THE only contender to sum up 2008 in a word is ‘RECESSION’.
We’re all sick to the back teeth of seeing the phrases ‘credit crunch’, ‘economic meltdown’, and ‘job losses’ dominating the headlines and 2009 can not come soon enough.
Nationally it’s been a tough year with knife crime rising and mounting casualties in Afghanistan and although England may not have reached the Euro football finals our athletes did us proud at the Beijing Olympics.
But as we look back at 2008 in Solihull it becomes clear that not all is doom and gloom in our beloved borough.
It started badly in north Solihull though when thieves broke into a Citizens Advice Bureau and stole thousands of pounds worth of hi-tech kit from the Chelmsley Wood office.
Meanwhile residents were becoming concerned about the high levels of rubbish left uncollected at the Tudor Grange recycling site. Many were worried that their green waste was been sent to the tip - prompting local resident Oliver Hunt to boycott the site.
Down the road at Solihull Hospital an intensive care unit was closed down prompting fears that mentally disturbed patients were free to mingle with the seriously ill.
And Catherine-de-Barnes homeowners were fearing the worst as Birmingham International Airport’s runway extension plans were revealed.
Things went from bad to worse for Linda Hall and her four children as they were left homeless for a second month after an arson attack on their home in Chelmsley Road.
But the borough offered a sporting lifeline to two teenagers from thousands of miles away.
Swaziland orphans Caleb and Noah Abrahams visited Tudor Grange’s brand new leisure centre to showcase their skills as they aim for big things in the 2012 Olympics.
Elsewhere Elmdon Lane residents in Marston Green were cracking open the Champagne after plans for a 71-home estate were rejected by Solihull Council.
Local firefighters though were not in the mood for celebrations after bricks and bottles were hurled at the lifesavers as they struggled to do their duty.
Land Rover and Jaguar received some positive news, as Indian giants Tata took over from cash-strapped Ford, buying the company for £1.1bn. At the time they guaranteed the future of their Solihull and Castle Bromwich plants. Also making the headlines in this month were off road motorbike hooligans upsetting visitors at Woodlands Cemetery on Birmingham Road.
Meanwhile down at Richmond Road park little Ben Deakin was injured after thieves stole the play equipment simply for its scrap value. The 12-year-old careered into a large stainless steel post which had been part of the slide.
And his parents were not the only ones to vent their frustration at the council as Fielding Lane residents staged a protest against the number of cars parked on their streets.
Car parking fee dodgers were crowding the Hillfields road to avoid paying the escalating prices in town centre car parks.
April brought a harsh lesson to the borough main rugby team Pertemps Bees (now Birmingham & Solihull Bees) when they were relegated after a tough season in National One.
The Sharmans Cross Road side ended the season with an impressive win over high-flying Bedford Blues but their fate was already sealed.
Elsewhere in the world of sport Dorridge businesswoman Karren Brady was arrested alongside David Sullivan amid allegations of corruption at St Andrews. The Birmingham City FC managing director strongly denied all the allegations.
Highgate United’s long wait for Midland Alliance football was over though as Peter Frain guided the Tythe Barn Lane outfit to their highest league position ever.
With the credit crunch starting to bite, Solihull College lecturers felt something had to be done about their ‘low pay’.
Strike action was the decision as they looked for a six per cent increase in their salary. Little did they know how the economy would turn over the coming months.
LABOUR’S troubled year affected Solihull in May when Hugh Hendry, leader of the group, was ousted by the Green Party candidate Mike Sheriden.
The Conservatives, by contrast, were riding high. They regained their overall majority and their Mayor, Councillor Gary Allport, held on to his Shirley seat.
As London and Manchester were experiencing an increase in knife crime, Solihull saw a series of fatal stabbings as well as an attempted murder.
The News spoke directly to Tony Bleetman, a consultant at Heartlands Hospital who said there needed to be a ‘culture change’ to buck the worrying knife trend.
Meanwhile Karla Biddle was charged with the murder of Emma Bradshaw in Shirley.
Hockley Heath Post Office was also raided in May and despite leaving empty handed, the raiders terrified customers and stole a car to escape, which was later discovered nearby.
Elsewhere Bryan Stephenson and his wife Michelle were left out of pocket when they discovered they could have saved a fortune in parking fees at Heartlands and Solihull hospitals. Michelle was receiving treatment at the hospital and after two years of paying for parking, found out they should have paid reduced fees.
And three months after its grand opening, the £12m state-of-the-art Tudor Grange leisure centre was receiving heavy criticism from disappointed residents. Our reporter Gregg Evans, however, thought the facilities were fine for leisure purposes.
As summer approached the weather stayed the same!
But the rain couldn’t wash away the incredible stench at a Balsall Common poultry farm.
Carcasses were discovered and the owners were fined a whopping £24,000 as a result.
Up north St Anne’s Catholic Church in Chelmsley Wood was targeted by thieves after lead from the roof and thefts in the borough were on the increase thanks to the rocketing price of scrap metal.
The seemingly never-ending problems at Tudor Grange Leisure Centre continued as a spate of locker thefts put further pressure on the centre’s owners.
Elsewhere the nurses involved in the catalogue of malpractices at Maypole Nursing Home in Kings Heath were struck off.
Between them, the three nurses were guilty of 16 counts of professional misconduct.
As June ended, news broke that four of Solihull’s Post Offices were among those facing the axe. The news galvanised communities into action and sparked a major campaign to keep the branches open.
What a year courageous Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher has had.
The fearless 24-year-old received the George Cross award for his bravery in July after he dived on top of a live grenade to save the life of his comrades.
Matt can now barely step out of his home without receiving plaudits for his remarkable heroics.
Things weren’t so sweet for an Acocks Green resident though who received a £10,000 electricity bill.
Hairdresser Paula Porter was appalled with npower when she received the inaccurate bill not long after she switched to the company.
Also disappointed in July were elderly residents in Acocks Green who had their applications for a reduction in their TV licence refused.
It came after some of their neighbours in the same area but part of a separate scheme had their applications approved.
Meanwhile a disabled driver was fined £70 by a parking attendant for parking in a disabled spot - while he was having his disabled badge renewed.
The driver left his renewal letter on show while he was in the Post Office sparking renewed calls for attendants to become more considerate.
This month in Solihull saw Peds the Labrador shortlisted for the Guide Dog of the Year awards. The four-legged friend had supported his owner Ian Marks for three and a half years.
And still basking in the glory of Team GB’s record-breaking performance at the Olympics, potential sporting stars from the borough received what Mike Dolby described as ‘constructive critisicm’. The dedicated high jump coach claimed an Olympic medal would never come from Solihull as local kids were too interested in mobile phones and Ipods.
Best not to show him your Christmas presents children...
Meanwhile A-level results in Solihull reached a new high as the borough’s youngsters and their teachers continued to put the authority amongst the top in the country.
Solihull was celebrating in September as the borough won gold in the 2008 Britain in Bloom competition.
The remarkable win, which saw Solihull fend off competition from beauty hot-spots Kensington, Chelsea and Aberdeen followed another gold in the regional Heart of England in Bloom.
Both medals boosted the borough’s image as one of the leafiest and best-maintained parts of the West Midlands.
In a year where security was supposed to be tight East Midlands Airport was in the spotlight in September, after a passenger boarded a flight carrying a kitchen knife in her hand luggage. Sarah Hopkins from Solihull travelled to Tenerife, only realizing that the knife was in her handbag just before she boarded the plane. She made it to Tenerife with the knife in her bag undetected.
Layla Manchouria from Henley-In-Arden stormed through the X factor auditions, with her group ‘Girl band’
The 22-year-old made the Pop Idol finals seven years earlier, but was disqualified when judges discovered she was too young.
But if you think seven years is a long time try telling that to Bob Faulkner!
The long-serving boss began his 23rd season in charge as Solihull Moors attempted to impress in the Blue Square North.
A relegation battle looks inevitable at present, but Faulkner has a different outlook.
Thousands of pounds worth of illegal drugs were seized throughout the year but one cancer ‘wonder drug’ left Betty Parry in a wheelchair.
The 69-year-old was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 2002 and a doctor at Heartlands Hospital treated her with Velocade last year. An unknown side effect of the drug caused Betty to suffer from severe nerve damage in her legs and feet which makes it difficult for her to walk.
PLANS for a new incinerator to burn the borough’s garbage were branded a ‘waste of money’ by electronic engineer Keith Kondakor of Friends of the Earth. Currently much of Solihull’s waste is ‘sent to Coventry’ (literally) to be burnt.
The collapse of Icelandic banks Landsbanki and Kaupthing saw £3million of council investments potentially disappear overnight.
However other local authorities had it worse, Kent County Council had £50million invested in the banks.
Sixty-three-year-old John Sanders was left struggling after thieves stole his mobility scooter and left it burnt out in a nearby park.
However this story had a happy ending with Mrs Bano Khan stepping in and contributing £500 to John for his new scooter,
It was heartbreak for a Knowle family though, as they returned home from a trip to discover that thieves had broken in and stolen family videotapes of the children.
Mum Sarah made a desperate plea for their return.
The month began with a bang for baby Lucy (hopefully a gentle one), as cochlea implants, funded by the NHS, were going to allow her to hear for the very first time.
Her premature birth had left her with a number of health difficulties, including being profoundly deaf. Mum Louise said: “It was a rotten Christmas Day last year, as Lucy came home the day before and was quite ill. In a way this will be her first Christmas too.”
News that the Post Office network had held onto a key contract to run Post Office Card Accounts (POCAs) was met with relief by many in Solihull. Without the contract a quarter of Solihull branches may have been forced to close.
There was an element of Doctor Who at Shirley Baptist Church as Solihull’s very own Tardis was discovered.
Despite being small in size, a time capsule found in a wall cavity packed in lots of fascinating information from 1910, all perfectly preserved.
The capsule was discovered by builders working on a £180,000 refurbishment of the church.
However there was bad news for the borough, as job losses were announced at Jaguar Land Rover and budget airline bmibaby.
THE Mumbai attacks, in which 171 died, had their impact here in Solihull, with reports of increased tension between students at The Sixth Form College, Solihull.
In Dorridge there was a mixed response to news that the Forest Court precinct could be replaced with a Sainsbury’s supermarket.
Some welcomed the move for environmental reasons, it would mean residents travelling shorter distances in the car for their groceries.
However, there were concerns from many of the traders who currently occupy the precinct as to where they would be able to relocate to, and that it might be more bad news for small, local businesses.
The recent wet weather may well have left you feeling a bit down in the dumps, but spare a thought for the Clarkson family in Shirley who were preparing for a Christmas with a submerged back garden due to a blocked drain. Mum Toni Clarkson said: “There’s algae floating on top, it’s vile, stinking water.”