Jade's Crossing - Caroline Hobbs' story

My story is a sad one, but then are so many others. It all began in 1987 when we moved into our house in Detling, we had wanted to move to the country mainly to give our three children Jo, Paul and Tom a better chance in life. Away from gangs and, maybe as they got older drugs as well.

It was January when we viewed our house and it had been a bad winter, with lots of snow. It looked really pretty and we fell in love with the house. The road was quiet and we didn't know the road, as Paul and myself were not originally from Maidstone. Not long after we moved in, we were to learn that the year before the lady who lived opposite us had been killed while crossing the road. This had happened on the 16th December 1986, ironically the same date fifteen years later we were to suffer our great loss. We were also to hear of other fatalities and incidents, we tried to dismiss our fears, and carried on with our lives, which included two more children Ben and Jade. Jade, who we called our little gift from God as she was the only one we hadn't planned for.

We went through our days and nights with the sounds of accidents, people knocking at our doors, bringing people into our house, giving them cups of tea, as well as the police, who had by this time become to know us well. We would take blankets out and even held a gentleman, the year before Jade died, on Boxing Day, while his wife died in the car. He died six weeks later.

I would listen as my two secondary school children and their friends would try and cross the road in the mornings to reach the other side to catch the bus, and I would wait in fear for the hoots of the vehicles, as they would spot the bus coming down the hill and risk their life's to reach the other side, so as not to miss the bus.

As I took my younger children to the school and playschool on the other side, just a 2 minute walk, it would take half an hour. Jumping off and on and off the pavement and then running across the road. Sometimes I dragged my children on their knees just so we didn't get knocked down.

Then you would get the drivers who would toot their car horns or even drive at you , as if to say, "you’re mad crossing this road." Maybe they were unaware that we had no choice. So eventually most of us that could would take our cars on this little journey across the road. Even that was taking your life in your hands.

As you may guess things didn't improve. It was to get worse, much worse. When Jade was about one year old, one of my elder daughter’s friends horse had got out and been knocked down. My husband went out to try and pull it from the road as the cars sped by, having a quick gloat as they passed.

Putting a rope around the horse to enable him to drag it away from the road with his Land Rover, he discovered that the horse had been decapitated. When the head was finally found it had been catapulted high over the trees into the waterworks opposite our house.

The fear of the road set in badly after this, I would have nightmares, horse riders stopped going across, as the traffic had increased so much, walkers and cyclists dwindled, and I started to wonder what I could do. But before I did, when Jade was just three, I was outside our house when Tom and Ben came out from the back garden to see me, but our Boxer Dog who was just nine months old followed.

I then witnessed the death of our beloved pet, and I knew I couldn't go on doing nothing. We had door closers put on our front door, so that Jade wouldn't be able to get out. I then mounted a campaign. I organised photo calls with the residents on our side of the village, spoke to councillors and told the press that a child was going to die, little knowing that seven years latter my prediction was to come true.

We asked for pedestrian warning signs and a 50 mph speed limit with cameras just as an interim measure. Ideally we wanted a bridge or an underpass. But we were given nothing, not even the signs to warn drivers that people crossed there. They told us they couldn't put speed cameras in, as the road was to dangerous to maintain them. So it went on. A big demonstration on County Show Day, that would show them. So I got newsletters , petitions, informed the Police and the press of what I intended to do, then I called at every house in Detling, If people were not in then I would return when they were, I had to get everyone's support otherwise it would be useless . My husband was getting fed up with me, as I was spending so much time on trying to organise the demonstration, but when the day arrived, we had horse riders, ramblers, cyclists, parish councillors, the media, police and our side of the village, with a handful from the other side.

It was a good demonstration, but had the other side supported us maybe we may or may not have made an impact. I tried to carry on, but no one would budge, too expensive, not enough dead, excuse after excuse. But when invited to cross the road themselves, they declined, asking if we thought they were mad.

There is no answer to that is there?

Anyway as you know my prediction came true in the cruellest way possible. Then even that wasn't enough for them. After an extraordinary meeting on the 9th of January 2001 we were told that we would not have a safe crossing for at least another five years. My reply was that if they would not build it then I would, I didn’t know how, but I knew that if I would not stop this time. So that same night a committee was born and the Jade Crossing fund started with £67.07 which was Jade’s life savings, and with the help of the media for whom I will forever be grateful, as well as all the kind people who responded to our call for help, we started to bring in approximately £10,000 a month.

We went to Downing Street with 11.000 signatures. We held a sit down demonstration on the road, of course with the help of the police, but the main thing was we always kept our dignity, because if we had lost that, we would have lost it to Jade and mum. It wasn't the way to go. The Council were backed in a corner. They were not expecting the support that we had, or indeed the money we were raising.

Jades Crossing was opened on 31st of August 2002. We now have the quality of life we deserved, but it took a high price to pay. The Jade Appeal is now named as a charity for the education of road safety in Kent. We have already donated £5,000 to the Kent road safety partnership for a video called ‘If only’ which has gone out to all secondary schools and youth clubs in Kent and also some colleges have asked for it . The video is aimed at our teenagers and promoting them to ask their peers to slow down while driving. We have also given money to a school in Thanet for tabards to start a walking school bus.

We are currently giving £5,000 to promote a walking school bus calendar to KCC which will go to 20,000 school children in the Canterbury and Thanet area .There is so much we can do to help our needy schools if we can keep the funding and the profile going. We have the backing of many safety organizations. The day I lost my little girl and mother, was the day that part of me died, and I guess like most parents who lose a child, this is the case for them also.

But for me, I discovered an incredible fight in me that I did not know I had.

The fight for a safe quality of life and a fight for change. This I feel will always be with me, for the rest of my life. Although I have felt the need for change since the day we moved into our pretty little village, something inside of me snapped.

There are more people dying on our roads than any other way, that is apart from illness. Will the authorities and the national media continue to ignore this, by continuing to sweep it under the carpet, as just another death?

Let us face the facts. If there were three airplane crashes in one year, with no survivors, there would be an outcry. If there were three Paddington rail crashes each year killing eight hundred passengers there would be hell to pay, but if eight hundred pedestrians die on our roads and the number continues growing, then that's ok.

In an age when we are striving to encourage our young people to get more exercise and reduce road traffic accidents in Kent, I find it unbelievable that there can be an issue, as to where and what the money that Tesco's has so kindly donated to the City of Canterbury is spent. Where is the commonsense of bringing further vehicles into the Whitstable? That will certainly be the case if a another car park is built Not only will this further increase pollution and endanger the lives of pedestrians, but it will also bring more congestion into Whitstable and Canterbury. I get totally fed up with the priority given to the motor car. After all were we born with wheels? I think not. So how about a little thought for those who enjoy our countryside, you know, the so called beautiful Garden of England.

Let us stop being a nation of selfishness and give a thought to those who use what God gave them. You know those limbs we call legs. I expect you may be wondering, why I have become involved with the fight for the Crab and Winkle Line Trust. You may not see a connection. Well let me explain. Firstly Jade’s Crossing was never just about safety, but also about a quality of life, not just for the village, but for the travellers of the Pilgrims Way, which like your route has an interesting history.

In fact the Pilgrims last stop is in Canterbury. Each year many walkers and cyclists travel this route, with the junction of Jades Crossing being the most dangerous of their journey. It has been with great pleasure that I was able to set some of these on their journey, and in turn be able to see them cross safely and without Police escort for the first time since they have made the journey to Canterbury.

Let us all start thinking of others and consider the dreadful fact, that yes it could happen to you, and replace this vital missing link that could only be an asset to Canterbury and Whitstable. Think of the enjoyment that could be had by all.

The walking school busses that could be set up, with a safe route to school. Think of the children being able to cycle to school, or indeed just go for a safe bike ride. Think of the elderly, but most of all think of others.

I would like to thank you all for listening, and thank the Crab and Winkle Line trust for inviting me here tonight. If any one has any questions for me then I would be happy to answer if I can.

Caroline Hobbs

Last change: 21 September 2003