Friday, 7 February 2014

People Power Wins as train company backs down on cancelling local peak time commuter train


Hot on the heels of Lancashire County Council bowing to public pressure and reversing its plans to cut bus subsidies come more good news for local commuters – the train company First Transpennine Express has now confirmed that they will be running an extra train from Oxenholme to Lancaster next week at 5.30pm, after a petition and email writing campaign from commuters (see news story).

The 5.06pm service from Windermere to Manchester airport was to terminate at Oxenholme from next Monday (10th February), leaving commuters travelling to Lancaster and stations further south with a two hour gap in the timetable.

Commuter Dawn Groundsell, who works for Friends of the Lake District in Oxenholme, Kendal, said: “We are really delighted First Transpennine has decided not to cancel the 5.30pm Monday-Thursday service from Kendal to Lancaster, and to reinstate the Friday 5.30pm service which it cancelled in December.

"Leaving a two hour hole in the timetable would've made commuting to work very difficult for many people, including myself, and some people told us they were thinking they would have to leave jobs that they would no longer be able to commute back from.

“We'd collected nearly 500 signatures in a week online and from passengers on the train - we are really pleased so many people have supported us and signed our petition. I'm very glad the train company has decided to listen to local train users and not prioritise through trains from London and Manchester to Scotland over local needs.

“We weren't consulted over the proposed changes and we were told the timetables were set and so I'm very surprised and happy that they have made this change since we started campaigning in January. We really hope that First Transpennine continues to keep this train running after May when the summer timetable starts.

"Thanks to everyone who signed the petition."

Chris Nutton, Programme Director, First TransPennine Express, said: “We are delighted that, from Monday 10th February, we will continue to operate a connecting evening peak time service from Windermere to Lancaster and Manchester Airport.

“We have, as we always do, previously undertaken consultation with various local stakeholders regarding the timetable change. Through these official consultations, no train specific objections were raised.

“We do however recognise the constructive feedback received from customers on some of the proposed timing alterations and it is with this in mind that we were able to reassess the timetable changes.

“Constructive customer feedback has been fundamental in the process and we want to extend our thanks to all who contacted us and offered their thoughts on the changes.

“Therefore, from Monday 10th February, we will be operating a service from Windermere that will depart at 1706; this will arrive into Oxenholme at 1725 and allow for forward connections to Lancaster and Manchester Airport on a 1730* departure.

“We want to take this opportunity to thank our customers for their patience, understanding and input and we hope to continue to offer a valued train service for the local communities we serve.”

County Council Welcomes Flooding Funds




Lancashire County Council has welcomed the announcement by the Department for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs of funding for flood alleviation schemes throughout the county.

Thousands of homes will be better protected from the devastating effects of flooding. Defra and the Environment Agency have confirmed that over £37million has been set aside to construct and maintain flood defences across the county in 2014/15.


Funding was announced for the following schemes in Lancashire:

• Anchorsholme and Rossall on the Wyre and Blackpool coast are set to receive over £32m towards major new sea defences that will reduce the risk of flooding to over 900 homes and businesses

• Croston will receive £4m million from the fund to construct defences that will reduce the risk of flooding to more than 450 local homes and businesses.

• Further Lancashire County Council-led schemes to reduce the risk of flooding will benefit communities at Irwell Vale in Rossendale, and Sunnyside Terrace in Wyre

County Councillor Janice Hanson, cabinet member for public protection, said: "The government recently introduced changes to the way flood risk is managed within the county. Lancashire County Council is now adopting a lead role to coordinate partner agencies and take a proactive approach to understanding and, where possible, dealing with local problems.

"Along with Blackpool Council, we're currently consulting on a local flood risk management strategy which aims to ensure we're better placed to understand prevent and respond to the threat of surface water, groundwater, flooding from ordinary watercourses, and coastal flooding.

"The Anchorsholme and Rossall schemes are a very welcome investment which will help to protect properties and vital infrastructure such as, property, businesses, roads and tramways.

"The scheme in Croston will build on the work we're already engaged in with partners to improve drainage, and will enable us to develop a lasting solution to the flooding issues the village has suffered in recent years.

The draft Local Flood Risk Management Strategy for Lancashire explains the nature of flood risk across the county, who is responsible for managing the various types of flooding, and outlines proposals for further work to improve understanding of the causes, as well as specific objectives and measures to reduce the risk.

Although Lancashire is benefitting from the funding, none of 42 new flood defence schemes announced by the Government yesterday are in Cornwall, Devon or Somerset - despite the counties being suffering some of the worst of the recent storms.

• Consultation on the strategy is open until Friday 21st February 2014 with the intention of adoption in early April 2014. To respond, visit www.lancashire.gov.uk and search for "Flooding". 

Chamber of Commerce celebrates Apprenticeship event success

NAS Launch Event 2014

Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce is celebrating the success of its first Apprenticeship focused event on Friday 31st January. The business organisation says the event, which was held at GVS Filter Technology UK in Morecambe, was a huge success and attracted 20 businesses from the district, and bodes well for its support of National Apprenticeship Week in March.

Welcomed by the Chamber Vice President John Regan, businesses got an insight into the benefits of hiring apprentices and the recruitment process.

Speaking at the event was host John Pike, Executive Committee Director of UK Operations at GVS, accompanied by their apprentice Shaun Valentine. John gave his reasons as to why hiring apprentices has been hugely successful and beneficial to the company.

“Our Apprentices receive the best external training available to provide the basic skills that we need them to have whilst also living day to day within our organisation," he explained. "This enables them to take on board the specific needs of our business and to grow and flourish in a spirit of mutually beneficial partnership and career development”.

National Apprenticeship Service representative Andrew Stone presented on the finer details of apprenticeships and the huge variety of schemes available whilst Sue Keenan from Lancaster & Morecambe College contributed on how they, as an education provider, can help match up the right apprenticeship to the right person and support businesses through the process.

"We need to thank GVS for hosting the event," enthused Vicky Lofthouse, Chamber Manager. "It’s been a huge success and very worthwhile for all who attended. We are delighted to be working with NAS and Lancaster & Morecambe College to help raise the profile of Apprenticeships in the district.

"By working with local businesses, the Chamber are looking to spread the message that hiring an apprentice is not only a great way for learners to gain real industry experience and a qualification, it can also help a business to grow its own talent and contribute to the local business community”.

The Chamber will also be supporting the National Apprenticeship Week (7th – 11th March 2014) and will be hosting the districts own ‘Apprenticeship Day’ on Friday 11th March. Two key events will be the centre piece to the day’s activities and will be hosted by Member of Parliament David Morris and Eric Ollerenshaw.

• If you’re a business based in the Lancaster & Morecambe District and want to know more or just want to get started then either join us at an Apprenticeship focused event or phone the Chamber office on 01524 381331. Web: www.lancaster-chamber.org.uk If you're interested in being an Apprentice, check out the vacancies on this national site

Bus Fare rise ahead for school children, but support remains for low income famillies

Proposed changes to school transport in Lancashire, which included a rise in school bus fares, are to go ahead. 

The changes also include a rise in the level of subsidy the county council makes towards transport to faith schools and a reduction in the number of people who qualify for free transport. However, Lancashire  County Council says those on low income will still receive support. 

The County Council currently spends £8.5 million on providing home to school transport, but about half of that is 'discretionary' – support provided in addition to what's legally required.

The consultation on the changes held in October and November yielded just over 1,000 responses, mainly from parents and carers. Up to 8,750 children are likely to be affected by the changes, out of 153,300 school age children in mainstream schools.

The majority of respondents objected to the proposed changes and more than half of the responses (59%) came from people connected to four faith secondary schools in different parts of the county.

Some proposals met with agreement, including: 

  • Continuing to provide emergency transport short-term to families in dire need
  • Increasing the charge for a replacement bus pass
  • Asking families in rural areas to take their children to the nearest bus stop, instead of using County Council taxi provision
  • Reviewing unsuitable walking routes

 

The biggest proportion of discretionary spending is on transport for students who attend a Church of England or Roman Catholic faith school which is not their nearest school. A parental contribution of £380 a year was introduced in 2011, though this still left the County Council bearing about 60% of the cost. 

This contribution will now increase by 25%, with a year-on-year rise after that based on the retail price index plus 5%. The county council will continue to subsidise the cost. 

Other changes include reviewing taxi provision for pupils who live in remote areas not served by school bus routes, reviewing additional capacity on certain school buses, removing a previous eligibility to free transport when parents move house further away from school during exam years, and increasing school bus fares – for those not eligible for statutory transport – by up to 60p per return journey, depending on length. 

County Councillor Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: "I'd like to thank everyone who took part in the consultation. I know that reactions to the changes have been mixed. 

"We are facing government cuts of £300 million to our budget and this means we must look at all of our spending, especially on services tha! t we're not legally required to provide. 

"We remain committed to providing support to families on low income who are eligible and I'm pleased to say that most people agreed with this, especially the emergency transport that's provided short-term to families in dire need. 

"However, for many years we have provided transport support which is well over and above what the law demands. 

"It has been a privilege to do so, but with the savings we are being forced to make the time has come when we have no choice but to make some very difficult decisions about what we can afford."

The majority of the changes will come into effect from 1st September 2014. 

• The report to the cabinet member can be seen here: http://council.lancashire.gov.uk/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=22500&Opt=0

Final reminder to register to vote

More than 5,000 people in the Lancaster district risk falling off the electoral register unless they take immediate action.

That’s the warning this week from Lancaster City Council as it prepares to publish the latest edition of the electoral register.

Registration forms were sent to every home in the Lancaster district last year, followed up by personal visits by those who did not respond. Despite this more than 5,000 people have not responded and will be taken off the electoral register when it is published on 17th February.

Final reminders have now been sent out and the city council is urging anyone who receives one to take immediate action.

Mark Cullinan, Lancaster City Council’s chief executive, said: “It is vitally important that residents register their details and are included on the electoral register. "As well as not being able to vote it is used by credit reference agencies to determine whether people are eligible for credit or a loan.

“Many people discover they are not on the electoral register when they have been declined an application for a mobile phone or opening a bank account.

"I would urge anyone who has not yet registered to do so as soon as possible."

If you have any questions, help is available from the council - telephone the helpline on 01524 582905

• For more information on the electoral register visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/elections

Work on Heysham to M6 Link Road officially gets underway

Cheery: Ground breaking for the new road: MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood Eric Ollerenshaw, Lancaster City Council leader Eileen Blamire, City Councillor Janice Hanson, County Councillor Jenny Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council, Jo Turton, interim chief executive Lancashire County Council, Darren James, managing director for infrastructure Costain, and County Councillor John Fillis. Photo: Lancashire County Council
The leader of Lancashire County Council set construction of the £124 million Heysham to M6 Link Road officially underway during a ground-breaking ceremony on Monday 3rd February.

County Councillor Jenny Mein put a spade in the earth where the road will run from a re-modelled Junction 34 near to the Halton Training Camp, part of which is currently serving as a depot for staff and equipment.

She said: "We're very proud of Lancashire County Council's long history of road building – we were home to the first ever section of motorway when the Preston bypass opened in 1958.

Dreary: Trees and greenbelt already destroyed in preparatory work for the road near Halton Army Camp before the ground breaking. Photo: Terran Brown
"I'm very pleased we're now underway with this link to the Morecambe and Heysham peninsula which will become a great example of how investment in better infrastructure can benefit not just communities in the immediate vicinity, but right across the county.

Once again the County Council leader repeated the organisations's justification for the costly and controversial road, saying "It will reduce congestion and create local jobs by improving travel to Heysham and Morecambe, and the port, power stations and nearby employment areas.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported this scheme over the years, including local county councillors and MPs, the Chamber of Commerce, the Highways Agency, Department for Transport, local businesses including Peel Ports, Seatruck and local haulage companies, local residents and members and officers of Lancaster City Council.

"Our own staff from teams across the county council have also worked long and hard, overcoming many disappointments and setbacks, to get us to this point.

"We're very grateful for the invaluable help and support of all those who have succeeded in making the link road a reality."

Councillor Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: "The city council’s Core Strategy, which was approved in 2008, supports the M6 link and the significant benefits it will bring to our district.

"As well as improving the district’s attractiveness to investors and creating new opportunities for growth, the improved accessibility it brings will also aid regeneration in some of the district’s more deprived areas."

Andrew Langley, project manager Costain, said: "It’s great the scheme has now started, we must now ensure we deliver this challenging scheme safely and to the highest quality.

"The scheme’s mission statement is to deliver the Heysham to M6 Link Road leaving a lasting legacy. We’re engaging with key stakeholders and local businesses to achieve this objective."

Costain has a target to train and employ 100 local unemployed people, with 30 people already having gained jobs.

The £124m scheme is scheduled to open in summer 2016.

Let's hope the "lasting legacy" is as good as the County claims. We remain, as ever, sceptical.

County Council issues statement on bus cut climbdown

Council leader Jennifer Mein: " The county
council will still listen to residents' views"
Lancashire County Council has issued a full statement on its decision not to withdraw, wholesale, its million subsidy for 72 bus services across the county, which included vital evening and weekend bus routes in the Lune Valley, Heysham and several Lancaster council estates.

Under the proposals, Lancashire County Council would have reduced support for buses during the evenings and on Sundays to focus on maintaining daytime services. It says the Around £2m would have been saved over two years by reducing council subsidies to bus companies.

(For comparison, in December the BBC reported that the County Council committed to £8 million in spending on refurbishing Preston Bus Station, and final costs to bring it up to "modern standards" might be over £17 million).

Facing huge public outcry at the proposed cuts the county council's cabinet agreed on Thursday that it would amend the proposals and to work with bus companies to reorganise their services.

These budget proposals, which no longer include withdrawing evening and Sunday services, will be considered at a meeting of the full council on 20th February.

Speaking after the meeting, county council leader Jennifer Mein said: "What this shows is that, although we are dealing with an extremely difficult financial situation, the county council will still listen to residents' views and that we will think creatively when we're looking for ways to reduce our spending."

Campaigners argue the proposals were far from "creative" and would have impacted on night workers, the elderly and the young and resulted in fury and several online petitions, created by worried campaigners of several different political persuasions.

"Central government is severely cutting our funding and we've got no option other than to reduce county council expenditure by £300m in the next four years," Councillor Mein pointed out.

"This is forcing us to make some very unpalatable decisions; but the reality is that if we don't make cuts, we will be in a much worse situation than we are now.

"However, despite the financial situation, the county council is still doing lots of positive things across Lancashire. For instance, we've just started building work on a new youth zone in Skelmersdale and are about to open two more in Rossendale and Burnley.

"I'd like to thank everyone involved with the budget consultation and I hope this demonstrates that we do try to take residents' views into account."

David Borrow: "While this proposal would
have saved £2m, we recognise that, in
its original form, it wasn't popular,"
The perhaps aptly named David Borrow, deputy leader of the county council and cabinet member for finance, added: "Since we launched the formal budget consultation on 9th January, we've had quite a few responses. It's no secret that the proposal to withdraw bus subsidies during the evenings and on Sundays attracted considerable public interest."

It would be interesting to learn just how many responses the County had and, perhaps, their (suitably censored in some cases) content - in the same way that our own city council publishes concerns about planning applications.

"While this proposal would have saved £2m, we recognise that, in its original form, it wasn't popular," Councillor Borrow continued. "We are therefore going to work with the bus companies to establish whether we can achieve savings in a different way in the future.

"Owing to reductions in funding from central government, we are facing a colossal financial challenge. Whichever way you look at it, we will have to make massive cuts to vital services.

"This isn't what I came into politics for, but we'll do everything we can to maintain essential services and to reduce the impact of the cuts on vulnerable people."

Under the budget proposals, the county council will spend £757.466m in the financial year 2014/15. It is also proposed that the county council's element of council tax will rise by 1.99%.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Pedestrian Zone: New Traffic and Parking Restrictions Postponed



The start date for a scheme to reduce traffic in Lancaster's pedestrian zone has been postponed until 3rd March 2014 due to administrative errors.

Lancashire County Council had intended to bring in the new rules, which will affect traffic and parking arrangements, on Monday 3 February. The scheme is part of Lancaster Square Routes, a project by the county and city council to improve the look and feel of the city centre and to reduce traffic in pedestrian areas. (See previous story from 29th January:  'Council introduces new traffic rules for Lancaster city centre pedestrian zone.')

County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, said:

"We were due to bring the scheme in on 3rd February. However, there have been administration problems with the advertising process. This means we have to re-advertise the scheme and move the date when it will come into effect until Monday 3rd March.

"The scheme will improve the way traffic is managed to create a better environment and get the most out of the space available. It is vital to the daily functioning and economy of the city. Because this is an experimental traffic order, we can monitor how these changes are working and make adjustments if necessary.

"We will continue to work closely with the city council, businesses, residents and other partners while the order is in place. Please accept my apologies for the confusion that has been caused."

The changes include:

• A change to the period when goods vehicles cannot enter the zone to 10am - 5pm to fit with the main shopping hours.

• Removal of the permit system by which some drivers can access the zone by vehicle for either loading or parking, including access for disabled parking.

• The introduction of a new dispensation system by which the zone can be accessed by vehicles for certain purposes, including for essential works or events and by market traders (time limited).

To compensate for the removal of around 15 spaces previously used by disabled drivers to access the old city centre around Market Square and the Library / City Museum, New Road and Church Street, four additional spaces have been created on the city council managed St Nicholas Arcades car park. Disabled drivers can also use any council car park for free, as previously. Unfortunately there are no council car parks near Lancaster Library but there are other more accessible libraries and markets in the area.

Disabled drivers whose annual permits expired at the end of January found they could not renew them and so continue to be excluded from the area regardless of the postponement.

The order will last for 18 months, during which the effects of the changes will be monitored and people and organisations will be able to give their views on how they are working.

One aspect of the Square Routes Project intended to benefit people with mobility problems will be the removal of the cobbled stretches from the pedestrian precinct.

• More information is available at www.lancaster.gov.uk/lancasterparking

Lancaster MP gives cautious welcome to County' Bus U-Turn

Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw has given a cautious welcome to Lancashire County Council’s decision not to press ahead with cuts to bus services after a huge public outcry.

As we reported earlier, after immense pressure from Lancashire residents, local MPs and other politicians, Lancashire County Council have made a U-turn on their decision to cut our subsidised bus services.

The cuts, which Conservatives said "would have decimated local communities and businesses" (perhaps failing to appreciate the irony that their £300 million in funding cuts prompted the proposal), have had their blanket cut status reversed en-masse.

As we also noted, the Labour-led County Council are to review each bus service individually, basing cuts on a route-by-route investigation, instead of guaranteeing long-term support for these bus services. With many local people relying on these vital public services, the Conservatives argue there is still potential for many people to be cut off and isolated.

"I welcome the County Council’s decision to prevent these cuts en-masse but the County Council needs to go further in committing to keep all our rural bus services," urged Eric Ollerenshaw, Lancaster, MP, "and guaranteeing a life-line for those without private transport in our local communities.

"They should now look at new ways to market these bus services and increase passenger take-up.

"More importantly, I would like to thank all the petitioners, campaigners and local people for all their hard work in opposing these cuts. By lobbying the County Council, we have managed to ensure that the people’s voice has been heard and demonstrate the importance of our rural communities to the County Council.

"When the County Council begins to review each service individually we must continue to lobby the Council in order to prevent the bit-by-bit removal of these services."

Regular readers might also want to lobby Eric Ollerenshaw about the funding cuts that caused the crisis in the first place, which will affect a whole range of public services. After all, if public outcry can persuade the Council to change their minds, perhaps the Government can be persuaded to think again, too...

Rural bus services "saved" (for now) as County Council backs down after massive public protest


Campaigners against proposed swingeing cuts to rural bus cuts across Lancashire are celebrating after the County Council, facing huge public outcry, announced it had backed down on the plans.

Instead of cutting the entire £3.8 million subsidy for what it claims are loss-making evening and weekend services, which service both rural areas and local council estates, the council says it will now review the threatened 72 routes across the County - and demand operators pay more to keep “lifeline” services running.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to hear that,” said campaigner Ursula Gallie, who gathered a 1300-strong petition protesting at the planned cuts that would have had a major impact on bus services and users in the Lune Valley.

The Lancashire Evening Post reports that County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, revealed the switch had come about after a programme of public consultation meetings demonstrated the strength of feeling against subsidy cuts, which included criticism from MPs such as Lancaster's Eric Ollerenshaw and Morecambe's David Morris.
 
“Coun Fillis said he would listen and it looks like he has," said Ursula.  It’s a victory of a kind for us, although we are still a bit nervous about what will happen next.”

Campaigners argued the cuts were a false economy and would inflict hardship on night workers no longer able to get to work, and both the young and elderly.

However, Councillor David Borrow, deputy leader of the council has sounded a note of caution, warning it cannot continue to give millions of pounds to subsidise the profits of companies running these routes.

“We need a new deal for Lancashire,” he said.

"I am delighted that Councillor Fillis has worked closely with colleagues across the county, myself and other parties to listen to all of our concerns about the future of the bus services in Lancashire including Morecambe and Lunesdale," commented Amina Lone, Morecambe's Labour Party candidate for the next General Election, who had circulated her own petition protesting at the Government funding cuts that led the County Council to consider the service cuts in the first place.

"I have been listening to residents who have told me, " she continued. "They are genuinely scared about the impact any cuts will have on the elderly and the isolated in our communities, especially in our rural communities. I have fought hard to ensure we protect residents and am very happy no blanket removal of subsidies will take place."


This is a welcome about face from the Labour Party since the cuts proposal was made, with their councillors arguing publicly that they had no choice in the matter, given the £300 million cuts in funding the County faced.

"I am confident, we can work together to look for solutions now and in the future to mitigate this funding crisis and protect our communities," says Amina. "We are all in agreement that a quality sustainable and cost effective transport network is key to the social and economical well being of our areas."

Read the Lancashire Evening Post article, which includes a fiull statement by Councillor Fillis, here

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Local Cinema Round-Up for 5th to 13th February 2014 by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day listings every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, official film links and reviews.

New releases during this period include a remake of the classic science fiction movie RoboCop (12A); the fact based drama Dallas Buyers Club (15); animation with The LEGO Movie (U) and a new production of Don Giovanni by The Royal Opera House.

We have lost Devil's Due and The Hobbit. However there is a chance to see a an audience participation version of Frozen with Frozen Sing-a-long, featuring on screen lyrics and a bouncing snowdrop.

The Dukes are continuing their excellent Gothic season with the must see classic Night of the Hunter. Also by way of variety they are hosting a lecture by Dr Sarah Post, exploring the role of the child in Gothic cinema.

Reviews

12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen
Category: 15
Cast Includes: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, Michael Fassbender
Set in the 1800s, New York black man Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is drugged, kidnapped and sold as a slave to a New Orleans Plantation. Here he works for slave-master Epps (Michael Fassbender) who is a sadist, dishing out sexual abuse. The film is based on an 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, the script being co-written by Steve McQueen and John Ridley. This is one of the finest films about American Slavery. It is very visceral, with Northup trying to maintain dignity amidst the atmosphere of violence of the movie. Very well shot and splendidly acted, this is the must see film for 2014.

Dallas Buyers Club
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Griffin Dunne, Jared Leto
The movie is set in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Texan electrician and part-time cowboy Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is diagnosed as HIV positive and given 30 days to live. Ron finds there is no approved treatment for his condition and such is the hysteria over this disease he is ostracized by many in his circle of friends. He joins forces with a number of outcasts for form a buyers club in 1985 and undertakes a world wide search of unorthodox treatments for this condition. Potentially this could have been a depressing movie, but superb acting by McConaughey makes this an excellent film looking at the bigotry of this period. A strong film that must be seen.

Free Birds
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Certificate: U
Cast includes: Owen Wilson, Keith David, Colm Meaney, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, Dan Fogler
Two turkeys, Reggie and Jake, use a time machine to attend the first Thanksgiving meal in an attempt to get turkey removed from subsequent thanks-giving diners. Reggie is from a free-range turkey farm and he realises the reason why turkeys are being fattened. It is Jake who has the vision of commandeering the time machine in an attempt to change history. The film has some romantic interest with Reggie falling for Jenny, a turkey he meets during the adventure. In all the plot of this animation seems a little over complicated and the film contains some rude humour that may not be appropriate for the very young. In all an entertaining movie but one that is not destined to become a classic.

Frozen
Director: Chris Buck
Certificate PG
Cast Includes Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad,Alan Tudyk, Jonathan Groff
This Disney musical animation is loosely based on the fairy tale 'The Snow Queen' for it is she who has condemned a kingdom to eternal winter. It is up to Anna (sister to the snow queen) and a loner Kristoff to undertake an epic journey to find the Snow Queen and convince her to lift the icy spell. This is a magical movie destined to become a classic. It will appeal to families and children of all ages and makes an movie for Christmas.

I, Frankenstein
Director: Stuart Beattie
Category: 12A
Cast Includes: Aaron Eckhart, Yvonne Strahovski, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto
The Frankenstein monster (Aaron Eckhart) has survived to the present day where he find himself the hero as he battles against daemons and gargoyles who quest after the secret of immortality. A rather lightweight movie owing little to Mary Shelly. However if you want to see lots of computer generated monsters battling each other in a quest to defeat humanity, this is the movie for you.

Lone Survivor
Director: Peter Berg
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
This film is based on the real life 'Operation Red Wing' undertaken in Afghanistan in 2005. Four navy SEALs are sent into combat and here they are ambushed. The film title gives away the fact that only one of the four men, Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg), survives the event. As a film this is a gritty action movie with a prolonged battle action, told from an American point of view. The characters of the soldiers are well developed, and they show great courage under fire during very harrowing war scenes. However this is not simply American propaganda. The film explores the cheapness of life in combat and 'tips its hat' to those Afghans who resisted the Taliban.

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

The Railway Man
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Certificate: 15
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth
The story of Army Officer Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), this film is based on Lomax's memoir. Lomax was a POW during world war II, tortured and brutalized whilst was forced to work on the Burma Railway. The film, set in 1980, tells of his meeting, courtship and subsequent marriage to Patti (Nicole Kidman). The background of Lomax is shown in flashbacks as Patti herself learns of his history from one of her husbands fellow POWs. Patti encourages Lomax to face his demons and return to the place of torture. Here he discovers an old Takashi Negase, who was one of his torturers. The acting of Kidman and Firth is excellent and the flashbacks of Lomax's experience as a POW are strong and harrowing. However the end of the film does not quite live up to the tension built up during the movie.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Director: Ben Stiller
Certificate: PG
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine
A re-telling of James Thurber's 1939 story. Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) survives his humdrum existence in a boring office job by escaping into a fantasy world of action and adventure. However when his job becomes threatened he is forced to take action in the real world, undertaking an adventurous journey that rivals those of his daydreams. This film has some entertaining moment but one the whole proved to be a rather lightweight comedy.

The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
Certificate: 18
Cast includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler
The story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Di Caprio) who rose from penny stocks to a life of affluence and corruption as he founded the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. His life of drugs, sex and ruthless achievement led to his title of Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese had produced a hard hitting and fast moving film and Di Caprio's acting rises to the challenge of portraying Belfort. However after building up Belfort as a monster the film seems to say little about about the morality of this sort of life and thus ultimately does not come to any satisfactory resolution. Hence the movie seemed to lacked any real depth.

Remembering Ron Johnson

Ron Johnson at The Platform. Photo: Barrie Marshall

Musician Tony Cooke pays tribute to Ron Johnson of the Beside The Seaside website and Lune Valley Audio, who died earlier this week...

It is with great sadness that I report the death of my dear friend Ron Johnson.He passed away, peacefully in his sleep, in the early hours of Saturday 1st February.

Ron was a wise and witty man, a man of many skills and a part-time grumpy sod.He believed in important things like real love and genuine, heartfelt music – preferably played live – and as such he was a staunch supporter of, and friend to, all local musicians.

No mean guitar (and ukulele) player himself, Ron devoted most of his professional life to supporting and promoting live music and working musicians.There were, of course, many other facets to his life but it is the love of music (and the occasional pint) that brought him and me into contact initially and thereafter forged a friendship with him and Glynis, his wife and constant companion.

If you ever attended a gig at The Platform, or the Maritime Festival or myriad other local events then you will have benefitted from Ron’s skills as a PA operator and sound engineer.If you ever played in a local band then Ron will have attended many of your gigs, and promoted them on his website Beside The Seaside.There is every chance that over the years Ron will have hired, or lent, you PA gear. He may have repaired your amps, mixing desks, mikes and cables and offered his help and advice.He may have attended your session, supported your musical projects and recommended your band to landlords, promoters and event-organisers.

As musicians and music-lovers we owe him a lot and, as someone said to me on Saturday, “he leaves a huge hole in the District”.

His passing leaves me sad beyond words. Please hold Glynis, Jenny and Tom in your thoughts.

Glynis informs us that his funeral will be held at 4.15pm this Monday, 10th February, at Lancaster Crematorium.She has said all who knew Ron are welcome to attend the funeral and are invited to join the family afterwards at the Royal Hotel, Heysham.

No flowers please, but donations may be made in Ron’s memory to:

Royal Lancaster Infirmary Day Unit (where Ron attend regularly during the last three years to be topped up with useful blood) or

• The Morecambe and Heysham Model Railway Club who are based on Schola Green Lane in Morecambe of which Ron was an energetic member. Any donations for the Club can be sent to Mick Brown, 70 Clarendon Road, Morecambe or donations for either cause can be given to the funeral directors if people prefer. They are Alex Willis, Middleton Road, Heysham and they will forward it all on after the funeral.

Ron Johnson's Local Gigs Photographs

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Review: I Fagiolini at Live at LICA

I Fagiolini
Photographer: Eric Richmond
I Fagiolini at Live at LICA
Thursday 30 January 2014
in the Great Hall, Lancaster University,

Reviewed by Sally Ryde

Carlo Gesualdo was aged 24 years when he viciously murdered his young wife Maria and her lover, the Duke of Andria, in Naples with an array of sharp pointed weapons, including a pike, a dagger and a stiletto. The attack was so severe that holes were found in the bedroom floor beneath the Duke’s body. A pile of his outer clothing was found not to have been damaged, providing the evidence needed for Gesualdo to avoid imprisonment.

Apparently it was all perfectly legal in the late 1500s but the fact that the perpetrator would later prove to be a talented composer who would create six books of madrigals containing startlingly innovative chromaticisms makes the tale particularly interesting.

How do I know this? I learned it in the pre-concert talk of course! The first surprise of the evening. I can confirm that the other surprises were all musical.

According to the programme notes, Robert Hollingworth, founder of I Fagiolini, specialises in “creating ground-breaking projects which present music to audiences in innovative ways.” The choice of subject for the pre-concert talk must surely have been his. Grotesque though it was, the story certainly made the audience eager to know how the music of the enraged Italian would actually sound.

The third piece of the evening gave us the chance to find out: ‘Ecco moriro dunque’. But it was the unexpected chord progressions in the later ‘Asciugate i begli occhi’ and ‘Tu m’uccidi, oh crudele’ that really caught my ear (performed here and here by other ensembles).

Hollingworth had forewarned us all that the ear of a modern audience was very different to that of a Renaissance listener. Where a modern musician would expect a certain familiar harmonic progression, Gesualdo’s chosen progression was shockingly different. This had caused many mistakes in initial rehearsals, not because the singers lacked the necessary sight-reading skills but because the aural expectations were so strongly misleading.

Were it not for Hollingworth’s excellent programme notes, I would still be wondering why, if all these unusual harmonic progressions were out there on the musical landscape as early as 1600, how is it that they did not influence Baroque and Classical music a century or so later? It seems that the weird harmonic progressions of Gesualdo’s music, and that of others at the court of the Duke of Ferrara where Gesualdo spent two years following his second marriage, became a musical dead end until Wagner. Mainstream composers stuck to the traditional chord progressions where implied key modulations almost invariably involved the changing of only a single note in the scale, in contrast to Gesualdo’s frequent practice of replacing 3, and sometimes more, notes in adjacent tonalities.

Such free use of chromaticism, both harmonic and melodic, allowed the composer to let the music paint poetic images. Trying to sing the result, in Hollingworth’s words, was like trying to build Escher’s drawings in three dimensions: “impossibilities seemingly held together in physical space through art.” The ensemble apparently encountered the same difficulty when first trying to convert Gesualdo’s chromatic scores into similar “impossibilities”, held together perhaps in aural space only by the imagination.
I would have preferred to have had some of the pre-concert talk allocated to aural examples of the unexpected harmonies. A small part of the concert itself was given over to such illustrations and this was very effective. I only wish there had been more.

I Fagiolini comprised soprano, mezzo soprano, alto (counter tenor), tenor, baritone and bass. Their ability to achieve pure acoustic intervals seemed delightfully perfect, always intending a C# to be different from a D-flat instead of the two pitches being fused together in an equally-tempered soup. Countertenor Hollingworth is Anniversary Reader in Music at the University of York where I Fagiolini are Ensemble in Residence. Fittingly for an evening of unexpected chord progressions, the programme was entitled “Strange Harmony of Love - Renaissance music of sweet and strange beauty”.

This was yet another amazing concert in the current Live at LICA series and I see that there are more still to come!

S. Ryde

Artists’ website:  www.ifagiolini.com

Concert Programme:
Madrigals and motets by Lassus, De Wert, Gesualdo, Luzzaschi, Fontanelli, Monteverdi, Marenzio, Tomkins, Weelkes and D’India

Tickets were priced (web advance):  Adults £21.50, Concessions £18.50, Young person/student £7.50

Future musical events at Live at LICA: ‘What’s On

Seven Ages at Arnside

Highlights Rural Touring Scheme pressents  
Arnside Educational Institute has once again teamed up with Highlights Rural Touring Scheme to bring Arnside audiences a magical, comedy theatre show about the seven stages of life.

Essentially a comedy - with touching moments in it - Seven Ages explores the idea that we go through seven stages in life, from infancy, through love and wisdom, to growing old disgracefully! Along the way, it seeks to explore two of the most important questions in life: Why am I here? and What’s important in my life? whilst simultaneously making audiences think and laugh.

 Created by and starring Kevin Tomlinson (winner of The Sunday Times Playwright Award) and Abi Hood (ITV’s The Bill), the two performers play 12 characters in a show that features a strong element of improvisation - with Kevin masterfully taking suggestions from the audience and weaving them into an absurd comedy.

Seven Ages premiered at the Edinburgh Festival, garnering five star reviews and a sell out run before transferring to London’s West End. Since then, it has been seen at over 300 venues across the UK and has enjoyed sell out performances all over the world. Seven Ages is an enjoyable, feel-good show for anyone aged 6 – 106 - and fans of ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?  

• Seven Ages Sunday, 18th May at 7.30pm Arnside Educational Institute, Church Hill, Arnside. Tickets: Adult £8, child £5, family (2+2) £21 Bookings: Box office: Sue Hayward telephone 01524 762254 or e-mail sdhayward@tiscali.co.uk

Monday, 3 February 2014

Counting the cost of Child Poverty

Professor Margaret Ledwith. Image courtesy University of Cumbria
The University of Cumbria is to host a public lecture on Child Poverty by Professor Margaret Ledwith at its Lancaster campus later this month.

Most people think the distribution of wealth in the UK is far more equal than it actually is. In fact, for over 30 years the gap between rich and poor has widened alarmingly, and shows no sign of easing.  Within these unacceptable levels of inequality, children are the highest group at risk of poverty.

Community development, action research and human flourishing: The cost of poor children on 26th February (admission free but registration requested via the web link) is the third in a series of public lectures at the University of Cumbria, in which Emeritus Professor Margaret Ledwith will discuss why little has been effective in reducing this high risk to children, as well as the high cost to society as a whole.  

Child poverty levels in the UK accelerated in the period 1979-1997 from one in every ten children to one in three. Despite the Child Poverty Act, 2010, which enshrined in law a commitment to end child poverty by 2020, the harsh reality is that, as inequalities rise, child poverty levels in the UK are expected to increase, not decrease.   

“Community development, my area of work, is a practice committed to social justice and environmental sustainability," explains Professor Ledwith, who lives in Lancaster, "yet we find ourselves in political times that face us with crises of both.

“My talk focuses on child poverty as a serious social justice concern within the context of our political times. I draw critical connections suggesting that child poverty is a choice rather than a necessity.

“These ideas are relevant to those with a general interest in child poverty or anyone involved in a practice that claims a social justice commitment, from teaching to health promotion to social work.

“My intention is to offer a critical focus that cuts through the pathological blaming of victims of structural disadvantage, so prevalent in today’s society, to present altered perceptions and, therefore, alternative choices.”

Professor Ledwith’s ideas on this subject are contained in her latest book, Community Development Theory in Action, to be published by Policy Press  later this year. It's described as a handbook for busy grassroots practitioners – designed to fit into a handy pocket as a useful everyday reference.

Beyond that, a further book has been commissioned building on the relevance of her work to practitioners in health, housing, teaching, social work as well and youth and community development, and promises to be her lifework.

In addition to being Emeritus Professor of Community Development and Social Justice at the University of Cumbria, Margaret Ledwith is also a coordinator of the international Collaborative Action Research Network.

For many years, she was a grassroots community worker, and it was this experience of working with marginalised communities that forged the foundation of a lifetime commitment to social justice.

Her first book, Participation in Transformation, published in 1997, was based on research undertaken with Hattersley people and became a key text for community development. Her second book, also published in and Indian edition, Community Development: A Critical Approach, was awarded ‘Bestselling title of all time’ by Policy Press in 2009, and Margaret was given a ‘Lifetime achievement award’. A fully revised second edition was published in 2011, and is popular not only in the UK, but in many other countries, from Norway to Nepal.

Her third book, Participatory Practice: Community-based Action for Transformative Change, written in partnership with Professor Jane Springett, was published in November 2009.

Community development, action research and human flourishing: The cost of poor children 26th February, University of Cumbria Lancaster campus (admission free but registration requested via the web link). The lecture will be relayed live to the Univeristy's Fusehill Street campus in Carlisle.

• Members of the public are welcome to attend these free lectures; more information and booking details can be found on the university website www.cumbria.ac.uk/publiclectures  

• Policy Press: www.policypress.co.uk