Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Get a free taste of fitness at Salt Ayre Sports Centre

On Monday 11th May, Salt Ayre Sports Centre, will be throwing open its doors for the day for everyone to enjoy a whole host of free activities and taster sessions as part of a Health and Wellbeing Open Day.  

From 12 noon until 7.00pm, visitors can choose from a variety of fitness classes including gentle circuits, Aqua Fit, Zumba, kettle bells and more.

In addition to fitness classes, visitors can also have a splash in the pool during public swimming sessions, and have a go in the centre’s health and fitness suite. There will also be a free health quiz and health related information stands offering advice and guidance. 

All event attendees will be entered into a free prize draw, with the chance to win a mountain bike amongst other fantastic prizes.

• For more information on what you will be able to see and do at Lancaster City Council’s Salt Ayre Health and Wellbeing Open Day visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/salt-ayre-events or call the centre on 01524 847540.

Grow Your Own at Dorrington Road!

Photo: Dorrington Road Allotments Association

The waiting list at Dorrington Road allotments - situated in Scotforth - is open if anyone would like to join it for a chance of growing their own.

The last year has seen a number of new plot-holders join the Association which has managed to successfully develop a large number of under-used plots and has also seen a welcome increase in general cultivation and use of the site. 

The focus for the Association planned by the committee over the next year, having improved the site (including its security), remain building for a long term and stable future to meet the conditions of their Council Lease and Service Level Agreement and most importantly, to secure the site for future years. 

• The Dorrington Road Allotments are located in Scotforth area of Lancaster, the entrance being at the south end of Dorrington Road (as viewed on this Streetmap). For more informaton visit the Assocation's web site - http://dorringtonroadallotments.btck.co.uk - or  on follow them on Facebook.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Post Office investigates suspected Morecambe election mail tampering

One of the leaflets found in Newlands area of Lancaster

The Royal Mail is investigating a complaint that some leaflets sent to them from the national Green Party election campaign office, to be delivered by Freepost in the Morecambe & Lunesdale Constituency on behalf of Green Party candidate Phil Chandler, have been found dumped in the Newlands area of Lancaster.

It also appears that some areas of the Morecambe & Lunesdale constituency have not received delivery of the leaflets entrusted to the Royal Mail last Tuesday. In the interests of a fair and free election, the local Green Party would like your help in mapping the delivery coverage (see final para).

Validly nominated parliamentary candidates are entitled under election rules to free postage for one election communication via the Royal Mail to electors in their constituency. Depending on the circumstances, tampering and interfering with the freepost electoral leaflet may be an offence and so the issue has been logged with the police while the scale and cause is investigated.

Angry resident's complaint about 'rubbish' sparks investigation
Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Morecambe & Lunesdale Phil Chandler was very concerned when a resident of Newlands in Lancaster, Ian Robert Bowman, contacted him last Saturday via a post to his facebook page to complain that "Upon returning to our home (Winchester Ave), leaflets from your party are all over our drive,next doors drive and the road leading up to little fell lane." 

Mr Bowman probably had time to think about his complaint whilst he was clearing up a lot of messy, rain-soaked leaflets (which was considerate of him) and he went on, in his facebook post, to express his opinion about this mess very clearly.  It's safe to say he really wasn't happy with the Green Party about it. It wasn't very 'green' to say the least. And candidate Phil Chandler completely agreed and went straight to investigate.

What was particularly strange, was that Newlands in Lancaster is nowhere near the Morecambe & Lunesdale constituency where Phil Chandler is standing for election.

Leaflet from party central was only handled by the Royal Mail
On investigating the incident, the Greens discovered that the leaflets Mr Bowman had complained of were part of a particular print run that had been sent from the national Green Party election campaign to the Royal Mail last Tuesday for Freepost distribution in the Morecambe & Lunesdale constituency. These were A4 size, folded to A5. As you can see, highlighted in the image above, the words 'ELECTION COMMUNICATION' are clearly printed at the bottom.

The local Green Party have confirmed that the leaflet in question "was only ever given to the Post Office; we have a different one that we deliver by hand, quite distinguishable, so no-one here would ever have had access to them."

Denial of democratic opportunity?
Green Party candidate Phil Chandler said,
"As a political party without the vast funding that other parties have, the freepost leaflet is an important democratic opportunity to put across to every household that we are standing in the elections and that we offer an exciting alternative vision for this beautiful and environmentally important part of the country.  It is extremely disappointing to find even this opportunity may have been denied to us."

Royal Mail investigates
Virtual Lancaster contacted Royal Mail spokesperson, Morag Turnbull, who told us:
"We are concerned to hear that a number of election leaflets from the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Morecambe & Lunesdale have been found in Lancaster. We take very seriously any complaint of this nature and are proud to deliver leaflets for all parliamentary candidates. 

"Royal Mail is investigating this as a matter of urgency and will be contacting the candidate directly to discuss the matter further. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

Can you help map the freepost delivery?
The local Green Party are trying to map which streets of the Morecambe & Lunesdale constituency have received their election leaflet via the Royal Mail and which haven't yet. If you live in the constituency they'd be grateful if you would tell them whether or not you received a leaflet like the one pictured above (but in better condition, hopefully :-) via their facebook page  'Phil Chandler - Green Party Candidate for Morecambe & Lunesdale' or by emailing  campaign@morecambelunesdalegreens.org.uk. Don't forget to include the name of your street!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Lancaster's First Age Comics gets set to celebrate Free Comic Book Day

Lancaster's very own comics shop, First Age Comics, will be celebrating Free Comic Book Day tomorrow (Saturday 2nd May, 10.00am - 5.00pm) by getting free comics! With 50 titles available to choose from, there’s a story for everyone to enjoy!

Taking place annually on the first Saturday in May, Free Comic Book Day is a single day when participating comic book shops around the world give away comic books absolutely free.

This year's FREE comics include: 2000ADBob's Burgers, Bongo Fun For All, Boom Studios 10th Anniversary, Dark Circle, Fight Club 2/Goon, Divergence, Doctor Who, Pokemon, Savage Dragon, Secret Wars, Spongebob Squarepants, Transformers and many, many more.

First Age Comics will have a number of cosplayers in attendance, FREE Pic 'N Mix and plenty of comics celebration going on.

Come along and check out what comics have to offer!

More information on the First Age Comics Free Comic Book Day Facebook event Page

The Fix Is In: Lancaster Guardian Backs Tories in General Election

(Updated 3/5/2015): The Lancaster Guardian's apparent backing for the Conservatives on their front page lead this week (which, we imagine, may be repeated in some form in the Visitor next week) might dismay other local political parties, but it should come as no surprise.

That its apparent support is, on closer inspection, an "advertorial" produced by the Conservatives, not the newspaper's staff, does not diminish the impact it will have - and call into question the paper's impartiality - or at least its judgement, given that other political parties suggesting a similar paid promotion for their agenda were turned away.

In a Facebook post, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate Cat Smith revealed she had asked the Guardian about placing such an advertisement - which we understand cost the Tories £9000 - but was told it was the paper's policy not to allow political parties to buy it.

Owners Johnston Press - who have made savage cuts to editorial staffing levels across many of their newspapers in the face of declining sales, regularly reported by press sites such as HoldTheFrontPage - are a classic example of the kind of business the Tories are keen to support.

It should also come as no surprise to anyone to learn that Johnston Press PLC have previously been financial contributors to the Conservative Party, although bizarrely, in other parts of the country, Johnston Press editorial staff have tried to maintain their impartiality.

Johnston Press operates 13 paid-for daily newspapers across the UK, 195 paid-for weekly newspapers, 40 free titles, ten lifestyle magazines and 198 local news and e-commerce websites. It reported a pre-tax loss of £23.9m last year, but underlying profits rose from £54m to £55.5m.

In recent years the company has hyped stories of "economic recovery", but in its style of management only a tiny minority has received any benefits.

For the majority, staffing levels have been drastically cut in response to declining sales as tastes in news reading have changed in favour of the internet. From 2007 to 2012, Tribune notes that the company's annual reports reveal that the number of full-time journalists fell by 44 per cent from 2,774 to 1,558. And yet just this week, the national Guardian reported that last year’s remuneration for the Scotsman and Yorkshire Post publisher’s chief executive Ashley Highfield was more than three times that of the previous year - a £1.65 million pay package.

Such reports have provoked strong reaction from staff and the Press Gazette reports that fewer than half of Johnston Press’s employees (48.9 per cent) would recommend the company “as a good place to work”, according to an internal staff survey. (It's no wonder some sacked journalists in Scarborough have gone off to set up a rival paper in response to their treatment).

Locally over the past few years, the company has scaled back its news gathering operations, closing its offices in Lancaster and Morecambe and relocating to a non-descript building on the White Lund Industrial Estate

Despite the hard work of the staff remaining, whose dedication in the face of such shoddy treatment should be admired, the Lancaster Guardian's news coverage has, sadly, declined, reduced for many articles to re-writing press releases from public and private sources and replaced by "user generated content".

The number of pages featuring self-promoting articles by a wide variety of local people, from Tory MPs to local business people - has markedly increased.

And the cuts to its already-hampered news gathering continue. Last November, to illustrate just one cost-saving measure, Johnston Press announced a range of job cuts for photographers across its local sites, following similar moves to cut photographers in the South.

The National Union of Journalists reported that staff in the North West were told that the photographic department will be turning into a mostly freelance operation with only three photographers remaining across Wigan, Preston and Blackpool, affecting The Gazette in Blackpool, Preston’s Lancashire Evening Post and the Wigan Evening Post.

"Morale is at rock bottom in Johnston Press, yet further cuts have been announced," commented the NUJ's Johnston Press group chapel at the time. "Our members are shocked by further photographic redundancies, a move which is likely to hit the quality of newspapers and websites we produce, lead to further declining readership and harm the long-term prospects of the company."

He was also scathing about the company's drive to fill its newspaper's pages with "user generated content".

"Alarmingly, Johnston Press management believes that more 'user generated content' is the way forward. They ignore the fact that this requires more work from editorial teams in processing submitted material, which is often of a sub-standard quality and not suitable for publication."

Virtual-Lancaster is a community-based, volunteer run web site with none of the even now limited resources of Lancaster Guardian. Our readers kind donations of information, imagery and even the occasional PayPal donation are welcomed, but we are aware of our own news gathering imitations.

(Your contributions, subject to possible editing, are always welcomed).

We would not offer support to any party who, in terms of their proposals for surveillance, are a threat to journalistic freedom and, indeed, free speech – the Tories for example even making controversial demands on journalists wanting to cover their election campaign in 2015. 

Among others, the Milton Keynes Advertiser hit out what it has called a ‘Big Brother-style’ media accreditation policy that it reported was to be implemented by the Tories ahead of the forthcoming election campaign. The Tories demanded reporters' and photographers' personal details in advance, including their home addresses, and passport and driving licence numbers.

Update 3rd May 2015We've been told that editorial staff at various Johnston Press titles across the UK are considerably miffed by this wraparound, which has featured on many of their papers, but their objections were ignored. Judging from the larger pile of unsold Lancaster Guardians in local newsagents that we've seen, we think it's backfired here in terms of sales, and some commentators have even declared they are now boycotting the paper.

Web Links

Tribune: Hold the front page – democracy is under threat

Renewal: The New Politics of Media Ownership

National Union of Journalists: Johnston Press news items

Johnston Press: Official Web Site

Lancaster Guardian: Official Site