Why someone tried to steal the flagstones from my front garden

When I went to leave my house in Altrincham for my 7am shift at MediaCity, everything seemed normal. Until I opened my front door and saw this.


No great catastrophe, but one of our flagstones was pulled up and broken, and the gate left open. I’d read about thefts of entire driveways of York stone flags, so knew that someone had tried to steal ours and been disturbed or though better or if.

As I was getting into my car I had a quick look at my neighbour’s to the right, and they also had one stone pulled up, gate left open.

But what I missed was the front of my neighbour to the left. It looked like this.


Previously it had looked almost exactly like this.


Thirteen of their flagstones had been pulled up around 2.30am in the morning. My neigbour was disturbed, looked out and saw three people in hoodies drive off in a white van parked right outside our houses.

This type of theft is not unknown in the North West and particularly Yorkshire. The York stone flags can sell for £100 per square metre, according to this piece in the Daily Mail. Altrincham neighbourhood policing team say it’s been a couple of years since one has occurred in the area and call it ‘rare’ here, but not unknown in the past.

Will the thieves come back for the ones they didn’t take, in my front garden and my other neighbour’s? Once you’ve become a crime victim your chances of being a repeat victim increases, the policewoman I spoke to over the phone told me.

So this is the advice, both from the police and from Twitter. Get an alarm (we have an old one we never use and turns out it’s broken). and get a camera. Don’t bother with the cheap ones the policewoman told me. If police can’t identify people in the night vision CCTV, the images are useless.


The police also recommended window sensor alarms. Burglars are using garden ornaments to smash windows to gain entry. As ever Twitter knows this too.


If you’ve had flagstones stolen it doesn’t follow that the thieves will return to burgle your house. Most likely they are targeting just flagstones. They’ll have seen them in advance and returned; it’s not a chance thing. The thefts mostly happen overnight.

Last year policing minister Mike Penning called for stiffer penalties for stone theft, which had increased after a government crackdown on scrap metal theft.

It was reaching “epidemic levels” in parts of Britain and should be treated as “serious organised crime” Mr Penning said. You can read The Telegraph’s full article on the rise of stone theft and measures to tackle it here.






Marie Kondo: What a local expert thinks about the ‘magic of tidying’ sensation

Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, has taken the UK and the world by storm. The Japanese ‘organising consultant’ urges us to turn our wardrobes, bookshelves and kitchen drawers inside out and keep only items that are useful or spark joy.

Three million copies of the book have been sold and Marie promises that if we do it right and by her rules, we’ll never have to tidy again. So that means that thousands of UK women and hundreds right here in Manchester have permanently scratched ‘tidying’ off their to do lists, right? Er, maybe not.

I spoke to Trafford-based professional organiser Lesley Spellman, aka The Clutter Fairy, about the famous KonMari method, what she thinks of it, and whether it’s a sensation locally. Lesley has been helping clients from all walks of live organise and declutter their homes for the past seven years.


Lesley Spellman

What do you think of Marie Kondo’s book?
LS: I love it and the holistic approach of de-cluttering the whole house in one go. But it is largely focused towards a certain type of person who’s not very cluttered in the first place. 

Which of her methods do you agree with?
LS: I agree with pulling all the same sort of things out and clearing them together. For professional organisers it’s standard practice to take everything you’re decluttering out of its place, just like Marie Kondo advocates, and discard items before you put the ones you’re keeping back.

She recommends starting with clothes, then books, then paperwork, and finally ‘komono’ (small miscellaneous items). I agree with all that – but  ‘komono’  is a huge section. A novice may think it sounds good, but how do you pull out all your little bits and pieces in one go?


My younger daughter’s desk clutter, on the floor for clearing out

So which methods are different to yours?
LS: Marie Kondo talks about having to change your mindset to keep a tidy home, but that is not an easy thing to do. It’s like trying to lose weight. It’s not the same for everyone, there isn’t a one-size fits all answer. People are often so overwhelmed, they don’t know where to start, and motivating someone to be able to change behaviours can take some time.

I focus on the personalities of my clients and work with them on what they want their homes to become. There’s no set formula. Every home is different, and every family is different.

Also, while tackling everything in one go sounds great, it’s not practical for many people. Your home has to be liveable and having all your possessions on the floor around the house while you are going through the process isn’t something everyone can do.

She also recommends that after you’ve decluttered  you can focus on buying things that spark joy. I think after you’ve decluttered, buying new things will only take you back to square one. We all know that joy sparking/retail therapy is often  a temporary fix.

I like Marie Kondo-style folding, I see this as micro organisation. It can work for people who have a lot of time to devote to perfection,

So what is your key to tidying?
LS: Getting rid of things and then making sure there is a place for everything. People tend feel guilty about the possessions they’re getting rid of. So they want to give it to other people. Or they want to sell it. But what’s your real goal: to declutter or make money?  It’s a buyer’s market… things go for pounds. By the end of one of my sessions, all the decluttered items are out of the house. Its a critical part of the process.

How much do your clients typically get rid of?
LS: My clients will get rid of between 30% to 60% of their possessions. Most of my clients are female. Typically they’ll declutter 50% of their wardrobe and more like 5% of the kitchen.

And where does it go?
LS: If there’s value, people will want to sell their stuff. I don’t advocate selling it yourself as it can become a barrier and will delay you achieving your goal. Donate it to charity shops I recommend one charity shop to my clients that comes and collects. Or there are eBay sellers who will take your stuff away, sell it, and give you a percentage.

I get my clients to make a plan of where things they’re getting rid of are going to go. If you’re unsure of whether something should go or stay, it should stay. Never delay your decision making, and don’t have a halfway point like storing it in the basement for now.

Has Marie Kondo been good for business?
LS: It’s fantastic that she’s come along. She’s added a usp to standard de-cluttering and made it work. It’s very empowering and people are interested and doing it. All of a sudden the world is interested in decluttering!

But professional organising and decluttering was already growing in popularity. Numbers in our association have doubled In the past years. We’ve got really high calibre people coming into it now; previously it was often something people added on the side of another business, like coaching or cleaning.

Journalists and bloggers are suddenly very interested. Some people are trying Marie Kondo, finding it hard to motivate themselves, then calling on professionals. She won’t work for everyone. You have to find the elements you like and take these forward.



Decluttering my older daughter’s clothes was a daunting job for her

Useful links:

Contact Lesley Spellman via clutterfairy.co.uk
The Assoication of Professional Declutterers and Organisers
Buy The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
The Clutter Rating scale


New fitness studio rescues forgotten Altrincham building



Before and after: Abi Jeffrey, one of Nicholas Griffin’s Atlas Physique clients

On Saturday 19 March another new business opens its doors in Altrincham – Atlas Physique a personal training and fitness studio run by popular local trainer Nicholas Griffin, at 1 Market Street in the town centre.

Starting his own business is a dream of Nicholas’ ever since he left the Army in 2012 and found a new career in fitness. ‘Being able to empower people to change was what I really loved about it,’ said Nick, who’s trained more than 500 clients in Hale and Altrincham.

One of those clients, businesswoman Loren Taylor, believed in Nick so much she encouraged him to set up on his own, with her backing and advice. Nick, who’d worked at Hale Fitness and Total Fitness, Altrincham, started scouting around for local venues and Atlas Physique was born.

Forgotten building revived


Listed building 1 Market Street, during the refurbishment for Atlas Physique

Atlas’s launch is also a success story a piece of Altrincham’s heritage that was edging towards dereliction. No 1 Market Street is a grade-two listed building just yards from the popular Market hall. It had not been occupied for four years and was on the council’s ‘at risk’ list, says Nick.

Attempts to establish a restaurant there had failed and it looked like its lovely period oak-and-brass saloon doors could remain shut forever.

Nick admits that managing the restrictions that come with a listed building were ‘a nightmare’. But by reviving it as a gym, he’s glad to breathe life back into the building and ensure that anybody can visit and use it (once they’re one of his clients, of course!)


Inside the new Atlas Physique studio

Atlas has a team of three personal trainers and signing up is as easy as a phone call or popping in. Clients can use the studio as their gym for a small charge during the week and on Saturdays.

The interior is as simple and modern as you’d expect a gym to be, with all-white walls and black-and-red equipment. To accentuate the contrast between modern and old, Nick has brought in Manchester artist Buber Nebz Graffiti to create a mural for the interior (below).


In addition to fitness training, Nick and his team have plans for regular seminars that anyone can attend.

“It’s an education establishment rather than just a fitness studio. Going through the motions isn’t good enough. We want to offer sessions on diet and fitness.”

Atlas Physique officially launches on Saturday 19 March at 5.30pm, with a launch party that’s open to all.

Atlas Physique, 1 Market Street, Altrincham WA14 1QE. Tel 07907 014178. Normal opening times for clients are 6am-8pm, Saturday 7am to 3pm.




Books I love: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

Better, simpler, faster is a digital principle that I’d love to apply to the way I manage my home life. Bea Johnson’s book, which hit shops last year, certainly ticks the ‘simpler’ box. Her core message is a green one: Western households can’t keep producing waste at the levels we have been if our children are to enjoy the same world and way of life that we have.

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Eight things I learned about Google Glass from someone who’s got one

Bob Schukai

Bob Schukai

I was lucky enough to spend an hour today finding out a bit more about Google Glass than I knew yesterday (which I’ll confess didn’t extend much beyond tittle tattle about the people working on Glass).

Bob Schukai (left) head of mobile technology for Thompson Reuters kindly made the trip from London, presumably having first made the hop over from the US, to show us his Glass which he’s had for a year. Bob is one of the 8,000 people given Google Glass to try out, after having come through a selection process based on best Twitter hashtags.

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Game on: Fraggers gaming cafe in Altrincham, Manchester

Playing Sims 3 at Fraggers, Altrincham

Playing Sims 3 at Fraggers, Altrincham

Altrincham boy Mike Hardman has packed in his software developing job in London and returned to his hometown to bring joy to the gaming-hungry youth and grown-ups of the North West.

Fraggers, at 6 the Downs in Altrincham, Cheshire, opened its doors in late February 2014 and offers two floors of game heaven, with 25 PCs stations and four console stations complete three large-screen TVs and leather sofas. Players have access to nearly 300 games and pay by the hour, either up front or via an account.

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