Christmas campaigns

WINTER is upon us and I welcome you all to another edition of Your Blackpool.

In this edition we have news on our Council couch project, which has seen our senior officers face a grilling from members of the public, the likes of which is usually reserved for people like myself.

Our terrific Get Started scheme has also had another wonderful year helping people to set up in business.

But what I want to focus on this month is our front page story – the fantastic Give a Little, Help a Lot project.

A festive feature for a number of years, the idea is that we all give a little something, in the true spirit of Christmas, to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

All donations will go to deserving causes, whether that be children in care, those living under difficult circumstances or simply a young person who could do with a little Christmas cheer.

Thanks to your generosity the project made a difference to around 1,100 children in 2013 and this year the need is just as great.

I know that times are hard right now for so many people in Blackpool so we don’t expect the earth – as the name says, just  giving a little bit can make a huge difference.

We’re giving back too this Christmas and while, with finances incredibly tight with another £26m of Government cuts ahead for the next financial year, that isn’t an easy promise to make, we recognise the need to try to help you as much as possible.

So we’ve teamed up with Blackpool BID to offer free parking at all our car parks on Saturday 6 December.

There is also a ‘park for a pound’ offer at four car parks (see page 1) on Thursday evenings and Sundays on the run up to Christmas.

And finally, remaining in the spirit of giving, we’re supporting Age UK’s Donate a Coat campaign which asks people to donate their unwanted coats to help keep people warm this winter.

It is a sad sign of the times that so many people live in fuel poverty these days and that winter warmth remains a big concern.

I’d urge you to dig into your wardrobe, give generously if you can and look out for your friends and neighbours this winter too.

I wish you all a happy and healthy Christmas and all the best for 2015.

Smoking? You must be joking!

“Smoking? You must be joking!”  – It’s a great slogan which I’m sure will catch the eye during this year’s Stoptober quit smoking campaign.

But quitting, let me tell you, was no laughing matter!

Last October, after a great deal of badgering from our public health team as well as my friends and family, I decided I would take part in the 28 day quit challenge.

Fast forward almost a year and I’ve not had a single cigarette since.

I no longer smell like a stale ashtray, I don’t cough my guts up all the time and my breathing is much clearer.

But it’s been hard work and I take my hat off to all those preparing to take part and those who successfully kicked the habit thanks to last year’s campaign.

Explaining the cravings of a smoker to a non-smoker is tough – it’s a compulsion that is surprisingly difficult to overcome.

Physical, chemical and psychological; it’s a three pronged attack on the senses when withdrawn that remains a battle to deal with.

For those preparing to take part the best reassurance I can offer is that feeling, once battled, does pass.

Sure, certain triggers can set it off again.

Alcohol, for me, can set the cravings off like a greyhound after a hare (part of the reason I’m also getting involved with the “Sober for October” campaign).

But “nicotine replacement therapy” – patches to you and me – can really help and if you ride out the storm, the cravings do settle down (quitting the patches is nearly as bad mind you!)

The biggest positive, meanwhile, (aside from not dying of lung cancer) is undoubtedly the amount of money you put back in your pocket by quitting.

I used to spend nearly 300 quid a month on the dreaded things and the difference that packing it in has made to my bank balance is quite remarkable.

Like all good stories there is a hero too – to be more precise a group of heroes – the Blackpool Stop Smoking Service.

They’ve been a great help, both in terms of the advice and support they’ve provided as well as the practical help they’ve given.

The de-normalisation of smoking that has gone on over the last few years from the smoking ban to the strengthened health warnings and hard hitting advertising campaigns has left smokers a lot ostracised, even attacked.

Like a child who’s told not to do something – there’s a temptation, believe me, to rebel against this and say “to heck with it” I’m having a cigarette.

But the smoking service have really helped me cope with this and deal with stressful situations without using tobacco to keep me smoke free.

They can help you too so I’d urge you to give it a go.

Bargains galore for Blackpool residents

Everyone loves a bargain.

We know it, the marketing people with their BOGOFs and their two-for-one’s know it; they put a smile on everyone’s face and a spring in our step.

So, while we’re all still feeling the summer buzz around Blackpool, I’ve decided in this blog I won’t harp on about politics.

Instead I want to point out to you some of the best bargains and boosts the Council can offer you, the Blackpool local.

Charity begins at home, they say, so first off we’ve brought in a whole host of recycling innovations to try to help keep Blackpool – and your house – nice and tidy.

One big one is Rover – our free new mobile tip – which travels around one area per day, saving people the fuel cost of a trip to the tip at Bristol Avenue.

Keep an eye on our website and social media pages for times and locations which change depending on demand.

If you do make your way to the tip we’ve also got a very popular new innovation – the Re-Use store – which reclaims and reconditions goods that people are looking to dump, putting them back on sale to pay for the tip’s upkeep and raise money for charity.

This project too has been a great success and, believe me, from TV’s to toys, there are amazing bargains and top quality items to be had.

The summer in Blackpool is always all about fun and we always try to put on free events aimed at families.

From the Blackpool Air Show, which was a soaring success despite windy weather, and Ride the Lights to the upcoming World Fireworks Championships running every Friday night in September, we’ve some wonderful free events for people both young and old to enjoy.

And speaking of fun, I’m excited to see our new community engagement tool – the council couch – coming to your area very soon.

It’s quirky, it’s a bit of fun, it costs next to nothing but it will hopefully get people talking and allow you, the local resident, to come along and get something off your chest.

Maybe you can even suggest an idea that will help us a better deal for Blackpool.

And finally we’ve a new scheme which could help you save a good whack off one of everyone’s least favourite pest to their pocket – energy bills.

Our collective energy switching scheme, Ready to Switch, is back – keep an eye out for details in the press, on our website and online.

We’ve also a whole host of energy-saving advice and expertise available and a new home insulation scheme in the pipeline.

Keep an eye out for news on that soon.

You can find out more about these initiatives by searching the words in bold on the Blackpool Council website.

Fat chance if you don’t exercise!

I’ve got a confession to make…… I’m a bit fat.

I recently turned 40 and, unless the weight loss fairies turn up out of the blue, I’ll go into the early part of my fifth decade on the planet weighing in well over what I should be.

If the famous boxing announcer Michael Buffer of “Let’s Get Ready to Rumbllllllle!” fame was doing the old “tale of the tape”, he would say that Simon “The Bruiser” Blackburn, from Blackpool, England, was weighing in at five feet and six inches and weighing in at 13 and a half stones (he’d probably use metric but that’s another debate altogether).

In other words, I’m above what a healthy man of my size should be.

Now I blame this, in part, on me quitting smoking (eight months and counting) and, in part, on Denise who is in charge of butties at the Town Hall.

Sadly though, the rest is down to what doctors call a sedentary lifestyle – although since Emma and I got Bentley (the Labrador, now nine months old), we do more walking.

I make light of the problem but, as we all know health, not least obesity, is a problem across Blackpool.

And there are also a number of reasons that I feel the need to take the initiative and get my own house/stomach in order.

Firstly, I’m Chairman of the Health & Wellbeing Board, secondly, I’m getting more involved in the Victoria Hospital Trust and Clinical Commissioning Group and thirdly, I’m getting married in November!

I can’t, in all good conscience, fulfil any of those important obligations without at least making some effort towards losing a few pounds.

As a result I’ve signed up at the council’s new Gateway Fitness Centre – tucked away on George Street at the back of our new offices (and before you ask, no, councillors aren’t moving in to the new building).

It’s a good, convenient, town centre gym; not lavish but modern, practical and open to everyone and you can sign up on the council’s website online.

This isn’t an advert though, more a plea for others to read about this problem, which is weighing so heavily on me (boom boom) to have a think about their own health and whether it could be improved.

There are a million and one ways to exercise from joining a fancy expensive gym, to a mid-range one, to all the sports under the sun or simply going for a good walk or even a run every day.

It doesn’t have to cost a thing and we all know that.

For more information on getting to and maintaining a healthy weight, take a look at the various help that is available.

Finally, I’m hoping to attract sponsorship to lose the weight, to raise money for the Mayor’s Charities (Donnas Dream house and The Snowdrop centre), so keep an eye on this blog and I will keep you posted – or we’ve just got a “Just Giving” account up and running (geddit?), which I’ll promote via my own social media pages, as will the Council.

Bridging the fairness gap

“Life isn’t fair,” or so the saying goes.

It’s a bleak protestation and one that, for many people in Blackpool, will ring true.

From Wayne Rooney putting pen to paper on his shiny new £300,000 a week contract to the next door neighbour’s new car or TV, we see frustrating examples of inequality that seem extremely unfair all the time.

And there’s often a sense with these things that there is little we can do other than crack on and try not to get worked up about it.

However, I’m no supporter of that type of apathy, and am a firm believer we can all do our little bit to make our lives, and the lives of others, at least feel a little fairer.

Step forward the Blackpool Fairness Commission, and the fairness movement in general, which is aimed at we, the general public, helping to close the fairness gap.

It won’t make the Government give you back your taxes, stop the speed camera from giving you a speeding ticket for doing 31mph in a 30mph zone or stop those slates falling off your roof in high winds.

But what it could do is make a little difference to the lives of others if we all show a little positivity and personal “fairness”.

The Blackpool Fairness Commission has been running for a good while now and it’s done some very positive things like simple but brilliant 100 Acts of Kindness campaign that has seen a lot of people step up to the mark and do something for their community.

We also recently hosted the first ever North of England Fairness Conference here in Blackpool to help encourage other areas to setup their own fairness movements.

I’d love you to take part and help too.

I recognise too that fairness begins at home and we’ve tried to come up with “fair” policies that will reduce the fairness gap and narrow social inequality.

I’m talking about providing children with free breakfasts in school because they aren’t getting fed at home.

I’m talking about providing it universally because that is fair and unites rather than divides.

I’m talking about setting up one of the strongest food bank networks in the region to make sure people don’t go hungry.

And finally, I’m talking about our latest idea, to encourage young people to break the cycle of debt we suffer from by saving money and learning about its value, even if it means coaxing them with a tenner to do so.

I’d love to sign every child up for an account compulsorily and teach them all about saving.  The law won’t let us do that.

What we can do is reach out a hand of friendship and fairness and try to urge our youngsters to lead the way.                                                                                     

We want them to grow up with a fairer ethos, in a fairer society.

That’s the way to create a fairer, better Blackpool.

Why we shouldn’t penalise people for being ill

The case of four year-old Corey Leahy caught my eye in the London Evening Standard, whilst wending my way back from ANOTHER meeting in London.

He’s not been invited to his school’s end of term party, because he has had time off school to attend the dentist, and therefore has not got a 100% attendance record.

This has happened to my family – my five year-old daughter has been left upset when their necessary (two hour) attendance at the hospital counted against her come the end of term – although in fairness, when her Mum raised it, the school agreed with us, and she did go to the ball.

While I understand that central government dictates how schools record absences, I would hope that locally we take a more sympathetic approach when deciding who can and cannot attend a party.

If you ask the hospital and your GP to have all of your child’s medical needs met before 8.30am, after 4pm, or during the school holidays, you’ll be met with a very odd look indeed – it simply isn’t practical.

In a similar vein, one way in which councils are being encouraged to save money is by considering changing the terms and conditions of staff, so they don’t get paid for the first three days of sickness.

I declined to even discuss the matter, frankly.  Our staff have made huge sacrifices over recent years – taking unpaid leave, agreeing not to get their annual increments, paying to park at work, on top of getting no annual pay award – all of which adds up to a significant real terms pay cut – and we are having to ask them for another two years of such measures, as we fight to keep as many staff, delivering as many services as possible to the residents of Blackpool.

Rewarding people for good attendance is laudable but publically penalising people for being ill (whether you happen to be 4 or 44) seems a strange way to do business, and a strange way of motivating people.

Maybe we shouldn’t do it anymore?

Twenty-one days smoke-free as part of my Stoptober challenge

We are half way through Stoptober and I won’t pretend quitting smoking is easy.

Having said that I have managed not to strangle anyone, although a few people have come closer than they realise.

In recent weeks my partner, Emma and I have welcomed a new addition to the family – a eight week old Labrador puppy called Bentley. While Bentley is proving to be a great distraction there is nothing like the challenge of puppy training and sleepless nights to make you crave a stress relieving cigarette

The good new is I have now been smoke free for 21 days now.

The cold turkey method I espoused in my first blog went out of the window a while ago and I am now using a mouth spray to replace the lost nicotine.

The Stop Smoking Service has been a big help – the level of support they offer is phenomenal and they have been indispensable in helping me through these first couple of weeks.  Doreen (my Stoptober advisor at the NHS Blackpool Stop Smoking Service), has been fantastic, really motivational and very understanding when I forget appointments, or ring up at the last minute for a prescription.

I visit once a week and she prescribes me the sprays which have been a help – not least financially – these sprays cost £18 each – but on prescription I only have to pay the NHS fee (£7.85) and of course anyone who qualifies for free prescriptions doesn’t even have to part with that.  I do notice that nicotine replacement products are not a readily available as they ought to be.  Surely they should sell these sprays, patches and inhalers everywhere that cigarettes are sold?

People show their nice side when you are having a tough time or when they can see that you are trying. Since my blog was published I am regularly asked how I am doing which is extremely kind – I was asked three times in church alone this Sunday – and people seem genuinely pleased and proud when I tell them I’m still “clean” so to speak

It would be a lie to say I do not miss smoking but all I have to do is think of the damage I’m doing to myself, think of Blackpool’s health problems that exist as a result of smoking, think of my children and that all helps bring me back in line.

I can already feel a difference in terms of my lungs, but the sense of taste and smell doesn’t seem to be returning as was promised (I’m wondering if 25 years of 20 a day, and 20 years of neat whiskey as my tipple of choice has permanently damaged my senses!)

According to the public health team my body is recovering from being dulled by the hundreds of toxic chemicals found in cigarettes – and my carbon monoxide levels are demonstrably falling, as is my lung “age”.

It is facts like this that remind me why I am taking part in Stoptober and make me so passionate that others try it too.  Without wanting to engage in the sort of background nagging that I have myself been subjected to for the last 25 years (from my Mum, my partner, my ex, my kids and many, many others)….

If you are a smoker and have seen the adverts on TV, heard them on the radio and read about Stoptober in the press – the idea of quitting is surely on your mind, and now really is the time to do it.

And even if it isn’t, give it a go. You can start the 28-day stop smoking challenge anytime throughout October and the same support and guidance will be available. Do not use that as an excuse.

Give the Blackpool Stop Smoking Service a call on 01253 651570 or email them at stop.smoking@blackpoolnhs.uk to see how they can help you kick the habit for good.

Good luck and keep going!

To find out more about Stoptober, and to access the support available, visit: https://stoptober.smokefree.nhs.uk/