Thursday, 21 August 2014

Campus invites community for 50th Anniversary day of free activities

Tune into a musical workshop for babies, brand your own smoothie, take a look round the labs, interact with a scarecrow robot or catch one of the mini public lectures. These are just a handful of the exciting activities taking place on Saturday 13 September when Lancaster University stages a Community Activities Day on campus. The event has been arranged as part of the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Through an action-packed programme of imaginative and innovative activities, from 11am to 5pm, the University is keen to provide an insight into life on campus. The free event, geared at all ages and all members of the regional community, will showcase some the University’s world-class teaching and research, together with a glimpse of the excellent facilities on site.

Pictured above are Senior Lecturer Dr Jackie Parry and PhD student Amber Lynch, from the Department of Biomedical and Life Sciences. And no, they aren't making a smoothie (or that's what they tell us anyway) or a Monster Mash, but demonstrating some ‘Super Squidgy Science’ – otherwise known as DIY DNA. It's a new and quite fascinating activity designed for you to join in on the day, and apparently if you stick with it and don't just eat all the ingredients (or fabric-paint them, if the photo is anything to go by) you will end up creating an individually designed loom bracelet. And you'll probably know quite a bit more about DNA (or DIY) and laboratory techniques.

Vice Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith said: “This milestone year gives us an opportunity not only to celebrate our world class credentials in teaching and research, but also to celebrate and strengthen our community links closer to home.

“We have always been hugely proud of our roots in Lancaster and, through this event, hope to give the local community a deeper insight into just what goes on here and how we are working to benefit our local community and beyond.”

Amongst the dozens of activities taking place on the day, visitors will be able to:

  • Watch a demonstration of 3D printing
  • Become a linguistics detective and help solve a murder case through forensic linguistics
  • Try Chinese painting and language classes
  • Hear talks from our expert historians on the First World War
  • Hear from published authors on their experiences of getting into print
  • Brand their own smoothie and try speed mentoring in our business games area
  • Try their hand at painting with local artist Chas Jacobs
  • Enjoy campus tours, talks, performances, workshops, sports events, live music and food and drink stalls

50th anniversary project manager Alexandra Mounsey said the Community Activities Day included a fascinating and intriguing line-up.
“The day genuinely provides something for everyone,” she said. “We have a host of exciting events, from talks from our expert historians on the First World War, to student performances and exciting showcases of the latest research in technology and computing.

“And there’s plenty for our young visitors too including a teddy bears' hospital, Bonington Bear portrait gallery, musical instrument-making classes, and a chance to learn about the environment and skeletons and bones."

You can simply drop in on the day although some events need to be booked in advance. We'll be posting further information shortly and if you are interested in receiving more details directly about this free event, please email
There will be free parking on campus throughout the day

Wildfowl welcome restored canal stretch

A swan family explores the restored and newly-watered canal section
near Sellet Hall Bridge

Over the last four years a great deal of work has been done on our canal by the Lancaster Canal Trust volunteers, local people and contractors. Much of the work remained unseen and in the background. Permissions to dredge, risk assessments, planning, all taking their toll of time.

However, we are now seeing the result of all that background work, and our canal is looking as it should, a lovely wildlife corridor and outdoor amenity for all.

Bridges have been repaired, stretches of the canal widened and, at long last, the section from Stainton Crossing to Sellet Hall bridge has been landscaped, a new tow-path laid, the canal bed lined, and it is almost ready for re-watering.

The vision is for our canal to be linked to the rest of the canal system via Tewitfield locks and the Ribble Link.

Frank Sanderson of the Lancaster Canal Trust tells us they have been impressed by the resilience (and confidence) of local wildlife, despite the disruption and heavy earth moving equipment on the section from the head of the watered canal at Stainton to Sellet Hall. With rainfall, sections of the canal begin to fill in. Water fowl can be seen moving straight back in as soon as the machinery stops working

Canoeists regularly use the canal, and other boats are beginning to explore and use the waterway, which is what it was built for.

The owners of the canal, the Canal & River Trust, have invited parishes to take over their local sections, which they hope will inspire community involvement.

The flat walks and beautiful scenery along the towpaths connect with many other trails along the way and attract walkers, runners and cyclists from near and far. It is, without doubt, a most cherished and wonderful amenity to our area.

Creative anti-fracking campaigners take the protests to the next level

Cuadrilla's planning applications for shale gas drilling (fracking) test sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood have received over 14,000 objections (the deadline is 5 September). But despite the overwhelming public opposition to fracking, the Coalition Government is reliant on party donations from energy companies - with whom 125 ministers have financial links.  £billions of public funds have been made available in tax breaks and subsidies to push fracking licensing through for them, regardless of public opinion or the environmental and social cost to the affected regions. 

David Cameron's recent appointment of pro-fracking lobbyist, and ex-chair of Arup (a Cuadrilla and Peel Group partner and generous political donor) Sir Phillip Dilley to head the Environment Agency is a national disgrace and has sent an unmistakeable message to the electorate that conventional democratic structures and environmental safeguards are no match for the political influence of the fracking industry. 

With this in mind, anti-fracking campaigners carried out a series of creatively disruptive protest actions throughout the UK on Monday to highlight the level of corruption and disregard for public and environmental welfare behind the coalition government's persistent support for shale gas extraction.

'Reclaim the Power' Protest Camp
The 'Reclaim the Power' protest camp has been running all week at the
proposed drilling site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool. In Blackpool on Sunday a mass rally on the promenade attracted hundreds of marchers and a giant 'Cuadzilla' puppet monster.

Offices Occupied
On Monday activists occupied the office building in
Blackpool shared by Cuadrilla and the local Chamber of Commerce.

PPS Group
Campaigners protested outside the offices of PPS Group, Cuadrilla's PR company. PPS is the company exposed in 2007 on Channel 4's 'Despatches' for their involvement in the Spodden Valley asbestos site development scandal in Rochdale. Their tactics were described as including: sending of fake letters in
favour of planning applications, attempts to infiltrate community campaign groups, bugging of private council meetings, the creation of 'secret dossiers' about councillors. The documentary alleged possession of a PPS Group document describing whether it could "bribe” or “bully" a London Borough Council.

It's not just the problem of 125 government ministers
with personal vested financial interests in fracking. Or the embedded advisory members of the coalition Cabinet, such as Cuadrilla chair Lord Brown, who are employed and funded by the fracking companies.  A network of lobbying groups steered by embedded personnel working for the shale gas extraction industry but purporting to represent 'local' business interests has been set up throughout the North as vehicles to influence the disposal of  publicly funded contracts, development grants and planning decisions. (for more on how this works see the  Ex Urbe report 
on fracking landlords Peel Group).

Councillors with vested interests
Anti-fracking campaigners from the Reclaim the Power camp in Blackpool visited the homes of local councillors with vested interests in supporting fracking in Lancashire.  Their banners read: “Corrupt councillor”, “Reclaim the power”. A banner was hung
at Blackpool College which has accepted donations from Cuadrilla.

Other campaigners placed 88 ‘atoms of Radium' (not really, just craft models) around Lytham as a temporary art installation to highlight concerns about negative impacts of fracking on public health and the environment from the radioactive discharges inherent in the process. Each item has a message attached
guiding the public to reliable independent research. There is no research in existence that supports the industry's claims that fracking can be done within safe environmental levels that was not funded by the fracking industry. In the fracking business, it isn't about what you know, it's about who you own.

Radioactive contamination of the Manchester Ship Canal
Anti-fracking campaigners from Salford hung a banner from a bridge at Salford Media City (owned by
fracking landlords, Qatari-owned Peel Group) to highlight the 884,000 gallons of radioactive fracking water that was dumped into the Manchester Ship Canal (also owned by Peel) from just one fracking operation (several thousand are planned), which was cut short because of the earthquakes it caused.

Frack Fluid haulage company blockaded
More activists blockaded the Total Environmental Technology premises outside of Hull,  glueing the doors closed to shut down the site. TET lorries are currently being used to remove waste and used fracking chemicals – “frack fluids” – from live sites.
Approximately 2-300 lorry-loads of toxic hazardous waste are created per frack from each well.

HSBC die-in13 activists staged a “die-in” at the Birley Street, Blackpool, branch ofHSBC bank, where they raised banners displaying the phrases “Fracker’s Bank” and “Toxic Investors”. Public response to the action was overwhelmingly positive.

Public money funnelled
In Swansea, eight protesters shut down construction of a new Swansea University building and caused chaos for commuters to highlight the tens of millions of pounds of public money being funnelled into research on fracking for the benefit of fracking corporations via Swansea University's new Energy Safety Research Institute.

Blockade at Crawberry Hill
Campaigners also occupied and shut down a new fracking site run by Canadian company Rathlin Energy at Crawberry Hill, East Yorkshire.

Occupation at DEFRA
Three activists superglued themselves to the main entrance of DEFRA in London, and “locked on” through reinforced arm tubes to prevent access. Another climbed the building and unfurled a banner reading:

Government report censored
DEFRA was targeted to draw attention to their report published last week on the potential impacts of shale gas exploration on rural communities, with particular reference to Lancashire, which contained 63 redactions concealing issues raised by potential social, environmental and economic impacts.

Blockade at IGas
Also in London, there was a blockade of the headquarters of IGas Energy – a Peel Group partner and one of the major fossil fuel exploration and production companies involved in fracking in the UK. IGas have been carrying out exploratory work for coalbed methane at Barton Moss near Salford, Greater Manchester, sparking copious local resistance and brutal police repression of protesters.

Manchester Police contracted to act for IGas and Peel against public at taxpayers' expense. 
A `Memorandum of Understanding' obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by NetPol showed the high level of collusion between its co-signees Salford Council, IGas, Greater Manchester Police and Peel Holdings during the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss - sharing intelligence, communications and branding. It's a strategy that owes its origins to tactics used by Shell Oil to eradicate local opposition in the Niger Delta, by suborning regional authorities into providing native militia to wipe out local resistance.  The Memorandum even set out the level of force that the police were expected to use against the public - who pay their wages.  It contained an agreement that IGas would take the lead role overseeing all media communications.

The protests at the Barton Moss drilling site near Manchester were distinguished by the exceptionally high levels of violence and arrests (few of which resulted in actual convictions) used by the police against protesters. Deputy District Judge Saunders at Manchester Magistrates Court on 3 July accused Greater Manchester Police of exceeding its powers by intervening on IGas' behalf  and of acting as 'civil enforcement officers' for the company. Which in fact they had secretly contracted to do.

You can find out more about the creative and escalating public campaign against fracking at the following websites and facebook pages:

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Local Cinema Round-Up for 20th to 28th August by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

There is quite a churn of movies this week with five new releases being screened. There is romance with Arthur and Mike and family animation with Thomas & Friends: Tale of the Brave. We have action/adventure with Lucy, comedy action with Lets be Cops and the dark drama Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For.

We have lost five movies which are no longer being screened. These are Step Up: All In, Earth to Echo, Postman Pat: the Movie, Hercules and The Purge: Anarchy. It is also likely that this period will be the last chance to Mr Peabody & Sherman and Legends of Oz: Dorothy's return. However we see the return of Maleficent and The Fault in our Stars.

All three local cinemas will be showing episode one of the new Dr Who series with Peter Capaldi making his debut as Doctor Who: Deep Breath, whereas another vein of high culture is represented by Globe Macbeth showing for one night only.


Arthur & Mike
Director: Dante Ariola
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Colin Firth, Emily Blunt
A romantic road movie originally released in Toronto in 2012 with the title 'Arthur Newman' where it received rather mixed reviews. The film tells the story of Arthur Avery (Firth) who has an un-fulfilling job and a history of failed relationships. He fakes his own death and takes to the road adopting the identity of Arthur Newman. He meets and falls in love with Michaela (known an Mike in the film) who is a kleptomaniac woman also on the run. They start to break into other peoples homes to assume their identity. Ultimately however their past catches up with them. This is a rather low-key movie expousing the message that you cannot run away from yourself.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
This movie is already proving a success at the US box office and has the makings of a summer blockbuster. The film is set a decade after 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'. Much of humanity has been wiped out following an outbreak of an artificial virus which killed humans yet increased the intelligence of apes. Human and ape live in a state of fragile peace and the film explores the conflict that arises when the humans try to start a hydroelectric dam that is located in the apes territory. The first part of the movie builds the characters of both humans and apes and later there are very impressive special effects as hostilities commence between the two sides. Both apes and humans have understandable motives and thus the film is much more than a simple war between right and wrong. An excellent movie.

Deliver us from Evil
Director: Scott Derrickson
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Eric Bana, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris, Edgar Ramirez, Joel McHale
Like so many horror films this claims to be based on genuine experiences. New York Police officer Ralph Sarchie (Bana) and partner Butler (McHale) investigate a series of domestic abuse crimes often involving children. They find a hard drinking priest Father Mendoza (Ramirez) is also investigating these incidents and Sarchie and the priest start to work together. In time Sarchie comes to accept there is a demonic element to the crimes and the film builds towards an attempted resolution by exorcism. The movie provides its share of frights but despite, some original ideas, it is a 'by the numbers' exorcism film with perhaps more drama than demonism.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Michael Rooker, Lee Pace
An action packed space adventure from Marvel. Adventurer Peter Quill (Pratt) steals a mysterious artifact which is wanted by the villain Ronan (Pace) who wishes to use it to destroy the planet of Xandar. This forces Quill into a truce with a group of misfits (including Rocket a talking raccoon and groot a walking tree) who find they must make a stand to determine the fate of the galaxy. This is a very 'busy' film with lots of spectacular action, plenty of great characters, great one liners and lots of jokes. The plot seemed a little convoluted, but just go with it and enjoy the action. The movie does not take itself very seriously and will be loved by teenagers and adults alike.

Director: Robert Stromberg
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Angelina Jolie, Miranda Richardson, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
In part a re-telling of the tale of sleeping beauty but from the point of view of the villain of the story, Maleficent (Jolie). Maleficent was driven to evil following an act of betrayal which cost her the ability to fly. She battles to save her shadowy forest kingdom and plots revenge by placing a curse on the infant Aurora (Fanning), daughter to the king. Aurora herself becomes caught in the conflict between forest and human kingdoms. This is a rather dark fantasy for a Disney film, but a great tale with powerful characters and impressive special effect.

Mr Peabody & Sherman
Director: Rob Minkoff
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter
A DreamWorks comedy animation. Mr Peabody is a dog, but this does not stop him being an inventor, scientist, sportsman and general genius. Accompanied by his boy Sherman, the duo use their WABAC time machine in order to impress Sherman's friend Penny. However during their adventures meeting famous characters of history,they accidentally rip a hole in the Universe. As a result they must repair history in order to save the future. A great yarn and appealing family movie. There is little here to offend the youngest of children, and some of the jokes will entertain an older audience.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Director: Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez
Certificate: 18
Cast includes: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Mickey Rourke, Eva Green, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Powers Boothe, Clive Owen
It has been nine years since the initial Sin City was released, based on the graphic novels of Frank Miller. This film has the same spark (and some of the same characters) as the original and again is shot in black and white (relieved with effective splashes of colour). It is shot in a style half way between live action and animation. The film comprises a couple of interlocking narratives. There is the return of Senator Roark (Boothe) which gives some of the characters motive for revenge. Also there is the relationship between Dwight McCarthy (Owen) and his ex Ava (Green) who gets him to commit murder. The film has an impressive cast, nudity and stylized violence as it explores power and its abuse.

The Expendables 3
Director: Patrick Hughes
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger
An attempt by the Expendables military team to apprehend an arms dealer goes wrong. The dealer proves to be Stonebanks (Gibson) who was a founder member of the Expendables who subsequently went rogue. In the light of this Barney Ross (Stallone) decided to recruit new members to his team to make it a match for the task of dealing with Stonebanks. This is the third installment in the Expendables franchise and it follows the established formula of a well known cast, wisecracks and violent set pieces. However this film does not break any new ground and in all felt a little tired.

The Fault in our Stars
Director: Josh Boone
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Nat Wolff, Mike Birbiglia, Willem Dafoe
A romance between Hazel (Woodley)and Gus (Elgort), teenagers who have just months to live when they meet at a cancer support group. The movie is based on the best selling novel by John Green and it is predominantly aimed at a young adult audience. With an excellent dialogue the film is a very moving love story that could easily leave you in tears.

The Nut Job
Director: Peter Lepeniotis
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl
Set in the 1950s, this animation follows the adventures of Surly the squirrel who, with his friend Buddy the rat, plan to steal from Maury's Nut shop. However the shop proves to be a front for gangsters who are planning to rob the nearby bank. This combination leads to action, car chases jokes and general mayhem. This is an inoffensive film that will amuse children but leave parents a little bored. An enjoyable romp, but not destined to be a cartoon classic.

What If
Director: Michael Dowse
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Megan Park, Adam Driver, Zoe Kazan, Daniel Radcliffe, Rafe Spall
Toronto medical school dropout Wallace (Radcliffe) strikes up a friendship with Chantry (Kazan), a woman he meets at a party. He has given up on love following failed relationships whereas she has a long term boyfriend (Spall) who for much of the film is away on a business trip. This leads to Wallace and Chantry spending increasing amounts of time together. Will they take the plunge and let their friendship mature into a relationship? This romantic comedy is reasonably entertaining with good dialogue and some slapstick humour.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

We Are Improv to celebrate Enid Blyton at the Storey

I say! On Thursday 28 August local improvised theatre company, We Are Improv invite the public to the Storey to celebrate Enid Blyton's 117th birthday in style with an evening of performance games and a chance to sit back and be swept into a nostalgic adventure worthy of Blyton herself. For just £3 on the door, the We Are Improv cast will take audience ideas and weave them seamlessly into a captivating adventure story complete with the ubiquitous lashings of ginger beer! Oh gosh!

This month marks the 117th birthday of the most prolific writer of children's fiction, who even as recently as 2010 remained in the top ten best seller list for children's fiction. Children and adults continue to devour her books and many writers and artists are inspired by her work, not least Lancaster's very own improvised theatre company, We Are Improv, who have been touring their improvised Famous Five-style adventure story for the past year. Perfect!

The first part of the night will be short and fun improv games and the second part of the night will be a completely improvised show, The Nearly Famous Five. With this they have delighted audiences at home and abroad, opened the UK Improv Festival and received five star reviews from delighted audiences who have marveled at their quick wit and ability to incorporate some truly bizarre audience suggestions into their slick theatrical format.

Enid Blyton may never have considered the dramatic potential of an abandoned corner shop, pronunciation rehab, a moth sanctuary or a cookery school but these brave actors have incorporated them with all the ease of rehearsed scripted actors and no matter how incongruous the suggestion the style remains authentic to the gung-ho, ginger beer and hockey sticks style of Blyton's original.

They were recently described by London-based comic theatre reviewer, Ruby Cera-Marle as 'Masters of their craft' and, not to be missed, the company are delighted to be performing once more in their home town before a second tour to Ireland.

Come along on Thursday, 28th August at 7.15 (for a 7.30 start) to the Storey Centre Auditorium for an evening of charming wit, nostalgia, seaside holidays and mysteries to be solved. Tickets just £3 on the door.

You can find out more about We Are Improv at