Friday, 27 July 2012

Greens warn on dangers of Centros deal; developer absorbed by 'Sovereign Land'

Lancaster's Green Party have hit out at the City Council's continued support for developer Centros, who have recently re-submitted new plans for Lancaster's Canal Corridor area.

The Greens voted against accepting an extension to a development agreement with Centros at Full Council last week, which the City Council has described as offering a "renaissance" in Lancaster's fortunes.

The Greens argue the development may prove quite the reverse, basing their arguments in part on the experiences of councils elsewhere in the UK who have had dealings with Centros.

Centros development projects in the UK include the Arc Shopping Centre in Bury St Edmunds and N1 Islington, London and, as well as Lancaster, the company is the appointed developer on Portsmouth Northern Quarter.

"Whatever we may think of the scheme to develop the Canal Corridor, we believe that this is a bad financial deal for local council taxpayers which may only prolong the dereliction on the site," spokesperson Ceri Mumford told virtual-lancaster.

"Firstly, the city council will lose income on the site, at a time when it is also losing a great deal of funding from central government. It will be hard enough to protect front-line services and avoid council tax rises, without losing a significant source of income for very little return. It is a materially worse deal for the taxpayer than the original 2006 agreement.

"Secondly, the details of the deal itself are still being negotiated – the vote to accept the extension of the development agreement was an act of blind faith, not a considered appraisal of a completed document.

"Thirdly, tying the council to this deal makes it impossible to develop other smaller-scale, more easily deliverable opportunities, like affordable housing, on parts of the site.

"Earlier this year, Centros acknowledged that the Canal Corridor redevelopment is not financially viable and that the company would not build in the current property market until rents rise," she added. "Setting aside the mixed messages now being given, in reality there is a strong risk that Lancaster ends up in the same position as Portsmouth council: all shiny optimism and new masterplans, but no action on the ground and ever more time extensions being sought by Centros."

Developer Centros is now owned largely by Sovereign Land, who announced they had bought the development management company Centros from investor clients of Delancey. The company says this will create "a major new force in retail property development with a stable of projects across the UK".

Sovereign Land tends to act as a developer, investing alongside its development partners. Its projects include a new project in Witney in Oxfordshire, while continuing to work on its existing centres in Ayr, Cardiff and Wakefield.

“We are really excited about this deal," commented Chris Geaves of Sovereign Land earlier this month. "It provides for a well-balanced and interesting business, with huge expertise. The Centros business has a very experienced team with a strong existing client base.

"We aim to grow the development management/asset management side of the business across the whole retail sector, while Sovereign maintains its appetite for new development and investment propositions across the sector with its investing partners. The merged group will have great strength in depth."

Opinion: How to tell if a development deal is dodgy?

There are two advantages for a development company registered in an offshore tax haven when securing a development deal. The first obviously, is that they contribute little in the way of tax to the society that enables them to trade safely and make profit. So they have an unfair competitive advantage over decent UK-registered companies that pay their dues - and they have extra cash to commission favourable 'consultancy reports' and spin-doctoring. 

The second advantage is that a tax-haven base is handy for setting up secret no-name offshore bank accounts (where a  cosy nest-egg can be quietly stashed), for any new best friends one happens to make. Not that I am suggesting that anyone we know would be complicit in such a thing. 

If I were a hacker, these account transactions would be my holy grail.  One day, if someone cracks them and survives to go public, the fallout will be one of the defining events of the 21st century. Between now and then though, in the absence of hard evidence, how can you tell if a development scheme is potentially rotten or not?

Here's my draft 10-point guide, based on long years of observation of deals and their outcomes, on how to run a rotten scheme.  It's just my opinion. Your comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome:
  1. The development company is part of a paper corporation with a complex structure to protect it from its creditors, one of these being the taxman.
  2. There is only one development option presented. This option has been prepared secretly by a closed team of council officers and the developer's agents and brokers. How exciting! And bonding.  An army of pet consultants is lined up to offer reassurance and rosy supporting documents all the way.
  3. Selected councillors whose discretion and sympathy can be relied on are approached and a period of horse trading takes place behind the scenes to build a supportive political coalition with a majority.
  4. During this period local 'surveys' or 'vision statements' may be publically released which suggest that something along the lines of the secret proposal would be just what the doctor ordered for the local economy. Any previous research suggesting the opposite is binned.
  5. The developer and a vague outline of their proposals are then revealed in a fanfare of positive press releases to local newspapers  (which may also be linked through a complex corporate structure to the developer). The developer is quickly awarded 'preferred developer' status by the political majority on the city council so that no potential alternative options or competitors may be considered.
  6. The developer finances a 'public consultation', in which people are essentially asked 'Do you want the the city to be left to rot?' Any 'no' answer is interpreted as approval for the proposal and the developer. Critics are labelled as non-representative, deluded and vexatious. They are repeatedly smeared throughout as 'wanting to leave the city to rot.'
  7. The process is inexorably kept going at public expense, in the face of all public or legal opposition, in the expectation that opposing resources will eventually become exhausted.  The closed meetings continue. No hard financial details or projections are released to the public, who are simply and repeatedly assured that the proposal will provide free lunches for all and is the only alternative to leaving the city to rot.
  8. And repeat, cycling through the various stages until an inappropriate and 'unexpectedly' expensive development is renegotiated, restructured, refinanced, reorganised, refinanced, reconditioned, refinanced and bled dry by further cohorts of tax-dodging contractors and consultants.
  9. The project is too big to fail and too much has already been invested to be written off.  The city council finds itself liable for heavy expense and criticism for the unforseeable future.  Creditors and local stakeholders are massing at the doors.  The individuals responsible for shackling a dead white elephant around the city's neck have mostly moved on and are never held to account. The extent of the damage and waste is incomprehensibly huge and never fully revealed.
    A bunch of half-assed rescue measures are tossed around by desperate councillors, who commission more consultants. Eventually a 'public consultation' may be offered (its results will later be binned when Stage 4 recurs).
  10. Somewhere in an offshore tax-haven, a shark smells the carnage. And repeat, through stages 1-10. 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Heysham power station backs new access to engineering apprenticeship

An innovative scheme backed by Heysham power stations to help youngsters land prestigious engineering apprenticeships is being trialled at Lancaster and Morecambe College.

The new access to engineering course starts at the college in September and is partnership between EDF Energy and the college.

Two other schemes will be running at colleges in Bridgwater and Gloucester and if they prove successful the courses could become part of the colleges’ regular curriculum.

Kevin Demain, the stations’ apprentice training and recruitment co-ordinator said: “During the recent recruitment round for our own apprenticeship scheme we received 360 applications for 13 roles so there is a demand.

“This pilot scheme will give youngsters who may be very good technicians but perhaps don’t have the right academic qualifications a chance to get the qualifications they need to apply for an apprenticeship via a different but recognised route.

“And then they can apply to EDF Energy and any other firm which has an engineering apprentice scheme.”

The year-long course will take on 18 people, and give them a grounding in engineering, boost their maths and English skills but also, with support from Heysham power stations’ own team, offer them help with job applications and interview skills.

They will be taken to see the EDF Energy apprentice training facility at HMS Sultan, in Portsmouth, and get to meet senior managers from the stations who will be giving guest lecturers during the year

David Wood, Principal and Chief Executive of Lancaster & Morecambe College, which is already training 2000 apprentices, said: “We are delighted to be working with EDF Energy on this innovative employer-led programme.

“As a college we are constantly developing our offer to respond to the local job market; engineering is a growing sector locally and we are supporting young people from the area to access these new jobs.

“Working closely with employers such as EDF Energy means that the courses we develop are led by the industry and increase our students’ chance in a challenging job market.

“This new course is all about getting young people into work and supporting the local economy."

• For more info visit: www.lmc.ac.uk/home or call 0800306 306

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Robbers sought after Heysham Post Office scam



Police are appealing for information after two men stole £250 from Heysham Post Office last month.

The offence took place around 11.50am on Friday 15th June when the men entered McColl’s store on Oxcliffe Road and headed straight to the Post Office section.

One of the men approached the till with £480 in £20 notes and has asked the cashier to change the notes for £10 notes which they duly did and handed the cash back to man.

At this point a second man has appeared and the first man picked up the cash and handed the money back to the cashier, removing a section of the cash with his other hand.

The second man then explained to the cashier that they wanted the cash to be sent to Spain so when his friend withdraws the cash from Spain its in £10 notes.

The cashier explained that this would need to be done in the form of a money transfer and the second man asked for a form to take away and asked that the £10 notes be changed back to £20 notes.

Believing that £480 in £10 notes was on the counter, the cashier did this - when in reality, £250 had been taken out.

Police have issued CCTV images of two men they want to speak with in connection with the offence.

The first man is described as being around 35 years old with receding ginger hair. He was wearing a beige jacket with a black t-shirt underneath and spoke in an Eastern European accent, possibly Polish.

The second man is also believed to be around 35 years old with shoulder length black, greasy hair. He was wearing a grey t-shirt with a white logo covering the front and is also thought to be Eastern European, possibly Turkish.

PC Thomas Draper said: “I believe this is a professional scam and that the offenders have likely committed the same offence elsewhere. I would appeal to anybody that recognises either of these men or with any information about this offence to come forward.”

Anyone with any information should call Lancashire Police on 101.

• People with information can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

CCTV appeal after security guard is spat at in Morecambe

Police have issued a CCTV image of a man they want to speak with in connection with a common assault in Morecambe.

The offence took place at 3.00pm on Thursday 19th July when a man has been asked to leave the Arndale Shopping Arcade following reports of nuisance behaviour.

The man has then become verbally aggressive and has spat directly into the face of a security guard before running off.

The male is described as being aged between 17 and 19 years old wearing a grey or off-white hooded top with black shorts with multi coloured stripes down the side.

Sergeant Guy Hamlett said: “I’d ask people to take a close look at the CCTV image and if anyone recognises the male I’d ask them to contact Lancashire Police on 101 quoting crime reference BB1202765.”

B4RN project speeds ahead

The B4RN at work laying cables earlier this month. Photo: B4RN
(with thanks to Martyn Dews): Matters are moving apace at B4RN, the community-based rural fibre optic project connecting up Lancaster's nearby villages to superfast broadband.

Digging of the phase one ducting has reached the outskirts of Quernmore and is heading over to Abbeystead. Houses en route are being connected with ducting of similar thickness to TV cable, ready for the fibre optic to be blown to carry 1000Mbps connectivity.

The hub of this activity lies in Quernmore, where one of the two nerve centres is sited. This links all B4RN users to the internet via the Geo fibre which runs through this picturesque valley.

A green coloured cabinet, which houses all the necessary electronics for this wizardry, sits unobtrusively in the village and has recently been powered and populated ready to revolutionise internet connectivity for the residents of the core route between the parishes.

Many people in the B4RN area are on very low internet connection speeds, with many still limited to dial up or expensive satellites. This is set to change when speeds 3000 times faster are available to many in the next few weeks.

• For all the latest news on this development visit: http://b4rn.org.uk/news

Morecambe gains 'Portas Pilot' Funding for new cafe





Morecambe is to receive £100,000 in government funding to set up a new community café in the town centre and help support local businesses.

The town is one of 15 new areas that have been selected to take part in Portas Pilots, taking the total across the country to 27.

The pilots are being set up following an independent review carried out by retail expert Mary Portas into the future of Britain’s high streets.

The funding for Morecambe will be used to set up a new community café where people will be able to get advice and support to take up business and training opportunities. All profits will be ploughed back into the local community to help regenerate the area.

Morecambe has long suffered from high shop vacancy rates, which the Town Team who bid for Portas Pilot funding are very keen to address. For this, the team are looking beyond retail to make the high street a social area, with a new community café where people will be able to get advice and support to take up business and training opportunities. All profits made from branding will be ploughed back into the local community to help regenerate the area.

John Watkins, manager of the Arndale Centre, local businesses, marketing company SATO and members of Morecambe Town Council, including town clerk David Croxall and deputy leader Darren Clifford, were the Team who came up with the ‘MoreCanBedone’ bid for the regeneration pot, which has been successful in the second round of funding announcements and making a revised bid after it lost out in the initial round earlier in the year to other towns.

Morecambe MP David Morris (who seems to have jumped the gun on revealing the bid's success to The Visitor ahead of the official announcement today) is "delighted" that Morecambe has been selected to receive Portas money.

“I am thrilled that communities up and down the country have looked beyond the money and have been mobilised to create 'town teams' and demand more for their high streets," said Mary Portas.

"Whilst I shall continue to fight for the other 27 'recommendations' in my Review am looking forward to seeing fifteen more British towns putting their plans into action.”

MoreCanBeDone Facebook Page 

MoreCanBeDone on Twitter

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Police appeal after woman is assaulted in Morecambe

Police are appealing for witnesses following an assault in Morecambe.

The incident happened on Saturday 21st July between 12.30am and 1.00am on Balmoral Road opposite the school.

The victim, a 21-year-old local woman, was approached by a man who assaulted her by grabbing and kicking her.

She did not receive serious injuries but was left shocked following the incident.

The offender is described as a white man and aged in his late 30’s early 40’s, grey short hair with a slight quiff at the front, and approximately 5ft 8 inches tall with a slim build. He was wearing a dark coloured jumper and dark blue jeans.

Detective Constable Sue Palmer from Lancaster CID said, “I would appeal to anyone who witnessed the incident to come forward and make contact with the police.

“The victim did not receive serious injuries but she has been left shaken following her ordeal. The person responsible needs to be caught and dealt with.”

People with information can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.




Damage, Gore and More at the Lancaster Comedy Club


Damage and Gore are heading for Lancaster in August!

But have no fear, the apocalypse is some way away -- and Damage and Gore are merely the latest line up at the Lancaster Comedy Club.

In a rare Northern appearance, Brian Damage and Krysstal pop up from that London to close the show. In a diversion from the usual 'blokes with jokes' we see so much of, the duo deftly weave songs, stories and gags through a litany of domestic bickering!

A firm favourite at music and comedy festivals across Europe, they are established as one of the most original acts in the land despite their obvious vaudeville heritage.

Confident and original with a brilliant command of language, Sam Gore’s been wowing crowds and rapidly climbing the comedy ladder since his debut  six  years ago. Having cemented his position as one of the best new performers on the circuit with no less than five New Act of the Year titles, he’s gone on to impress everywhere from weekend clubs to music festivals, biker rallies, theatres and has started to creep onto our TV screens with an appearance on FHM's stand Up Hero as well as writing gags for Russell Howard's Good News and  and Chris Addison.

Support comes from newcomer Peter Brush and Prestonian Phil Ellis comperes.

• Admission is £9 on the door (subject to availability)  or £7 in advance (up until 4pm) . Meal deals are available for only £12 Online booking and further info at www.lancastercomedy.co.uk

Heysham man charged with robbery

28-year-old John O’Neill of Redwing Close, Heysham has been charged with two counts of robbery, one count of attempted robbery and three counts of possession of an offensive weapon.

O’Neill appeared before Lancaster Magistrates court this morning where he was remanded in custody to appear before Preston Crown court on Monday 20th August 2012.

The charges relate to two robberies in Morecambe, one at Tharan’s Express on Alexandra Road Morecambe on the 21st July 2012 and one at Premier Stores on Princes Crescent in Morecambe on the 22nd July 2012.

The attempted robbery charge relates to an incident in Cumbria at Mossdale Services, Milnthorpe, also on the 22nd of July.

Council says Canal Corridor plans are key to Lancaster renaissance

Lancaster City Council is describing new plans for Lancaster's Canal Corridor development as essential to the city's future.

As we previously reported, a revised development agreement for the Canal Corridor North site in Lancaster was approved by the Council at last week's Full Council meeting, paving the way for the development of this area of Lancaster by the council's appointed Developer, Centros.

"The Canal Corridor North site is key for the renaissance of Lancaster and the wider district," argues Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of the Council.

“It is in urgent need of regeneration and if we don’t develop the area we risk falling behind other towns and cities in the north west.

“Centros has produced a new masterplan for the area, which takes account of the views of English Heritage.

“But it’s important to remember that the masterplan is currently only a draft – no formal planning application has been submitted. There will be plenty of opportunities for the public to get involved both before and during the planning process.

“Under the revised terms of the development agreement, the council will require Centros to consult with a wide spectrum of identified consultees (as well as all necessary statutory consultees under the Planning Acts) on the masterplan prior to submitting any formal planning application for the site.

“Once a planning application is submitted, a further consultation will be undertaken by the council, as it does with any major planning applications, allowing a further period of time for people to have their say on the final plans.”

Campaigners It's Our City, who challenged earlier plans, remain cautious about developers Centros, arguing there has never been an open process for selecting a developer for this site and that Centros have been given an unfair advantage by the Council.

Play Day comes to Williamson Park

Lancaster City Council is inviting you to celebrate national Play Day nest week, with an action packed day of activities and adventure at Lancaster's Williamson Park.

The event is part of the Get out and play! campaign, which is calling on everyone to help make sure that children and young people across the UK have the time, freedom and space to play outdoors.

As well as promoting children's right to play, the campaign is highlighting that outdoor play is crucial for children's health, well-being and happiness.

On Wednesday 1st August, children will have the chance to take part in face painting, treasure hunts and lots of fun games. There will also be music, a huge bouncy castle, a climbing wall, a water slide, inflatable twister, body zorbing, cycle skills and loads more!

The fun begins at 10.00am. It’s free to take part and there is no need to book.  Just come along with your friends and have a great time! The event finishes at 4pm.  Children under eight must be accompanied by an adult.

Councillor Ron Sands, Cabinet member with responsibility for tourism and culture, said: “National Playday has become an exciting fixture on the events calendar at Williamson Park and aims to highlight children's right to play and the importance of play in children's lives.

"With so many activities available throughout the day, and all for free, it is definitely not one to miss!”

• For more information about the event call the Lancaster City Council Play and Physical Activity team on 01524 582641. 

• For more about the national Play Day visit: www.playday.org.uk

Police warnings to dog owners after sheep attacks

Police are asking dog owners to take responsibility for their pets after a number of sheep attacks in Silverdale and Warton - to the dismay of local farmers.

Several farmers in the area have reported dogs running lose in the countryside and attacking their sheep and lambs.

Legislation states that if a dog attacks - or in some circumstances even chases – livestock, it the owner of the canine who will be held responsible and liable for prosecution.

 "Even if your dog has never shown an interest in sheep, it doesn't mean that it is safe to walk it off a lead," says Constable Tony Marsh, Community Beat Manager for Morecambe.

"I have had reports of usually placid dogs seeing sheep and suddenly attacking them in a frenzied manner.

"This is costing farmers dearly with months of hard-work and preparation being destroyed in just a few minutes. We have had a number of complaints and we can assure our farming community that any dog owners found to have allowed their pets to attack livestock will be dealt with in accordance with the law."

One farmer whose business has been damaged by dog attacks is Robert Pennington of Greenbank Farm in Warton.

"I have been a farmer on this land for around four decades and this is the worst year I have seen for a long-time with seven of my sheep having been killed so far," he said.  "Not only are the dogs killing sheep, but they are also chasing pregnant ewes which is causing the miscarriage of lambs followed by the death of the mother."

"I realise that people want to walk their dogs in our countryside, but these attacks are costing my business dearly so please take responsibility for your pets."

More points on the board for McGuinness

Picture by Glynne Lewis
Morecambe's John McGuinness continued his run of points-scoring finishes on Sunday when he finished in 13th place at the ninth round of the Metzeler National Superstock 1000cc Championship. Held in perfect, sunny conditions at Brands Hatch in Kent, the Padgetts Honda ace fought his way through the pack after a sluggish first lap and he was rewarded with three hard-earned Championship points.

Eighth overall after first qualifying on Saturday, John shaved over three tenths of a second off his time in the afternoon's final session but such was the ferocity and closeness of the on-track action, he actually slipped back to 11th overall and so lined up for the 15-lap race on the third row of the grid.

Expecting a tough race, the first laps were exactly that for John as he got pushed back to 19th after the usual bumping and barging around Paddock Hill and Druids bends. By half race distance, he had moved up to 16th and was on the edge of the points when the safety car came out on lap 9 for an incident involving John's good friend Steve Brogan.

Four laps later, the safety car pulled in and John immediately moved up to 14th, a position he held over the final three laps. However, with 12th place finisher Leon Morris being excluded following a post-race technical inspection, hewas promoted up the order to 13th.

Speaking afterwards, John said: "I've really enjoyed riding the bike this weekend and felt good out on track but whilst I could do good, competitive lap times when I was circulating on my own, it was really hard work in the race conditions. A lot of the riders are like pint-sized jockeys and they're slow in the corners but fast down the straights, which really compromised my race.

"The first lap was a bit of a nightmare and it's amazing no-one went down but I kept it upright and then tried as hard as I could to get back in the top fifteen. A few of the boys crashed out, which handed me a couple of positions, and I ended up in 13th. Not ideal, admittedly, but it's always good to race on the GP track and, like I say, I've enjoyed my riding over the last couple of days.

"I'm looking forward to Japan now and I'll be hoping we can score a good result in the World Endurance Championship race for the Honda TT Legends team."

John now heads for Suzuka, Japan where'll line up once more for the Honda TT Legends team for the prestigious 8-Hour World Endurance Championship event.

Report by Phil Wain

Victoria Hume, Pete Morton at the Gillow in August

Victoria Hume, described as "Really beautiful stuff" by BBC6 presenter Lauren Laverne
There's more folk a-plenty at the Robert Gillow in Lancaster through August, including the highly acclaimed Victoria Hume, Pete Morton and many more. Here's the rundown...


Thursday 2nd August: Keith Davis

Keith is probably the most accomplished blues guitarists you will hear and a firm favourite  at The Robert Gillow. He comes all the way from Bristol to play here and it is always a great pleasure to welcome him back. 
A classic blues singer and a simply amazing guitarist, he'll be performing a mixture of “straight” blues, ragtime/hokum styles and slide/Dobro guitar and is widely regarded as one of the great British acoustic entertainers.

Thursday 9th August: Pete Morton
Pete Morton is one of the best songwriters in the UK today. He has been performing to audiences worldwide for over two decades with his unique and involving style of songwriting and traditional singing. 
His songs are an unruly mix of humour, politics, religion, love and social comment, wrapping their way around the folk tradition. His stageshows are intense and dynamic, the national Guardian pronouncing him “not only impressive but a revelation … totally original” and fRoots magazine said he is “… amongst the best the British roots music scene has produced in living memory.”  They are absolutely right.             
• More info: www.petemorton.com

Thursday 16th August: Victoria Hume

Victoria is a songwriter brought up in Dorset and based in London since 1998. She plays guitar and piano with “definite shades of Joni Mitchell and John Martyn”.  Her music has been described as  “nothing less than sublime” by The Troubadour and “refreshingly unique ...a pleasure to hear” by Blogcritics
Her new album Landing took three years to make and will be on sale on the night: 
• More info: www.victoriahume.com

Thursday 23rd August: Pat Simmons + session

Last year, local multi-instrumentalist, singer and digital artist Pat Simmons came to the Gillow to celebrate his 65th birthday. He sang, played the guitar, fiddle and whistle at various times – a mixture of traditional folk songs and tunes, some blues numbers and original compositions. 
After an hour or so the solo performance ended and other friends and musicians joined in and  entertained the crowd with a very fine session until the early hours. It was excellent music and it was a superb session and Pat insists that it be repeated this year, so they will.  It will be a party and you are invited.

Thursday 30th August: Phil Saunders

Phil is a solid, stonkin’ bluesman who will entertain and delight you. He plays guitar and harmonica and sings, and whether he is playing his own material or rejuvenating classic blues numbers by the likes of Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson, T-bone Walker or Jimmy Reed his music is down to earth, genuine and heartfelt. 
He is a favourite at local festivals such as Solfest, Brampton Live and Sedbergh and says “I have developed a fingerpicking style of guitar playing because I often drop plectrums and can’t be bothered to pick them up”. 
More info: www.reverbnation.com/philsaunders



• The Robert Gillow is at 64 Market Street, Lancaster, LA1 1HP. Tel: 01524 36092. Official web site: www.pubfoodlancaster.co.uk

Silverdale St John’s C of E Primary School wins Home Safety Quiz Final

A team of year 5 and 6 pupils from Silverdale St John’s C of E Primary School has won the final of the 2012 Home Safety Quiz.

Competing against teams representing Thurnham Glasson, Heysham St Peter’s and Bolton-Le-Sands primary schools, Silverdale scooped the award after proving they know lots about home safety and accident prevention.

More than 31 local schools took part in this year’s heats. The four top scoring schools went through to the final and were visited by Lancaster City Council’s Environmental Health Team to be put through their paces with 30 challenging questions relating to home safety, accident prevention and first aid.

The winning team was presented with the Home Safety Quiz shield and a £200 cash prize for the school which the children used to fund a trip to Liverpool to see the Titanic exhibition at the Liverpool Maritime Museum.

Councillor Karen Leytham, Cabinet member with responsibility for Environmental Health, said:  “The Home Safety Quiz is a well established annual event which reaches more than 1000 children across the district.  It’s a great way of raising awareness of how to prevent accidents in the home and is always met with enthusiasm and interest by teachers and pupils alike.”

• For information on how your school can get involved in next years quiz, please contact Carrie Morphet, Lancaster City Council on 01524 582732, email cmorphet@lancaster.gov.uk or Jo Hayes on 01524 582703, email jhayes@lancaster.gov.uk

Monday, 23 July 2012

In Review: Dark Corners of the Land Exhibition - Dukes


Pendle Hill  'Through the Pinhole'  by Darren Andrews

The Dark Corners of the Land exhibition at the Dukes Gallery runs from 15 July - 13 August 2012.

Photographs by Darren Andrews,
Sound Installation by Victor Noir (collaboration)
Reviewed for Virtual Lancaster by Ella July.

Dark Corners of the Land is an interesting alternative take on the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch trials, much publicised in recent arts events around Lancaster.  Darren Andrews' dark, brooding photos were taken by home-made pin-hole camera, a 'deliberately slow' photographic process which presents a slightly warped and restricted view of a series of north Lancashire landscapes: meant to mirror the experiences of the accused on the journey from Pendle Hill to their deaths at Lancaster.

However, this is not abstract art (thankfully for your unsophisticated reviewer!).  The effect is not to distort the subject of each photo out of recognition.  But there is a feeling of time slowing down and of slight removal from one's surroundings: as though (like the victims of the trials) the viewer were experiencing some trauma or lack of control.  Images of death (a slayed rabbit by the roadside) and enclosure (barbed wire) intrude, disturbing the more familiar, picturesque view of the Lancashire countryside.
There is a dark beauty in some of the images as well though, while others are simply, perhaps deliberately, mundane.  This is not sensationalist art, and it takes a lot of thought (and some background knowledge) to understand and appreciate what the artists are trying to do.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, however.

Victor Noir's accompanying sound installation complements the experience with recordings made at each point in the journey, which, like the photographs, are then slightly distorted.  The sounds emit from a black box positioned underneath each picture.  The effect is subtle, eerie and atmospheric.  According to an essay written to accompany the exhibition, the intention is to 'denaturalise and unfix what it is we imagine we know about the witches and their journey'.

But does it succeed?  My feeling is that the exhibition is best viewed (as the artists recommend) alone and in silence, so perhaps judgement is best reserved until I've done this.  At the busy 'Private View', much of the intended effect was sadly lost in the ensuing jolly chatter.  I could not hear the sound installation very well.  However, I got what they were trying to do, even though visually it was perhaps a bit too subtle for me.

As a writer, I found the accompanying essay, 'The Lie of the Land' (available to pick up for free at the exhibition or to download as a pdf here) much more compelling.  The writers Ivy Duck and Victor Noir draw parallels between the witch hunts of the past with the hounding of Travellers and other minority communities today.  They also argue that 'witch-hunting persists wherever capitalism plunders land and people', especially in these dark times of 'austerity' cut backs and increased privatisation.  This is a connection, they argue, which is missed when we think of witch hunts as something which only happened in the past, or in distant places today. (A comparison with modern day 'witch trials' in Nigeria is currently explored in the Global Link exhibition 'Witch Hunts – Then and Now', at the Ashton Memorial).

Dark Corners of the Land therefore presents a much needed and thought provoking intervention into what has become a familiar trope of the Lancashire tourist industry.  I have often thought that 'witch tourism' trivialises and obscures a violently misogynistic chapter in British history (rather like the way we celebrate our maritime heritage while downplaying the role of the slave trade).  But this exhibition made me consider the issue in more depth and make links I hadn't made before.

However, some of the links did seem a little tenuous and under-explored.  I couldn't help wishing that some of the themes raised by the essay had been explored more explicitly in the art work.  But it is also laudable that the artists resist sensationalism or hysteria: an all too easy response given the subject matter.  I'm also aware that people respond differently to different media.  Taken individually, the different facets of this exhibition (sound, text and vision) would perhaps not say much, but together the effect is evocative and compelling.  Definitely worth a visit.

The Dukes Gallery is at The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster, LA1 1QE
http://www.dukes-lancaster.org/event/dark-corners-land
The Dukes Gallery is generally open Monday - Saturday 10am to 10pm but please call the Dukes on 01524 598505 to check if you are travelling specifically as the room is sometime in other use. Free

Galgate readies for annual Gaslight Show

Galgate residents at the Village Show last year
The Galgate 'Gaslight' Show will take place at St John’s Ellel School on Chapel Street, Galgate on Saturday 4th August.

Started in 1861 to raise money to pay for gas street lighting in the village, the show features various stalls and displays including vegetables, cut flowers, floral art, Arts and Crafts, photography and more. Plus there will be Preserves and Baking on offer, and Children's competitions.

Admission to the show is free. Doors open at 2.00pm with prizes awarded at 4pm.

• For more information visit: www.galgategaslightshow.co.uk