Colchester Middlewick Ranges new homes plan: a local persons view

As news emerged that the MoD had decided to sell of land at Middlewick Ranges to make way for 2000 new homes with their Colchester Middlewick Ranges new homes plan, it’s fair to say that local people quickly voiced their concerns over the plans, and understandably so.

Middlewick Ranges has, for decades, been a large open area which the MoD has ‘shared’ with local people for walking, which the MoD has used it as a live firing range for training soldiers. Many people are concerned to see yet another green space swallowed up by housing. People are nervous that there are already a shortage of local school places, it can be difficult to get an appointment to see a GP, and none of these fears are relieved by the almost weekly news emerging about problems at Colchester General Hospital.

Commenting on the story in the Evening Gazette, some people have branded the proposal as “madness”, some have pointed out that there will be an affect on wildlife, and another commenter branded the proposal “yet another Colchester concrete jungle”. In addition, people have raised concerns about the houses being affordable for local people (at a time when the price for a family size semi-detached property at the time of writing averaging £247,000 in Colchester – see Rightmove).

But we do need more homes

The fact remains that with an ageing population, as well as an element of migration and people being forced out of London due to the bedroom tax and cost of living, we need more affordable homes. It’s an unpopular argument but there’s just no getting away from it: there aren’t enough affordable homes. It’s a problem in almost every town and city in England and we have to face facts.

The problem for the people of Colchester is that the infrastructure never seems to follow. Areas such as North Station have been congested for decades yet Essex County Council still earmarked land and then approved more houses. Traffic around the town is often very heavy, even outside of rush hour. GP surgeries are struggling to find enough doctors to deal with the influx of new people and there have been very few new schools built to cope (Alderman Blaxhill school needs to be restored and reopened without further delay but that’s a rant for another day).

People are fed up

Talk to local people, and the majority will say that they feel Colchester has had more that it’s fair share of new housing, and most will say that it’s time something was done about it. The problem that Colchester Borough Council has is that to appeal against the new development would probably be met with a legal challenge from the Government or Essex County Council; which could become expensive and probably result in CBC losing. People are mainly against the Colchester Middlewick Ranges new homes plans and they’ve made that clear in comments on various news sources.

What needs to be done

It’s fair to assume that this development with go ahead, regardless of local appeals. If this is the case then all isn’t lost. However, the developers must not be allowed to build this new estate as cheaply as possible – they must be forced to build an area which is sympathetic to the land it will be built on – not a concrete jungle.

First of all, the Planning Officers for Colchester Borough Council need to ensure that every single detail of this development is scrutinised. The Officers need to ensure that as many of the trees are saved as possible as well on insisting on green space and a playpark. Consideration must be given for local wildlife.

The Officers need to ensure that they follow rules in regard to parking spaces to ensure that the development doesn’t end up with cars parked on pavements (i.e. each new house should have space for at least 2 cars to be parked in the property, not on the road).

I would want to see the new homes go beyond the “standard” guidelines for efficiency, with them being a ecologically friendly as possible. I would also like to see some cast iron plans from Essex County Council for the long-term infrastructure of our Town.

And while I’m dreaming, a new Primary School would be nice, also. If we’re going to have these developments forced upon us, the least we should expect are some benefits.

It’s just not acceptable to sell of the land to the highest bidder anymore. Make the developers work for their money. Make the Colchester Middlewick Ranges new homes plan a great one.


Justgiving page set up for David Green’s family raises over £14,000

No amount of money will ever make up for the loss of David Green to his family and friends, but when Samantha Eason set up a Just Giving page to help raise money towards funeral costs for David, she could never have expected that the page would raise over £14,000 in donations. And that restores my faith in humanity for today.

The page was set up after Mr Green was tragically killed on a building site in Colchester, to “try and raise some money for [his family] at this time, to help in what ever way possible. Whether it’s to put towards funeral costs because there’s going to be thousands of us there or to help fund the building work that he started at the house and is now unable to finish or even just with day to day living,just something to make life even the slightest bit easier for his family”.

I didn’t know David Green. I don’t know any of his family. But at a similar age, and also with my own wife and kids, I can’t image what the family must be going through at this very sad time.

If you feel like you can spare a tenner (or even more) please donate here. The money won’t bring him back, but it will help the family slowly rebuild their lives piece by piece.


An evening bat hunting at Colchester Crematorium and Bourne Pond

bat hunting colchester crematorium

Last night we went along to Colchester Crematorium for a couple of hours bat hunting with a Colchester Borough Council Park Warden. A group of around 30 of us were given some information regarding different bat species in the UK, and in particular in the local area. I thought it would be something the kids would find interesting…and they did.

After half an hour, we were split into groups and provided a bat detector, which uses the Superheterodyne system to detect bats in area. It then allows you to “hear” the bats as they navigate their way around the area using echolocation. This was pretty cool and kids and adults had a good time using this around the crematorium. However, it wasn’t very sucessful so we made our way over to Bourne Pond to try again.

Success! We could hear and see the bats flying around the pound, diving for flying insects, and have a whale of a time munching their way through gnats.

Bats aren’t blind.

The phrase “blind as a bat’ isn’t really very accurate as bats have good enough eyesight; they just don’t see as well as other mammals. That said, with their sense of echolocation, they are able to building up a mental image much more complex and accurate that humans. It’s almost a 3D image in their brain. At least, that’s what some experts think.

Bats also have a long lifespan for a species that in some cases doesn’t grow much bigger than 4cm and in the winter, during hibernation, their pulse reduces to as little as just one beat per minute. They can also change their body temperature during hibernation to match the surroundings. These are just some of the very cool facts that we learned on the tour.

The cost

Tickets were £4 each (free for children) and it was definitely worth the money. A few non-paying stragglers turned up with their excuses and were allowed to join the group but then you’ll always get people who want something for nothing. A shame, as some of the money was going towards increasing bat habitats. Overall I’d recommend this activity.


Cherrytree and Abberton, Colchester, need better mobile phone coverage

Ever since I moved to Cherrytree in Colchester, I’ve suffered terrible mobile phone coverage. The problem becomes worse in the Spring when the trees from the nearby woods begin to blossom and come into leaf where I go from weak mobile phone reception to virtually zero.

Poor signal is a problem throughout the Cherrytree estate and continues on to the nearby village of Abberton. Despite poor mobile phone signal being a problem for many years there are currently no plans to increase coverage in the area. This is in contrast to the town centre and Hythe areas where 4G LTE reception is superb. Put simply, Cherrytree and Abberton are in a black hole when it comes to even half-decent coverage.

The facts

In the Holt Drive area of Cherrytree and Fingringhoe Road area of Abberton, Ofcom says the following about indoor reception:

Voicecalls – “Coverage in some buildings may be poor”
3G – “Signal in most buildings is unlikely to be sufficient to use 3G data services reliably”
4G – “Signal in most buildings is unlikely to be sufficient to use 4G data services reliably

And for outdoor reception, the Ofcom website says the following:

Voicecalls – “Likely to have good coverage” (I don’t)
3G – “In green areas you are likely to have sufficient signal to use 3G data services reliably” (I can’t)
4G – “In green areas you are likely to have sufficient signal to use 3G data services reliably” (Absolute rubbish!)

The reality

The reality is that the mobile phone coverage in these areas is pretty much useless. If I’m lucky enough to be able to make a call, I often don’t receive them. Even SMS messages can take hours to send or arrive. As for mobile internet such as 3G or 4G, well you can forget it.

The causes

Trees can block mobile phone signal, especially woodland areas in full bloom.
Trees can block mobile phone signal, especially woodland areas in full bloom.

It’s fair to say that as well as a lack of mobile phone masts in the area, poor signal is affected by other environmental factors. One of these is the amount of woodland surrounding Cherrytree and Abberton.

It’s a fact that trees block mobile phone reception. That means during the winter months I can get some sort of voice signal and it rarely drops. But as soon as the trees are in full bloom I’ve had it.

The remedy

What’s needed is a new mast, somewhere between Cherrytree and Abberton. The problem here is that people are resistant to have a mast built near their property. Masts also need a supply of electricity which makes locating them problematic for the phone networks, despite evidence showing that radiation from phone masts is actually much lower than from mobile phones themselves!

In addition, the networks are reluctant to pay for such masts in areas with relatively few customers.

There are products available which can help

If you’re a Vodafone or EE customer, there are devices which you can buy to boost signal in your home, but you’ll need a decent internet connection for them to work.

Vodafone customers can purchase a device call ‘Suresignal‘. Suresignal works by adding a small femtocell to your home and utilizes your broadband connection for you to make and receive called. You’ll need to buy the Suresignal but there’s not monthly charges after that. You’ll also need an internet connection with a minimum of 2mb.

Other mobile network offer apps which do a similar job, such as O2’s ‘TU GO’ app and if you purchase an update handset from them (such as an iPhone 5c and later models of the iPhone, as well as the latest Android and Windows devices) you can take advantage of Wifi calling with the EE network.

However, none of the above solve the real problem – poor mobile phone signal coverage from the major networks – and none will work once you’re away from your broadband connection. Most also cost money and upgrading a handset just isn’t an option for someone who is only months into a new contract.

What can I do to put pressure on my mobile phone provider?

Frankly, not much. I asked Ofcom the same question and was told:

  1. Contact your mobile phone network and make an official complaint. Explain that there is no network coverage in the area and demand a better service. Complain in writing
  2. If your mobile phone provider refuses to do anything about it, or refuses to release you from your network, take your complaint to the Ombudsman – this may result in the provider upgrading masts in your area if enough complaints are lodge
  3. You provider may provide you with a free signal booster if you complain to the Ombudsman rather than having to release you from your contract
  4. Failing this, you can ask to be released from your contract
  5. Change provider, although when I asked Ofcom how this would work in an area with no signal from any provider, they couldn’t give me an answer.

Colchester Conservatives 2016 manifesto is weak

Colchester Conservatives manifestos is weak

I have just received a copy of the Colchester Conservatives manifesto.

The first paragraph accuses Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Independents of allowing too much house building and not planning for infrastructure. The irony of this is that it is the Conservative majority run Essex County Council which is constantly pushing for more house building in Colchester. It is also the Conservative party which is responsible for huge cuts to councils funding, which massively reduces the likelihood of any new infrastructure schemes going ahead. Colchester Conservatives 2016 manifesto is weak and hypocritical.

In the same paragraph, Colchester Conservatives say that they want Colchester’s heritage to be properly maintained. Before he was elected in Colchester, Cllr Darius Laws made it clear that he wanted Colchester’s Roman walls illuminated at night. In 2016, Darius Laws still strongly supports that idea. Like Mr Laws, I have lived in Colchester most of my life and I agree that Colchester’s heritage should be shouted about from the rooftops. However, I cannot understand how any Councillor could make this a priority at a time when children’s centres are being closed, when Colchester Borough Council is being forced to save money any way it can, and when more people are relying on Colchester’s food banks just to survive. Lighting up Colchester’s ancient walls just isn’t a priority and quite honestly isn’t a policy to build an election campaign on.

Later on in the leaflet, the Conservatives accuse the Liberal Democrats of using “£millions from Central Government in New Homes Bonus” to “prop up an inefficient Lib Dem council’s general budget”. There doesn’t seem to be any real evidence to support this claim, but again I have to return to the issues of austerity and how Tory cuts have forced local councils into finding money any way they can. Where would the Tories find this money if it was used for other schemes?

Colchester Conservatives also claim that they want safer streets. So why is their party is trying to get rid of school crossing patrols?

Colchester Conservatives Hypocrisy

What has really annoyed me about the Conservatives publication is that they constantly blame all other political parties for everything that’s wrong about Colchester, whilst failing to recognise that most of the problems have been caused by cuts in funding made by the very Tory government they serve.

On the back page of the leaflet, Colchester Conservatives go on to accuse Colchester Borough Council’s current Administration of not doing enough to work with Essex County Council on new road schemes. Of course, this isn’t true, because the roads of Colchester are controlled by Tory-controlled Essex County Highways, not CBC, and as much as CBC will try to make sure new schemes go ahead the decisions are out of CBC’s hands.

Finally, Colchester Conservatives claim to want to keep weekly food waste collections – a policy which was started by the late Liberal Democrat Councillor Martin Hunt and which was also supported by Labour Councillor Tina Bourne. A Colchester Conservatives idea it wasn’t!

Where are the Conservatives Councillors?

This weekend I’ve been out with the local Berechurch Labour team. We’ve been litter picking, walking the streets, speaking to local people about their concerns, reporting broken kerbs for them and working hard for our community in general. On other weekends we’ve been cutting back hedges, painting garages and doing all manner of jobs to make the local communities of Colchester better.

When was the last time you saw a Colchester Conservatives Councillor getting their hands dirty in your area?


Things you (probably) didn’t know about Colchester

Blur hail from Colchester

Some members of the rock band Blur hail from Colchester. Band members including Damon Albarn and Dave Rowntree lived and were raised in Colchester. Graham Coxon would later move to the town and meet Albarn at secondary school; and Blur would be born.


Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher worked in Colchester as a research chemist from 1947 to 1951, before beginning her career as a politician. She worked as a chemist for BX Plastics which was based in Manningtree at the time.


The Romans

Colchester was chosen by the Roman’s as the base for their very first English legionary fortress. You can still see some of the original walls in various locations around the town.



In 1884, Colchester was hit by an earthquake which measured 4.7 in the Richter Scale. Some houses in the Dutch Quarter and New Town areas still display visible damage.


St Helena

St Helena (or St Helen, consort of the Roman emperor Constantius Chlorus and the mother of the emperor Constantine the Great) is the patron Saint of Colchester. She was born c.246 AD.


Humpty Dumpty

The poem ‘Humpty Dumpty’ is said to have originated in Colchester after a powerful cannon, used during the English Civil War, fell from a church tower and was damaged. There are other ideas of the origin, but an Colcestrian will tell you it originated there.


Severalls Hospital: the evil inside Severalls Asylum

Severalls Hospital

When I wrote the original Wikipedia article of Severalls Hospital I was left asking lots of questions. I wanted more details on the sorts of experiences people had there and the types of experiments which were performed on people over the many years that it was used as a ‘lunatic’ asylum (I use the word ‘lunatic’ with some trepidation as it seems somewhat offensive to the poor people who were incarcerated there). However, the fact is that people with mental health problems and some disabilities were referred to as lunatics until the middle of the 20th Century.

What happened to the patients who survived? What terror did people face inside Severalls Hospital? And was it really as bad as we are led to believe?

My Great Grandmother was a patient at the hospital once. Not because of a mental illness but instead because Severalls was used in it’s last years as a temporary ward for patients (due to building work at nearby Colchester General Hospital). She had suffered a stoke and was in her dying days. I was about 17 when I went to see her at Severalls (1997) and I can still remember how imposing and dark that place felt, not because I knew it was once a mental hospital, but because it just had a genuinely eerie feeling about it. In 1997 my mother would remarry and hold her wedding reception in Severalls Social Club. This would be one of the very last parties to be held at the venue which would be ravaged by fire around 2007 (an act of vandalism).

I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t believe in ghosts. There was, however, something very strange about that place. Something about the way it made you feel. A feeling as if 1000 people were hiding in the trees watching you; and a feeling I can’t fully explain.

After coming across these excellently detailed photos of Severalls my interest was renewed and I began to investigate more of what happened there. I did request a site visit of Severalls in 2009 but was refused.


Severalls Asylum: the site

Severalls Hospital (then called ‘Severalls Mental Hospital’ or ‘Severalls Lunatic Asylum) was build on a 1,300 acre site which held numerous buildings. It opened in May 1913 and up to 2,000 patients were accommodated. Patients and staff were originally separated by gender.

The site was constructed using Echelon Asylum Architecture; pavilion blocks with large corridors interconnecting the buildings to prevent staff and patients ever needing to go outside. It was an impressive site as the aerial photograph shows. However, it is now abandoned and awaiting development for private dwellings. The buildings which remain have suffered vandalism and are in a very poor state of repair awaiting demolition.

Although things improved at Severalls from the 1970s, this was not a place that people when to get ‘better’. The site covered a huge area. It had locked cells, full padded cells, half padded cells and various areas for experiments such a frontal lobotomy to be performed.

An impressive overhead shot of Severalls Hospital shows the impressive Echelon site
An impressive overhead shot of Severalls Hospital shows the impressive Echelon site

The patients of Severalls Hospital

A shelled shocked patient from WW1
A shelled shocked patient from WW1

Patients of Severalls Asylum were from a varied background and history. Some displayed characteristics of metal illnesses such a depression, pyscosis and mania (still misdiagnosed at the time). In addition there may be people sent to the asylum who suffered from other illnesses such as autism, suicidal feelings and schizophrenia. You might even be condemned to a life in Severalls Hospital for suffering from epilepsy. Women were even sent there if they had been raped and many of the 80,000 shell-shocked soldiers were sent to the asylum after WW1.

Sadly not all people admitted to the asylum had a mental illness and some patients entered the asylum perfectly healthy but were turned mad by the environment. Around the turn of the millennium my mother worked as a carer for people who had been moved from Severalls Hospital onto alternative accommodation. I’ll never forget one story he told me of a lady who, for the benefit of immunity, we’ll call Sarah.

Sarah was a perfectly normal 17-year-old girl who made the mistake of falling pregnant in the 1940’s to an unknown man, out of wedlock and under 18. Her family were so embarrassed that she was placed in the asylum to keep her story away from friends and family. People were told that she had turned mad. In fact, she was perfectly healthy. Her child was removed from her as soon as he was born and given up for adoption. She never saw him again. Sarah (left in this environment and suffering deeply from grief) slowly began to develop mental illness as she fell into a spiral of deep depression; and would spend the rest of her life in mental health institutions.


The horror of the Psychiatric Experiments

In it’s peak there were countless Psychiatric experiments carried out on patients at Severalls Hospital including Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Lobotomies (a surgical procedure involving incisions into the pre-frontal lobe of the brain). These experiments were rife in the 1930’s to the 1960’s, but continued as late as the 1970s in some hospitals (not Severalls) and were sometimes performed on patients whilst fully conscious.

Evidence shows that there were regularly complaints from the hospital management of being unable to recruit enough staff. As a result, patients were often confined to their beds and sedated with Paraldehyde in an attempt to keep them quiet and ease pressure on staff (especially the case in the 40’s).

Imagine this if you will: You are an mentally unwell person or perhaps perfectly healthy. You are in an asylum surrounded by strange people and strange noises. You are often locked in your room for hours on end. One day, someone comes along, straps you to a chair, passes electricity through your skull (sometimes 6 times at 40 seconds per shock) to knock you out and then sticks surgical equipment through your eyelids to remove part of your brain. Sounds like something out of a horror movie; yet it happened to hundreds of people every year in the name of ‘science’. The so called ‘father’ of this technique, Egas Moniz, would be awarded a Nobel Prize in 1949. Ironic, as if he tried this on someone now, he’d probably be locked up.

If you’re nerves can handle it, there’s a video which shows someone receiving ECT and then a frontal lobotomy. It shows just just how scary the entire process was but be warned – it’s quite graphic.

Of course, most people who were the victim of a lobotomy ended up in a worse mental state after the procedure than before; unable to speak or in some cases dead. Possibly the most famous case of lobotomy was of Rosemary Kennedy, sister of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, whose father had her labotomised due to ongoing “concerns” surrounding her sexual activity which could jeopardise the career of her brother.


Severalls became a humane place from the 1970’s onwards

I was recently contacted by a former trainee at the hospital:

“I was a student at Severalls between 1971-73 and still correspond
with a couple of friends from that time. I am still interested in
psychiatry and Severalls in particular. I find that many of the
comments about treatment there were correct at the time – in the 50s apparently some very dubious practices occurred but that changed under Russell Barton. Unfortunately he had moved to the US just before I arrived in Severalls so I never met him but I had some dealings with Richard Fox. In the early 1970s treatment at Severalls was at least as good and in some cases a lot better than other hospitals of the same size and type. That doesn’t mean it was perfect but the nursing staff I worked with were very humane with the patients and definitely tried to make sure they were well treated – you can quote me on that!”

There is one man who went through the procedure and survived to tell the tale. Howard Dully was a perfectly normal 11 year-old-boy with a bit of a naughty streak. To cut a long story short, Dully’s stepmother convinced his father that Dully needed medical help for his temper and the pair had him admitted to a private hospital in his home town of San Jose, California. At 1.30pm on 16 December 1960, Dully was wheeled into an operating theatre and given a series of electric shocks to sedate him. Dr Walter Jackson Freeman II would go on to perform a lobotomy on Howard Dully and no one person – not even his parents – would know until the procedure was over.

Now of course I’ve quoted two cases here would occurred in the U.S., not at Severalls Hospital. Sadly, there is so little information about what exactly happened at Severalls that it’s hard to find any evidence but we can be fairly sure that treatment was often just as brutal and almost always futile. This much I have been told by people who have contacted me who once worked there.

Many of the people who lived at Severalls did so for 30+ years and had absolutely no contact with the outside world (although it should be said that this was the choice of the patients families not to make contact, not Severalls). No letters, no telephone calls, no cards. The longer they stayed in the institution the more mentally ill they may become. If was a vicious circle in an Edwardian age.

Other dubious practices

My mother told me a story about a lady called Dorothy of was a patient at Severalls Hospital for many years. Dorothy suffered from mental illness and had a habit of biting other patients and staff. This was dealt with by surgically removing all of Dorothy’s teeth.

Two residents of Severalls of where patients fell in love. Doctors at the hospital decided that it was two risky to allow the couple of have a baby as it would probably be born “mad”. The response was for the medical staff to subject the lady to a hysterectomy to prevent her having a child. This wasn’t an uncommon practice at the time. My own aunt, who was blind from the age of three, was told by her family around 1940 that she was only allowed to marry her husband if she agreed to have a hysterectomy as her family decided that it would be unsafe for her to have children.

Another story she told me was of a lady we will call Liz. Liz suffered from tics, the kind we associate now with Tourettes Syndrome. Liz would make a clicking noise with her tongue against the roof of her mouth and this would become more frequent when she was scared or stressed. The health service’s way of dealing with this was to cut off her tongue to stop her making the noise. This sort of ‘treatment’ seems almost impossible now yet was occurring just 70 years ago.

My great grandmother – Marjorie Hicks – was a nurse and occasionally worked at Severalls. She would tell stories of staff washing patients was carried out by lining them up, naked, and hosing them down. I’ve never been able to find out whether this was with warm or cold water but I presume that it was cold given the lack of heating facilities at Severalls (the hospital didn’t have full central hearing until 1973).


Cockroach Races

My Grandmother would also tells a story about staff having cockroach races when on the night-shift to kill time. Apparently the place was riddle with them in the 50s and 60s.


Madness in its place : narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913-1997

Sadly there are very few people still alive to tell their story of being a patient in the asylum. I’ve searched the internet high and low and can find little information. There is a book available which documents stories from people who were inpatients at Severalls (Madness in its place : narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913-1997), but at the current £86 asking price on Amazon I can’t warrant the cost of buying it right now. I would like to get hold of a copy though to read more of what happened and if anyone could loan me a copy I could be extremely grateful.


Things did improve within time

Near the beginning of the 60’s a change in public opinion and treatment methods mean that new types of therapies were introduced, including music therapy. ECT continued and is even used today – but in a much milder form – and evidence shows it’s actually very effective to treat depression.

Occasionally, groups of patients were allowed to live in groups away from the main area of the hospital, such as in Ivy Villa. Eventually, houses were rented away from the hospital after social worker Joyce Beech recommended it may help people integrate back into society if they were given more independence. One particular house was in the nearby fishing town of Brightlingsea and would house 6 women who would pay their own bills, do their own shopping and cook their own food. Two of those women had been at Severalls for over 30 years before moving into their house yet managed perfectly well with only occasional visits from social services. ‘Care in the Community’ had begun.


Changes in attitude

In 1972 an exhibition of equipment used at Severalls Asylum would take place. The exhibition would include equipment used in the early part of the 20th Century including locks, muffs, straps and poisons. Nowadays that might be a list for a sex dungeon but the equipment has much sinister uses at Severalls. Stories began to surface about the true horror of the experiments held at Severalls and the public would be widely disgusted.

Thankfully, mental health is now much more widely accepted and understood, perhaps a price that the early patients of psychiatric patients had to pay for the eventual good of others.