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Volunteering in St Albans

There is no doubt that the residents and businesses of St Albans and the surrounding towns and villages are extremely generous when it comes to donating both their time and money to charitable organisations helping many members of the community. There are often stalls in the market on a Saturday which are given over to fund raising efforts and all over the town church halls frequently display banners advertising coffees mornings, bring-and-buys and performances in aid of local charities.

Fortunately to co-ordinate these types of activities there is the Centre for Voluntary Service St Albans District which matches member groups seeking help, with volunteers who have time to give. There is a very long list of diverse organisations looking for volunteers either on a regular or one-off basis. Volunteering makes a real difference in the community and there are lots of different roles such as support work, driving, fundraising, helping at events and spreading the word. In return volunteers make new friends, increase their own confidence, learn new skills and generally get out as much as they put in. Find out more about volunteering by contacting the Hub at the Civic Centre on St Peter’s Street on 01727 814629 or email volunteering@cvsstalbans.org.uk.

The Centre for Voluntary Service provides organisations with funding advice, training, equipment hire and community transport support. The full list of member groups can be found on the website: http://www.volunteerstalbans.org.uk/cvs-members/. They include Age UK Herts, Home Start, Trestle Arts, Parkinson’s, Mind in Mid Herts, the Peace Hospice….the list goes on.

So if you know anyone who needs support or who has time to give, put them in touch with the Centre for Voluntary Service.

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Prospects for the UK Property Market

The background for 2016

Growth in house prices for 2015 averaged 6.7%, slightly less than the previous year, whilst average monthly rentals (excluding London) increased by almost 5%. Throughout last year there were expectations for an interest rate rise in the 1st quarter of this year, but the weaker economic outlook and continued global turbulence means that rate rises seem highly unlikely in the near term which is good news for mortgages. It really pays to shop around for the best deal as there is strong competition between lenders. It is expected that house prices will continue to rise as demand outstrips supply and new housing numbers fails to bridge the gap.

First time buyers and landlords

To help first time buyers the government’s Help to Buy Scheme and Help to Buy ISAs announced in December further squeeze the market at the lower end. Although competition from landlords and second home buyers may weaken in April as the 3 surcharge on stamp duty comes in which may deter investors.

For landlords the investment landscape is increasingly challenging with a number of stringent pieces of legislation coming into force, including the Right to Rent Act, and a less favourable taxation situation as mortgage interest tax relief is limited to 20% from 2017. Whilst property letting remains an attractive proposition in a rising house price environment investors will have to ensure they do not fall foul of the regulations and HMRC. With many years’ experience in the lettings business we are always happy to discuss landlords’ particular situations with them.

The outlook for the year

Whilst some commentators are predicting growth in UK wide property prices to slow further, the continued strong demand in and around St Albans for property means that house prices are expected to rise but possibly at a slower rate than some areas in the north of England and Scotland as these places play catch-up. Forecasts from the experts for the whole of 2016 range from 2% up to 7%.

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Clearing away the cobwebs

If you are putting your house on the market in the next few weeks, it’s a good idea to start your spring cleaning early as not only will you be showing off your home at its best but it also gives you a chance to have a bit of a clear out. There is always so much to do in the few days before the move that getting ahead will lead to a less stressful time.

Here are our top five tips for sprucing up your home:

1. Start the decluttering early

There is nothing more off-putting than viewing a home where you can’t see the wood for the trees. Start a few weeks before you put your house on the market and work through one room at a time sorting unwanted items into those to be thrown away, a box for the charity shop and others that can be sold.

Whilst a minimalist look might attract some viewers, it’s a good idea to make your home look warm and inviting without filling every space with personal knick-knacks.

2. Too much furniture?

If you have too much furniture in a room consider putting a few large pieces into storage for a few weeks to give a feeling of space in the living rooms.

3. Don’t forget the garden and the garage

First impressions count and the front garden needs to be neat and tidy with the winter debris cleared from the flower beds, hedges neatly trimmed and a coat of paint on the front gate.

Clean your drive and front path with a pressure washer to remove the worst of the algae and brighten up the paving.

The garage should reveal there is lots of storage space, so it’s a good idea to take any unwanted items to the recycling centre.

As soon as the lawn is dry enough give it a mow with blades set quite high and trim the edges for a professional look.

4. Welcome viewers to a clean home

With the clutter out of the way and the furniture in position, it’s time to give the house a thorough clean. Arm yourself with a good pair of rubber gloves, a bucket of hot soapy water and a pile of cleaning cloths and dusters. Remember to open the windows for ventilation if you are using any cleaning chemicals. Finally, check the ceilings for stray cobwebs and give the windows a polish inside and out.

5. Focus on the Kitchen and Bathrooms

They say that kitchens and bathrooms are two of the most important areas viewers look at when buying a home. Pay particular attention to polishing taps, mirrors and showers, scrubbing tiles, and airing the kitchen after cooking.

Equally important are those adorable pets – whilst we don’t notice our furry friends’ aromas, a visitor may well so it is good idea to check your home smells sweet before viewings.

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Focus on Wheathampstead

Wheathampstead is a rare haven of rural peace close to St. Albans, Harpenden and Welwyn Garden City with great communication links to London and Luton airport. The High Street with its local shops provides a focus for the community.

It has an amazing history, sometimes referred to as “The First Capital”, its timeline stretches back 10,000 years. It includes many fascinating stories including a Celtic chieftain fighting off Roman invaders, a Lady Highwayman and a Polar Explorer from Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. Wheathampstead has a rich historic heritage and in recent years has developed a Heritage Trail which is well worth exploring as it helps bring history to life.

It has some 150 acres of open space and playing fields, making a trip to the village ideal for those who enjoy a crisp winter stroll. The spaces include two nature reserves – Butterfield and Marshalls Heath – and two County Wildlife sites – Bower Heath and Gustard Wood, The River Lea runs through the heart of Wheathampstead at the bottom of the High Street where it meets Station Road and there is a pub with one of the most intriguing names, The Wicked Lady. Its sign depicts a highwaywoman, complete with eye-mask, tricorn hat and pistol in her hand.

Places of interest in and around Wheathampstead

Shaw’s Corner – George Bernard Shaw lived here from 1906 until his death in 1950. It is a popular tourist attraction for those with an interest in the arts. You can see many of Shaw’s literary and personal belongings on show there including his Oscar and Nobel Prize.
Devils Dyke- is a popular place for visitors to the village. The massive ditch is thought to have been constructed during the final part of the Iron Age and it was probably here that Julius Caesar defeated the British King called Cassivellavinus in 54 B.C.

John Bunyan’s Chimney – is the only remnant of a cottage where John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrims Progress, is said to have stayed and preached.

St Helens Church – It is the most distinguished building in Wheathampstead with some sections dating back to the Saxons. The east end of the church dates from the 1230s, the tower from 1290 and the main building from the 14th century.

Keeping your children safe at home

According to NHS statistics about 2 million children under the age of 18 are taken to A&E as a result of an accident in and around the home, with over half that number being under 5 years old. So it is definitely worthwhile reviewing your home, and any house you are viewing, for potential hazards so you can keep your little ones safe and sound.

Fire spreads quickly so it’s a good idea to have fire alarms which meet the current regulations, one or more carbon monoxide detectors, a working fire extinguisher and one or more fire blankets. Test your alarms regularly to ensure they are in top working order. It is worthwhile having a comprehensive first aid kit handy.
Safety in the Kitchen

Most families spend a lot of time in the kitchen and the trend for open plan living means easy access to all the appliances and utensils. Fortunately most new ovens have cool touch doors and many fridges have lockable doors.

Children are naturally curious and want to join in and the kitchen is one of the areas in the home with the most hazards and where adults are busy so cannot always see what’s going on.

Here are a few tips for safety in the kitchen:

  • Keep all knives and sharp utensils in a lockable drawer
  • Place glass objects in a high cupboard
  • Turn pan handles towards the back of the hob when cooking
  • Keep stools and chairs away from the cooking and food preparation areas
  • Medicines, hazardous cleaning products, matches and lighters should be out of reach, preferably in a locked cupboard
  • Consider a cover for your cooker knobs and for your dishwasher if it opens easily.
  • Childproof latches on base units will also stop little ones from accessing the contents
  • Move small fridge magnets up and out of reach from toddlers.

Open plan living has its benefits as the whole family is likely to be in the same area where they can keep a watchful eye over the under 5s and steer them away from danger.
Keeping children safe around electrical items

Children are fascinated by electrical appliances particularly TVs, DVD players, and computers. These should be placed against the wall and all the wires positioned out of reach. Unused sockets should be covered with safety plugs and small electrical items should be switched off at the socket.
Safety upstairs

There are three main safety considerations in bedrooms (and numerous minor ones). Firstly, check the windows are locked. Secondly, ensure tall bookcases and wardrobes are fixed to wall so that they cannot topple over. Thirdly, keep all blind cords are out of reach and conform to regulations and that drawstrings are removed. It’s also worth checking toy boxes, sliding doors and window stops to avoid children trapping their fingers.

Unless you are buying a new cot, it is advisable to check the age and condition of a second hand one very carefully. Specific advice is beyond the scope of this blog post but there is very good information on the NCT website https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/sleeping-safely-cot

In adults’ bedrooms all small and/or sharp objects should be put away and beauty products and medicines out of reach.

On the stairs a safety gate is essential at the top and bottom and if the rails on the stairs have wide gaps consider covering with a guard until the children are big enough. It is also a good idea to keep the stair free of toys.

Water however shallow and babies don’t mix. For toddler and small children the main advice is to keep the temperature of hot water at hand hot and to place a mat in the bottom of the bath or shower to prevent them slipping. Needless to say, all cleaning products, medicines, razors and electric hair styling products should be kept out of arms reach and the toilet lid left closed.

With regards to garages and sheds, the easiest way to remain safe is to keep them locked and out of bounds.

In summary, keep a watchful eye on babies and toddlers so their natural inquisitive nature doesn’t get them into trouble. They can have fun exploring without getting into danger if time has been taken to minimise the risks. For more information take a look at the Child Accident Prevention Trust website http://www.capt.org.uk/

All the fun of the fair at the St Albans Christmas Market

There is a just a couple of weeks until St Albans Cathedral plays host to a wonderful Christmas market in the walled Vintry Garden in the grounds of the Abbey. In traditional European style, there will be the whole range of Christmas goodies to buy from over 60 stalls selling gifts, decorations, a hot toddy or two and a vast selection of foodie fare for young and old.
There is plenty of entertainment too with street performers and Carols on the Hour in the Cathedral on the last Saturday before Christmas from 11.00am to 4.00pm.
Starting on Thursday 26th November with a launch party, the Christmas market is open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11am to 6pm, Thursdays 11am – 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am until 6pm until Sunday 20th December.
The regular market in St Albans has taken place since the 9th century, so the City has one of the oldest markets in the UK and a tradition of welcoming visitors from far and wide to the heart of the historic town. We know this year’s Christmas market will add to the Christmas spirit.

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Remember, Remember the 5th of November!

With Halloween over, next Saturday, 7th November, Verulamium Park plays host to the largest public firework display in the south of England. Tickets can be bought from the Alban Arena or on the door and cost just £5. Proceeds go to local charities so everyone benefits from this spectacular family event.
The gates open at 6.00pm and the fireworks get off with a bang and a swoosh at 7.30pm. To keep everyone in the party spirit there will be lots of stalls with your favourite food and drink. Remember that parking will be tricky on the night, so plan your journey beforehand.
Why not wrap up warm and join in the fun!

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Tips for Packing up your Home

Whether you choose to use a removal company, tackle the move yourselves or do a combination of the two, this guide will give you some useful tips for making the job much easier. The most important piece of advice is not to leave everything to the day before the move.

Step 1.

Consider what you do not need to take with you. Give items away to a local charity or to friends and family, do a car-boot or garage sale, recycle what you can, sell more valuable items online, take rubbish to the local tip and then you can start packing with a clean slate.

Step 2.

Work out how many boxes you will need if you are going to pack yourself. These can be bought or gathered from supermarkets. Even if you are having a removal company pack for you it is usually a good idea to put some items together in smaller boxes or plastic bags so they are easy to find when you unpack. You will also need strong tape, bubble wrap, tissue paper and old newspapers for lining boxes and wrapping up delicate items. Don’t forget labels and marker pens.

Naturally a removals service will provide all these items for you. There are also moving packs which can be bought online to suit your property size.

Step 3.

Separate out the following hazardous items which some removals companies may not transport:

  • Boxes of paint
  • Cleaning products containing bleach
  • Pesticides
  • Asbestos
  • Batteries
  • Fluorescent tubes

You may need to move these items yourself, so pack with care and look up with safest ways of disposing of those items you no longer need.

Step 4.

Pack an essentials box with all the items you are going to need on the first night. It should be the last box loaded onto the van. These might include:

  • overnight bag with change of clothes
  • tea, coffee, milk
  • snacks, canned or boxed food
  • can opener
  • eating utensils and plates
  • pans and pots
  • towels and dishcloth
  • toiletries
  • baby supplies
  • toilet paper
  • pet food
  • first aid kit and painkillers
  • tool box.

 

Step 5.

 

Start your packing early as it always seems to take longer than expected. If you have a large number of possessions give yourself about six weeks. Begin at the top of the house and work downwards. If you have an attic then begin there. Start in the least used rooms and do one room at a time. Do not overfill boxes and spread out the weight so that each one is not too heavy to lift. Put heavy items at the bottom and top up with lighter ones. Label each box. Make sure valuable documents such as birth certificates and marriage certificates, passports and driving licenses are packed carefully.

 

Finally, if you are considering using a removals service, ask us for recommendations and obtain quotes well in advance as you need to be sure they are free on your chosen moving day.  For further advice about moving house, talk to one of our team.

St Albans sports and fitness for all the family

Being physically active on a regular basis is a major factor to maintaining and improving your health and well being. The City and District of St Albans has much to offer to help residents engage in regular sport and physical activity. Keep fit, stay well, and participate – use the local facilities, join in the activities and events and enjoy yourself.

  • Cricket – St Albans has a thriving cricket club, with four teams competing in the Saracens Hertfordshire Cricket League, two teams playing in the Chess Valley League, and a flourishing Colts section. The home ground at Clarence Park offers cricket in a fantastic setting near to the centre of St Albans.
  • Football – The local football team is St Albans City F.C. Its stadium is on the edge of Clarence Park. There are various football clubs for children which offer after school and holiday football camps.
  • Rugby – St Albans Centurions Rugby League Club have their ground at Toulmin Drive, St Albans. They play in the London Premier League. The rugby union club is based at Oakland’s.
  • Skateboarding – St Albans is home to one of the country’s oldest and finest indoor skate parks, the Pioneer Skate Park in Heathlands Drive, next to the former fire station. Its ramps are available to all skateboarders and inliners.
  • Golf – St Albans is a home of the Ryder Cup at Verulam Golf Club. There is also Batchwood Hall Golf Club – 18 holes of golf set in the picturesque grounds of Batchwood Hall.
  • The Fitness Clubs – St Albans has wide range of fitness clubs like – Fitness first, Nuffield Health and Wellbeing club to name a few. St.Albans also has a website http://www.activestalbans.com/ which helps people to find information on all aspects of sport and physical activity in the district.
  • Swimming Pools – St Albans has number of swimming pools like Westminster Lodge Sports Centre, The Dolphin Swimming School, Nuffield Fitness and Wellbeing (private)

One of the longest running sports events in the sporting calendar is the St Albans Half Marathon which is now in its 34th year and continually raises a large amount of money for local charities. The event offers something for everyone of all ages and abilities with the half marathon, walking half marathon, a 5k race and 1.5 mile children’s fun run.

So with lovely parks and great sports facilities, there’s is no excuse to spend too much time on the sofa when you live in St Albans.

Weekend Walks in and around St Albans

If you live in St Albans, Harpenden or one of the surrounding villages there is plenty of choice when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors. A trip to the open spaces, such as Verulam Park, Rothamsted Park or Harpenden Common  are all near the town centres which means you can combine a shopping trip or meal out with a walk.

If you live along the Abbey Flyer train line between St Albans Abbey Station and Watford Junction, there are a series of circular walks which are between one and a half and four hours long. You can download maps for the different walks here: http://www.hertslink.org/cms/getactive/walkroutes/abbeyflyer/

A stone’s throw from the centre of St Albans is the village of Sandridge and nearby Heartwood Forest, a combination of ancient woodland and newly planted forest which will grow into the largest native forest in England. In the spring Heartwood Forest is carpeted with bluebells and at the height of summer is filled with poppies, cornflowers and a myriad of wild flowers. There is easy access and a combination of walks to suit everyone.

For a quick outing with the children and their bicycles, two former railway lines, the Nickey Line in Harpenden and the Alban Way Railway Trail between St Albans and Hatfield, are perfect for a Sunday morning stroll. The Nickey Line is a former railway line that links Harpenden, Redbourn and Hemel Hempstead. The route passes through Yew Tree Wood, open countryside and farmland. The Alban Way trail can be joined at various points and is dotted with a variety of art works.

Further afield there are the large estates of Knebworth House and Hatfield House where there are vast acres of parkland for picnicking and walking, and the Ashridge Estate, on the borders of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire make for a great day out.

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