Friday, 26 December 2008

Fight the Christmas flab!

Did you overindulge this Christmas?

Are you thinking of a way to shed those festive pounds?

Lancaster City Council’s Cycling Demonstration Town (CDT) team might have the answer, with their Healthy Wheels Cycling and Training sessions, so if beating the bulge is your New Year’s resolution or you just fancy a leisurely ride why not pop along to Salt Ayre every Saturday morning from 17th January 2009.

The free sessions start at 11.00am and last for an hour and a half offering you a great opportunity to get fit, meet new people and explore the local area.

Cyclists should bring their own bikes although there is the opportunity to hire one from Salt Ayre. Hire bikes need to be booked in advance from the council’s CDT team.

Coun Eileen Blamire, cabinet member with responsibility for cycling said: “This is a perfect way to get fit and stay healthy at your own pace, alongside like-minded people.”

The sessions are open to all abilities, however, they aren’t suitable for complete beginners.

There’s no need to book - just turn up.

• For more information, please contact the CDT team on 01524 582392 / 582086 or visit the website ( or e-mail

Friday, 19 December 2008

West Coast Upgrade Claims Challenged

Lancaster's local Rail User Group has challenged the claims made in recent announcements about completion of the West Coast mainline, as line closures continue in the area at weekends and changes to local train services which are causing problems for local commuters.

Last month, virtual-lancaster reported how the Secretary of State for the Department for Transport Geoff Hoon had agreed to meet with Morecambe and Lunesdale MP Geraldine Smith to discuss changes to local train times which could see commuters forced back onto Lancaster's already congested network.

"Only today I have been speaking to TransPennine Express trying to get some truth about the upgrade," Mike Machin tells virtual-lancaster. "Whilst we as a Rail User Group very much welcome the improved journey times, we locally cannot accept that the upgrade is complete.

"Only six weeks back I was at a meeting where Network Rail told us that from December we would have a six & a half day railway," he expanded. "However, looking at the new timetables, from 31 January until 16 May at week-ends we see that between Preston and Glasgow or Edinburgh we have buses operating between some stations. For instance from 31 January to 21 March buses will convey passengers between Lancaster and Lockerbie."

Machin is concerned the race to publicise completion of the upgrade has gotten ahead of reality. "In interviews over the past week Network Rail have given the impression that the upgrade is complete, and that the line will only be closed for routine maintenance. However, in this area we have had this sort of week end disruption for over five years now. If the upgrade is complete, why is it necessary to have blockades at weekends so soon?

"I have done interviews for Radio Lancashire and the local press and they also obtained interviews with Network Rail who are still saying the upgrade is complete. I am therefore doing my utmost to publicise this situation for the benefit of the public travelling at weekends.

Local timetable changes also seem to be having the feared affect on passenger numbers previously reported, which local MP Geraldine Smith raised in Parliament in November.

"Concerning the local issue of trains between Morecambe and Lancaster in the morning commuter period, I did a passenger count on Wednesday on the one train arriving in Lancaster between 8 and 9.00 am," Machin says. "The one leaving Morecambe at 08-11 and had 10 more passengers on as opposed to the old 08-05 departure, begging the question -- where have the 70 to 80 passengers gone who used to catch the 08-33 departure? Are they now catching the train arriving in Lancaster at 09-03 or have they moved to using cars and thereby creating more traffic in Lancaster?

"Unfortunately it will now be January before I am able to do a passenger count on both trains to get a more realistic view of the situation."

virtual-lancaster will bring you thr results of Michael's counts as we get them and any conclusions the Rail Users Group can draw from them when they have taken place. He is also hopeing to meet with the Department for Transport soon to discuss the situation.

• For more information about Lancaster & Morecambe Rail User Group contact Michael via

Flu Warning issued

With flu rates increasing across the region the Health Protection Agency (HPA) North West is advising people on what they can do to protect themselves and others from infection on the run up to Christmas.

“We’re seeing increases in flu in most parts of the region, but particularly in Liverpool, Wirral and parts of Cheshire," warns Dr. Catherine Quigley, Regional Epidemiologist with HPA North West.

“This is a highly infectious viral illness for which there is no treatment, other than rest and the replacement of fluids. Most people who are otherwise fit and healthy will recover quite naturally from a bout of flu.

“However, flu can be serious for older people and for those whose immune systems are suppressed by illness or treatment. I can’t stress enough how important it is for these vulnerable patients to protect themselves by having a flu jab. If they haven’t been vaccinated already, it’s not too late.”

Dr. Quigley stressed that healthcare workers should be vaccinated against flu.

“The advice to people suffering from flu, heavy colds or other viral infections is to rest at home and take lots of drinks. Flu is spread by droplets in the air and on surfaces, so care should be taken to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and hands must be washed thoroughly after contact with mucus, after going to the toilet and before eating,” Dr. Quigley said.

“There is no benefit in people with flu, flu-like symptoms or heavy colds visiting their GP surgeries or hospital Accident and Emergency Units where they might pass on infection to other more vulnerable patients. If in doubt they should arrange a telephone consultation with the family doctor or phone NHS Direct, the 24-hour health information service.”

The warning about flu comes hot on the heels of requests from North West Ambulance Services to think twice about using emergency call numbers if your situation is not life threatening as staff are performing 'near miracles' to keep the service going. The Telegraph reports pressure has been particularly bad in London, the North West and the West Midlands but the whole of the NHS in England is under pressure according to experts.

• The NHS Direct number is 0845 4647.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Christmas Concert at Morecambe Parish Church

The Morecambe & District Philharmonic Choir Christmas Concert takes place on Saturday 20th December at Morecambe Parish Church.

The programme includes Schubert’s Mass in G and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols, with traditional carols for choir and audience. Conducted by Stephen Boyd, with organist Andy Plowman and accompanist Jocelyn Hipple.

Starting at 7.30pm, tickets £6, including refreshments (mulled wine and mince pies), available on the door or from 01524 68244. Net proceeds will go to the CancerCare Silver Jubilee Appeal.

More info from

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Christmas Classic at The Dukes

If you’re still trying to find the spirit of Christmas, head down to The Dukes this week and have your heart warmed by the greatest festive film of all time, It’s A Wonderful Life.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a screening of this classic film and the Lancaster cinema is offering mince pies and mulled wine to add an extra dose of seasonal cheer.

It’s impossible not to be charmed by this deceptively simple tale of redemption and hope. When George Bailey contemplates suicide one Christmas Eve, it’s up to apprentice angel Clarence to show him what life would have been like had he not lived.

"Although it earned several Oscar nominations, despite our high hopes it won nothing," star James Stewart recalled in 1977. "Best picture for 1946" went to The Best Years of Our Lives. By the end of 1947 the film was quietly put on the shelf.

"But a curious thing happened. The movie simply refused to stay on the shelf. Those who loved it loved it a lot, and they must have told others. They wouldn't let it die any more than the angel Clarence would let George Bailey die. When it began to be shown on televison, a whole new audience fell in love with it.

"Today I've heard the filmed called 'an American cultural phenomenon'. Well, maybe so, but it seems to me there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It's simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life."

• Screenings take place on Friday 19 December at 2.00pm and Wednesday 24 December at 6.00pm. Tickets cost £5 (£4 concessions) and are available from The Dukes Box Office on 01524 598500.

Jimmy Stewart Remembers "It's a Wonderful Life"
More on the Making of the film on this Frank Capra site
Official website run by Karolyn Grimes, who played 'Zuzu' in the film

Citizen Binned

(Updated 17/12/08): The closure of the Lancaster Citizen office in November has sadly proved to be the first stage in a slow death for the City's once most read free newspaper. virtual-lancaster now has confirmation that, as suggested last week, the paper is one of several North West freesheets that is soon to close, despite claims that a consultation on the viability of the title would not be completed until 7 January.

virtual-lancaster sources tell us the last publication is planned for next week (24 December) but there is no guarantee that will happen.

Any staff still working on the paper are apparently being expected to either work in Blackburn or accept an offer of redundancy.

The national Guardian reported on Monday that up to 11 editorial jobs are under threat if proposals to close its Citizen series of free weekly papers in Blackpool, Preston and Lancaster and move the operation of its Chorley edition to Blackburn go ahead. A number of non-editorial roles, including jobs in the ad sales team, are also understood to be at risk as the papers close.

The closures, which have been met with anger from NewsQuest employees across the North Wets already riled by high-handed claims of 'sacrfice' by Newsquest's US directors, Gannett, are part of a plan announced last week to make drastic cutbacks to its regional newspaper publishing operation in the North West, including closing 11 newspapers.

It seems strange to us here at virtual-lancaster that this decision has been taken so suddenly after the closure of the Lancaster office (see earlier news story). Strangely, checking this year's Hollings, the Citizen address is given as Blackburn rather than Lancaster, which runs counter to Newsquest management claims this summer that they were looking for new office premises for the Lancaster paper.

While Newsquest has yet to comment on the closure claims -- as indicated, its consultation process based on the Guardian's earlier report on the group's woes was supposed to be completed in January -- a Newsquest north-west staff member told "there is real anger and it comes from abandonment of communities like Blackpool and Preston.

"It has given [Lancaster Guardian and Morecambe Visitor owners] Johnston Press a monopoly in these towns. We're all shell-shocked good journalists are being put on the scrapheap".

We're told there's huge anger among NewsQuest employees at their treatment by their bosses and Gannett, which owns newspapers such as USA Today. In November,, a website for journalists and journalism students, reported that an e-mail championing the "deep sacrifices" being made by Craig Dubow, chairman and president of Newsquest's American parent company Gannett, caused anger among employees.

The email reported Dubow had taken a $200,000 (17pc) pay cut from 1 November, continuing through 2009, reducing his salary to around $1million per annum.

Despite the problems facing the Citizen group, Gannett would actually seem to be doing rather well from the credit crunch. reports the media company is using the turmoil in the debt markets to retire debt and save money, and has just bought almost $100 million of floating rate notes at a 5 percent discount enabled by the shaky debt market.

• As reported this week in The Independent, US newspapers companies and individual titles are suffering badly, facing already declining print sales as younger readers migrate to the Internet, reduced classified adveritising revenues with the popularity of net-based services such as Craiglist, and the huge hit they have taken to display advertising revenues as the credit crunch has hit property and other sales, reducing property agents demands for ad space.

The Chicago Tribune Company recently filed for bankruptcy and The New York Times is deep in debt. Across the country's 1,400 titles, 15,000 jobs have been lost this year, according to Paper Cuts, a website monitoring lay-offs – more than one out of every eight. The Christian Science Monitor will become the first national newspaper to drop its daily print edition next year and focus on publishing online.

Regional newspapers' Washington and overseas bureaux are being shuttered, as the US industry's resources – still rich by international standards – become stretched. As in the UK, the blame for the crisis is being put at the door of the newspaper's owners and managers, with a cadre of past and present Los Angeles Times journalists now launching a lawsuit against billionaire property tycoon Sam Zell over his leadership of their parent company.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Student Drama at the Dukes

University of Cumbria third year Drama students will be producing and performing two popular family based comedies at The Dukes, Lancaster in January. Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall's Billy Liar runs from 14 to 17 January and Laura Wade's Colder Than Here runs from 21 to 24 January.

This is the 14th year that drama students from the Lancaster Campus have staged productions at the Dukes, building upon a broad range of very popular and successful student productions at the theatre over the years.

Billy Liar tells the story of Billy Fisher, a bored undertakers' clerk in post-war Britain, who spends his spare time indulging in Walter Mitty like fantasies and dreams of life as a comedy writer in the 'big city'. However, with three girlfriends on the go, his flights of fancy come at a cost.

Based on the 1959 Keith Waterhouse novel, Billy Liar was first adapted for the stage by Waterhouse and Willis Hall in 1960. It was later made into a popular film, musical and TV series and the play has since been produced all over the world.

Colder Than Here, Laura Wade's beautifully poised family drama, was first produced at the Soho Theatre, London in 2005 and won Wade the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright, and an Olivier nomination for Outstanding Achievement in 2006. As Myra researches burial spots and biodegradable coffins, her emotionally repressed husband and their two grown-up daughters are forced to communicate with her, and each other, as they face up to an unpredictable future.

Colder than Here is an astute and darkly humorous portrayal of a family pulling together in the face of impending grief and was described as a masterpiece by the Sunday Times. Laura Wade is currently adapting 'Colder Than Here' for television with Hat Trick Productions.

• All performances begin at 8pm and tickets are £8 full price/£6 concessions. To book tickets, contact the Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or email For more information, visit their website at

• If you're interested in studying drama at the University of Cumbria, visit the website at or call 08080 024 024.

Festive fun at West End children’s party

Winning Back Morecambe’s West End held a Christmas party for more than 150 local children last weekend.

The party took place at The Carleton on Sunday and was free to children and their families living in Morecambe’s West End.

A fantastic time was had by all the children with dancing, magic shows, competitions and a visit from a very special guest – Father Christmas.

Every child received a present from Father Christmas and there were lots of prizes awarded during party games and for dancing. There was a buffet provided for all the children and a raffle for the parents.

The party was organised by Winning Back Morecambe’s West End, a Lancaster City Council regeneration project, and a group of local volunteers, with generous support from local businesses.

Alan Winters, community development officer, said: “It was a fantastic party and the kids loved it. The highlight was definitely the special visit from Father Christmas himself.

"I would like to offer a huge thank you to the parents and local residents who have helped to organise the party. They have put in a huge amount of hard work that I’m sure the children appreciated.

"I’d like to offer another thank you to the local businesses that have been so generous in their support for the children’s party. It really is the season of goodwill."

Friday, 12 December 2008

Atkins Demands Better Food Labelling

Local MEP Sir Robert Atkins has called for a better labelling regime for processed foods after it emerged that food packaged as "Made in Britain" could contain Irish pork caught up in the diocin alert in the Republic.

At present processed foods containing pork may contain ingredients from all over the European Union or from further afield, yet if they are processed in the UK, the final product can be labelled as being "Made in Britain."

Sir Robert, who is Member of the European Parliament for the North West Region, says he has campaigned for some time to have the principle meat ingredients labelled according to their country of origin to allow people to make an informed choice as to where their food has come from and to make it easier to trace and identify food ingredients in the event of food scares like the one experienced in Ireland this week.

"We're in desperate need of a better labelling system," argues Sir Robert. "If all meat ingredients were traceable, either by way of a barcode or a link to a website which listed them all and their country of origin, it would be far easier to be sure that potentially contaminated meat could be traced in the event of a scare. Otherwise uncertainty reigns and we have the present situation where nobody is quite sure where or how serious a scare actually is.

"Consumers also have a right to know exactly where all the ingredients have come from so that they can be 100% sure that they are buying British if they want to.

"At the moment, some companies seem to use labelling to confuse rather than inform and this needs to stop. Labelling should be clear and should properly inform the customer of what is in that product and where it has come from. Anything less is not only potentially dangerous but stops consumers making an informed choice."

Putting an End to University Research?

An article in subtext ( notes that Lancaster University Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings has been advising the government to close down research funding to Lancaster and have it as primarily just a teaching establishment, if one can read clearly between the lines of his recent report to John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Earlier in the year, subtext editors record, Prof. Wellings was approached by Denham to give strategic advice on 'how universities should manage IP for their own benefit and for the wider economy'. Intellectual Property rights relate to the royalties that may be earned by research from its commercial applications. At the end of September the prof delivered his report - the remit letter and final report can be downloaded from

An interview with Prof. Wellings published in the Times Higher Education (THE) supplement of 27 November focuses on section four of the report, which dealt most closely with 'the connection between research students and graduate schools and good IP generation and exploitation' ( In this section he recommends that the government target postgraduate training funds on those institutions with larger graduate schools, which also tend to be those with better records of research commercialisation.

In the THE article the V-C is paraphrased as saying that "the sector should continue to diversify so that by 2020 each Region has just one or two major graduate schools." So in the North West Region, for example, there would presumably be only one or two 'research' universities to take all the research income and all the PhDs, with all the others concentrating on teaching.

The V-C has paid a lot of attention to getting Lancaster University up the League Tables and the University website proclaims Lancaster to be "one of the top 'research star' universities in the UK, with the 3rd highest research income and the 2nd highest number of Phds in proportion to academic staff costs."

However, in the table that accompanies the THE article (available from a link in the right hand column of the online version) Manchester and Liverpool are unsurprisingly identified as the two universities that produce by far the most PhDs in our Northwest Region. Similarly, in a table on pp. 24-7 of the V-C's report, Lancaster comes third after Manchester and Liverpool in the NW on all metrics except IP income, where it is way outstripped by Chester (why is that, by the way?).

The separation of research from teaching is a move that would disembowel the higher education system, making it impossible for the vast majority of students to experience high quality research methodologies. It would, however, mean that all research could be concentrated where it could be more easily monitered, regulated and budget prioritised from a central point according to its commercial viability, with reduced responsiveness to local needs.

Along with many other regional university cities Lancaster would receive a major economic blow from the relegation of the University to a secondary, teaching-only establishment, and would most likely turn its focus to attracting overseas students, less likely to invest their energy into the city. Do the futures of Infolab and the proposed Science Park hang in the balance?

Happy Birthday, Spotlight!

Lancaster's regular poets, writers and other performers event The Spotlight Club celebrates its 13th birthday on Friday 19 December at the Yorkshire House.

Top of the bill for the 150th outing for the Club are the Monkeyrack Writers comprising Spotlight co-founders
Sarah Fiske and Ron Baker (pictured), Simon Baker (no relation), Mollie Baxter, Iain Colley, Norman Hadley, Ron Scowcroft and Simon Unsworth.

Music turns for the evening is provided by The New Potato Scene, who made their well-received Spotlight debut back in September.

"I need to write," says actress and creative writing teacher Sarah Fiske of her craft. "It feels integral to who I am.

"The initial stimulus is often observational - perhaps a worried face in a crowd, an odd look or action between strangers on a train, a location
which is stunning, seedy or simply dull may lodge in my brain. Quite often the impetus is abstract - a vague feeling or amorphous shape in my mind, which takes many false starts before it forms into something. I never know, when I start, where a piece of writing will go. If I did it would bore me."

Ron Baker became a full-time (if unpaid and poverty-stricken) writer and writing promoter after winning a North West Arts writing bursary in 1997. Since then he has published poetry, short stories and written for the stage. He has also taught creative writing via the internet for Lancaster University. His last writing venture was an
(as yet unpublished) novel, Understanding Stanley. He says he's been organising Spotlight with Sarah since he "helped Noah launch the Ark".

Simon Baker has become a regular performer at Spotlight over the last few years. Starting tentatively at the Open Mic he has progressed to become acknowledged as a witty and erudite observer of the quirks and foibles of modern times through his appearances as a regular Spotlight compere and through his prose and poetry.

Writer and songstress Mollie Baxter (right) completed the MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University in 2003 and now teaches Creative writing at the University of Cumbria. Since then has had many accolades for her work, and seen it published in Flax Books, The Quiet Feather, Scribe, Pitch, Lune Fiction and on the She has been shortlisted and won prizes in several sort story competitions.

Poet Iain Colley has been contributing stories, poems and articles to magazines and newspapers for many years and has a string of competition successes to his name - including winning the prestigious London Review of Books 'Poet of The Year' competition in 2002. An accomplished performer of his work, he was among those who appeared at the very first Spotlight on 15th December 1995.

Garstang-based poet Norman Hadley is a mathematician who spends his days designing mammoth engines to make ships skip over the foam like stones thrown by dads showing off. His evenings are spent trawling through his rhyming dictionary for 'orange'.
Lacking any Arts qualification beyond his 'O' level, he's best described (by himself!) as a "recovering geek". Norman, who recently launched his own book of poetry, says he once stumbled on the word 'eclectic' in his dictionary and thought it a good basis for a writing style. His poems hop from tragic to comic to sentimental weird in the flick of a metaphor, aspiring to the pigeonhole marked 'un-pigeon-hole-able'.

Ron Scowcroft's poetry was selected twice this year for the Guardian Books website. His work has recently been published by Poetry Nottingham, highly commended in the City of Derby competition and longlisted for the Bridport prize.
Expect anything rich and strange from urban myth to dream cats, parrot obsessed painters to screaming planets during his turn at the mic. Ron's post-grad research into fantasy and visual art has informed the cinematic qualities of his published writing and led to collaborations with UCLAN based artists John M. Morrison and Jayne Simpson.

Simon Unsworth is the newest member of Monkeyrack and writes horror and fantasy fiction. This will be his first appearance at Spotlight.

The New Potato Scene is a popular pop/rock teenage band (by which they mean, the majority of their school have now seen them play!).
George Webster, Chris Everett, Ben Gladwin and Adam Robey form the band, performing a mixture of a variety of covers and their own interesting, quirky pop songs.

Compered by John Freeman, Spotlight's Christmas come birthday bash opens at 8.30pm, admission £3/£2 (conc)

Thursday, 11 December 2008

New Credit Crunch Initiatives Announced for Local Business

The Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) has just hosted an event with senior regional representatives from the major banks operating in the North West in an effort to co-ordinate support for local and regional businesses affected by the ongoing economic downturn.

The NWDA says the meeting was part of the coordinated response by public sector and the banks to discuss the provision of loans to businesses and how they can work together to support businesses as the credit crunch continues to bite and the banks involved have issued an assurance from the banks that they are still providing new lending and renewing existing facilities to businesses in the region.

“This was a constructive first meeting with an honest exchange of views which gave us a good overview of how the banks are responding to the current economic challenges," commented Vanda Murray, Deputy Chair of the NWDA Board, "and how we can work together to support businesses in our region.

“We discussed the range of public sector support and what actions can be taken to help the banks to mitigate the current financial crisis in the short term, while examining opportunities to improve business confidence for the region to support the eventual upturn in the economy”.

The meeting resulted in a number of actions and agreement to develop a joint action plan to promote awareness of the range of public sector products within the banks themselves; make businesses aware of the business support services of Business Link Northwest including Access to Finance; refer potential businesses that have viable business plans but aren’t bankable to the NWDA’s Small Loans for Business product providing loans between £3,000 to £50,000; and establish a network of contacts and champions across the region to support businesses in accessing support.

Bi-monthly meetings will also take place between the NWDA and the banks to review the current state of the economy and progress on supporting businesses.

This latest development is one of several initiatives announced by various government agencies to support local business. Business Link North West, a business support, advice and information service funded by government and managed in the North West by the Northwest Regional Development Agency recently published a guide to "beating the credit crunch" on its web site.

At a conference in Cumbria yesterday, local councils were urged to be prepared to rip up their rule books to help the county through the recession. The Cumberland News reports that some of the region’s top economic experts were at a seminar at Carlisle Racecourse organised by the Cumbria Strategic Partnership to plot the county’s route through the credit crunch and the economic downturn.

Tim Knowles, Cumbria County Council portfolio holder for economic development, said local authorities must not be hidebound by legal processes and must be nimble to exploit opportunities to soften the impact of the recession.

“From the county council’s point of view, I think we are going to have to hack through some red tape and break from the old traditional processes to get things through that on another day people wouldn’t allow us to."

• For more information on finance for business, visit:

Council to launch new sustainable communities strategy

The Lancaster District Local Strategic Partnership will be launching its new Sustainable Community Strategy on Friday (12th December) at The Platform in Morecambe.

The strategy sets out the long term vision for the district and highlights how the partnership will deliver improvements for the quality of life for everyone in the Lancaster district.

The Lancaster District Local Strategic Partnership (LDLSP) is made up of public, private, voluntary, community and faith sector representatives, and includes major service providers such as Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council, Lancashire Constabulary, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, and NHS North Lancashire.

The strategy will be available in electronic copy from the Lancaster City Council website, please visit for further details.

“I'm delighted to see this Strategy being launched," commented Jacqui Thompson, chair of the LDLSP. "It will target problems that affect everyone in the district, and raise the quality of life for our entire community. I know that we face many challenges in the district, but I am confident that we can deliver results by working together in partnership.”

“This strategy results from a lengthy period of consultation and planning, and has now received endorsement from the city council," explains Coun Roger Mace, vice chair of the LDLSP and leader of Lancaster City Council. "Implementation of the related action plans will offer benefits for all who live, work or play in our district.”

Following the launch event on 12 December, the strategy will be taken on a six month roadshow across the entire district, allowing the local community to learn more about the strategy, the work of the Partnership as a whole and become more involved in the work of the LSP.

• To be kept informed of future events and plans, please visit or contact John Marsh on 01524 582046.

In Review: Philip Fawcett’s Piano Recital at St. Peter’s Cathedral

A Review by Humble Sam

When our forefathers erected the first churches of Europe to worship God, they were certainly unaware that one day exceptional musicians would perform profound pieces of music in these houses of worship – musicians such as the distinguished pianist Philip Fawcett who appeared live last Friday, 5th December, at St. Peters Cathedral in Lancaster.

Dressed neat but casual, Lancastrian-born Fawcett performed on a well-tuned grand piano in front of St. Peter’s altar. He played deftly and travelled along the dynamic scale of piano music from subtlety to grace to forcefulness – whatever the score demanded. And this sounds somewhat misleading, for Fawcett played from memory alone. A pleasant thing to experience, as there was no-one hovering about waiting to leap to the piano and turn the sheets of the score.

The first piece of music on the menu was Mozart’s underrated Piano Sonata in B flat major. Fawcett played with light of touch and brought out the cheerful nature of Mozart’s compositions. His fingers moved Zen-like across the keyboard (gracefully with quiet determination) and the crystal clear yet warm sound of Mozart’s piano sonata emerged from the grand piano.

The second piece of music that evening was Sonatinas (‘mini sonatas’) 1, 2 & 3 by local composer David Jennings who was in the audience. It's not that often that one experiences a piece of Classical music with the composer in the audience and it is even less often that one experiences a piece of modern Classical music that is not dreadful. Jennings’ sonatinas were neither ridiculously reactionary nor horribly modern: they were delightful little pieces combining both traditional and modern aspects of composition. Sonatinas 1 & 2 contained Jacobean and Renaissance influences (Yep, Dowland’s hold over British music is still there) whereas Sonatina 3 had been inspired by Debussy’s piano work. The pieces had been originally composed when Jennings was only thirteen years of age. He shelved them soon afterwards but recently took them out of the cupboard and dusted them down – that is to say he rewrote them to combine musical maturity with youthful exuberance. Needless to say that Fawcett’s playing was effortless, as he and Jennings collaborate on a regular basis.

The second half of the evening kicked off with Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, Opus 65. By hunching his back, splaying his fingers and lowering his head, Philip Fawcett tensed himself - only to let go through performing Grieg’s melancholic music. Fawcett’s intense trip-tropping over the keyboard reminded me of skiing down Alpine slopes in early June: melting ice beneath my skis, the fat warm sun glaring, pine trees around me, cows mooching among the boulders and the smell of blueberries and bergamot in my nostrils - a concoction of varying sensations that blended well together.

The last piece of the evening was officially Beethoven’s outstanding Sonata in F minor, Opus 57 – Appassionata. The music swirled, bounced around the cathedral, rested in our ears, bounced up again to swirl around the building and took me into a trance I rarely know of these days. And Fawcett enjoyed stimulating us with it. He would play with grim determination and than deftly switch moods with the occasional grin on his face. It was a spaced-out experience that left me exhausted but very happy.

And then there was the encore. As Fawcett himself pointed out, Beethoven’s Appassionata can’t be bettered when it comes to concluding an evening of piano music, but seeing as it had been and will continue to be a bitterly cold winter, Fawcett chose to round off proceedings with Grieg’s playful piece March of the Trolls – ‘a Norwegian piece of music for a Norwegian winter’ as the pianist put it.

Shame, however, that the attendance was so low. But more fool them, the fools that chose not to venture to St. Peter’s for a truly magnificent evening of piano recitals.

Even our forefathers were allegedly pleased by Fawcett’s performance.

© Jomar de Vrind, 2 Water Street, Lancaster, lA1 1HF Tel: 07792714860

More of Jomar's writing at: and

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Powering Up New Video Art...

Heysham Power Stations are playing an integral part in Liverpool’s Year of Culture, with the sites featuring in a new video installation by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark frontman Andy McCluskey.

The sites’ management team was approached by Andy two years ago about filming the stations for the video, which also includes other forms of electricity generation from the across the north west.

The unique project, which opens at Liverpool’s FACT centre on Friday 12 December and runs until 22nd February, saw the stylised video images set to original music written by Andy.

“British Energy has a long history of working with the arts communities as our stations are well known within the built environment," says Paul Winkle, station director at Heysham 2. “Recently Torness power station, the sister site to Heysham 2, was part of a Richard DeMarco art exhibition where he staged a show of his work but also projected a specially-shot video image on to the side the reactor building.

“But we were delighted to do our bit for Liverpool, and not only provide the city’s power but also be a part of this exciting cultural experience.”

Renowned video director Hambi Haralambous shot views of the stations inside the perimeter fence and also within the turbine hall. The final video shots were edited and designed by Hambi, Andy and Peter Saville the Manchester-based artist/designer who worked famously with Factory Records and OMD in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The Energy Suite Installation project grew out of a fascination I shared with designer Peter Saville of the aesthetics of industrial architecture," explained Andy. “We have been afforded the opportunity to film these incredible sites and record the sounds of their environment, and now we are able to present them accompanied by music inspired by what we have seen and heard.

“Many people will bring their own pre-conceptions when viewing the Energy Suite, however, I suspect that quite a few will leave the Installation agreeing with Peter's often repeated mantra, 'It all looks like art to me now'.”

Ghost stories and ghastly tales at the Ashton Memorial

Join the staff of Williamson Park (if you dare!) for a spine-chilling evening full of shocks and scares, ghost stories and local scary tales on Saturday 20th December, with a performance of the play The Ghost Writer.

Staged inside the evocative main hall of the Ashton Memorial, the play, in which two characters meet up before a funeral to reminisce about an old friend, promises to be a petrifying evening full of shocks, surprises and scares.

The performance begins at 7.30pm on Saturday 20th December. Tickets cost £6 for adults, £5 concessions.

• For tickets or more information please call Williamson Park on 01524 33318, or email to Due to the terrifying nature of the play, parents are advised to accompany under 14s.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Citizen to Close?

Hot on the heels of the closure of the Lancaster offices of the Lancaster Citizen last month (see "When is a Local paper no longer Local?") comes the news that the free paper itself may also soon close.

The national Guardian reports that owners Newsquest are planning to close 11 newspapers in the north-west of England as part of drastic cutbacks to its regional newspaper publishing operation - including the Lancaster Citizen.

The Guardian says the publisher, which is owned by US newspaper giant Gannett, sent an internal memo to staff today (Tuesday 9th December) saying it had entered a number of different consultations to restructure its business in the north-west as a result of continued difficult trading conditions. The memo, seen by, identifies plans to centralise newspaper planning operations at Blackburn for all its north-west titles and create three regional editorial production hubs that will be responsible for all subediting.

The restructure under consideration would see 10 free weekly newspapers cease publication, including the Lancaster, Blackpool and Preston Citizen newspapers, the Westmorland Messenger, the Congleton Guardian, the Macclesfield Community News, the Hale Community News, the Knutsford Community News, the Lancashire Auto Exchange and the Manchester & Merseyside Auto Exchange.

Chris Hughes, the Newsquest regional managing director, told staff on those titles there would be a 30-day consultation with the company over the future of their jobs.

Last month, we reported now the Lancaster Citizen would employ just one local reporter while the newspaper's editor, Phil Fleming, took over as the group editor of the Citizen group, also covering papers in Chorley, Blackpool and Preston, but is now based in Blackburn. All advertising on the paper is now handled from Blackpool.

Five years ago, we understand the Lancaster Citizen was read in 60 per cent of Lancaster and Morecambe homes every week, more than any other newspaper. How did they get it so wrong?

Centros Campaigners To Plead Not Guilty

Centros protest in London

Four Lancastrians will plead not guilty to the charge of Aggravated Trespass on Thursday after being arrested following a protest at the offices of Centros, the development company behind the plans for the Lancaster canal corridor shopping centre (see news story).

The four protesters were arrested last week after entering the Centros offices in London and locking themselves to one another to ensure they would not be immediately removed. They then proceeded to read out a long list of questions about the proposed development that had not been asked by councillors at a recent planning meeting where outline planning permission for the development was given.

“We went along to the planning committee hearing, which was an absolute farce," said protester Matthew Wilson. “Members of the public had just three minutes to voice their concerns, which was nowhere near enough time to list the many reasons we object to this development.”

The development has been strongly opposed by many local residents. Last year, more than 600 people marched through town to show their opposition. Many feel Centros' economic arguments for the proposal failed to take into account the current recession and its impact on the local economy as well as the council’s approval for a new superstore south of the city, which will undoubtedly hurt the supermarket now included in the Centros proposal.

Debenhams, which was already struggling prior to the recession, is no longer seen by some as a reliable ‘retail anchor’ for the scheme and point out Centros itself has reconstituted its commitment to the scheme to remove its liability in the event of failure in the wake of its partner, Miller, pulling out altogether.

The council’s estimated loss of £6 million in the Icelandic bank crash means that currently the scheme presents a risk they are in no position to indemnify.

Feelings against the development run high. Former Council leader Ian Barker, who had represented Bulk Ward for a number of years failed to get re-elected in last year's city council elections, his fate a clear sign that those Lancastrians closest to the development site are strongly opposed to the plans.

The protestors who occupied the Centros London office argue all but the Green councillors failed to listen to their constituents and those councillors in favour of the plans gave the developer an easy ride.

“We went through all the appropriate channels," feels Matthews. "We signed petitions, we marched, we wrote letters of objection, we went and addressed councillors at the planning committee meeting, and we watched councillors almost sleeping through those meetings, ignoring us and accepting at face value everything Centros had to say.

"People will say we should accept the councils decision, but this wasn't democracy in action." harking back to an earlier development that landed Lancaster City Council in trouble, Matthews declared "This was Blobbygate all over again.”

As well as having a local impact, the protesters believe that, in the face of catastrophic climate change, developments such as that proposed, which they argue rely on unsustainable transport patterns and a continuation of over consumption are nothing short of madness and go against the government's own proposals to drastically cut CO2 emissions.

“I was the only person to raise the issue of climate change at the planning committee,” Aurora Trujillo, another protester, adds. “The government acknowledge this is the biggest threat we currently face as a global community, and they acknowledge that the way we travel, shop, and work can all contribute greatly to this threat, and yet not one single councillor had anything to say about this.”

Council planning officers have admitted that air quality, which already fails national standards in the development area will be worsened by the Centros development according to Air Quality Assessments.

Articles in the press this week have called the protest an anti-development campaign but the people involved would love to see this area developed in a genuinely sustainable way, restoring existing historic buildings, building sustainable and affordable housing, providing real green spaces, and ensuring that the existing city centre and its many small, independent shops remain viable."

The protesters were not acting in the name of the Carnival of Culture, It's Our City or any group campaigning against the Centros plan.

The protestors will appear at Westminster Magistrates Court, London on Thursday. Section 68 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (CJA) defines the offence as follows: "A person commits aggravated trespass if he trespasses on land with the intention of disrupting, or intimidating those taking part in, lawful activity taking place on that or adjacent land.

After studying the section, a Centros spokesman said “Our staff felt very intimidated by the seven who broke into the office.”

Friday, 5 December 2008

Othello (Lancaster University Drama Group)

If you've never seen it before, Othello is a great play, all about identity, ethnicity, gender relations - and, of course, misplaced trust and consequent jealousy. The 'green-eyed monster' looms large in both Iago (who has not been promoted, and is jealous (or at least envious) of Cassio, who has been promoted - by Othello) and Othello (whom Iago convinces has been cuckolded by his new, young beautiful wife, Desdemona - and Cassio). A tightly-woven plot! There are also those other famous quotations about loving not wisely but too well, and of course 'making the beast with two backs'.

A production of Othello stands or falls on the performance of Iago and his calculated revenge on Othello and Cassio (with the pure and loyal Desdemona (Eleanor Forrester) as the innocent victim; conveniently constructed as a sexual object). Iago speaks the most by far, needs to produce discreet facial expressions of twisted pleasure as his plan unfolds successfully, addresses the audience about what's in his mind, but all the while must not slip into melodrama. Paul Sellwood's Iago accomplishes all this (just managing to stay away from melodrama), and it is worth seeing this play just for his performance. As Iago's wife, Sarah Pearce is a convincing and tragic Emilia, who realises too late what her unpleasant husband is up to.

The production is characterised by a measure of gender-blind and race-blind casting: no surprises there, these days, except that Othello is played by the white Jon Coleman. The many references to Othello's blackness in the play are addressed by 'tribal' markings - seen first on Othello's face, and, as the play progresses, on his arm, back and chest - as Othello becomes further and further removed from a comfortable sense of himself as a successful Venetian general in a European setting. If there is a 'tragic flaw' here, it is surely naivete, but, more importantly, Othello's profound but underlying identity as (ethnic) 'other' can be seen as rendering him particularly vulnerable to Iago's lies. Jon Coleman takes Othello from a man of calm and dignity to the edge of jealous madness.
This student drama group production is well worth seeing. It is not perfect - some lines are spoken too fast, and others too quietly. It is a long play, but well-paced, as it moves towards its inevitable tragic ending. And the characters are convincing enough to make you start hoping that Othello just might see reason before the end, or that Desdemona might just demand proof of her 'guilt' or at the least escape back to Venice on a ship. But they don't, and the last scene (and Eleanor Forrester is to be commended on her dying) is a genuinely moving one.
Jane Sunderland
Othello continues on Saturday December 6th and Sunday November 7th, Nuffield Theatre, Lancaster University, 7.30 p.m.

Tickets are all £6.00, on the door.

Protesters Take Fight to Centros Office

On Monday 1st December, nine campaigners from Lancaster travelled to London to protest at the offices of Centros, the development company behind the plans for the Lancaster canal corridor shopping centre. (The protesters were not acting in the name of the Carnival of Culture, It's our City or any other campaigning group.)

Contrary to reports appearing in local media, the protest was orderly and peaceful. Whilst some protesters quietly held up a banner and handed out leaflets, four protesters locked themselves to one another, so that they could not be moved. They then proceeded to read out a list of questions to engage Centros' members of staff in a dialogue.

Protesters say that after having sat through the pretence of a council planning meeting, where most councillors (excepting the Greens) happily swallowed the often absurd claims made by Centros, they were disenfranchised by their lack of representation. Why, they ask, did councillors fail to seek answers to basic questions, such as: if this development isn't going to increase traffic, as Centros claims, why does it include a four-fold increase in car parking spaces?

Why did they let Centros claim this development would be good for the environment, on grounds that it would reduce shopping trips from Lancaster to Preston, whilst simultaneously claiming that the development would be economically viable because people from Preston, Blackpool and Kendal would be coming to shop here?

Why did they not challenge Centros' plans by pointing out how big developments like this threaten the already tenuous viability of independent local business?
Centros' proposals went unchallenged by any councillors other than the Greens, and those speaking in opposition had their points brushed aside.

Petitions, letters and the biggest march in Lancaster for a very long time did not make most councillors see that this development faces massive opposition; not even the removal of Ian Barker, the council leader who lost his previously safe seat in the canal corridor ward, which voted overwhelmingly Green - clearly a protest against this development - was acknowledged as a referendum against Centros.

This overthrow of democracy by the council planning office has left many people - including those who took part in Monday's action - feeling that there was no other alternative but to make a more direct statement to Centros - as they have considerably more influence over local planning decisions than local residents do.

Taking non-violent direct action (NVDA) has a long and valued history. From Gandhi to the Suffragettes to the civil rights movement to the anti-roads campaigners, NVDA has highlighted that critical mass point where overwhelming numbers of people recognise the need for democratic values to be reasserted.

As well as having a local impact, the protesters believe that, in the face of catastrophic climate change, developments like this which rely on unsustainable transport patterns and a continuation of over-consumption are nothing short of madness; in fact, they go against the government's own proposals to drastically cut CO2 emissions.

Furthermore it is blindingly obvious that the original economic predictions made for the development completely ignore the quantum change in the economy and the retail sector that has taken place in the last six months. Centros has acknowledged already that it is having difficulty finding stores that will commit to moving into the development - in a town that already has many empty modern town centre retail properties it is madness to attempt to double the city's retail capacity in the current downturn.

Articles in the press this week have called the protest an anti-development campaign; but genuine development must be genuinely sustainable, both environmentally and economically, and include the restoration of existing historic and structurally useful buildings, building sustainable and affordable housing, providing real green spaces, and ensuring that the existing city centre and its many small, independent shops remain viable.

Below is the text of the leaflet handed out to office workers and other people in the building.
For further info, please contact: 01524 383012 and leave a message, or email

Protesters' Statement to Centros

Centros... at the heart of urban degeneration...
Why are we here?
We've come to the offices of Centros today to peacefully demonstrate against the planned invasion of our town and our community by this development company.
Just as Centros has come to Lancaster and forced itself on our community, so we are now coming to Centros directly, to let them know we cannot allow them to destroy the environment and soul of our town. The development that is planned for Lancaster is almost half the size of the existing town centre. That means that either Lancaster town centre will grow by fifty percent, or that the old town, with many small independent shops, will rapidly turn into a ghost town. Neither option is acceptable.
Hundreds of people have taken part in protests against this development, and thousands more have signed petitions and voiced their opposition. But a debt-ridden council and a company based in London have decided they have the right to decide Lancaster's fate. We're here to tell them they don't.

Centros & Climate Change...
The reality of climate change is no longer being denied - the international community has recognised we need to act now to prevent massive and unprecedented world-wide destruction. If we take this threat seriously, developments like that proposed by Centros simply cannot happen.

It is inconceivable that developments that encourage car journeys and unsustainable consumption habits can continue in the face of global climate chaos. We need to start changing the way we live, work and consume, and the plans laid out by Centros epitomise everything we need to stop doing.

Real Sustainability...
Many other individuals and groups have offered their own visions of a truly sustainable and community centred regeneration for the same site. Real green spaces - not trees in tubs; local shops - not multinationals; sustainable transport solutions - not an almost three-fold increase in parking spaces and the destruction of existing cycle routes.
Centros needs this development to go ahead, because that's how it makes its money. Lancaster, and the planet, need this development to stop right now... and a truly sustainable alternative to be chosen instead.

Something's got to give...
The lives, jobs, health and well-being of the thousands of local people who would be directly affected by this proposal, not to mention the state of the planet, must take precedence over the short term interests of Centros.
Utlimately, we believe we have not only a moral, but also a legal right to prevent this development from going ahead; if we're going to stop climate change, we're going to have to stop developments like this.
Please visit the following sites for more information about other campaigns against Centros, the threat of climate change and the economic and social impacts of such developments:

Saturday, 29 November 2008

John Kierdie Watson: A Tribute

Many people in Lancaster have been shocked and saddened to hear of the death of John Kierdie Watson, who was for many years a Trades Unionist in the NHS who fought to defend public services and workers' rights. Lancastrians may remember him selling the daily socialist newspaper, the Morning Star, in Lancaster City Centre on a Saturday (he was one of the last remaining supporters of the Communist Party in Lancaster).

Kierdie, as he was known to his friends, had also been a stalwart of Lancaster and Morecambe Trades Union Council and threw himself into to supporting the miners on strike in 1984/85 and the struggle against Thatcherism.

In later years he became more interested in animal rights, veganism and environmentalism. When at a party he could also sing great renditions of pieces from Italian operas. Although in later years he was in ill health, he still remained one of Lancaster's great characters, welcoming people into his house on the Pointer roundabout. It was shocking to hear of the assault on him in his home this spring, and his subsequent coma. This has now lead to his untimely death at 63. At his funeral on Friday Lancaster paid tribute to the passing of a great character who devoted significant parts of his life and strength to campaigning against the injustices of capitalism and for a better world for all.

An Old Comrade

Local Publisher Seeks Submissions

Local publisher Flax, which is back by Lancaster Litfest, is gearing up for new series of digital anthologies to be published throughout 2009, and they're hoping they'll build on the success of past anthologies and cement our recent experiments.

Flax 017 will showcase the best new fiction from the North West of England and is now looking for submissions from North West-based writers (click here for their definition of a 'North West-based writer' and submission guidelines) Submissions can be up to 1200 words which can comprise of several short fictions, a complete short story, or an extract of a longer work. There is no criteria for theme or genre.

Submissions are welcome between 14 December 2008 and 14 January 2009. It is essential you read their guidelines, available from the Lancaster LitFest web site, before sending anything.

Previous Flax anthologies are available as free downloads from the same website, if you'd like to get a feel of what we have published in the past.

Flax is committed to the professional development of the writers it publishes and offers a bespoke service to support the needs of each individual writer.

• For more information visit

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Bringing the House Down - Literally!

Going, going, gone! Workers this week demolished a house on the corner of Torrisholme and Oxford Roads in Skerton to make way for a larger BP garage. Planning permission was granted some time ago.

Demolition and construction work is expected to take a month.

Local councillor Charles Grattan has voiced concerns to the County Council about the revised road layout that will result, suggesting a "yellow box" arrangement be introduced to ensure better traffic management. These have apparently been introduced on the A6 with some success.

Government, Business Brace for North West Downturn

Minister for the North West Beverley Hughes has met business leaders from across the North West to spell out the measures being taken by the Government to ensure that the region emerges from the economic downturn stronger than before and to listen to their concerns.

The meetings follows publication of the Pre-Budget Report outlining steps the Government is taking to support the economy, business and households through the current economic challenges.

So far, the Minister has met representatives of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, North and West Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, Warrington Chamber of Commerce and business leaders from across the region and joined the CBI's Regional Council meeting in Liverpool for a discussion on the PBR and the regional economic situation.

Nationally, latest Government data indicates the unemployment rate has risen to 5.8% and the redundancy level for the three months to September 2008 was 156,000, up 29,000 over the quarter and up 27,000 over the year. Across Lancashire, an additional 3,428 people began claiming Jobseekers Allowance, taking the total in the county up to 11,424, a rise of 0.5 per cent. That total includes another 55 people in Fylde and another 169 in Wyre with North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce blaming cashflow problems for forcing many businesses into having to lay people off.

"The Government has used the PBR to put into place a clear set of measures that will support the most vulnerable, help individuals, families and businesses both here in the North West and across the country," she commented.

"The economic downturn has had a huge impact over the last few months - and all of us have a part to play in making sure the region is best placed to deal with the consequences.

"We are building on a strong platform of investment in the North West and I am grateful to the part businesses are playing to ensure we mitigate the worst impacts in the North West.

"The action taken in the Pre-Budget Report demonstrates that the Government has listened to the concerns of businesses and responded positively."

Included in the Pre-budget Report were a package of measures targeted at supporting 444,150 small and medium-sized enterprises in the North West, including an increase in the threshold at which an empty property becomes available for business rates, which will benefit around 76 percent of empty properties in the region.

£350m of the planned growth in the Train to Gain budget between 2008/09 has been re-priortised to provide more flexible training opportunities and a "substantial" package of measures has been implemented the Government claims is designed to ensure that those facing redundancy and seeking employment are helped back into work as quickly as possible, which it's hoped will help with the 48,673 job vacancies that were notified in October 2008.

Measures to support the long term stability of the housing market and to help homeowners facing difficulties have also been announced, along with plans to bring forward investment in new social housing which will help the 8,530 households deemed in priority need.

Across Cumbria and Lancashire 1,320 mortgage possession orders were made between July and September, up 8 per cent.

The Minister has also set up the Joint Economic Commission for the North West, which brings together key players from the public and private sectors to fight the North West's corner during the economic downturn.

Click here for Official "Work Deprivation" Statistics for Lancaster

Picture: Beverley Hughes at the Sapphire Cement Plant in Partington.

Looking Back on Poulton's Past

Take a glimpse of Morecambe’s past with the ‘Looking back on Poulton-le-Sands Calendar 2009’.

Poulton Neighbourhood Management, a Lancaster City Council regeneration scheme, has produced a calendar for 2009 with a collection of photographs from Poulton’s past.

The photographs capture the atmosphere of what was not only a thriving seaside resort for holidaymakers, but also a busy community for those who lived here and illustrate some dramatic changes that have taken place over the years and also some views which are still very familiar.

• Ideal as Sand Grown’uns Christmas presents, the calendars cost £5 and are on sale at the Poulton Neighbourhood Management Office, 53 Euston Road, Morecambe.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Train Strain: Smith Challenges Hoon

The Secretary of State for the Department for Transport Geoff Hoon has agreed to meet with Morecambe and Lunesdale MP Geraldine Smith to discuss changes to local train times which could see commuters forced back onto Lancaster's already congested network.

The Lancaster Guardian reported last week on commuter concerns that plans to change the times of early morning trains between Morecambe and Lancaster -- the result of changes to West Coast mainline services to allow more long-distance services -- will force more workers onto the roads.

From 14 December, the already busy existing Monday to Friday two-carriage services from Morecambe to Lancaster at 8.05am and 8.33am are being replaced by trains at 8.11am and 8.51am. This means people starting work at 9.00am will have no choice but to get the earlier train if they want to get to work on time.

In a House of Commons debate on Tuesday, Geraldine Smith challeneged Hoon on the issue, asking if he was aware that one of the trains on the morning peak-time Morecambe to Lancaster commuter service had been taken off because of capacity problems with the west coast main line.

"We welcome the improvements that the Government have made to the line, which have made a difference, but there are still capacity issues for smaller lines crossing the main line," she pointed out.

Responding, Hoon said he was not aware of that consequence of improving capacity on the west coast main line. "I would be delighted to meet her to discuss the issues affecting her constituents."

In the same debate, Hoon set out current Government plans for improving the network and claimed Labour's policies on the rail network had been instrumental in its renewed popularity and increased usage. "The White Paper on rail set out the Government's commitment to increasing rail capacity by 2014, backed by investment of some £10 billion," he said. "This includes the procurement of an additional 1,300 carriages for operation right across the network; 423 vehicles have already been ordered; and yesterday, we announced proposals to procure a further 200, which will benefit passengers in the Thames valley, around Bristol and on longer distance regional services in central northern England."

Responding questions on fare rises, he refused to accept claims that following last week's unregulated fare increases of up to 11 per cent, many people using the railways believe that the Government's only strategy for dealing with capacity is to price them off them.

Earlier this month, Hoon prpvoked fury among rail users nationwide after claiming overcrowded trains on the West Coast Mainline are a "good thing" because it proves passengers can afford to travel by train. The Lancashire Evening Post reported that he had said packed carriages can be viewed as a sign of success and described Britain's rail network as the "envy" of the world.

Northern Rail says more than half of its 2,500 services have been affected by changes to the West Coast Main Line to allow more long-distance services. Lancaster and Morecambe Rail Users Group is campaigning against the timetable changes and hopes they will be changed in May when the summer timetable is introduced.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Tod's Talk on Art at the Storey

The Storey Institute has been a bit of a Lancaster gem for a long time, providing the people of Lancaster with creative inspiration in one way or another for over a hundred years. For the past 12 months however, this colossal Victorian monument to art, learning, and all things which generally make us much more interesting people, has been clad in a skeleton of scaffolding.

Now, the scaffolding has been peeled away, and the re-launch of the building, as The Storey Creative Industries Centre or 'The Storey' is getting ever closer.

What's interesting about this building is not what it looks like with a fresh coat of paint but what it represents - a cultural base of ideas, innovation and creativity made possible by the tenants, partners and public who animate the spaces.

The Storey public art steering group led by Suzanne Dimmock, Lancaster City Council's Public Art and Regeneration Officer, has commissioned artist Tod Hanson to design a public art work for The Storey, which aims to reflect all of those things, his use of bold graphics and site sensitive interventions makng his work idea.

Tod's will be a familiar face to all those who turned up at Lancaster's outdoor market to view his designs for The Storey in September. Storey Gallery is now working in collaboration with The Storey to deliver its second public event, a special Talks on Art to present Tod's ideas to a wider audience and provide a platform for discussion. The artist will talk about his work in detail, including his designs for the public art commission at The Storey in Lancaster.

The Talk on Art will take place at 8.00pm at The Dukes on the 2nd December, tickets for this talk are free and include a complementary drink courtesy of The Storey.

• It is advisable to book in advance, as tickets are limited. To reserve a ticket contact or call 01524 844133.

Strictly Eleveneses with Ludus at The Borough!

Ludus Dance and The Borough in Dalton Square have teamed up to offer three brand new exciting Wednesday dance classes in Lancaster from early next year.

All of the new classes - Ludus Elevenses, Active Lunch and Boogie Nights - will take place in The Borough's function room every Wednesday from 14th January 2009 onwards. Each of the new classes are for people of all abilities and there's no need for any previous experience to attend.

• Swing, sway and gently turn to your musical favourites both old and new in Ludus Elevenses, a dance class for the over 55's. Hugely popular in other parts of the county, this fun and fabulous dance class will set you up for the rest of the day! Bring a friend, or make new ones in this relaxed atmosphere. Starts at 11.00am.

Active Lunch offers the perfect way for those of you with a hectic schedule to “get fit” in your lunch hour. In this 45 minute class, starting at 12.45pm, you can learn different routines, try different dance styles and work off those Christmas treats! Plus you can leave the session feeling you've truly earned your delicious soup or a sandwich, freshly prepared, from The Borough kitchen.

Finally, Wednesday Night Fever hits Lancaster with Boogie Nights! Whether you're a 'smooth operator' or a 'disco disaster' this exciting new class will improve your moves, confidence and fitness, whilst you strut your stuff to fab 'n' funky disco classics. Fun guaranteed, however medallions are optional! Starts at 7.30pm.

These three new classes mark the start of an exciting partnership between Ludus and The Borough.

"As demand for our classes continues to grow, we're delighted that we can offer new fun, friendly, dance classes within such a great social atmosphere that Martin and Hannah provide at The Borough,” James Wooldridge Head of ICT and Marketing at Ludus commented.

Both The Borough and Ludus are delighted that this partnership will enable everyone to enjoy dancing in an informal setting whilst afterwards being able to relax downstairs with a bite to eat and a delicious drink. Throughout these Wednesday 'dance days' there are special menus and offers to choose from, including the famous Borough Wednesday Steak night offer.

In addition to these extra classes, Ludus are also running regular dance classes at their dance studio on King Street. Their usual internet Early Bird booking for Spring 2009 classes has now begun at where you can save up to 20% on their entire range of Spring classes both at the King Street dance studio and at The Borough. This offer ends on the 10th December 2008.

• To find out prices and times of all classes please call Ludus Dance on 01524 35936 or log onto

Putting the Spotlight on North West Food

Home Grown: Food Champions of England's Northwest, a new book highlighting the renaissance of English provincial food and featuring stories and recipes from local chefs and producers, is published this month.

The 400-page coffee table publication tells the story of how some of the region’s chefs, who are passionate about local and regional food, have led a Northwest ‘food revolution’. This has been achieved by working closely with local producers and suppliers from across Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside, to influence and champion regional produce that is traditionally grown in the Northwest.

Home Grown demonstrates how the connection between chef and producer is crucial and puts an emphasis on seasonal, quality, local ingredients. It introduces the people behind some of the region’s favourite products, as they reveal the stories behind their success.

Each of the 12 chefs featured, from Paul Askew to Marc Wilkinson, give their views on food and shared three of their signature recipes made with their favourite local products.

“The Northwest is seeing a renaissance of English provincial food," feels Paul Askew, who runs the internationally-renowned The London Carriage Works, part of Hope Street Hotel in Liverpool, "and is home to some of the country’s top chefs and producers, with fascinating stories to tell, particularly about their close collaboration. Home Grown paints a vivid picture of how food is well and truly on the region’s menu.”

The unique stories behind some of the region’s most innovative products play a major role in the book. Originally an art teacher, John Price gave up his career to set up the now renowned Port of Lancaster Smokehouse and Anne Connelly swapped the high hills of Northern Italy for the gentle Cheshire countryside, where she creates mountain cheeses based on traditional Italian recipes. Meanwhile, Aidan Monks’ passion for artisan bread dates back to his Lake District childhood, delivering bread from his grandfather’s bakery.

Lorna Tyson, who has worked on behalf of the local and regional food support agencies led by Food Northwest to manage the development of the book, said: “Home Grown makes clear the vital link between chefs, producers and suppliers in bringing the best food to the table, with an emphasis on integrity at every stage of the process. This close collaboration has inspired a new food movement across the region.”

Home Grown is illustrated by award-winning photographer Colin McPherson and is written by Deidre Morley. It is published by Liverpool-based Bluecoat Press.

The publication of the book coincides with an initiative to encourage young people to consider a career in food. Up to £1,500 from the book’s proceeds will provide a scholarship to the winner of the North West Young Chef for the next three years. It will give the successful candidate the opportunity to work overseas with a selected chef to help extend their experience.

Home Grown will be available from major retailers and independent bookstores the end of November 2008. It will also be available online at or by telephoning 0151 707 2390, and is priced £19.99.

Home Grown is championed by all of the food support agencies in the Northwest which includes Food Northwest, Made in Cheshire, Made in Cumbria and Made in Lancashire.

Note to Editors

For further information contact: Anne Benson
07811 169138

Photography by Colin McPherson is available upon request.

Food Northwest is the organisation established by the Northwest Regional Development Agency to lead the region’s food and drink industry. It combines the expertise of the former Northwest Food Alliance and the Northwest Fantastic Food Partnership. It has overall responsibility for the food and drink sector in the Northwest, from primary food production and processing to food retail and foodservice. It will coordinate the delivery of the 2006 – 2011 Northwest Food and Drink Strategy

The Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) leads the economic development and regeneration of England's Northwest and is responsible for:

o Supporting business growth and encouraging investment
o Matching skills provision to employer needs
o Creating the conditions for economic growth
o Connecting the region through effective transport and communication infrastructure
o Promoting the region’s outstanding quality of life

Liverpool is the UK's representative as European Capital of Culture 2008. The Liverpool Culture Company, established by Liverpool city council in 2000, is co-ordinating a year-long programme of more than 350 events – 70 per cent of which are free. It is estimated the city, which is also undergoing a £5bn regeneration phase, will attract an extra 1.7m visitors in 2008. To find out more please go to