Express & Star

Smiles, songs and social distancing as Black Country Day celebrated

Coronavirus may have brought much of the UK to a standstill in recent months - but that didn't stop Black Country Day celebrations going ahead.

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Front is council leader Patrick Harley, then left to right: Billy Spakemon; Amanda Bowen and Ruth Longville from Mary Stevens Hospice; Miss Black Country Isobel Lines and Tom Stanton

A watered down event took place in Halesowen town centre today where the region's iconic flag was flown with pride.

Organisers said it was important to hold the event in some capacity despite the restrictions that Covid-19 has brought to everyday life.

Steve Edwards, who founded the event in 2013, said: "It's good that we have managed to get something together.

Event founder Steve Edwards with a piece from the new Black Country Monopoly

"It has ended up being a good event. A couple of hundred people have attended [gradually throughout the day] but they were passing through.

"A lot more people attended than I expected, especially with no advertising."

Black Country Day falls on July 14 each year and has done so for the past seven years.

It forms part of the Black Country Festival which is attended by thousands each year during the summer. However due to the pandemic the festival is being held virtually this year.

Dan Richards from Black Country Radio in Halesowen

David Brownhill, chairman of the festival, said: "It has been disappointing we haven't been able to properly hold the festival this year. This would have been our seventh annual event.

"But we have had an excellent Black Country Day here in Halesowen. I am sure we will be back bigger and better in 2021."

However, it was hard to tell anything was out of place as shoppers approached the small marquee set up at Somers Square, Halesowen.

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The only thing that looked different this year was the smaller crowd size and members of the public wearing face masks.

Black Country poet and singer Billy Spakemon, the stage name for Dr Brian Dakin, provided the entertainment by singing songs with his guitar, alongside fellow The Blue Granits band member Tom Stanton.

Performing are The Blue Granits who are Billy Spakemon and Tom Stanton

Black Country Radio were also there, as were Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley and the winner of 2020 Miss Black Country Isobel Lines

Councillor Harley said: "Black Country Day has become an event that is always in the calendar which is predominately Dudley based.

"Here in Halesowen, we have held a scaled down event due to Covid-19.

"But we have still managed to paint the whole town in the Black Country colours.

"I don't think we could have had a better response in this situation. It is about putting the Black Country and this borough on the map."

Ms Lines, 20, from Wednesbury, added: "I think it is important to be here and meet with different community leaders and be a role model."

Miss Black Country Isobel Lines on the Black Country Deck Chair

There was also a giant deck chair with the Black Country logo printed on which added to the carnival atmosphere.

The event also marked the official launch of a new Black Country-themed Monopoly game which is raising funds for Stourbridge-based Mary Stevens Hospice. All proceeds from the £29.95 game, which can be bought on the charity's website, will go to the organisation.

The popular board game features landmarks such as Dudley Castle, Dudley Zoo, the Titanic's anchor in Netherton and the region's football clubs Wolves, Albion and Walsall.

Members of the British Army were also there to celebrate the day. In attendance were sergeants Adam Sefton and Ray Rose, who are from the Black Country Squadron Royal Yeomanry based in Dudley

Amanda Bowen, fundraiser at the charity, said: "About 12 months ago we approached Hasbro [which makes Monopoly] and asked if they could do a special edition.

"In the first 20 minutes of going live today, we have had more than 100 orders. We have had orders as far as Australia."

Community leaders were also happy to see the small scale event held in Halesowen.

The celebration was organised in partnership with the town's business improvement district [BID] organisation.

Vicky Rogers, manager at the BID, said: "We were due to hold the opening event of the festival here.

Halesowen BID Manager Vicky Rogers

"We have held spectacular events in the past which has attracted thousands of people.

"Subsequently that couldn't go ahead. But Black Country Day is such an important part of our heritage that we need to celebrate.

"We were talking to Black Country Radio saying 'we need to do something to mark this occasion'.

"With social distancing, we thought let's do something low key. It is great being able to hold an event in Halesowen."

Belle Vale ward councillor Simon Phipps added: "It is good to do something despite coronavirus. Halesowen BID have done really well to organise this event in partnership with Black Country Radio."

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