“One in 10 businesses now spends more on business rates than rent. Rates have risen by an average of £1,500 under the coalition.
“The Government also delayed the revaluation of business rates, which many firms have said means business owners in smaller towns are paying unfairly high levels compared to those in London and the South East.
“The Government relaxed planning rules in a way that has made it easier for betting shops and payday lenders to cluster on high streets, giving shoppers less incentive to visit.”
‘Trade is at its worst for 20 years’
Emma Lewell-Buck’s intervention has been welcomed by the traders she visited, including Lesley-Annz ladies’ fashion shop in the Market Place and Premier Furnishings and Carpets in King Street.
Michael Blake, owner of Premier Furnishings, has revealed he pays a whopping £600 a week in rates – twice as much as he pays in rent.
And in the last four years he has seen profits fall from up to £12,000 a week to between £700 to £2,000 a week.
He said: “I do appreciate the fact that she made the effort to come and see us and I hope this achieves something.
“We’re really suffering at the hands of competition from internet shopping, and parking is also a big issue.
“I have people in here who say after 10 minutes that they have to dash – because their car is on a meter. Shoppers can’t relax.”
Lesley Dawson, owner of Lesley-Annz fashions, said: “Just take a look around. It is shocking. There’s no shops. There’s nothing.
“I have been in the trade 20 years and this is the worst I have known it.
“We have lost so much footfall since Wouldhave House and Franchis cafe were demolished. We know there’s a new library to be built on the site, but that’s two years away. That’s a long time.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 June 2014
Memorial events to mark one of the darkest days in the history of South Tyneside are being staged this weekend.
They have been organised to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the St Hilda Colliery disaster in South Shields.
Altogether, 51 men and boys – the youngest of them aged just nine – lost their lives in an underground explosion at the pit in 1839.
Many were buried in the graveyard at St Hilda’s, and it became a focus for the town’s grief.
A memorial service is to be held at the Market Place church on Sunday, from 10.30am, and descendants of those who lost their lives are invited to attend.
As part of the service, also being attended by South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, all the names of the dead will be read out.
A new banner for the Harton and Westoe Miners’ Welfare Club is to be unveiled for the first time at the service.
Children at the town’s St Bede’s Primary School helped create the images on the banner.
Several of the victims of the disaster were buried at Holy Trinity Church in Laygate, and a two-minute silence in their memory will be observed on Sunday.
It will form part of a service at St Jude’s Church at Laygate.
Both services will complement a community play being staged this weekend at St Hilda’s.
Commissioned by the Customs House in South Shields, Cold As Clay is based on contemporary accounts of the pit tragedy and will tell the story through the eyes of one of the families caught up in it.
“It was a disaster not just for the individuals involved, but for the whole community. It must have touched every family in the town,” said the Rev Chris Fuller, vicar of St Hilda’s Church.
“It will give a perspective to what the scale of the disaster was for the town.
“I hope that it is something that will resonate with the community as a whole because, although there is no mining here any more, it is something that remains deep in the psyche of most people.”
Everyone is welcome, especially those with family links to the disaster.
Cold as Clay will run at the venue from Friday to Sunday.
It was written by Peter Lathan, also writer and director of The Mysteries, a 2012 community play staged at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, and I (Heart) ST, produced to celebrate 2,000 years of the history of South Tyneside in 2013.
Tickets for the play, directed by Peter and Helen Dobson, are £10, £9 for concessions or £7 for members of the Friends of the Customs House.
To book tickets, go to http://www. thecustomshouse.co.uk or call the box office on 454 1234.
Colliery tragedy hit 38 families
THE disaster unfolded after, between 8am and 9am on June 28, 1839, an underground explosion ripped through the pit.
About 100 men managed to make it to the surface, some of them suffering the effects of oxygen starvation, and many, with great courage, returned below to try to rescue their colleagues.
Families of the miners were quickly on the scene, many of them from their homes in Templetown, where they lived in pit rows originally built for Templetown Colliery, to which St Hilda, sunk in 1822 by the Brandling family, of Gosforth, was a successor.
One witness account described the scene below ground as “that of the grave itself”.
He said: “The men were moving about like spectres in a thick darkness, with indistinct glimmerings from more than usually bedimmed lamps, seldom uttering a word, except in suppressed tones, and doing their duty to the dying and the dead in a solemn manner that was truly affecting.”
Some of the dead had been overcome by gas. Others were burned.
Altogether 38 families were affected, and some lost more than one relative.
The disaster left 19 women widowed and 44 children fatherless.
The funerals took place quickly, most of them at St Hilda’s Church.
Today, the graves lie under the bottom of Station Road, close to where a memorial to the disaster was put up at the end of the 1980s.
Some 15 of the victims were buried at Holy Trinity Church at High Shields, and the remainder at St Paul’s Church, Jarrow, and at Christ Church, Tynemouth.
Source – Shields Gazette, 24 June 2014
Jesus may have had some harsh words for money lenders, but a Tyneside vicar has been offering up prayers for modern day bankers.
Banks may not have enamoured themselves to people in recent years, but Father Chris Fuller is prepared to risk public disapproval – by offering prayers for them.
The plea for help from above is part of a radical approach by the vicar at St Hilda’s Church and town centre chaplain, who has launched “prayer services for businesses” throughout the town.
Prayers have already been offered for NECA – the North East Council on Addictions, based at Cookson House, the Citizens Advice Bureau, in the Edinburgh buildings, and Market Place stallholders.
Yesterday he invited representatives from the 12 banks based in and around the town centre to a service at St Hilda’s – although in the event no one from the banks attended.
Father Chris said: “We still offered prayers to the banks and named bank managers.
“Banks may not be the most popular businesses in the community, but they do offer a service and I think they have had a bad press because of the city bankers.
“I think that locally one hopes they are focused on the community and I’ve had a good response from those I’ve visited, even though some have expressed surprise that I want to pray for them.
“No one is outside of being prayed for – even banks!”
> In that case, maybe the vicar should start at the bottom – the Jobcentre, and the poor sods getting sanctioned.
As for local bank branches being focused on the community – they’re not local, they’re part of multi-national businesses. If someone at head office says “Screw the community”, then that’s what they’ll do.
Future prayers for retailers and firms will be offered at Wednesday morning services for town centre businesses – including The Gazette.
Father Chris said: “Part of my role as town centre chaplain is to support what the businesses are doing.
“They are part of the community here and, like everyone, are in need of prayer. By supporting them in prayer, the church is showing it has a role, not just for Sunday, but for all of the week for anyone in need or trouble.
“I visit businesses, give them a leaflet about the town centre chaplaincy, explain who I am and ask for the name of manager to invite to our Wednesday morning service.
“We pray for the organisation, a named manager and whoever the business supports.
“A chaplain is there to take an interest in the people in their community and offer a listening ear and advice.”
Father Chris, who has been a chaplain to both the police and the army, added: “I’m happy to support local businesses through prayer.
“Prayer is our business after all.”
> “Business” obviously being the operative word.
Source – Shields Gazette 13 Feb 2014
FEARS are growing over a rise in beggars who are “blighting” South Shields town centre.
Police, traders and charity workers have all expressed concern over an increase in the number operating in South Shields Town Centre.
Where once it was rare to see homeless people in street doorways it is now commonplace, with up to six individuals in the centre at any one time.
Gazette research has located several locations in and around King Street where beggars have been operating.
These have included outside of McDonald’s restaurant, the PDSA charity shop in the Market Place, the doorway of a vacant premises beside the British Heart Foundation, Lloyds Bank, at the Games Workshop in the Denmark Centre and at Morrisons in Ocean Road.
Today, the public were advised to give food and clothing to beggars but not money, as many are believed to be using cash handed over to buy drugs and alcohol.
Gill Peterson, assistant manager at Age UK in the Denmark Centre, regularly has beggars operating on either side of her shop.
Mrs Peterson says she has reached the “end of her tether” at their activities, claiming they scare off customers, hurl abuse and rifle through bins at the back of the premises.
She added: “I’m sick of them. They scare customers off, particularly our elderly ones and we are losing trade as a result.
“Any money they get just goes on buying bottles of cider. Every morning, I have to get in early to sort out the bins they have emptied through the night.
“If I approach them, I just get a mouthful of abuse. They are blighting the town.”
Amelia Luffrum, project director with Hospitality and Hope, the borough-based food bank and soup kitchen, said the public should only offer beggars food.
She said: “Homelessness is definitely rising from our experience.
“Some of the people who are out in these doorways, asking for money, come to our soup kitchens. They are in genuine need.
“Dependency on drink and drugs is a major issue. Our policy is never to give money. We feed them, give them sleeping bags and clothes, and direct them to different agencies.”
Neighbourhood Inspector Peter Sutton, of the Riverside Police Team, acknowledged there was a problem and said the situation was being monitored.
He added: “We are aware of the issue and are actively working with our partners on how the situation can be addressed, as concerns have been raised around criminality and vulnerability.”
Latest statistics show a 54 per cent rise in people seeking homelessness assistance from the local authority last year, from 187 to 534.
The impact of welfare reforms, including the ‘bedroom tax’, and a struggling economy, are among the reasons for the increase.
Source – Shields Gazette, 20 Jan 2014