Thursday, 27 March 2014

North West theatres targeted in tax relief consultation - but will The Dukes really benefit?

Lancaster's Dukes theatre and other theatres in the North West are being encouraged to have their say on plans to introduce tax relief for the industry, announced in last week’s Budget.

A consultation has now been launched on the proposals, with the new tax reductions coming into effect on 1st September 2014, which will enable cultural organisations to claim tax relief on productions of theatre, ballet, dance and opera, musicals and other live performance.

The new theatre tax relief will support theatres across the UK, as well as touring productions. It will offer a relief rate of 25 per cent for qualifying touring productions and 20 percent for other qualifying productions.

“The performing arts make a significant contribution to the UK economy and our quality of life – and the theatre tax relief is important recognition of that," notes Sarah Maxfield, Northern Area Director at the Arts Council.

“The scheme will help to create an environment where creative risks can be taken, and where work can be more easily produced and toured. As such, it is vital that it supports the theatre sector across the entire country and benefits arts organisations that receive public investment.

“During this consultation period, we will work closely with the government and performing arts organisations to ensure that the scheme helps diversify funding, thereby offering further support for the sector.”

While the proposal has been welcomed, The Stage it might not be as much of a boon to publicly-funded theatres and organisations as some are suggesting. Columnist Simon Tait notes that while the private sector will be easily able to take advantage of the scheme because their finances are so much simpler, "subsidised theatres with their reliance on grants from local authorities, arts councils, sponsors, charitable trusts and foundations, and their status as charities, will find it much more complicated and will need every scintilla of ACE clarification through the whole process".

But the government is bullish that the offered relief is good news, even though most regional theatres are charities relying on subsidy to balance the books and do not make profit and pay corporation tax from which they could claim the ‘relief’ on offer.

“The UK has some of the most innovative and exciting theatre companies in the world and is known for its ground breaking productions," commented Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. "I want to make sure the industry continues to thrive.

“I recognise the cultural and economic value the theatre sector brings to the UK economy," he added. "That’s why I am introducing a theatre tax relief which will support our UK theatres up and down the country.”

The hope is that the theatre tax relief will encourage and support the sector to continue to develop across the UK with an emphasis on touring productions which face a higher risk.

This forms part of the government’s commitment to supporting the creative industries, highlighted in its Plan for Growth, as having the potential to drive significant growth in the UK.

• The consultation will remain open until 8th May and more details are available at www.gov.uk/government/consultations/theatre-tax-relief

Torrisholme Road to be closed for three days for Link Road work

Lancashire County Council has announced Torrisholme Road and Lancaster Road will be closed completely to vehicle traffic from 8.00am Monday 7th April to 6.00am Thursday 10th April, between Russell Drive and 179 Torrisholme Road (by Lancaster & Morecambe College entrance). 

Following on from the initial works to divert a 12" and 7" water main out of Torrisholme Road in February, United Utilities will be returning to undertake the final stages and testing of the water main diversion work connections which will require 24-hour road closure of the B5321 Torrisholme Road/Lancaster Road.

The closure comes after engineers discovered the water main that was planned to be diverted to make way for the bridge was actually located in the middle of Torrisholme Road and not nearer the footpath as plans suggested. This meant the water main diversion was unable to be undertaken under a single lane closure as originally planned, which consequently would have kept Torrisholme Road open to traffic and alleviated the need for a full road closure.

“There was never an intention to fully close Torrisholme Road," commented Costain Project Manager Andrew Langley, "other than when the beams for the new bridge over Torrisholme Road were due to be installed.

“We apologise that the exact location of the water main was not fully known until we dug up the road itself, which meant that we could not share this information at the public exhibitions held in February this year," he added.

"The decision to carry-out this work over the college and school holidays was taken after listening to locals who experienced delays during the last full closure”.

Pedestrian and cycle access will remain open throughout. Advance notification signs will be erected on Torrisholme Road & Lancaster Road.

• If in doubt check about roadworks associated with the Link Road construction,for all planned road works www.lancashire.go.uk/heysham or follow the project on twitter @heysham_link for regular updates

ATOS exits Work Capability Assessment contract

Thousands of white carnations were laid out in Parliament Square last September,
 representing the alleged 10,000 dead as a result of benefits cuts
after Work Capabilty Assessments carried out on contract by ATOS.


The coalition government has today announced an early exit from its £5 million Work Capability Assessment contract with Atos Healthcare, which was criticised locally after services counted the cost of the French company's,  and Department of Work and Pensions, failings.

Atos was reported to be in talks to quit its contract to carry out work capability assessments for the Department of Work and Pensions early after its staff received regular death threats.

In a written Ministerial Statement issued today the Coalition Government's Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning MP said:

"Today I am announcing that following detailed negotiations with Atos, the Government has reached a settlement for Atos to exit the contract to deliver Work Capability Assessments before it is due to end in August 2015.

"I am pleased to confirm that Atos will not receive a single penny of compensation from the taxpayer for the early termination of their contract, quite the contrary, I can also confirm that Atos has made a substantial financial settlement to the Department for Work and Pensions.

"It is important to outline that we have learnt from the mistakes of the last contract agreed by the previous government. We have negotiated an agreement covering the remaining term that is more robust, with an agreed performance regime that gives us confidence delivery goals will be achieved. It is that same commercial rigour that will underpin the new procurement for these services that I am announcing today.

"The plan is for the new contract to be awarded later this year, with a view to the new provider taking responsibility for delivery of Work Capability Assessments by 2015.

"It is expected that the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment regulations will apply and most of the Atos employees will transfer to the new provider. The new provider should therefore be able to step into the contract without disrupting the service. My absolute priority for the new provider will be to deliver the best service possible for claimants, increase the volume of assessments carried out and reduce waiting times. In the meantime, we will focus on delivery of assessments for those making new claims and those who have changes in their condition.

"Atos is announcing today that the company will be withdrawing from delivery of Work Capability Assessments in Great Britain (Atos will continue to deliver these assessments under its separate contract in Northern Ireland). Atos will continue to deliver Personal Independence Payment assessments in two regions of Great Britain.

"Atos will continue to deliver Work Capability Assessments until contract exit and will be subject to a rigorous quality and service credit regime. To that end, I am appointing a remedial advisory team to work with the Atos Healthcare management during this period to assist Atos in meeting their contractual obligations, ahead of awarding the contract to a new provider. This is being accomplished with the full cooperation of Atos who will meet all related costs.

"There is strong evidence that work is good for physical and mental well-being, and that being out of work can contribute to poorer health and other negative outcomes. While we will always support people who genuinely cannot work, this Government is committed to getting as many people as possible into work. Notwithstanding the considerable improvements that we have had to make to the Work Capability Assessment process we inherited, our reforms mean that over 650,000 people are now looking for, or preparing for, work. I am committed to ensuring that the assessments are fair and accurate and, together with robust contract management, the recommendations made by Dr Litchfield in his independent review will help us continue to improve the Work Capability Assessment."

• You can download a pdf  of the full statement (which is longer and notes that the contract was inherited from the previous Labour government), from the Parliament Website.

The news is likely to be welcomed by local disability groups and advocacy services, albeit with some trepidition about what the new contract might bring.

Atos has been criticised for its 'miraculous' findings of fitness for work in individuals who were gravely or terminally ill, or severely incapacitated, who immediately lost their disability or sickness benefits and told to return to employment and its predatory 'cycling' of vulnerable people, breaking them down with an endlessly repeated, complex and sometimes quota-dominated process of reassessment and appeal.

Thousands of white carnations were laid out in London's Parliament Square last September,  representing the alleged 10,000 dead as a result of benefits cuts after Work Capabilty Assessments carried out on contract by ATOS. Several demonstrations have taken place outside Mitre House in Lancaster, where Atos has its local office.

Atos has claimed that it was simply implementing government policy as laid down by the DWP in its contract. However as the contractor's public profile has deteriorated the DWP has become increasingly distant.

According to Wikipedia, other UK government contracts currently held by Atos include:
 - A £300m (Atos Origin Alliance (AOA)) contract with NHS Scotland in November 2006.
 - A £100m contract with the Home Office (a six-year deal ending in 2016)
 - A £70 million contract with the Welsh Government to provide Information and Communications Technology (ICT) services
 - A £25m contract with the Ministry of Defence to provide defence communications services[27]
 - A 5-year £75 million deal with the National Health Service to provide an integrated IT desktop service
 - A £140 million deal for IT provision at the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
 - A multimillion outsourcing contract to National Savings & Investments (NS&I) to deliver customer-facing and back office services to NS&I’s 25 million customers.

See Previous Items:
Local services count the cost of ATOS / DWP failings
ATOS retreats in the face of nationwide protests
Nationwide Demonstration Against ATOS at Mitre House

Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School team wins Science Challenge

Winning Team from
Lancaster Girls' Grammar School

As part of National Science Engineering Week, and to celebrate Lancaster University’s 50th anniversary, 160 students from across the region came to the Bailrigg campus to compete in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Schools Challenge.

Teams from Lancaster Girl’s Grammar School, Ripley St Thomas, Morecambe High, Walney, Lancaster Royal Grammar School, Kirkbie Kendal, Queen Katherine, Dallam, Stonyhurst and Heysham High were split into teams of four to compete in four challenges.

Students were put to the test making fuel cells to power motors, building hologram-like projection stages using iPads, designing and firing bottle-rockets and making precision measurements.

The winning team, from Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School, were presented with the Simon Martindale shield, named in memory of a local science teacher from Morecambe High school, and £250 worth of new library books for the school.

This year Lancaster University has launched a £1.7 million Engineering Design Academy which will help boost the performance of more than 128 small and medium enterprises and bolster the North West's engineering skills-base. The academy will safeguard 90 jobs and help to create an additional 43 jobs in the region.

Lancashire Police praised for domestic abuse work

In a report released today, Lancashire Constabulary has been praised for the work it does to tackle domestic abuse following a visit by government inspectors. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) visited the force in November 2013 after being commissioned to conduct a domestic abuse inspection of all forces.

The HMIC noted that the public in Lancashire 'can have confidence that police officers and staff provide a good service to victims of domestic abuse in all areas to keep them safe'.

The findings also show that tackling domestic abuse is a priority for the Constabulary which has invested in well trained and specialist staff who demonstrate a 'high level of commitment and awareness'.

The report highlights the force's good IT systems which alert call handlers to repeat callers; these are people who have previously been a victim of abuse, regardless of how long ago this was. The inspectors also found that staff are well trained to establish risk levels and that they have a clear understanding that repeat and vulnerable victims are at a greater risk.

The report also shows how Lancashire Constabulary has continued to invest in specialist staff to deal with domestic abuse throughout a period of austerity, with considerable investment in domestic abuse training and information for staff. Positive action is encouraged by the force, which means in the majority of cases, perpetrators are arrested promptly. For every 100 domestic abuse crimes recorded, there were 90 arrests in Lancashire - for most forces the number is between 45 and 90.

Other areas of good practice include the force's efforts to make victims safer from the first point of contact. HMIC found a strong focus in Lancashire on safeguarding the victim as well as dealing with the offence.

Lancashire Constabulary has learned lessons from other forces which resulted in the creation of the Multi-agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) - a single point for information exchange between various agencies. Further to this the report noted that there are robust processes in place to ensure that high-risk victims are kept updated throughout the whole process.

Lancashire Constabulary’s Assistant Chief Constable Tim Jacques said:
"Tackling domestic abuse is a priority for Lancashire Constabulary and as such I am pleased with the findings of this report. Despite the current financial restraints we have continued to invest in this area and as a result we have dedicated, specialist staff who are completely committed to keeping victims of domestic abuse safe. Lancashire also benefits from outstanding partnership support, in particular with the numbers of Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVA) who work across the county assisting the Constabulary to safeguard victims and their families.

"Domestic abuse can affect anyone and is often seen as a hidden crime. Many assume it's just about violence, but it isn't, it covers any type of physical, sexual, psychological or financial violence or control. The effects of domestic abuse can be devastating but we want people to know that help is out there. We will continue to work with our partners in order to provide the best possible service we can to victims of this devastating crime and we would always encourage anybody who is a victim to contact us.

Facts and figures

 ·         Domestic abuse accounts for 10% of all recorded crime.

·         Lancashire recorded 946 assaults with intent to cause serious harm, of these 217 were domestic abuse related. This is 23% of all assaults with intent to cause serious harm recorded for the 12 months to the end of August 2013.

·         The force also recorded 9,789 assaults with injury, of these 3,452 were domestic abuse related. This is 35% of all assaults with injury recorded for the 12 months to the end of August 2013.

·         The force recorded 1,574 harassment offences, of these 992 were domestic abuse related. This is 63% of all harassment offences recorded for the 12 months to the end of August 2013.

·         The force also recorded 1,817 sexual offences, of these 128 were domestic related. This is 7% of all sexual offences recorded for the 12 months to the end of August 2013.

·         On 31 August 2013, Lancashire had 35,603 active domestic abuse cases, 8% were high risk, 26% were medium risk and 67% were standard risk.

·         For every 100 domestic abuse crimes recorded there were 90 arrests in Lancashire. For most forces the number is between 45 and 90.

·         Lancashire recorded 8,935 domestic abuse related crimes between 1 April 2013 and 25 March 2014 with a positive outcome rate on 65.8%

The report did, however, make a number of recommendations for Lancashire Constabulary to consider. These included reviewing training currently provided to staff, to ensure they understand coercive control, stalking, harassment and honour based violence; reviewing the use of body cameras; and reviewing how we monitor the ongoing welfare of repeat victims, amongst others.

Assistant Chief Constable Tim Jacques added: "We will look at the recommendations made by the report and ensure appropriate action is taken."

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said: "Tackling domestic abuse, protecting victims and bringing offenders to justice are clear priorities for me - and I am delighted to see HMIC has recognised the Constabulary's performance in these areas.

"The impact domestic abuse can have on both victims and their families should not be underestimated. Abuse devastates lives and unfortunately I am all too aware of the tragic consequences it can have. Therefore, despite the force's excellence being acknowledged, the Constabulary cannot afford to be complacent. I am committed to ensuring Lancashire continues to strive to improve the way it deals with domestic abuse and the support given to victims, to make sure the force is the best it can possibly be.

"In order to do this, despite the extreme financial pressure the force is under, I have ensured funding is not cut from the Public Protection Unit (PPU). The financial situation facing both the Constabulary and our partners has made partnership working even more important than before, and I am very proud of the relationships we have in Lancashire. I am pleased HMIC has recognised this, and it is something I intend to ensure the Constabulary continues to build on in all aspects of business.

"I am committed to continuing scrutiny of the Constabulary's performance around domestic abuse, and a number of recommendations have been made by HMIC which I will monitor to ensure they are acted upon."

For more about the activities of Lancashire Constabulary please visit:
http://www.lancashire.police.uk or visit Lancashire Police on facebook.

See also Monday's news item: Labour candidate calls for Action on Domestic Violence



Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Local Cinema Round-Up for 26th March to 3rd April 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, and reviews.

 A rather quiet period for movies with a single new release Rio 2 (U). Meanwhile we have lost the following 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Non-Stop and Ride Along.

Must see movies still on offer include Muppets Most Wanted, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the excellent The Grand Budapest Hotel. For action and adventure 300: Rise of an Empire and Starred Up are recommended. For family entertainment The LEGO Movie and Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy are still being screened. Also there is still a chance to catch Frozen.

Culture is represented by Bolshoi Ballet: Marco Spada whereas horror is represented by Only Lovers Left Alive.

Reviews

300: Rise of an Empire
Director: Noam Murro
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro
The film is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel 'Xerxes' and the action adopts the visual style of the 2007 prequel '300'. The Persian forces led by Xerxes (Santoro) and Artemisia (Green) are opposed by the Greek General Themistokles (Stapleton). The film centres on a sea battle. The story is rather predictable, but there is plenty of blood, violence and CGI effects to keep the interest. If you liked the original you will enjoy this movie

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' 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.

Muppets Most Wanted
Director: James Bobin
Certificate: U
Cast includes: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Eric Jacobson, Steve Whitmire
A long awaited sequel to 'The Muppets' in which the entire Muppet cast undertake a sell out world tour. However Constantine (a Kermit lookalike and major criminal) and his right hand man Dominic (Gervais) involve the Muppets in an international crime heist. The film is an upbeat Disney musical comedy that will appeal to all ages and generates plenty of laughs. An excellent film.

The Book Thief
Director: Brian Percival
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Roger Allam, Emily Watson
The film is based in World War II Germany and tells the story of Liesel (Nelisse) a young girl sent to live with a foster family after family problems. She copes by stealing books to read and this enables her to become close with her foster father and with Max, a Jewish boy hiding in their basement. The film does not make any comments on the horrors of Nazi Germany, it simply provides a backdrop for what is essentially a love story, and during the film we have Death providing the narration. The acting is acceptable but the characters are not totally believable.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Saoirse Ronan, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Tony Revolori
An idiosyncratic movie telling the adventures of Gustav (Fiennes) the concierge at the Budapest hotel and his friend Zero Moustafa (Revolori). The film is full of madcap characters and is filmed in the classic Anderson style. Set in Europe between the wars, the film tells the story of the theft of a Renaissance painting and disputes over fortunes. The movie has a star-studded cast and much of the plot of interlocking stories is told in flashbacks. A fine comedy making this a must see movie.

The Monuments Men
Director: George Clooney
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray
An action adventure based on the book 'The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History' by Robert Edsel. This tells the true story of a platoon comprising art historians and musum directors who were dispatched into World War II Germany to retrieve art works plundered by the Nazis. A very entertaining movie with a generous helping of high profile stars. Perhaps not a must-see film but still worth a visit to the cinema.

The Stag
Director: John Butler
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Andrew Scott, Michael Legge, Peter McDonald, Brian Boru Gleeson, Hugh O'Conor, Amy Huberman
Fionan (O'Conor) is due to marry Ruth (Huberman). He does not want a stag night but Ruth gets the best man Davin (Scott) to arrange a stag weekend with groom and assorted friends as they hike in Ireland. This is an inoffensive British comedy that comes up with a good selection of wacky situations, male bonding and predictable nudity. A run of the mill film that generates some laughs.

Appeal after jogger grabbed by naked man in Lancaster


Lancaster police are appealing for information after a woman who was out jogging was grabbed by a naked man on the cycle track on New Quay Road.

Between 5.30pm and 6.10pm on Wednesday 19th March, a 52 year old woman was running along the cycle track on New Quay Road towards the junction with Aldcliffe Lane, Lancaster. She ran past a man, who was wearing nothing but a pair of bright green trainers and who started to follow her.

When the woman stopped running, the man also halted. When she started to run again, he continued to run after her, grabbing her bum bag which was strapped round her waist. The victim managed to run away but when she looked back, the man was stood grinning at her.

DC Mike O'Regan from Lancaster CID said: “This incident has understandably left the woman shaken and upset especially because she was out running on her own.

“If anyone has any information about this man, or thinks they have witnessed or been subject to something similar, please get in touch with us.

“I would encourage those out jogging in Lancaster to take extra precautions, such as running with a friend, sticking to routes in busier areas and only going out when it’s light.

"If you see anything suspicious, let us know.”

Police patrols have been stepped in the area to reassure local residents, walkers and joggers.

The offender is described as white, aged approximately between 18 and 21 years old with dark hair which is longer and scruffy on the top and shorter on the sides. He was wearing luminous green trainers.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Morecambe Bagsnatcher: Witness appeal

Police are appealing for information after a 61 year old woman was robbed of her handbag in Morecambe.

Between 2.20pm and 2.30pm on Sunday 16th March, the woman and her friend were walking along the promenade, by the lifeboat station close to Green Street, when a man walked towards them. He grabbed the woman’s bag and pulled it from her hand, snapping the strap before running into the Green Street area.

The bag contained various items including bank/store cards, jewellery, a mobile phone and other personal items.

DC Trevor Walker said: “This robbery occurred during the daytime in a busy area and I’d like to speak to anyone that saw any part of the incident.

“In particular I am trying to trace the member of the public in a black Shogun vehicle, or similar, who we believe tried to help the victim afterwards and went to look for the offender.

“If this was you, or you think you may know who this is, then please contact us.”

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

David Freeman, 41, of Edmund Street in Accrington has been charged with robbery.

Canal Trust Team explore historic Aldcliffe Waterways Buildings

The British Waterways Board has been replaced by the Canal & River Trust

The Lancaster Canal Trust recently obtained access from the Canal & River Trust, to record the ex British Waterways site at Aldcliffe Road, Lancaster. It was a 200 year lesson in history.

They did it well and they did it big in those days. Raising a 70ft coal boat from the canal to ground level for repairs may seem easy, but to raise one onto the next floor somewhat more difficult. The answer was to sail the canal boat into the wet dock, seal with stop planks and flood to the required level. Once there, let the water out and commence work.

The site is about to be redeveloped to create modern housing, and the team from the local Trust was lucky to be afforded the chance to photograph and record these historic events.

The fact that a Swan Mortuary existed was a revelation, showing how much interest they took in wildlife in those days. Drawings, notebooks, diaries, all found in the Swan Mortuary, were carefully removed and will be carefully dried and inspected. All artifacts on the site will be removed before any work starts.

The team found super large joiners' shops, where lock gates were made; massive benches, stabling for horses, boskins and tack rooms. And a blacksmith's forge.

Time stood still in a maze of cellar rooms, explored by torchlight, revealing an ancient murky world redolent with a history of artisanry.

The store room housed a large platform scale, bearing the legend H Pooley & Son, Liverpool and London (fore-runners of Avery Scales Ltd),  leaving no doubt as to the makers. They can now be made available to any canal museum or organisation.

The work of the Lancaster Canal Trust covers a very wide range of activities. You can find out more about these at www.lancastercanaltrust.org.uk

• The Trust organises work parties every second Sunday of the month, which volunteers are welcome to join.  Work Party Organiser Keith Tassart can be emailed at workparty@lancastercanaltrust.org.uk for more information on joining a work party.


Monday, 24 March 2014

Labour candidate calls for Action on Domestic Violence

Cat Smith, prospective Labour
Parliamentary Candidate for
Lancaster & Fleetwood
Calls for new league tables to be published to help victims of domestic abuse to avoid a 'postcode lottery' when it comes to getting justice have been backed by Labour's parliamentary candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood.

Cat Smith is backing the suggestion made by shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper as new figures showed that the number of 'high risk' referrals received for people in the Lancaster district by the charity Empowerment had increased.

The charity, formed by the amalgamation of the Lancaster and Blackpool branches of Women's Aid, helped 164 people classed as 'high risk' in 2012/13. But it clocked up 163 such referrals in the first three quarters of 2013/14 alone.

Figures produced by Labour show that while the number of reports of domestic violence to police in Lancashire rose by 10% between 2010/11 and 2012/13, the number of cases referred to the CPS dropped by 10.9%. The number of prosecutions fell by 8.6% and the number of convictions declined by 5.3%. This might suggest that whilst more victims may believe that the system will be more prepared to meet their needs, in practice resources are too thinly stretched.

Ms Smith, who recently became a trustee of Empowerment, supported the call for the regular publication of national league tables showing this data.

She also backed Ms Cooper's call for the creation of a national Violence Against Women and Girls Commissioner.

Ms Smith said: "More than 30,000 reports of domestic abuse were made to Lancashire Police in 2012/13 - and there were 838,000 across the country.

"The scale of the problem is truly shocking and it is of real concern to see that the number of high risk cases being referred to Empowerment in the Lancaster district has increased under this Government.

"Publishing figures on a regular basis will help to concentrate minds on the improvements needed in different areas and end the postcode lottery we see across the country at the moment when it comes to getting justice for victims.

"This should be supported by the creation of a commissioner-type role with the power to raise standards and recommend changes in the law. Domestic abuse ruins people's lives and causes utter misery. We must do more to help victims."

Dee Conlon, deputy chief executive of Empowerment, supported the proposals:

"Data is crucial and I support the idea of a commissioner too. I've worked in domestic abuse for 12 or 13 years now and have seen the way provision has changed. Proper coordination is essential to ensure we don't end up with this kind of postcode lottery in provision of services."

Ms Conlon added that she was delighted that Ms Smith had joined Empowerment as a trustee.

"I know Cat Smith was previously involved in Lancaster and District Women's Aid and this is an issue she is passionate about. It's really exciting that she is prepared to contribute some expertise and help us to make decision about how we develop services in the future."

Ms Conlon said the new women's refuge which opened in Lancaster last April had already helped 40 families and that there had been a 'huge demand' for the service.

Lancaster & District Women's Aid work with women and children who are experiencing or recovering from domestic violence and abusive relationships and who are dealing with its effects and consequences. The Lancaster & District Women's Aid website is at http://ldwa-support.org/. Calls can be made in complete confidence to 01524 389637.

See also last week's news item: Lancashire introduces ‘Clare’s Law’

Take pride in your parks this Spring

Children from Bowerham Primary School join Friends of Williamson Park
 and staff for early Spring bulb planting

Lancaster City Council wants to encourage people to use and take pride in their local park. The Take Pride in Your Park campaign aims to encourage people to visit their local park, take pride in its appearance and use its facilities.

Williamson Park is sending out an e-magazine full of ideas and inspiration to help people make the most of the park. The ‘Enjoy’ magazine is also available to read at www.lancaster.gov.uk/williamsonpark

The Friends of Williamson Park were joined by children, volunteers and staff from Lancaster City Council to plant bulbs in Williamson Park at the weekend (Sunday March 23). Pupils from Bowerham Community Primary School went along to plant bluebells and are looking forward to watching them grow next spring.

The event was organised and funded through the Friends of Williamson Park who provided 2000 bulbs and tools. You can find out more about the activities of this group from their facebook page.

There are Friends groups for lots of parks across the district and they are all planning activities to encourage us all to ‘Take Pride in Your Parks’. If you would like more information in how you can get involved please visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/friends.

Dog wardens will continue to carry out regular patrols of our local parks in a bid to reduce the amount of dog fouling and dogs being exercised off their leads. Dog bags are still available from the Visitor Information Centres in Lancaster and Morecambe for a small charge.

Coun David Smith, cabinet member with responsibility for parks and open spaces, said: “Our parks and open spaces are some of our district’s greatest assets.  They’re great places for events and activities, or simply for enjoying a walk.

“The challenge we face is maintaining our much loved quality green spaces with limited resources.  A big thank you must go to the friends groups and other volunteers who are vitally important in helping us to achieve that aim.  The work that they do is invaluable. By volunteering and joining a group, people can show their commitment to our parks.

“But there are also simple things that we can all do such as disposing of litter properly and picking up after our dogs.  By us all taking pride in our parks and what they have to offer we can keep them clean and free of litter for us all to enjoy.”

The tree sponsorship scheme offers a unique opportunity to plant a new tree in one of the council’s parks. The tree can be a special way to remember a loved one or to celebrate a special occasion or an anniversary or just a way of improving the environment.

For more information about the scheme contact: 01524 582407 or 582416. You can also apply online at www.lancaster.gov.uk/trees

People can even take part in the Take Pride in Your Parks campaign at home by completing an online ‘health check’ on their local park.  The results will be used over the lifetime of the campaign to measure people’s perceptions of our parks and identify areas for improvement.

To take part visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/takepride and click on ‘Take the Park Health Check’.

Review: 'Your Country Needs You..' - Dukes Young Actors & Young Company

Photo by Darren Andrews
Your country needs you
(but I don’t need my country …)

presented by The Dukes Young Actors and Young Company
directed by Louie Ingham and The Company
in The Round at The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster
Tuesday 18 to Saturday 22 March 2014 at 7.30pm.
Tickets £9 (£7 conc)

In ‘Your Country Needs You (But I don’t need my country …)’ the Dukes Young Actors and Young Company has, under Louie Ingham’s energetic direction, continued the annual success of The Unsociables and, last year, Hamlet.  This timely reflection, marking the centenary of the start of World War I, intelligently and carefully explores a number of concerns about the rights and wrongs, advantages and downsides of contemporary Western culture in general and of war in particular.

Laurence Wilson, Daragh Carville, Eddie Robson and Grazyna Monvid’s well-wrought and razor-sharp text frames the political and social questions in a number of different situations.  We follow a pair of Lancashire entertainers as they land in war-torn Afghanistan, visit class 2B in the playground (learning that playground politics are no different from what passes for democracy in the Houses of Parliament), and pause to consider very recent events such as the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby, the rising cost of our present way of life, and how war affects personal relationships.

The cast of nearly three dozen delivered, in a hectic ninety minutes, a non-stop, high-energy performance with sound and music from Mark Melville, Adam Hargreaves, Cameron Ritchie, Rob Herissone-Kelly, Luke Adams and Imogen Khan.  Louie Ingham, straight from her success with Othello in Lancaster Castle, headed the direction function she shared with the company.  Lighting designed by Brent Lees also underlined the vivid action.  Local lad Pte Joe Cluney, who also worked on Othello, contributed his military experience in Afghanistan to the choreography of the soldiers’ drill.

It’s not often one comes away from the theatre utterly exhausted and exhilarated – and not a little disoriented.  The sheer energy and vigour of the production was overwhelming: the high-speed scene changes, the feverish, highly-fuelled, intense atmosphere and visceral panache of the music made the performance a tremendous spectacle.  And there was some elegiac verse finely interspersed with the sometimes brutal, sometimes tender prose.

But above all, I think that this production’s main strength is the level to which Ingham and her team at The Dukes has exposed these youngsters, aged between 15 and 20, to an awareness of some of the most important political and social questions of our day.  This is an extraordinary achievement.

Copyright © Michael Nunn
19 March 2014

Information about the full programme of future events at the Dukes can be found online at online at:
http://www.dukes-lancaster.org or from the Box Office tel:  01524 598500.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Nature captured in photographs at the Pavilion Café


The Pavilion Café in Williamson Park, Lancaster will host the beautiful photographic work of local artist Grace Rawsthorne with an exhibition throughout April.

The exhibition contains images capturing nature and wildlife as well as landscapes.

Grace is a Fine Art graduate and currently works at PhotoBaby / Elle Jones Photography in Lancaster. She originally came from Southport and moved to Lancaster when she was young. She studied Fine Art at the University of Central Lancashire, graduating in 2013.

Grace said: "I have always enjoyed photography and after receiving my first proper digital camera for my 18th birthday, I have been pursuing it ever since. In my spare time I enjoy nature and wildlife photography as well as some landscape. At work I am lucky enough to be able to capture beautiful portraiture, some which is included in this exhibition and I feel very privileged to enjoy my job! ‘'

The exhibition takes place from 4 April to 3 May. The cafe is open from 10am to 5pm daily and is delicious.

For more information about Williamson Park and the Pavilion Café visit:
www.lancaster.gov.uk/williamsonpark or call 01524 33318.