Caves - It's A Mystery for Toyah

There isn’t much that shocks singer and presenter Toyah Willcox. 
But the punk icon has revealed she was stunned when she learned that Dudley was hiding miles of ‘secret’ caves and canals. 

“The limestone caves are astonishing because I had no idea they were there,” says Toyah, who grew up in Birmingham. “There is an unbelievable history hiding under Dudley, which will attract thousands of visitors to the area. 

“When I went down to the Black Country Living Museum for a tour into the Seven Sisters caverns it was full of visitors. People want to see this history and the opening of the caves is of national importance.” 

Toyah will be fronting a televised bid on ITV next month to bring 50 million of lottery cash to the Black Country. She is also the face of the bid on the website On-line voting has already started and a phone vote will be launched on December 7 to coincide with the TV show. 

A Million People: Black Country as an Urban Park, has been shortlisted for the vote along with an expansion of The Eden Project, a national bike route proposed by Sustran’s and a bid to protect the ecology of Nottingham’s Sherwood Forest. 

As well as opening up Dudley’s Seven Sister’s mines and caverns there will be a 12-mile ‘green bridge’ built linking Walsall and West Bromwich town centres and Wolverhampton’s canal network will be given a new lease of life. 

“What I found extraordinary in Wolverhampton is that no one was using the canals – wherever I went I didn’t see a soul,” said the 49-year-old. “We need to be using these phenomenal areas but I had the feeling that people didn’t know they were there. It is like Brindley Place in Birmingham, which was just waiting for re-development. 

“The plans for the Black Country affect three towns and a city that all have a very difficult infrastructure. They have wonderful canals but the roads haven’t got any structure, which means there is no way of getting to the nature reserves and parks without crossing over some very busy roads. 

“This scheme will link communities with green bridges so people will be able to walk between Walsall and Sandwell and along the beautiful canals in Wolverhampton.” 

Celebrities have been nominated to back each project in the lead-up to the vote. While Toyah is backing the Black Country project, GMTV presenter Lorraine Kelly is taking a stand for Sustrans, survival expert Ray Mears is fronting the Eden Project’s bid and actor Brian Blessed is the face for Sherwood Forest. Toyah says the Black Country’s project is exceptional because it will directly affect one million people. 

She said: “In the Black Country you are looking at a part of the world that influenced the history of mankind. 

“These are people that deserve this money because they toiled and worked hard to give us the industrial revolution and yet they are not the richest area in the country – they deserve better,” she said. 

“This is about a better lifestyle for a million people and by linking the towns and cities it will make the area more friendly. I grew up in Birmingham but would come to the Black Country all the time for educational reasons because there is so much history here,” she continued. 

“It is in the Black Country where you can learn about the extraordinary nature of human spirit, it is a place where children started working from the age of nine – which is shocking when you think how civilised we are today. I remember the Black Country as a bleak place but it was that same bleakness which inspired artists and writers such as Tolkien. It inspired the Lord of the Rings and it has annoyed me that New Zealand has profited from that instead of us. 

“We need to start showing things like this off and exploiting all the things that the West Midlands is famous for. The West Midlands is an incredible and exciting place to be and with Birmingham as our second city we can do a lot to improve the area. 

“Even though we are surrounded by two major motorways – the M6 and M5, this lottery cash will help make the area a more green and pleasant place to be,” she added. 

Express & Star
29th November 2007