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

Free Reed Band at the Gregson

Top Lancaster folk group The Free Reed Band has announced that its former caller, Mark Davies, latterly of Hungary and now of Libya, will call at a ceilidh with the band at the Gregson Centre next month.

The ceildh will take place on Monday 29 December 2008 from 8.00pm to 11.00pm and the night of dancing will only cost you £5.00.

"This is the last ceilidh of the year," says band member Tony Cooke, "the first time we have seen Mark for three years and the eight hundred and twentieth time Free Reed Band has played at the Gregson!"

Put it in your diary now, tell your friends and make it the social occasion of that week.

New university campaign to tackle obesity

The University of Cumbria is representing the UK in a pan-European campaign to tackle child and adolescent obesity. The project, “In Form: campaign against child and adolescent obesity”, will take place over the next three years and has received funding from the European Union’s Public Health Programme.

The University is engaging with local communities in the North West and working with health, education and community professionals to implement projects to improve the diet and fitness.

The University’s first task is to create a library of research findings, policies, therapies and preventative actions to tackle obesity. The information will be gathered during the first phase of the project and will help shape and European guidance manual and the design and development of an accredited training programme for twenty professional ‘obesity’ trainers.

The project will include a pilot summer camp for children from eight partner countries and a ‘social’ marketing initiative aiming to encourage and enable children and adolescents to change dietary and activity patterns. The University of Cumbria team hope to the recruit children and adolescents to a pilot project that will enable them to create their own campaign to target their peer group.

“Obesity is a major challenge not just for the UK, but worldwide," says Vincent O’Brien, Principal Lecturer in Public Health at University of Cumbria (pictured above). "The EU has set objectives to reduce obesity and has turned to public health experts to create a wining strategy that will help educate and inform. This project is truly unique in that part of the awareness campaign will be developed by those we are trying to reach.

"The aim is to connect with children and teenagers by speaking to them in their own vernacular, and what better way to do that than enlist young people to create the campaign for us? The programme is a pan-European project and is a prestigious addition to our public health credentials, and we hope that it will be rolled out with great success.”

Free Teaching Taster courses at the University of Cumbria

The University of Cumbria is holding a free three-day introduction to teaching course from the 25 to 27 November at the Lancaster Campus. The course will focus on three areas which are under represented in the teaching profession including black and minority ethnic recruitment into teaching, secondary (STEM) shortage subjects and attracting men into primary teaching.

The event will be launched at the Lancaster House Hotel on Tuesday 25 November from 6-9 p.m. During the evening head teachers, school based staff, student ambassadors, university staff and in excess of 40 visitors from the three key targeted areas will be shown presentations introducing the University, the Faculty of Education and teaching as a career.

"We are keen to recruit 'future teachers' to our high-quality programme in the areas which are under represented," explains Patrich Smith, Partnership Zone Manager at the University of Cumbria, "Whether interested in undergraduate or postgraduate initial teacher training, we look forward to meeting prospective students at the three day event."

Evidence suggests that primary school children benefit greatly from positive male role models in school and that parents and children want to see more male teachers in the classroom. Black and minority ethnic teachers are under represented in British schools despite England being a multi-cultural society. However the teaching profession does not necessarily fully represent our cultural richness. There is also a national shortage of teachers in some specified subject areas like Maths, Science, ICT and Design & Technolog and the university is keen to recruit 'future teachers' to its high-quality primary and secondary programmes.

The three day taster course will let you; meet university tutors, current students and a newly qualified teacher. Experience what it means to be a teacher in school today; take part in an interactive teaching session at the University; visit a local school to observe and talk to practising teachers and pupils; gather information on bursaries and grants available to support you; and receive advice and guidance on how to submit an application.

The University of Cumbria has more than 15,000 students at campuses and sites in Carlisle Ambleside, Penrith, Lancaster, Whitehaven, Barrow and London. It provides a wide range of degree courses in subjects including business, the arts, teaching, nursing, outdoor studies and sport, to name just a few.

• For more details call 01524 384384

Talking Birds at the Nuffield

Pioneering theatre company Talking Birds come to the Nuffield, Lancaster this December with a funny, musical, slightly chaotic Christmas show for those who like their seasonal fare skewed and a little bit heartbreaking

Trevor Goose and his Dark Night of Lights attempts to tell the story of The Little Matchgirl, but internal difficulties with the band - Hans Christian and the Andersons – as well as with a Danish tourism officer and a missing celebrity mean the evening soon turns into a painfully amusing spectacle as the cabaret comes face to face with it’s own dark failings.

The music is divine, boasting a fully feathered live band – led by composer Derek Nisbet – and they’ll rip off a series of exhilarating numbers throughout the show. The performance also features a small, but crucial role performed by a specially cast local performer, who will play the part of the mother of one of the band members.

Some shows like to be seen as an antidote to Christmas shows, but who wants an antidote when the venom is this much pleasure?

More info: