Saturday, 18 May 2013

Love Your Local Market campaign launches, our markets not involved?


Almost every market across the North West is taking part in a fortnight of events backed by the Government to promote local markets... all, that is, except for Lancaster's own Charter Market, Assembly Rooms and the Morecambe Festival Market, both strangely absent from the list of participants on www.loveyourlocalmarket.org.uk

Local Growth Minister Mark Prisk urged people across the country to back their local markets earlier this week, during a dedicated fortnight of activity designed to help budding entrepreneurs to trade, and get residents back on their high streets.


The first Love Your Local Market fortnight ran last summer and over 400 markets took part, with 2,000 traders taking up a stall for the first time - and 200 of these are still trading today.

This year’s campaign will involve over 650 markets across England, with over 3,000 special events designed to showcase the best of local produce, design and innovation, with tastings, music concerts, treasure hunts and other events to celebrate great local food and shopping.

Running until 29th May, the event will also give budding traders a chance to tout their wares with 3,000 free or subsidised stalls available to those who want to try trading for the first time in a low-cost, low-risk retail environment.


We were a bit puzzled, however, by our local markets' absence from the list of participating markets, particularly since other key Lancashire operations, run by other local councils, including Accrington, Bolton, Burnley, Fleetwood, Kendal, Preston and Poulton are listed as participants. (Garstang's Street Market is also absent).

“Markets can be the beating heart of their communities and a force for good in the local economy," said Minister Mark Prisk said of the campaign. "We have seen examples across the country of markets bringing people back to the high street, nurturing new traders and spreading the benefits to all surrounding businesses.

“That's why we're backing the Love Your Local Market fortnight. It is a great opportunity for town centres and for aspiring business owners to give trading a go."



It would appear Lancaster City Council chose not to particpate in this nationwide campaign - although it has this week promoted a 'Bake Off' event at Morecambe's Festival Market in July - and it wasn't simply matter of an oversight on somebody's part.


"Rather than just focusing all our efforts on just one event it is more important this year to focus our limited resources on improving the district's overall markets offer," Mark Davies, Head of Environmental Services, told virtual-lancaster "and provide opportunities for local people and visitors alike to both enjoy and take pride in our Charter, Assembly Rooms and Festival Market all year round."

It was, perhaps, not because someone at the council didn't know about the scheme until we drew it to their attention? That despite the organisers also being involved in trying to find a way forward for Lancaster Market before it closed, they had lost their contact list for Lancaster City Council? (After all, the member of staff who presided over the Market's closure has left their employ some time ago. Perhaps no-one is checking email to her old address).

"To ensure the organisers know that we have an ongoing project for our three markets, we have now registered our markets," Mr Davies acknowledges. So, hopefully, our markets will be involved should there be a third Love Your Market campaign next year.

To be fair to the Council, they are doing their best, in a difficult environment and with limited resource, to promote our remaining Markets.

"Lancaster City Council does love its local markets and in recognising that markets are valuable community assets," Mark Davies says, "as well as visitor attractions and of great benefit to the local economy is committed to providing a positive market shopping experience in both Lancaster and Morecambe. 

"As such, one of the council's Cabinet members has specific responsibilities for markets and a cross service officer working group has been set up to look at what improvements need to be made to enhance this experience."

This is of course John Barry, who has been wrestling with the market issues for some time now, including the unwelcome closure of Lancaster Market, a building still lying empty and costing local taxpayers money (but not, we're told by the Council, for much longer).

 "This year besides the internal works that have already been done to the Assembly Rooms an additional £50,000 is being spent by the  council in making  improvements to all three markets, Mr Davies points out. (The Assembly Rooms refurbishment was completed in March).

"In addition to this, much work is being done through the Square Routes Project in Lancaster and via the Morecambe Area Action Plan to ensure our local markets are sustainable, prosperous and at the very heart of the city and town."


As for the old Lancaster Market building, it would also appear that sorry saga - one peppered with so much inept bungling and obfuscation, chiefly by former council staff, that it's perhaps fortunate the Government is on course to abolish the Audit Commission, which might have one or two things to say about how the whole matter had been handled - is finally drawing to close and will no longer be a drain on the City Council's purse.


"We are in the process of transferring the lease back to the landlord," Mr Davies "and this will be completed soon."

Police Facebook fans name new police horse



Lancashire Constabulary’s Facebook fans have named the police’s new horse recruit ‘Hutton’. Over 230 people voted to give the Irish Draught breed the name after a poll was run on the mounted branch’s Facebook page.

A total of 657 people voted from a list of pre-selected names.

PC Adam Pearson from Lancashire Constabulary’s mounted branch said: “It was great to get the public involved in naming our latest recruit. I would like to thank everyone who voted.

“It is very fitting that the horse has been named Hutton since that is where he lives.

“If you want to keep up-to-date with the work of our mounted branch police officers, see photos and get regular updates, like our Facebook page.”

One of the people who voted will now be chosen as a winner and will receive a tour of the mounted branch and get the opportunity to meet some of the horses and staff.

Hutton arrived at the force’s mounted branch in March and has joined another 19 police horses who live at the police’s stables.

The force’s Mounted Branch joined Facebook in November last year and has over 1,800 likes. The page allows people to keep up-to-date with their work and includes photos of the horses and information about some of the work they have been involved in.

• To follow the police horses on Facebook visit: www.facebook.com/Lancspolicehorses
(If you decide to follow them in real life remember your bucket and spade)

Friday, 17 May 2013

Will Lancaster host the Silverdale Hoard?

Photo: Prioryman

Lancaster City Council’s Cabinet will consider the options available to secure an important collection of Viking treasure for Lancashire when it meets on 28th May.

Known as the Silverdale Hoard, the collection of coins and jewellery was found near to Silverdale in September 2011 by a metal detector enthusiast.

It was subsequently declared ‘treasure’, which means it can only be purchased by an accredited museum.

While both Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council meet this criteria, the county council has a considerable level of experience and expertise and currently runs Lancaster’s museums. The City Museum has previously expressed an interest in acquiring the Hoard if funds can be raised.

Cabinet will be recommended to request that the county council purchases the hoard and secures it for the people of Lancashire.

Councillor Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “The discovery of the Silverdale Hoard was very exciting and a reminder to us all of just how rich a heritage we enjoy in the Lancaster district.

“Both the city and county councils are keen for the hoard to remain in Lancashire to provide local people with the chance to see first hand this historically significant collection.”

Other options available for Cabinet would be for the city council to purchase the hoard, or for a joint purchase with each council funding parts of the costs.

However, given the costs associated with purchasing the hoard, which would also include conservation and display, a purchase by the city council alone is unaffordable in the long term.

The Silverdale Hoard is a collection of over 200 pieces of silver jewellery and coins discovered near Silverdale. The items were deposited together in a lead casket buried underground which was found in a field by Darren Webster, a local metal detectorist. It is believed to date to around AD 900, a time of intense conflict between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danish settlers of northern England.

Lancaster was almost certainly caught up in the conflict: Skerton takes its name from the Old Norse sker, Skerton meaning the Tun by the Reefs (i.e. sand banks in the River Lune which ran through the original Township); and St. Peter's Church in Heysham contains many Viking remains, and the church itself contains a Viking hogback stone.

The hoard is one of the largest Viking hoards ever discovered in the UK and has been displayed at the British Museum. It is particularly significant for its inclusion of a coin stamped with the name of a previously unknown Viking ruler.

One side of the coin has the words DNS (Dominus) REX, arranged in the form of a cross, reflecting the fact that many Vikings had converted to Christianity within a generation of settling in Britain. The other side has the enigmatic inscription. AIRDECONUT, which appears to be an attempt to represent the Scandinavian name Harthacnut. The design of the coin relates to known coins of the kings Siefredus and Cnut, who ruled the Viking kingdom of Northumbria around AD 900, but Harthacnut is otherwise unrecorded.

Photographs of the Silverdale Hoard

More about the history of Skerton

Renewed appeal for witnesses to Cable Street accident, pensioner in critical condition

Lancaster Police have made a renewed appeal for witnesses following an accident on Cable Street yesterday involving an 80-year old cyclist.

The man was knocked off his push bike by a vehicle which failed to stop at the scene at around 9.10am yesterday (Thursday 16th May) on Cable Street.

After being taken to Royal Lancaster Infirmary with a head injury the pensioner was transferred to Royal Preston Hospital and remains in a critical condition.

The car involved has been identified as a Citroen Berlingo and the driver, a 32-year-old man from Morecambe is helping police with their enquiries. He has not been arrested.

"We would continue to appeal for witnesses," said a police spokesperson.

• Anybody with any information can contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org

Police appeal following Morecambe burglary of vital laptop

Police are appealing for information following a burglary in Morecambe which on Friday 10th May, between 12:00pm and 6:00pm at an address on Woodhill Avenue.

The victim and her son, who is registered blind, were out raising money for charity and during that time the offender has forced entry to the property and has stolen items from the bedroom.

A Spanish language laptop, an iPhone and cash were stolen and officers are appealing for people to come forward with information.

Detective Constable Gill Topping from Morecambe CID said, “I would appeal to anyone who has information about this burglary to come forward and contact the police.

“The family need this Spanish keyboard laptop on a daily basis and as such would be worth very little to anyone else. I hope people will come forward and help us locate the stolen property.”

Anyone with information is asked to call Morecambe CID on 101.

Morecambe's Festival Market on the look out for rising 'Bake Off' stars

Morecambe's Festival Market is on the look out for rising stars to take part in a bake off at this year’s Family Fun Weekend.

This years event takes place on Saturday 6 and Sunday 7th July.

As well as a whole host of entertainment planned during the weekend, the Festival Market is inviting residents to showcase their cooking skills by taking part in the market's first ever bake off.

There are several categories in the competition including best cupcake, best biscuit, best scone and most unusual cake as well as a prize for the best cake made by under 12s.

The winner of each category will receive £10 worth of market vouchers and the overall winner will find themselves sampling afternoon tea delights for free at the Midland Hotel.

Judging will take place at 12 noon on Sunday July 7th.

Free entry forms are available from the market office and downloadable online at www.lancaster.gov.uk/festivalmarket

This two day event will also be offering a fantastic opportunity for local talent in the performing arts department to get a share of the limelight too. The Festival Market is keen to hear from local dancers and singers to take centre stage at the event and show off their skills to parents, friends, shoppers and other visitors to Morecambe during the weekend.

Time slots are allocated on a first come first served basis and singers will need to provide their own equipment.

• If you are interested in being part of the weekend’s feast of entertainment, contact the market office on 01524 414251 or send an email to markets@lancaster.gov.uk.

Lancaster Pensioners' Group condemns NHS dementia proposals, calls public meetings.

Lancaster District Pensioners' Campaign Group will be meeting again this Wednesday 22 May 2013 at 1pm in Room 2 of the Lancaster Friends Meeting House to discuss local and national issues affecting seniors. A further Public Meeting is planned for 12 June (see below).

The group's recent campaign seeking a unification of health and social care under a single, accountable, statutory body has clearly been heard by government, judging from recent reports that the government plans to join them up by 2018 and come up with a system that would stop people being passed around between doctors in hospitals and community services - and getting lost in the gaps between. The group plans to take an active role in campaigning for the new service to be realistic, effective and adequately staffed and funded.

Out of Sight...
However NHS proposals to move dementia care and elderly mental health services out of the area to a central Lancashire unit and to shut down the Altham Meadows Dementia Care Centre in Morecambe are a very grave concern. While some might argue that Altham Meadows is not 'ideal', the same argument could be used for practically every care facility in the UK. Shipping our community members to centralised care laagers far away and out of sight if they become psychologically vulnerable  is not the answer.

Familiar is best
If diagnosed and treated early, the progress of dementia can be slowed, enabling people to continue living safely independently at home for more years, which we all largely much prefer, making life better all round for everyone involved and saving a fortune in care costs. Local networks of care are better at identifying the earlier symptoms - and local services increase the chances of early referral. And there's a lot more to it than medication. Familiar environments and trusted faces are crucial and unfamiliar stress can make symptoms much worse very quickly. Travel can be difficult and daunting for frail elderly people and for their family and similarly-fixed friends to visit, and assessment by strangers in a strange environment far from the familiar is practically meaningless.

NHS proposals not backed by budgets?
LDPCG told us:  "In our response to the Lancashire Care NHS Trust ‘consulting’  local people via their document “Working together to improve specialist dementia care services in Lancashire”, whilst we welcomed proposals to improve dementia care services in the home and community, lack of additional finance meant it was incompatible with their proposed options.

"The Trust asked people to choose between two options (one centralised unit or two half-units) in their 'consultations’, when in fact these are not options at all.  We pointed out that the problems created for carers and/or relatives having to travel from North Lancashire to Blackpool or Blackburn (especially for those reliant on public transport) were not acceptable, in other words, not an ‘option’ at all.

Public Meeting in June
"At our Organising Committee meeting on 24th April, as part of our support for improved dementia services in Lancashire, we decided to launch a campaign to defend Altham Meadows.  We will host a public meeting on Wednesday 12th June, 6.30pm, St Martins Church Centre, Braddon Close, Westgate, Morecambe, LA4 4UZ.  We will also organise a petition, lobby our MP’s and local councillors and make representations to the Lancashire Care NHS Trust to keep Altham Meadow Dementia Centre in Morecambe open."

Lancashire County Councillor
Lancaster South East
Christine Henig
'Consultation 'a hollow affair'
Lancaster City Council has opposed the closure of the Altham Meadows Centre (see previous story 'Councillors back Altham Meadows as NHS Lancashire plans to refocus dementia care') and, prior to her election, retired social worker and new Labour County Councillor Chris Henig commented on our blog:

"(1) The recent 'consultation' was a hollow affair. It was conducted after the Trust had narrowed down their course of action to two options**. I completed their online questionnaire and because I didn't tick either Option A or Option B, they put me in the 'don't know category', i.e. there was no way of objecting to the two options. I was certainly not the only person who did this but if you add the percentages that they have published it adds up to 100 per cent

"(2) The concerns are not only about residential beds for dementia patients but also residential beds for older mental health patients. I understand that at the moment people are being sent far and wide because there are currently no beds available for them;

"(3) There is historical evidence that having a unit within a community setting is by far preferable to a site that is more remote. Relatives are visiting on a daily basis at Altham Meadows and this is an essential element in the care of their loved ones with dementia

"(4) Questions need to be asked about the existing PFIs attached to the Altham Meadows Unit. My understanding is that it still has 15 years to run. Was this also true of the other local Units that have already been closed?

"** At the public meeting organised on March 20th 2013 by the Lancaster District Pensioners' Campaign Group, it was clear that very few people had been approached in the earlier stages of the 'consultation' process. I have received several phone calls from carers who read the two letters I have had published over the past eight months in the Lancaster Guardian. They are appalled by the situation that may be faced by carers - and their loved ones with dementia - in the future.

"I do hope that local councillors will press on with this issue on behalf of local people. A debate and a letter from our Chief Executive may not be enough to challenge what is happening to our local services."

E-petition to keep pensioner benefits 
LDPG are also backing an e-petition to to parliament asking for the protection of universal pensioner benefits such as winter fuel allowance, free bus pass, TV licences for the over 75s and prescriptions for older people.
You can find it at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/49599.

To contact the LDPCG telephone: 01524 61585 or email: mjnlancs@yahoo.co.uk.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Gillow Breakfasts: Music, Champagne and Buskers


Landlord Mark promises NOT to play
the ukele at breakfast:
"I wouldn't want to scare the customers"
photo: Barrie Marshall
The Robert Gillow has been opening at 8am for breakfast since October 2012, and in keeping with owner Anthony Mark Cutter's business ethos he's decided it's time things got a bit musical.

From now on the pub will be serving breakfast as usual from 8am - Midday, but with a twist. Between 10am and 12 noon, that's everyday, there will be music performed by staff hired as part of the recent "Musical Bar Staff" recruitment campaign, as well as featured local artists and special breakfast events.  

The revamped breakfast menu will also feature the return of Champagne Breakfasts which have proved popular during special events such as Mothers' Day and Valentine's Day. On this Mark said:

"We have a fantastic wine list, including some great Champagnes. I think in this time of financial hardship, people are looking for the opportunity to treat themselves to something special now and again. If alcohol isn't what you really enjoy with breakfast we still have a great range of coffees, teas, and fourteen (I think) different fruit juices. As ever, children are as welcome as adults as we are a family place"

There are also already confirmed plans to host Jazz Breakfasts featuring guest artists during this year's Lancaster Jazz Festival in September and International Music Breakfasts during the Lancaster Music Festival in October.

However, it doesn't stop there. Starting this week, The Robert Gillow will be offering breakfast slots to buskers and other traveling musicians as part of their 'Busk for your Breakfast Scheme".

Speaking about the scheme, Mark said: "Lancaster has a fantastic tradition of street music, and through various Facebook groups and other online forums, I realised that many street performers are travelling a long way to stand on the (often) cold and wet streets of Lancaster performing to passing shoppers. Being situated between the train station and the city centre, we're in a perfect position to offer performers the chance to warm up (musically and physically) and earn themselves a breakfast, before taking to the City's streets".

If music isn't your cup of (locally sourced Atkinson's) Tea at breakfast time the upstairs room is available at The Robert Gillow for a quiet breakfast, or a special breakfast with a glass of champagne and can also be booked for meetings.

General Manager, Natasha Burns said: "People quite often see the pub full with musicians and music lovers, and might feel they can't enjoy a quiet drink or quick bite to eat. We have plenty of space upstairs, and are always happy to see the space used by customers whatever the time of day."

To find out more about what's on at the Robert Gillow, visit their website at:
http://www.pubfoodlancaster.co.uk/
or check out the Virtual-Lancaster event listings at:
http://www.virtual-lancaster.net/whatson/

Subscribe to the Virtual-Lancaster fortnightly e-newsletter for a full round up of local news and events. (No commercial ads). Just email newsletter@virtual-lancaster.net with the word 'subscribe' in the subject.

Free Adult Learning Taster Courses at White Cross

There are still a few places left on the free and friendly taster courses being offered at Lancaster's White Cross Adult College during half term (18 - 24 May) and a quick glance at the website shows more being offered in June too, covering everything from stress management and family finances to arts, culture, social networking and local history.

Just go to www.lancashire.gov.uk/adultlearning or Tel 0845 600 1331 to enrol today. Here are just a few of the courses, which take place at White Cross Adult College unless another location is given:

Drawing & Painting For The Terrified - Mon 20 May, 10am - 12pm.   2JD731ZA

Fired Glass - Fri 24 May, 10am - 12.30pm. 2JE734ZA

History Of The Lancashire Railways - Thu 23 May, 10am - 12pm. Lancaster City Museum  2KA718ZA

Life Of A Decade -1950s - Fri 24 May, 2 - 4pm. Carnforth Civic Hall  2KA714ZA

Taste Of France - Language, Food & Lifestyle - Tue 21 May, 6.30 - 8.30pm. 2MC789ZA

Taste Of Spain - Language, Food & Lifestyle - Tue 21 May, 6.30 - 8.30pm. 2MC792ZA

What Is Social Networking? - Fri 24 May, 1 - 3pm. 2FD743ZA

There are more. Enjoy!
www.lancashire.gov.uk/adultlearning
Tel 0845 600 1331

Star Buddy Breastfeeding Support for local Mums and Babies


The Breastfeeding Network (BFN) and Lune Park Children's Centre in Ryelands Park are collaborating to deliver a pilot project that offers information and support to local mums who choose to start breastfeeding their new babies and continues until the babies are eight weeks old. It has been running since 2012 and is funded until August by the Early Intervention Fund of the Children's Trust.

Star Buddies (http://www.starbuddies.co.uk/) are a group of Lancashire mums who have been trained by the BFN to offer breastfeeding support to mums and babies in their local areas. Lancastrian mum Becky Griffiths, a trained Star Buddy, runs the Lune Park project in just 8 hours a week, offering home visits to all mums who opt into the scheme and on-going support via phone, text and Facebook for up to eight weeks. Becky aims to normalise breastfeeding in an area where bottle feeding prevails.

Becky and her fellow Star Buddies run a drop-in group at the Lune Park Centre to help new mums make friends as well as to give information and help with breastfeeding. Drop in every Thursday from 10.30 till 12 to meet local mums and Star Buddies.

Becky arranges a café meet-up once a month, enabling mums to socialise and embrace the challenge of feeding out and about. A breastfeeding out-and-about scheme runs throughout North Lancashire. The group has helped to develop a list of over 270 local businesses across Blackpool and North Lancs that have signed up to the 'Breastfeeding Friendly Premises' scheme. Businesses like cafés sign up to being “Breastfeeding Friendly” – look out for the stickers or check out the website (www.nwnwbabyfriendly.org.uk/).

Mums are given the opportunity to sign up for the Lune Park scheme when their baby is born by the Star Buddies who work on the maternity ward at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary. Mums who opt into the scheme can access support for up to eight weeks and then continue to attend the drop-in and café meet ups and use the Facebook page. A similar scheme runs across Morecambe which started in 2010. All mums of babies who live in Morecambe are offered breastfeeding support including a home visit. Also around thirty trained volunteer Star Buddies support breastfeeding mums at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, in Children’s Centres and in their communities across Lancaster, Morecambe and Carnforth.

Dawn Staig, a local mum who signed up for the scheme, said: “If it wasn't for Becky and the group I would never have breastfed for seven months now. She has been an amazing guide when things haven't been going well and the group is awesome and I have made some true friends.”

Lune Park Children’s Centre is situated in one of the most deprived areas of Lancaster and Morecambe and has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates. Further funding is being sought to continue this successful project.

The Breastfeeding Network (www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk) is a Scottish Charity promoting breastfeeding and a greater understanding of breastfeeding in the United Kingdom. They collect and disseminate information on breastfeeding and baby and infant nutrition. They provide information and support to parents on the feeding of babies and infants and set and encourage the acceptance of quality standards for breastfeeding support, establishing and publishing codes of practice for such support.

The BFN doesn't accept funding from sources which have a commercial interest in infant feeding. For example, they will not accept sponsorship from manufacturers or distributors of breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles, teats or dummies.

To find out more about local breastfeeding support contact Lune Park Children's Centre (http://www.lunepark.childrencentre.org/) on 01524 382818.

Serious collision in Lancaster

(updated 1610, more info on car): Police are appealing for information after a man in his 70s was knocked off his push bike in Lancaster by a vehicle which failed to stop at the scene.

The man was hit by what is believed to have been a silver vehicle at around 9.10am this morning (Thursday 16th May) on Cable Street and the vehicle drove off in the direction of Greyhound Bridge.

The man has been taken to Royal Lancaster Infirmary with a head injury and is said to be in a serious condition and has now been transferred to Royal Preston Hospital.

One lane of Cable Street is currently closed and is expected to remain closed for another couple of hours.

Sergeant Malcolm Bell said: “If anybody was in the area at the time of the collision and witnessed it, or can perhaps provide more information about the silver vehicle which is believed to have been involved, please contact police.”

• Anybody with any information can contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org.

Lancaster Castle to open gates to the public for the first time in 900 years

Lancaster Castle courtyard. Photo © Copyright Ian Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
An exciting new era in the life of historic Lancaster Castle begins on the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, when the imposing John o’Gaunt gates swing open to allow people to look inside.

With its 900-year history as an enclave of crime and punishment, Lancaster Castle’s interior has for centuries generally been considered a place for the incarceration of those on the wrong side of the law.

But the formal closure of the HM Prison in March 2011 signalled a new dawn for the castle’s future role in Lancaster life, which will – for the first time in its history - include opening the gates daily to allow people inside.

The first symbolic sign that the interior of the Grade I Listed Building is to reconnect with the public of the city whose skyline it dominates will be when the gates are opened by the Constable of Lancaster Castle, Gordon Johnson, at 10.00am on Saturday 25th May.

Once inside, visitors can get a glimpse of the castle’s magnificent interior from its large internal courtyard.

Castle Yard, Lancaster Castle, showing the Debtors' Prison in the centre, with the Keep on the right.
Photo copyright Ian Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
There will be special family activities right through the weekend (25-27th May), with historical re-enactment, sword-fighting, Punch & Judy, puppetry and other children’s workshops all on the agenda.

Visitors will also be able to call into the new ‘Nice @ the Castle’ cafe (run by the proprietors of the nearby Nice Bar and Restaurant) as well as popping in to a new gift shop.

The popular tours run by Lancashire County Council’s museums service at Lancaster Castle will, from 25th May, start and finish at the cafe and will include the Castle Courtyard as well as parts of the former HM prison.

The gates will remain open from 10.00am to 5.00pm each day and throughout the year there will be a series of new events which will include live music and seasonal fairs.

Lancaster Castle occupies a city-centre hilltop location on the site of three successive Roman forts. It consists of an extensive group of historic structures, including the 12th century Keep, the 14th century Witches' Tower, the 15th century Gatehouse, and the Female Penitentiary, which dates from the early years of the 19th century. It is a Grade I Listed Building, with the area to the north of it designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is currently still used as a Crown Court and was an HM Prison until March 2011.

In the 16th Century it housed one of England’s most famous trials involving The Pendle Witches, which saw 10 people found guilty of “making a covenant with an evil spirit, using a corpse for magic, hurting life or limb, procuring love, or injuring cattle by means of charms". They were sentenced to death and hanged on the moor above Lancaster.

A conceptual image of the proposed Lancaster Castle. Image: Duchy of Lancaster
Though much of the castle will still remain inaccessible for the time being its owner, The Duchy of Lancaster, has already engaged the public in consultation about its future use and is keen to make more of the centuries-old building accessible.

The Duchy of Lancaster is custodian of over 18,000 hectares of land and properties across England and Wales which are long-term capital assets kept in perpetuity for the reigning Monarch. HM The Queen is the Duke of Lancaster.

English Heritage has described the Castle as being "not only the North-West's most important historic and archaeological monument but also of international importance".

• Duchy of Lancaster - Lancaster Castle web site: www.lancastercastle.com


Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Carnforth Post Office revamp welcomed

Alycia James, County Councillor for Lancaster Rural North, has welcomed news that Carnforth Post Office is to get a major revamp.

The Post Office on Market Street will be subject to a refurbishment ahead of a relaunch with extended opening hours.

The branch’s opening times will be extended by five hours on Saturdays when the new look building opens its doors on July 1st.

Alycia, who has successfully run a post office with her family, comments: ‘’Post Offices are at the very heart of any community and I’m delighted to see that bosses have decided to upgrade the premises.’’

‘’The revamp into a ‘main style’ branch reflects how vibrant Carnforth is as a town and this is great news for the local area’’.

Join in with the Castle Hill Bioblitz!

Could you help to survey and monitor local wildlife and green spaces at Castle Hill in Lancaster?

People are invited to volunteer for a BioBlitz on Saturday 18th May at the 'Beyond the Castle' site - the green space running from the castle down to the quayside.

Early birds can join the team at 5.00am for a breeding birds identification walk. You can also study mammals, moths, reptiles etc. which have been captured as part of the study, before releasing them back into the wild.

Later in the morning, sessions will include surveying the railway line, quay meadow and the river and river environment. The afternoon focuses on exploring the woodland area and how it has changed over time and the ecology and wildlife a! round the historic buildings such as Lancaster Castle and Priory.

A Bioblitz encourages people from all walks of life to explore the nature on their doorsteps with local ecologists and naturalists. There will be something for to do for all ages and abilities.

Emma Garston from the Lancashire Wildlife Trust explained: "Members of the public can come along and work with ecologists and naturalists to survey the nature on their doorsteps. This includes looking for, identifying and recording as many plant and animal species as possible from dusk till dawn.”

The Bioblitz event is part of the wider Beyond the Castle project, which aims to improve the public space around Lancaster Castle and down to the quayside over the next five years. This will be looking at bringing to life the archaeology and history, improving access and increasing the wildlife value of the site.

The project is being led by Lancashire County Council and Lancaster City Council, as part of the wider Square Routes Programme that focuses on improving public spaces and connections across the city centre.

The BioBlitz is the first community event in 2013 on the City Park site, following the series of Beyond the Castle community 'co-design' events run by Lancaster University in 2012.

These events involved over 750 people, asking how they would like to see the site developed in future.

The detailed programme for this Saturday's Beyond the Castle Bioblitz includes:


Early bird dawn session (Meeting point ou tside Lancaster Priory)

5am - 6am Join us for the dawn chorus (with David Redmore)

6:30am - 7:30am Identification of common breeding birds

7:30am Mammal trapping (with Tim Graham, North Lancs Mammal Society)


Morning session (Meeting point Quay Meadow Headquarters)


9am - 10am Tinning Session - looking for invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians (with John Jones, County Ecologist)

10am - 1pm Plants and species survey in two groups - Railway line, Quay Meadow, river environment and Vicarage Fields (with local naturalists)

Followed by plant and species survey in the Storey Garden, if time allows.

Afternoon session (Meeting point Quay Meadow headquarters)

1pm - 2pm Mammal Talk and Walk (North Lancs Mammal Society)

2pm - 3:30pm Family-friendly plants and species woodland survey, exploration of the area's history and change over time (with local and visiting naturalists and County! Ecologists)

4pm - 6pm Explore the ecology around the historic buildings on site, including Lancaster Priory and Lancaster Castle (with local and visiting naturalists and County Ecologists)

Family friendly activities, 2pm - 6pm (At Quay Meadow headquarters)

2pm - 3pm How great are worms and bugs! Worm charming and worm identification, explore small invertebrates with magnifying glasses - with Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Open Air Laboratory (OPAL)

2pm - 3.30pm Family-friendly plants and species woodland survey (with local and visiting naturalists and County Ecologists)

2pm - 3pm Tree Game Session - Get to know your trees (with Hannah from Timbertale)

3pm - 4pm and 4pm - 5pm Go Wild Wildlife Challenge - instructions will also be available at the family marquee for those who want to complete the challenge independently (with Lancashire Wildlife Trust)

3pm - 4pm and 4pm - 5pm Wildcraft and nature awarene! ss session for families with children aged 5-11 (with Hannah from Timb ertale)

5pm - 6 pm Fire making (with Lancaster City Council's Sport and Play Officers)

2pm - 6pm Family Marquee and 'Field Laboratory' - Colouring and paper bugs, spotter sheets and reference material, magnifiers, trays of soil etc. (with Lancaster City Council's Sport and Play Officers and Lancashire Wildlife Trust volunteers)

Dusk session (Meeting point 8.00pm outside Lancaster Priory)

8pm - 9pm Moths and bats talk and identification (North Lancs Bat Group and Naturalists)

9pm - 10:30pm Bat survey in three groups (castle and historic buildings; river and river environment; woodland areas)

All activities are free and booking isn't required.

Visit www.facebook.com/beyondthecastle for more information. A programme leaflet and a site map can be downloaded from www.lancaster.gov.uk/beyondthecastle.

The contact number on the day will be 07791 465 587 - Lucia Marquart and Roy Halliday from Lancashire County Council's environment and community projects team.

As the Beyond the Castle project develops there will be further opportunities for the public to get involved in its design and development, hopefully leading to wider improvements in a few years time.

• Further information and the report on the Lancaster University 'Beyond the Castle' activities is available ! at http://imagination.lancs.ac.uk/activities/Beyond_Castle.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Morecambe carer jailed second time for theft

A carer from Morecambe has been sentenced to 24 months imprisonment for stealing more than £4,500 from two elderly ladies that she cared for - one of them in her nineties.

54-year-old Karen Higgins of Wilson Grove, Heysham, befriended both of her victims: one was a 99-year-old lady and the other was a disabled pensioner in her late 60’s. The offences were uncovered after an investigation by Lancashire Constabulary’s Financial Investigator DC Steve Dixon.

Higgins cruelly convinced them she was a person who could be trusted with their private information and in doing so gained access to their bank accounts, she then abused her position by paying her own bills and stealing money from them.

At an earlier hearing she pleaded guilty to seven counts of theft with a further five charges to lie on file.

Higgins admitted to stealing £2133 from the 99-year-old lady and £2417 from the disabled victim.

This is the second time she has been convicted for stealing money from vulnerable clients she was caring for.

In June 2012, Higgins was jailed for 16 months for stealing £31,000 from a 95-year-old lady. She has since been released but during that time police investigated her for the offences she has now been convicted of.

Today (Tuesday 14th May) Karen Higgins was sentenced at Lancaster Crown Court.

Speaking after the sentencing DC Brian Shepherd from Lancaster CID said: “When Higgins was originally sentenced her defence counsel told the court that this offence was a 'one off'.

"We felt this was not the case and following a thorough investigation two further vulnerable female victims of Higgins were identified.

“Both ladies have been left feeling extremely upset and embarrassed that someone they had liked and trusted and had even regarded as a friend, has done this to them.

"Higgins is a truly wicked woman who selfishly exploited the trust of two very vulnerable housebound ladies, the vast majority of carers do a fantastic job and I hope that Higgins is never given the opportunity to work with vulnerable people again.

“I would like to pay tribute to the two victims involved who despite their vulnerabilities helped the police fully with the enquiry and I am glad they were spared the ordeal of appearing at court."

Local MPs back Agricultural Wages Board abolition; local farm workers face hard times ahead?

Eric Ollerenshaw
Both local MPs have backed the Government's decision to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board - a decision that will potentially affect the livelihoods of many local farm workers when it ceases operations in October.

In a vote following a recent House of Commons debate, both Eric Ollerenshaw and David Morris voted with the government, rejecting an appeal to reconsider the decision to abolish the last Wages Board, which has set pay levels for 153,000 workers in England and Wales and protected their basic rights since 1948.

David Morris
The abolition of the Board was passed without a vote as an amendment within the Efficiency and Regulatory Reform Bill earlier in April, after a long-running campaign by the National Farmers Union, and a contested four week "consultation" last year which opponents of abolition argue failed to consult many, relying in part on digital responses when many rural areas and workers lack good access to internet services.

Agricultural workers enjoy rights provided by the AWB which have in the past been annually updated through a revised Agricultural Wages Order, including an increased minimum wage rate, a greater holiday entitlement than the 5.6 weeks (for full-time workers) provided under the Working Time Regulations; depending on length of service, an entitlement to a minimum number of days sick leave, a dog allowance; and a birth / adoption grant of £60 per child.

Until now, agricultural workers were not governed by the National Minimum Wage or Working Time Regulations unlike non-agricultural workers. As a result, when agricultural workers are employed they are automatically bound by the minimum conditions set down by the AWB and contained within the annual AWO; there is not a great deal of negotiating power on behalf of the employer.

The principal effect of the abolition will be to eliminate the separate regulatory regime that currently exists in relation to the engagement of agricultural workers, which will allow employers greater freedom to negotiate individual terms and conditions with agricultural workers. The only legal restrictions governing the employment of agricultural workers would be those restrictions that apply to all employees or workers regardless of the sector they work in.

While the AWB’s abolition should save the government about £50,000 a year, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs own impact assessment the cost to workers and the rural economy of abolition could be at least £235 million over the next 10 years.


The abolition has been welcomed by the NFU, the abolition has been condemned by the Welsh Government, who are now working to set up their own AWB, the Labour Party and farm workers union Unite.

Unite argues that abolition could suck £131 million in lost wages, £81 million from annual leave and £4.4 million in sick pay from the rural economy, which would accelerate the slide to a poverty-stricken existence for many workers.

Labour says the abolition will undermine pay security for more than 150,000 people while Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna argues that in abolishing the Board, the government was "betraying" workers by abolishing the wages regulator.

"We will remind every single voter in those seats of the Conservatives Party's betrayal of them in the next general election," Mr Umunna said.

He claimed Lancaster and Fleetwood and Morecambe and Lunesdale were among constituencies that would be worst affected by the abolition of the AWB, while Labour' s shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh argued that getting rid of it would lead to a "race to the bottom" over wages and in the "under-cutting" of British labourers by foreign workers.

Many arguments to keep the Board

"The abolition of the AWB is wrong on three counts," she argued. "First, it will take money out of workers’ pockets and out of rural high streets at a time when the economy needs it most. The abolition does nothing to reduce the deficit; it could even increase the deficit by adding to the welfare bill, because workers pushed into poverty pay will claim more in-work benefits and lose the incentive to gain new skills. Secondly, the abolition is bad for our food industry. A race to the bottom on pay will not help to attract the new recruits the industry needs.

"Thirdly, the abolition is bad regulatory reform because, paradoxically, it will increase the burden of employment regulation on small farmers, meaning that many more of them could end up in employment tribunals. Ministers’ incompetence will result in lower pay, higher welfare spending and more regulation, and it will deepen the recession in the rural high streets they represent."

Unite Fury

Unite, who are furious at not only the abolition of AWN but the way it was inserted into the EERB in the House of Lords as an ammendment, argues that the demise of the AWB could now prompt a challenge to the European Court of Human Rights, as thousands of agricultural workers face a threat to their homes.

Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long said: “What we have witnessed is a national disgrace and the capitulation of MPs to the interests of the big employers and the supermarkets, who want to ruthlessly drive down costs.

“There was not even a vote on the amendment by MPs on this vital issue which is a stain on democracy. The spectre of poverty embracing the countryside is now very real.”

It is estimated that there are about 60,000 agricultural workers and managers in accommodation provided by their employer. They could face losing their homes after 1 October, if they left their current employment and had to negotiate a new contract.

Noting that the AWB grade 1 rate was only 2p more than the hourly rate for the National Minimum Wage the unions says the take-up of in-work benefits by those on AWB rates is high, so low pay in agriculture and horticulture is being subsidised through the benefits system.

The union also pointed out that 30 per cent of agricultural employees live in a house owned by their employer and many rural workers lived in communities where their employers were in “positions of social control”, such as JPs, councillors or school governors.

“Agricultural members of Unite have described the inter-woven social and employment fabric of their lives as ‘feudal’.”

Dubious Consultation

Unite also hit out at the membership of the Farming Regulation Task Force that recommended the abolition in May, 2011.

“The task force included no workers’ representatives. Out of the nine members of the ‘independent’ task force, five work directly with supermarkets and their suppliers. There is evidence to suggest that the impetus for this drive to abolish the AWB comes from the horticultural membership of the NFU, responding to the demands of the supermarkets for ever-cheaper fresh produce.”

The union has vowed to fight to restore the AWB and will set up a ‘wages watch’ unit to monitor any assaults on the pay and conditions of its members in the coming months.

MP Tom Watson notes the consultation to abolish the AWB was undertaken using the government’s revised consultation procedures on a tight timescale from 16th October until 12th November 2012. "The new procedures essentially allows the government to consult over one month rather than three," he says. "When they made the changes, the government made all sorts of guarantees that many think have been broken already. There is a Compact between government and the voluntary and community sector over the details of consultations that has not been respected in this case, for example.

"This is particularly relevant because of the omission of a range of significant voluntary organisations from the list of consultees, who may not even have been aware of the consultation before it was over. For example, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, a key umbrella voluntary sector organisation with a wide range of rural affiliates, was not on the list. Nor was Action with Communities in Rural England.

"The government said that in the modern age, many consultations could be done more quickly online with groups who are innate digital users. Workers in rural areas are a group for whom the government’s ‘digital by default’ principle is wholly inappropriate; in many ways they are the definition of a ‘hard to reach’ group. DEFRA’s website states that 47% of households in sparse hamlets or isolated dwellings have no or slow broadband. Internet access in rural areas is limited because of the government’s historic failure to invest; mobile reception in many rural areas is unreliable. Added to that is the low pay of the agricultural workforce, not all of whom will have access to new technology, partly because of its cost.

"So, the consultation was too quick, failed to consult the right people and ensured that the poorest will carry the heaviest burden. You won’t be surprised to know that I strongly believe this was the intention of Coalition ministers from the outset."

NFU: Board "outdated"

Commenting on the abolition, NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond said: “The abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board has been a long-standing policy ambition of the NFU and we are pleased that we’re in sight of this goal. Throughout our lobbying effort over the years, the NFU has consistently argued that it is outdated, particularly with the existence of a national minimal wage and working time regulations which apply to all employment.

“AWB abolition is a progressive reform and is a welcome step to freeing up the industry to reward workers appropriately for the valuable work they do on farms," he argued. "At last, we can move on from the one-sized-fits-all approach that puts agriculture out-of-step with the rest of the UK workforce. Free from the order, this creates the opportunity for workers and employers to look more widely at the total employment package; to go beyond the basic hourly rate and consider skills, training, and salaries as negotiations between individual workers and individual businesses become the norm.

“The timeframe for abolition still has to be confirmed, but it is hoped that abolition will coincide with the expiration of the current Agricultural Wages Order at the end of September. For the time being, employers must still comply with the terms of the order, alongside other employment legislation. Employers must be aware that current terms and conditions will remain in place after abolition for existing workers.

“The NFU’s work on employment issues continues. We are committed to providing key indicators and business guidance to help support the agricultural industry as it makes the transition to practices that are standard in every other sector of the economy.”


During the debate, Birmingham MP Jack Dromey noted that it was Winston Churchill who first took action to protect farm workers, as President of the Board of Trade, in 1908. He argued then that we needed fair treatment and to act to keep labour on the land. That was legislated for by the Attlee Government after World War 2 and championed by Harold Macmillan in the 1950s.

Tories: AWB "no longer a necessity"

But Nottingham MP Mark Spencer rejected the Opposition's concerns. "The first argument that we heard from the Opposition — that abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board would not save any money — wholly missed the point of the debate," he said. "This is not about saving cash for the Government; it is about recognising the changing dynamic of agricultural work in the United Kingdom in a modern setting, and recognising the safeguards that have been introduced by other Governments and other parties.

"The minimum wage established a floor for the wages of all workers and has given them wage security, while changes in the legislation governing gangmasters have protected agricultural workers who are employed by them. The Agricultural Wages Board has become redundant. It is no longer a necessity because there are other safeguards, irrespective of the changes in the dynamic of agriculture.

"... Agriculture has moved on," he argued. "The key question is whether the Opposition would overturn the abolition if they were in power. They were challenged on that point several times during the debate and on three occasions they refused the opportunity to answer. There is some cynicism on the Government Benches. Is it a political
game? Is it about making a political point rather than a genuine one about improving the lot of people working in rural communities?"

Wales goes it alone on new AWB?

At the end of April, Welsh government minister Alun Davies unveiled plans today for a separate AWB for Wales, announcing he would launch a consultation over setting up a new AWB in Wales to protect 13,000 low-paid agricultural workers.

"I am determined to protect the industry here in Wales and to explore all available options for retaining a body such as or similar to the AWB," he said.

Unite's Julia Long said the move came in "stark contrast to the retrograde policies of the coalition government in London.

“Abolition of the AWB runs counter to the scientific and political consensus that the UK needs to become more self-sufficient in food production, and central to this aspiration is a skilled, multi-generational and well-paid workforce.”

Web Links

House of Commons debate on the abolition of the AWB, with voting record

• MP Tom Watson draws attention to the failures of the consultation process in a blog post here and publishes the Duchy of Cornmwall's minimal arguments in favour of abolition as an example of its shortcomings

National Farmers Union

Unite

Monday, 13 May 2013

St Michael crash - victim named as Lancaster University student Ryan Rostron


Following the fatal road traffic collision that took place in St Michael’s last night (see earlier story), the victim can now be named as 22 year-old Lancaster University Ryan Rostron, from Blackpool.

Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward after Ryan died in a road traffic collision in St Michaels. The collision took place around 6.40pm when Ryan was driving his Renault Clio along Garstang Road towards the A6. He has lost control on a right hand bend and collided with a tree.

Ryan, who was the single occupant, received injuries that proved fatal at the scene.

“Ryan was a loving son who was never any trouble," says his mother, Pamela, in a statement. "He was a good boy.

“Ryan made me very proud in all he did. He played Rugby at Blackpool RFUC colts, he was very good at badminton and recently he was on the executive committee and played pool at Lancaster University.

“When Ryan went to university I was extremely proud," she added. "Not only was he studying, having dyslexia, but also worked at Argos in Cleveleys to top up his money. He bought his new car with his own money as it was his dream to own his own.

“He was due to graduate on the 18th July 2013 and had been making plans to celebrate, I am just so sad that he won't be there on that date.

“He was taken too soon, he wanted kids and marriage but none of that will ever happen.”

M6 southbound carriageway closed after accident

There has been an incident on the M6 southbound carriageway between junction 33 and 32 that took place at around 2.30pm and the southbound lanes are likely to stay closed for at least two hours.

A Jaguar, travelling southbound span on the carriageway and it appears that an HGV behind the car braked and a Vauxhall Astra travelling behind the HGV then collided with the back of the HGV, spun and then collided with the central reservation barrier.

The southbound carriage way is closed at Junction 33. The northbound carriageway was also closed to allow the air ambulance to land safely, but will re-open shortly.

The driver of the Astra has been airlifted to hospital.

The police are looking into the possibility that this incident is weather related.

Dogs stolen from Lancaster garden

Police are appealing for information after two dogs were stolen from a garden in Lancaster last week.

The dogs, a Lakeland terrier and Jack Russell, were stolen sometime between 9.00pm on Wednesday 8th and 9.00am on Thursday 9th May from a back garden on Whalley Road.

The thief climbed over the locked garden gate and removed the two dogs from an internal dog run.

Peg the terrier is red in colour,  five years old and is chipped. The Jack Russell is called Jip and is tri coloured with a hole in the right hand side of its mouth from a previous injury. He is four and a half years old.

PC Byrony Fell from Lancaster Police said: “The owner of the dogs is understandably upset and id appeal to anybody that saw anybody acting suspiciously on Whalley Road or anybody that thinks they have been offered the dogs for sale to contact police on 101.

“There is no way in which the dogs could have escaped from the garden as they live out in their own secure run and the garden gate is secured from within with a bolt lock.”

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.

University's Mobile Radicals create new approach to the jukebox

A digital jukebox which uses social networking to select music has been developed by researchers at Lancaster University.

CheckinDJ allows people to choose what music should be played based on the combined preferences of the group and is linked their social media accounts.

Dr Paul Coulton of ImaginationLancaster said: “You could put this in a coffee shop, tap in your loyalty card and it would read your musical preferences by accessing your Facebook, twitter or other social media account. This could be the end of people having to put up with music chosen by the management because it crowdsources the musical tastes of everyone in a particular location at a particular time, whether it’s a coffee shop or a pub.”

The system accesses people’s musical tastes through an NFC tag, a technology which is already in some smartphones and which can connect to users’ social media accounts, reading people’s preferences.

Users select three music genres and CheckinDJ creates a playlist based on these, using tracks from spotify. But there has to be a majority of people in favour of a particular genre for the playlist to change so group participation and social interaction are key.

Dr Coulton said: “It gets people talking because it only crowd sources the musical genre, not an particular track, so you don’t know exactly what music will be on next. It depends on how many people like a particular genre so the music chosen will reflect the majority musical taste of wherever you happen to be.”



CheckinDJ updates everyone’s musical preferences every 20 seconds and there is a time restriction to limit the numbers of individual check ins a user can perform to stop them gaming the system.

The project springs from work by the Mobile Radicals, a group of mobile experiences designers, researchers and developers based within InfoLab21 and Imagination at Lancaster University. They spend a lot of their time subverting perfectly good technology and applying triviality to create novel games, playful experiences, and toys. They are among the pioneers of an ‘in the wild' evaluation methodology that utilises 'app stores' and social networks as experimental platforms. This site highlights many of their past and present projects.

Appeal following fatal road traffic collision in St Michaels

Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward after a Blackpool man died in a road traffic collision in St Michaels on Sunday, 12th May.

The collision took place around 6.40pm when the 22-year-old man was driving his Renault Clio along Garstang Road towards the A6 when he has lost control on a right hand bend and collided with a tree.

Sadly the driver, who was the single occupant, received injuries that proved fatal at the scene.

Sergeant Lee Campbell from the Force Road Policing Unit said: “This is a tragic incident in which a young man has lost his life. I would appeal to anybody that witnessed the collision to come forward and contact Lancashire Police on 101.”

The road was closed for four hours for scene examination and recovery.

Government claims to be helping Lancashire's troubled families

After a weekend in which many mainstream media sources reported on the suicide of a Solihull woman who left a note blaming the Government's so-called bedroom tax for her death, our leaders have, surely quite coincidentally, released a statement declaring  that more than a quarter of Lancashire’s troubled families are receiving help to turn their lives around.

The press statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government comes as evidence mounts of desperate times for families, the disabled and uneployed, with the ATOS Victim Group logging many suicides, some claimed as the result of government cuts and welfare reforms.

But the department counters this bad news with the information that local councils have already worked with 923 of the 3,610 families in the county identified as being troubled because of youth crime, anti-social behaviour, truancy, or having an adult on out-of-work benefits.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles (who's a busy man, what with ripping up planning regulations and attacking council staff pay) said the figures showed that councils are on course to meet the Prime Minister’s target of turning around the lives of 120,000 families by 2015.

Figures from local authorities released by the Department for Communities and Local Government show that by the end of the first year of a three-year payment-by-results programme in March, more than 35,000 troubled families were being worked with across England, up from 22,000 in December 2012.

"The Troubled Families programme is on track to deliver life-changing results for families and communities across the country," says said Pickles.

"Many services have been set up from scratch over the past year so it is remarkable progress to already be reaching a quarter of the families who need help to change.

“Troubled families are often living miserable lives and can also cause misery to the communities around them, draining around £9 billion per year from the public purse.

“This programme is not only transforming the lives of families we have too often not got to grips with in the past, but it will deliver considerable savings to the taxpayer by reducing their demand on services and helping them make a positive contribution to society instead.”

Troubled families are defined as those who are involved in youth crime or anti-social behaviour; have children who are regularly truanting; have an adult on out-of-work benefits; cost the public sector large sums in responding to their problems, an estimated average of £75,000 per year.
The Government is committed to turning around the lives of 120,000 troubled families by 2015: getting children back into school; cutting youth crime and anti-social behaviour across the whole family; putting adults on a path back to work; and cutting the costs to the taxpayer of tackling their problems.

The figures from local authorities on progress within the first year of the Government’s Troubled Families programme in regard to families 'identified' and families being 'worked with' have been collated from the latest quarterly returns  submitted to DCLG's Troubled Families Team from all 152 upper tier local authorities in England in March 2013. These do not constitute official statistics.

Last August, the Daily Mail reported on research from the University of Liverpool suggesting some 846 more men and 155 extra women took their own lives between 2008 and 2010 than would have been expected if previous trends had continued.

• Full details of the Government's payment by results framework for troubled families can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-troubled-families-programme-financial-framework

Local companies warn on perils of social media for business

Two Lancashire businesses, Jane’s Social Media and Quay Creative, have combined their skills and expertise to produce a training video that addresses a serious problem facing every business and organisation today.

They've now created a six minute programme that has been designed to simplify social media policy and raise awareness of what can go wrong; help employees understand the consequences of what they post on social media sites; give clear instruction about using common sense when posting; and to be easily accessible for all audiences.

You can view a short preview of the programme now on YouTube



Over 37 million people in the UK use facebook and more than 15 million have twitter accounts, so social media is really transforming the way we communicate with friends and acquaintances. But as more and more companies use it for marketing and communication, the lines between personal and professional are being blurred and this is where the problem lies for many employers.

“Social media for marketing is still relatively new in the UK and, although business owners can see the benefits of communicating with clients or reaching potential customers using sites such as facebook and twitter, there is still some confusion," explains social media trainer Jane Binnion. "Employers are failing to understand the importance of incorporating clear guidelines on social media in their staff induction and training.”

Following a study by www.myjobgroup.co.uk, arbitration service ACAS estimates that misuse of the internet and social media by workers costs Britain's economy £14 billion every year.

It costs, on average, £10,000 for a case to go to tribunal and most and most are taking place because of personal use that has caused problems for an employer, for example a member of staff posting photos without understanding privacy issues or letting off steam without understanding who can see their post.

Rachel Gibson of Quay Creative, who created the video, says; “Many companies now have a social media policy to protect themselves and their employees but their staff may not realise that their personal page is visible too. This programme is designed to help staff understand the pitfalls of using social media and remind them that what they post can have an impact on their employer’s business and potentially their job.”

The six minute programme is available in three versions – as a generic programme with top ten tips and social media guidelines; as a branded copy with your logo and corporate identity; or a bespoke version with script, visual content and interviews that are relevant to your company and social media policy. It can also be incorporated into a training package.

The programme will be launched at a special event aimed at local businesses on Thursday 23rd May at The Dukes, Lancaster from 5.45 till 7.30. You will be able to see clips from the programme, enjoy some hospitality and network with other local businesses at the same time.

• If you would like to register your interest prior to the event you can do so by following this link http://10thtradelocaltweetup.eventbrite.co.uk/

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Poets, Muscians and a Comedian put on the Spot(light)

Poet Jasmine Chatfield
Poet Jasmine Chatfield: part of this month's Spotlight line-up

Lancaster's regular Writers, Poetry and Music Spotlight is back at The Storey this Friday (17th May) with another eclectic mix of performers, opening with its expect-the-unexpected Open Mic session. Here's the guest list, which includes a mix of rising and returning talent, including the excellent musician Billy Pook, one of the winners of last year's Spotlight Slam.

Poetry: Jasmine Chatfield

With depth and subtlety, Jasmine's poetry can be seen to explain the individual, the unusual and the sinister, delving into the intriguing nuances which line human experiences.

Comedian Ste Price
Comedy: Ste Price

"I'm kind of like a sexy radish and tremendously funny," claims Ste. "Apart from when I'm being all deep and deadly serious. I'm well good at that.

"I like chips. The food, not the TV show. I can't really remember that all that well. They were on motorbikes, I know that much."

Poet Joe Haslam
Poetry: Joe Haslam

Joe, who styles himself Totally Radical Dude, studied at Lancaster and Morecambe college and lives in Morecambe.

He made his last appearance at Spotlight in September with a breathtakingly energetic performance of his rant-style poetry.

Poet Pamela Passi
Poetry: Pamela Passi

Pamela is a Fine Art student, currently working on a series of paintings that are centred around the combination of her writing and art. "I will be performing some of my most recent poems which so far involve subjects touching on butchers, goldfish, women, and water. But I'll probably write a bit more over the month and change my mind again."

Musician Billy Pook
Music: Billy Pook

Billy is a musician, poet and storyteller who adds a uniquely individual style to his performances

Chas Ambler
Music: Chas Ambler

Chas Ambler is one of the longest serving and best known of local musicians - he will be known to many as the long-suffering keyboard player to 'Your Dad' aka Ian Marchant, but he is also a gifted songwriter and will be showcasing his new collection of songs.

• Compered by Simon Baker, doors open at 8.00pm, admission £4 waged/ £2 students/unwaged/concessions. Spotlight works in association with litfest and might still be funded by the Arts Council. Web: www.spotlightlancaster.co.uk