Saturday, 25 May 2013

Lancaster Paper Mill fined £10,000 after worker's accident

If you needed any reminding about the reasons trade unions and others have fought for the health and safety regulations the current government is trying to dismantle, then the story of a local worker who could have been killed when metal grating gave way under his feet at a tissue factory might give you pause for thought.

NTG Papermill, which makes toilet roll brands such as Sovereign and Cashmere and also has a plant in Middleton, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive this week following an incident at its factory on the Lansil Industrial Estate on 24th August 2009.

Lancaster Magistrates’ Court heard the 39-year-old from Lancaster had been helping to hose down machinery during a two-week shutdown at the factory when he tried to cross the mezzanine floor, six metres above the ground.

As he stepped onto it, the metal grating gave way and his arms and jaw hit the floor as he fell and he managed to pull himself up. The worker, who has asked not to be named, suffered bruising and friction burns to his chest and along his arms. He also bruised his jaw.

A HSE investigation found the company did not have a suitable inspection and maintenance regime for checking the floor at the factory, despite it being in a humid area and at risk of becoming unstable due to rust.

The company was fined £10,000 after pleading guilty to a breach of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 by failing to properly maintain the mezzanine floor. The company was also ordered to pay £5,866 in prosecution costs.

“The employee at NTG was lucky he was able to grab onto the mezzanine floor as he fell", said HSE Inspector Anthony Banks after the hearing. "If he had fallen all the way to the concrete below then he could have been killed.

“The incident happened in a very humid area of the factory and the company should have done more to make sure metal grates which make up the walkway didn’t become unsafe.

“Companies shouldn’t just wait for employees to be injured before taking any action to improve safety. It’s vital that proper maintenance systems are in place to protect workers.”

NTG is a major local employer. In 2011, its retail store on Caton Road was opened by local MP Eric Ollerenshaw.

The company has a strongly-worded statement about its health and statement policy on its web site.

"NTG Ltd recognizes the importance of Health and Safety issues and their contribution to business performance. No Management Responsibility has a Higher Priority Than The Safety & Health of their Employees."

TUC Health and Safety Manifesto

Health and Safety: Cause for Concern?

On average, 30 workers are killed while at work in the manufacturing industry in Great Britain every year, making up a quarter of all workplace deaths.

Despite this shocking record, from last month new rules on both the Health & Safety Executive and local authorities now exempt hundreds of thousands of businesses - such as shops, offices, pubs and clubs - from regular safety inspections.

Firms will only face health and safety inspections if they are operating in higher-risk areas such as construction, or if they have an incident or track record of poor performance.

The changes to health and safety procedures have the backing of business groups such as the British Chambers of Commerce and manufacturers’ organisation, the EEF, but are opposed by trade unions and safety groups, with the Trade Union Congress warning that the decision could put the health of UK employees at risk.

“Some of the ‘low risk’ workplaces identified by the government, such as shops, actually experience high levels of workplace injuries,” explained the TUC’s general secretary, Brendan Barber when the changes were announced last year. “This will only get worse if employers find it easier to ignore safety risks.

“Health and safety regulation is not a burden on business, it is a basic protection for workers,” he continued. “Cutting back on regulation and inspections will lead to more injuries and deaths as a result of poor safety at work."

The TUC recently released its own Health and Safety starter for 10 Manifesto, arguing against many of the changes.

Spending cuts take their toll

Spending cuts are also taking their toll on safety inspections. By 2014 the HSE will have had to reduce its budget by approximately £80–85m a year, which, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, cannot be achieved by administrative savings and increased charging alone, which will leave the remainder to be met through cuts to the service it provides.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health believes that cuts in prevention are a false economy and any reduction in HSE activities will lead to increased costs from sickness absence, compensation and benefit costs.

The government argues that good health and safety is important, but believes the burden of excessive health and safety rules and regulations on business has become too great and a damaging compensation culture is stifling innovation and growth.

They claim they want to protect people in the workplace while reducing the burden of unnecessary health and safety rules and regulations on businesses.

"We want to take a lighter touch approach to health and safety at work, concentrating efforts on higher risk industries and serious breaches of the rules."

Health and safety expert Bibby Consulting & Support criticised the cuts as a further reduction in support for small businesses. It argues that environmental health officer checks helped small businesses to identify and resolve minor breaches before they became serious. The removal of these inspections, it says, potentially exposes small businesses to heavier penalties in the event of an accident, and means less guidance will be offered by the HSE.

• Information on improving safety is available at www.hse.gov.uk/manufacturing

HSE Inspection information of Papermill Ltd - reports

UNISON's 2011 statement on cuts in health and safety

• Government action on Health and Safety - Overview: www.gov.uk/government/policies/improving-the-health-and-safety-system

 

Police launch appeal after assault near Bull Hotel, Morecambe

Police are appealing for witnesses following an assault in Morecambe last month.

The incident took place on Sunday 21st April at around 10.30pm outside the Bull Hotel on Lines Street.

A disturbance took place outside the pub and the victim, a 31-year-old man from the local area, received a punch to the face causing a fractured jaw that required hospital treatment.

Officers have released a cctv image of a man that they would like to speak to in connection with this incident.

Detective Constable Trevor Walker from Lancaster and Morecambe CID said, “I would appeal to anyone who recognises this man to come forward and contact the police. We need to speak to this person in order to establish exactly what has happened.

“The victim required hospital treatment following the incident and is now recovering at home. If anyone can provide us with information then I would ask them to get in touch.”

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



Friday, 24 May 2013

Bay Blue Art goes on display in the Williamson Park's Pavilion Café

Oyster Catchers by Steve Smith
‘Bay Blue’ is a new collection of images including photographs and paintings from around Morecambe Bay by local artist Steve Smith, now on display at the Pavilion Café in Lancaster's Williamson Park.

Steve has been making images that capture the variety and vitality of our beautiful local area and his work will be filling the Pavilion Café with pictures large and small for the next few weeks,  bringing the view of Morecambe Bay indoors.

Steve was born in Morecambe in 1957 and with a desire to capture the beauty and spirit of Morecambe Bay and its surrounding area, tries to express his insight and love of the area through his images.

“Lancaster and Morecambe may have changed but the bay is constant," says Steve. "The fresh cool air, the light from the wide open sky and the restless sand sea and rivers.”

All of the pictures are for sale together with matching handmade greeting cards that can be purchased from the Pavilion Gift Shop. 

The images will be on show until July.

Look out for the ‘little memories’ collection which will be regularly refreshed throughout the duration of the exhibition.

• For more information about Williamson Park visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/williamsonpark or contact the park on 01524 33318.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Liberals, Labour agree power-sharing deal for County Council

An agreement has been reached by negotiators from the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups on Lancashire County Council under which the Liberal Democrats would support the Labour Party in a minority administration.

The agreement will be put to meetings of the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups before tomorrow's Annual Meeting of Full Council.

Full details of the agreement will follow ratification tomorrow.

The county council held its elections on 2ned May 2013 at which point no party had gained the 43 seats necessary to take control of the council. The full results were:

Labour    39
Conservatives    35
Liberal Democrats    6
Independent    3
Green Party    1

Appeal after eight year old boy is attacked by dog in Lancaster

Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward after an eight year old boy suffered facial injuries after being attacked by a dog in Lancaster last night, 22nd May 2013.

The incident is believed to have taken place around 8pm in a front garden of a house on Lupton Place on the Ryelands Estate.

The child suffered puncture wounds to his face and was admitted to Royal Lancaster Infirmary at which point the police were contacted. He has since been transferred to the Royal Preston hospital for surgery.

A joint investigation involving Lancaster Police and specialist Police dog handlers is underway and a 33 year old man from Lancaster has been arrested on suspicion of having a dog dangerously out of control in a public place. He’s been released on police bail until 27th June 2013.

A dog, suspected of being involved in the attack has been seized. Enquires are on-going to ascertain the full circumstances of what has happened and if the dog is a banned breed.

Inspector Geoff Tagg said: “I would seek to reassure the public that incidents of this nature are very rare in the local area. Any reports of banned breed dogs or any dog out of control are treated seriously by the police and are fully investigated.

“I would urge anyone who witnessed the incident or has further information that could assist us to contact Lancaster police on 101 quoting log reference LC-20130522-1645.”

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Lancaster City Centre proposals to be discussed by Cabinet



Above: the two options under consideration for a new look to Lancaster's Market Square.
Designs courtesy Lancaster City Council
Major new plans which would see nearly £1 million invested in Lancaster City Centre will be discussed by the city council’s Cabinet on 28th May.

As part of the Lancaster Square Routes initiative, plans have been drawn up to improve Market Square and some of the surrounding streets.

The plans would see an investment of £997,000 in Lancaster City Centre, including £485,579 in European funding which the city council successfully bid for from the Department for Communities and Local Government.


Work would get underway in February 2014 and include:

  • New stone surfacing for the whole of Market Square and the adjoining stretch of Market Street, Cheapside, Horseshoe Corner and Penny Street.
  • New, high quality, and better sited seating.
  • A new structural centrepiece to Market Square.
  • Facilities for promoting arts and events - including a new arts information point and banners to the City Museum.
  • Return of the horseshoe to Horseshoe Corner.
  • New and improved directional signage and information.
  • New LED lighting to Cheapside and part Penny Street and New Street.
  • New and better sited street furniture including bins and bollards.

The work will build upon the first phase of the Square Routes initiative, which took place in 2011/12 and included the removal of the fountain and some resurfacing of Market Square, along with new lighting columns to the centre and perimeter, and new lights on the City Museum.

Ffrances Passage, an important pedestrian access route into the city centre, was also improved, with new surfacing, drainage and lighting.

Councillor Janice Hanson, deputy leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “Lancaster City Centre is one of the keys to our district’s economic future, but its current form is holding it back.

“Our streets are cluttered and in a poor condition and by rejuvenating them we are helping to encourage people back in and enjoy spending time in the city centre.

“That’s good for business and our economy and is also a good example of partnership working between the city and county councils.  It’s also the second piece of good new news for our town centres in as many months, with the recent decision to invest £610,000 in Morecambe as part of the Morecambe Area Action Plan.

“Combined, these two investments total more than £1.6million and shows the council’s commitment to boosting trade and supporting our shops and businesses.”

The latest phase of Lancaster Square Routes is supported by Lancashire County Council, which is contributing £165,000 towards the project.

The backing of the business community through the adoption of the Lancaster Business Improvement District was also an important factor in winning the European funding, with the potential for complementary initiatives directly supported by local business being well received by the funder.

The Lancaster Square Routes (Horseshoe Corner and Market Square) project is part financed by the Investing in Your Future European Regional Development Fund Programme 2007 to 2013.

The Department for Communities and Local Government is the managing authority for the European Regional Development Fund Programme, which is one of the funds established by the European Commission to help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support local businesses and create jobs.

The fund currently has some €755.5 million allocated for investment in the North West alone.

• For more information visit www.gov.uk/browse/business/funding-debt/european-regional-development-funding

• For more information on the Lancaster Square Routes Project visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/squareroutes

New exhibition surfaces at The Storey

Art by Daniel Rozin




The official opening of 'Surfaces in the Making' a fascinating multi-media exhibition, will take place at The Storey in Lancaster tomorrow night (Thursday 23rd May), featuring the work of acclaimed interactive media artist Daniel Rozin, flown in from New York especially for the event.

The work of two Lancaster University artists and an artist from Kent also features in the exhibition, part of a bigger series of events titled Theorising Surfaces.


The free exhibition in the venue's Reading Room explores different ways of working on and with surfaces.

Works examine digital media and interactivity, drawing and materiality, walking and landscape, mobility and digital technologies.

Rozin creates installations and sculptures that have the ability to change and respond to presence and the point of viewer of the onlooker.

This is the first time this work is being shown in the UK. He has exhibited widely with solo exhibitions in the US and internationally and has featured in publications such as The New York Times, Wired, ID, Spectrum and Leonardo. His work has earned him numerous awards including the Chrysler Design Award.

Lancaster-based Sarah Casey (LICA) makes drawings that test the limits of visibility and material existence. The Murmur works were developed after a period of research with the Centre for Clinical Anatomy at Lancaster University and feature medical technologies that penetrate the skin. The works are suspended inviting the viewer to take a 360 degree tour.

Canadian and Lancaster based artists Jen Hamilton, Chris St Amand and Jen Southern, who have collaborated on works on walking, movement and technology, are exhibiting Running Stitch, a stitched map created live during an exhibition in Yokohama, Japan, by charting the journeys of participants through the city.

Kent-based Karen Shepherdson explores both geographical and human liminal spaces through photographic and mixed-media. She is showing Band Apart, a sculpture made from discarded red postal bands, which examine her relationship with her lifetime home, the Isle of Thanet.

“The exhibition brings together local and international artists who are interested in how we view, interact with and make sense of surfaces,” says Dr Rebecca Coleman, from the Department of Sociology at Lancaster University, who organised the exhibition with her colleague Dr Liz Oakley-Brown from the Department of English and Creative Writing.

"The exhibition focuses on a topic that we often don’t notice or think about."

The exhibition is funded by Lancaster University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Science.

• 'Surfaces in the Making' opens on Thursday 23rd May, 6pm to 7.00pm – all welcome and runs in The Reading Room, The Storey from 24th May  to 1st June (11.00am to 5.00pm daily excluding Sunday) is part of a bigger series of events on Theorising Surfaces: there's a list of those events here: www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/sociology/event/4294/

Animal attractions set to "awe..." at Williamson Park

Photo: Lancaster City Council

Meet Dandelion who, along with her new friend Burdock, is one of the very cute new additions to the small mammals area in Williamson Park's animal attraction.

Other new additions to the mini beast house include Poison Dart Frogs, Green Flower Beatles and Katydids.

Entry to the small mammals area and mini beast house is included in the Park's Butterfly House ticket, open daily from 10.00am - 5.00pm with last admission at 4.15.

• Ticket prices: adult £3.60, concession £3.20, child £2.60, family (2+2) £11.50

'Enjoy' the latest from Williamson Park in Lancaster

Williamson Park in Lancaster has produced a brand new digital magazine called ‘Enjoy’ which is crammed with news and summer events. 

In the first edition, find out what the volunteers group have been up too.

Plus, meet two new furry residents in the animal garden - Dandelion and Burdock and see how you can get involved in Love Your Zoo Week.

Councillor Ron Sands, cabinet member for culture and tourism, said: “There is so much to learn about the park that can often go unnoticed. The new magazine intends to keep its visitors up to date with news and events, plus there are some interesting features planned for the future.“

The magazine will be issued seasonally and the first edition is now available online via the Williamson Park Facebook page (www.facebook.com/williamsonpark) and at www.lancaster.gov.uk/williamsonpark (scroll to the bottom of the page)

• If you would like to receive the magazine via email, sign up to the mailing list at www.lancaster.gov.uk/williamsonpark

Police hunt for Lancaster barber shop attackers




Police are appealing for information after a man was assaulted at a barbers shop in Lancaster earlier this month - and have released CCTV of a man they would like to talk to in connection with the attack.

At around 4.10pm on Saturday 11 May, three men pulled up in a car outside Off Your Head on St Leonards Gate. They entered the barbers and one was verbally abusive to the shop owner, before punching him twice in the face.

The three men then ran off and into Sunseekers on Chapel Street, then out through the back of that business. Two of them remained on foot while one drove off in the car.

The 22-year-old shop owner suffered relatively minor injuries.

Police have now released a CCTV image of a man they would like to speak to in connection with the assault.

PC Sally Ward said: “If anybody was in the area at the time of the assault and has any information they think could help us then I would urge them to come forward.

“I am also keen to speak with anyone who may recognise and can identify the man in the CCTV.”

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

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Appeal after cyclist is injured by car in Lancaster

Police are appealing for information after a cyclist was injured by a car that failed to stop in Lancaster on 20th May 2013.

The collision took place around 3.30pm when a car stopped on King Street close to the junction of Queen Square. The passenger opened the front car door and alighted from the vehicle and was then involved in a collision with a 51 year old pedal cyclist.

The passenger walked away and the vehicle failed to stop at the scene.

The cyclist, who is from Morecambe, attended Royal Lancaster Infirmary of his own accord and treated for minor injuries, he was not detained in hospital.

PC Kevin Illingworth Northern Road Policing Unit said: “Fortunately the cyclist was not badly injured but his bike was snapped in two and we need to establish the circumstances of exactly what has happened.

“I’d appeal to the driver or the car or for anyone that thinks they may have witnessed this incident to contact us on 101 quoting log reference LC-20130520-1020.”


Monday, 20 May 2013

Pensioner to lead vintage tractor convoy cross-bay attempt for Diabetes UK


The first ever convoy of vintage Massey Ferguson tractors will (we hope!) cross the hazardous sands of Morecambe Bay, between Cumbria and Lancashire, to raise money for Diabetes UK on Sunday, 2 June 2013.

Bob Dickman, 81 (pictured), from Bampton, Cumbria has signed up twenty tractor enthusiasts (the maximum number allowed for safety reasons)  with Massey Fergusons to join the fully guided, sponsored, seventeen mile return drive. Mr Dickman himself will be driving a 1954 fully reconditioned, Grey Ferguson TEF 20 tractor.

He said:  “A similar crossing was successfully undertaken by Land Rovers some years ago, but this would be the first time such a crossing will be undertaken by tractors. Massey Ferguson is a massive part of Cumbria’s heritage, the tractors were enormously popular from the 1950s onwards, and are still in use today, plus Massey Ferguson is part of my own, personal history, I worked for the company for over 40 years.

“I know that Diabetes UK has a strong track record in supporting life-changing research and I felt strongly that I wanted to raise money for the charity after seeing the impact that diabetes has had on family and friend’s lives.”

Money raised from the convoy will go to a Diabetes UK, Type 1 diabetes research project conducted by Kings College, London.

Kate McKie, Diabetes UK, Regional Fundraising Manager North West, said: “This is such an inspiring initiative from Mr Dickman to raise much needed money for research into Type 1 diabetes. I think this will be a very memorable day for anyone who takes part or goes along to watch the convoy cross the notorious sands of Morecambe Bay.”

At low tide, which occurs at 1.45pm on the 2 June, Morecambe Bay exposes 120sq miles of sand flats, and the Bay, which cuts into the North West coastline, is the largest continual intertidal area of Britain and is fed by five fresh water rivers.

Steve Morris, organiser of the Flookburgh Steam Gathering, who lives with Type 1 diabetes and is a key organiser in the tractor convoy, worked closely with Alan Sledmore, and two other official Morecambe Bay guides, to ensure the safest route across the bay and pinpoint the best time and date, according to the Bay’s tides and sand conditions.

The guided crossing, which will start and finish at Cark Airfield (see map), near Flookburgh is to set off at 12 noon and head south east across the Bay to Hest Bank, a return journey of about 18 miles. The return crossing  is expected to take three to four hours, with the tractors driving  through the River Kent, which will be knee deep at low tide and one of the most hazardous parts of the crossing.

Anyone interested in sponsoring or watching the event can find more details at: www.justgiving.com/bobdickmanMF-fergusontractorroadrun, or contact Mr Dickman on 01931 713106, or email, bobdickman@btinternet.com.

Further information on Diabetes UK research can be found at: www.diabetes.org.uk/Research.

For the more pedestrian among us, there will also be a Cross Bay Walk in aid of Diabetes UK, led by experienced Guide Alan Sledmore, from Hest Bank to Flookburgh on Sunday 30 June. For more information see our calendar listing for this event.

Morecambe Police hunt teen "flasher"

Police are appealing for information after a teenager indecently exposed himself in Morecambe.

Between 3.50 and 4.00pm on Thursday 16th May, a 49-year-old woman was walking along Marine Road Central when a boy stepped out of the bushes, dropped his trousers and touched himself inappropriately.

The boy is described as white, around 5'6” tall, of slight build and aged around 14-15 years old. He had fine, mousey blond hair and was wearing turquoise, three quarter length, baggy trousers, a dark pink or burgundy coloured t-shirt and a black baseball cap. He had a silver stunt scooter with him.

PC Jo Clement said: “This was an unpleasant incident and we do need to trace the person in question.

“If anybody thinks they recognise the description of the boy or was in the area at the time and saw anything suspicious they are asked to call police.”

Student robbed in Penny Street ginnel, police hunting muggers


Police are appealing for information after a 19 year old student had his wallet and phone stolen after using a cash point in Lancaster.

The robbery took place just after midnight on Thursday 17th May 2013, when the victim withdrew £30 cash from the Halifax cash machine on Penny Street - and was then attacked by two men in the alley next to the bank.

The victim was overpowered and his mobile telephone and wallet stolen.

The first offender who initiated the attack is described as being white, aged between 19 and 20, 5ft 10inches tall with short dark hair and was wearing a black shirt with stocky build.

DC Jennie Pinder from Lancaster CID said: “I would appeal to anybody that witnessed this incident or with any information that could assist with our investigation to come forward and call Lancashire Police on 101 quoting log reference LC-20130516-0015.

“Fortunately the man was not injured but he was left badly shaken up.”

The victim’s wallet is described as being black with orange polka dots; it had an elastic strap which was orange with black polka dots.

His mobile phone is a black Hawaii Ascend with a black front and a metallic back cover.

• 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.

Difficult North West 200 meeting but solid results for McGuinness

Photo: Mark ‘Wally’ Walters
Morecambe’s John McGuinness scored two top seven finishes at the International North West 200 road races this week but poor weather conditions affected the race schedule throughout and ultimately saw practically Saturday’s entire schedule abandoned. Torrential rain meant that it simply wasn’t safe for racing to take place leaving everyone connected with the event both frustrated and disappointed.

Tuesday’s first qualifying sessions saw the best weather and John was well to the fore as expected in all of them, none more so than in the Supersport category where he took pole position on the HM Plant/Padgetts Honda.

Needless to say, John was in confident mood although Thursday’s races were made tricky by the wet, but drying, conditions. A superb start to the five-lap Supersport race saw him grab an early lead although by the end of the first lap he’d been pushed back down to fifth.


As the race wore on, it was clear the riders on intermediate tyres were in better shape than those, like John, on full wets but he was able to bring the bike home in a solid seventh. The six-lap Superstock race, which got underway at 8.15pm, saw the best of the weather with the sun shining and 90 per cent of the circuit dry but it proved less kind to John and he was forced to retire at two-thirds race distance.

Photo: Mark ‘Wally’ Walters

A day of sun and cloudless skies on Friday was replaced by torrential rain on Saturday’s feature race day and the second Supersport race was stopped after three laps before the racing had to be abandoned completely, four races being lost. Despite the treacherous conditions, John put in another solid ride in his only outing and was rewarded with sixth place.

“There was four to five inches of water through the Juniper Chicane section on Saturday and it was like a swimming pool so it simply wasn’t possible for the racing to continue, said John, speaking after the early conclusion of Saturday’s racing. "As fast as the water was being cleared it was re-forming and it’s just such a shame for everyone involved in the event. We all love coming here and we all love riding but safety has to come first at all times, it’s just so frustrating when the non-race day saw such fine weather.

"On the plus side, we did get to complete three races and the bikes were working really well in practice and I was happy with all of them.”

“I put the HM Plant/Padgetts Honda’s on the front row whilst the Honda TT Legends bike was also bang on the pace, I just pulled in a lap too soon otherwise I’m confident I’d have been higher up on the grid. Sadly, we didn’t get to race the Superbike and although conditions were far from ideal in either of the Supersport races, I did my very best and I’m satisfied with sixth and seventh.

"With the loss of Saturday’s races, we’ve missed out on some mileage before the TT but everyone’s in the same boat and I’m looking forward now to the Island. It’s a big event for all of us so let’s hope the weather’s kind and we all have some fast, safe racing.”

• The first practice session for the Isle of Man TT Races, held on the world famous Mountain Course, takes place on Monday 27th May


Sunday, 19 May 2013

In Review: Haffner Players at Atkinson's Priory Hall Cafe


Haffner Players
at Atkinsons
Priory Hall, China St, Lancaster, LA1 1EX
Friday, 17 May 2013
Reviewed by Henry Prince


It wasn’t supposed to be a concert but that is how it turned out. As a patron of the orchestra, I went along to support the joint venture between a small group of Haffner Orchestra players and Atkinsons at the latter’s latest venue ‘The Hall’ on China Street, Lancaster. Expecting to enjoy a slice of cake and a cup of coffee in the company of live musicians providing wall paper sound from a corner of the room, we were surprised to discover that the usual daytime patrons had been replaced by a room full of serious concert goers who had no intention of coming and going. They were there from the first note to the last one two hours later and extra seating had to be brought in to accommodate the unanticipated demand.

Lancaster is not short of live music venues but there was only one place to be Friday night if you wanted to hear acoustic classical instruments being played at close quarters to a very high standard, including a standard quartet of strings, an oboe and a piano. The musical selections were obviously chosen for an audience with eclectic tastes. We were treated to Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, ragtime and tunes from the musicals. Moreover, the combinations of instruments were varied. Sometimes, the string quartet played without the others, sometimes they were joined by the oboe. Occasionally, the oboe combined with ‘cello and piano and more than once the pianist played alone.

It is impossible to single out any particular player as outstanding. They were all equally good and mostly had the opportunity to demonstrate their exceptional abilities. Only the viola player was denied equal opportunity but that is a fact of life for all viola players. Few composers have treated the instrument with the respect its players deserve.

There was one moment when you could have heard a pin drop. That was when the players had at last to concede that they were hopelessly lost and stopped playing. There followed some discrete whispering (“from letter H”) and all was once again well. It happens with the best of players and was a good reminder that the music was live and that despite their other-worldly skills, the players are still human!

These particular amateur musicians are drawn together by both a love of music and the opportunity to play with others of a similarly high technical standard. It is difficult to accept that they all have ‘day’ jobs, ranging from designing buildings, managing businesses, treating patients and raising families. When do they ever find the time to practise!

The evening was referred to as an experiment and I am sure the listeners are looking forward to version II in the near future. It is said that the entry charge will go toward funding a particularly prominent soloist’s particularly large professional fee during next season’s Haffner concert series. If that is true, everyone who attended is a double winner. For a measly £5, each got an immediate return of 2 hours of chamber music and the promise of another big return at a full Haffner concert next year.

The last in this year’s Haffner Orchestra concerts is at 7.30 pm on Saturday, 29th June in the Town Hall on Dalton Square. I shan’t be missing it for the world.

H. Prince

For more about the Haffner Orchestra and forthcoming concerts visit:
http://www.haffnerorchestra.org/

For more about J. Atkinson & Co and their Priory Hall project visit:
http://www.thecoffeehopper.com/