The Sutton Coldfield Observer passed the 1,000-edition mark earlier this month.
The paper’s John Newton looks back over the past 19 years and finds that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Being sent by the editor to dust off the bound copies and have a flick through 70,000 pages of newsprint is this office’s equivalent of being sent up the chimneys.
But amid the huffs and puffs of lifting the heavy tomes off shelves that you need tip toes on your tip toes to get at, there’s some interesting finds – we had a scantily-clad woman on the first ever front page in 1985; I bet the paper boys were late that day.
The Observer’s first 1,000 editions are collected in six-month bunches in big red leather books.
And when you have one under your arm, things feel a bit This is Your Life, and for Suttonians, it literally is.
It’s a kind of time travel through your own local past, but with paper cuts and Tarby advertising microwaves dotted through the walk down memory lane, road, shopping centre and Park.
‘Park at risk’ was the Observer’s first ever front page headline as fears grew that ordinary park users were being squeezed out by a number of larger, city-wide events.
The Park, like Good Hope Hospital, would go on to dominate in each one of the Observer’s three decades; be it issue 11′s report on baptisms for gay congregations in Powells Pool, The controversial Party in the Park in the mid-90s to this year’s apparent resolution to the ongoing Lido row.
The pattern marks a trend of reporting in Sutton.
It seems that to a certain extent the key stories and issues raised early in the Observer’s lifetime are the very ones that are still running and affecting residents.
While the town may look at least physically different compared to 1985, with the Observer chronicling everything from the arrival of McDonald’s to semi-pedestrianisation; the more things change, the more they stay the same.
For instance, even by issue two the 1985 Observer had its first Birmingham Northern Relief Road story, with Streetly MP Richard Shepherd warning on the splash page that it would destroy communities along the A5.
Now built, the M6 Toll’s news value has not diminished, and hardly a month seems to go by without the Observer carrying some report on the controversial route.
Similarly, the ongoing thorny issue of school places appeared very quickly.
While some community chiefs threatened a ban on the Rambo First Blood movie in Sutton in November 1985, others were outraged over the announcement that Boldmere School was set to close, with its 300 pupils transferred to Riland Bedford, now Plantsbrook.
The closure was blamed on dwindling roll calls.
But the very next week – in events still familiar to parents every year – a row with the education authority erupted as Sutton kids were denied places at a school of their choice; a situation exacerbated by admission cuts at Fairfax.
The row continued into 1986 – a year in which the Government planned to drill for oil in Sutton – and then into the next decade and beyond.
Rows over threats of massive industrial development to Peddimore’s acres are nothing new either – the Observer’s first report on the danger to its greenbelt status came midway through our lifespan in ’96, and is still no nearer being resolved.
Against this backdrop has been the saga of Sutton independence; perhaps more of an ever-present, whether subtly or explicitly so, than any other issue – it seems to have coloured in some way all of the above running-threads.
Rows over Sutton’s former autonomy being chipped away, as it found itself under the umbrella of Birmingham, began almost immediately, and was again glimpsed just a matter of months ago.
It is this persistent ‘background noise’ of the matter that made, in Sutton at least, the city’s recent plan to devolve some services to local, doorstep control an edgier piece than a dry tale about local government machinery.
Elsewhere, campaigns have highlighted necessarily ongoing, and crucial issues.
Over the years, the Observer has campaigned on matters ranging from the threatened closure of the town hall and magistrate’s court to, in the early 90s, a partial bus ban for the Parade, and, in the mid-90s, the release of Erdington woman Samantha Slater imprisoned in India over allegations of drug possession.
Perhaps though, the biggest story of the Observer’s time was the murder of Fairfax school girl Nicola Dixon, and the trial of her killer, which began 12 years into our 19-year run.
The teenager’s death sent a shockwave across the town and led to seven years of reporting, from the discovery of her body in January ’97 to the killer’s life sentence in November 2003; with every red herring, false lead, police appeal, and detail of the largest manhunt the town had ever seen covered in between.
In the Observer’s coverage of Sutton in the early 21st century, certain, relatively new stories vying for space show little sign of burning out.
Reports on telecommunications masts, along with backland planning rows and controversial development – Brassington Avenue’s ‘Park Point’ seemingly the bane of those fearing an end to Sutton as we know it – are destined to run and run as they set the local news agenda.
And you can be sure that whether it is these matters or Bark Foot’s sausages that are the talk of the town, the Observer will be there every step of the way.
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