Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Cash up for Grabs for Cycling Projects

Got an idea that will help boost cycling in the Lancaster and Morecambe District? If so, Lancaster City Council's Cycling Demonstration Town Team wants to hear from you.

With £10,000 up for grabs to local groups of people who can prove they can make a difference to cycling in the district, the team are hoping to encourage locally based cycling projects to come forward and apply for a share of the spoils.

These might include projects that seek to publicise or promote the take up of cycling, increase skills and training, organise rides or one-off cycling events, increase cycle commuting (to work or to school) or simply increase access to cycling.

Bids for grants (up to a maximum of £1,500) are open to all groups within the Lancaster district although priority will be given to those who have not received CDT funding before.

The deadline for applications is Friday 27th March 2009.

• Application forms can be downloaded from, by telephoning 01524 582392 or by email to

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Watch out for the Vegetable Nannies!

The Dukes and Lancaster University's Nuffield Theatre are celebrating the launch of ‘A Night Less Ordinary', a new national scheme that’s allowing the two theatre venues to team up and offer thousands of free tickets to local young people under the age of 26.

As we reported recently, over the next two years young people will be able to attend, for free, pretty much every show the two theatres are presenting, including the upcoming Candoco and Song of Songs at The Nuffield and current Dukes’ show Sabbat, whose run was recently extended.

In order to mark the start of this extraordinary project, the Nuffield and the Dukes are welcoming some rather unusual guests.

This Friday, 20th February around Lancaster University Campus and on Saturday 21st in Lancaster town centre, keep your eyes peeled for the famous ‘Vegetable Nannies’ (courtesy of Nuffield-regular Ben Faulks). Wheeling an ancient Victorian pram laden with a prized collection of vegetables, the Nannies will be out for the weekend, showing off their allotment cherubs and telling many a tale, like any proud parent would.

During this strolling interactive performance you will be able to befriend, pet, feed and comfort all manner of earthen toddlers, such as Magnus the ambitious downhill-racing watermelon, Jessica the award winning sweet potato beauty queen & even David, the talented little marrow whose ambition is to become a stage actor.

They'll be accompanied by young people who can tell you more about the free theatre tickets project, so keep an eye out for them...

In the meantime, if you're under 26, or know someone who is, sign up for this great project. To receive full details, and a membership card allowing great discounts at both venues, contact the Dukes on 01524 598500, or the Nuffield on 01524 594151.

SHOWS CURRENTLY INCLUDED IN SCHEME Candoco Dance Company - Double-Bill
8pm, 19th February @ The Nuffield Theatre
A dramatic double bill of fierce new work from top choreographers Nigel Charnock and Hofesh Shechter.

Song of Songs – Weeding Cane
8pm, 24th & 25th February @ The Nuffield Theatre
An exploration of love through the lives of the performers and a top circus aerialist.

The Last Supper – Reckless Sleepers
8pm, 4th – 6th March @ The Nuffield Theatre
Reckless Sleepers invite you to dinner, to sample the last meal requests of the famous and the not so famous. From Marilyn Monroe to Beethoven to prisoners on death row, this intimate and unusual performance presents a startling set of last statements, last meals and last minute scenarios to a limited audience of 39 people.

The Dukes presents SABBAT
Various show times, until 21st February @ The Dukes Playhouse
This powerful new play attempts to unravel the mysteries behind one of England’s most famous trials, that of the notorious Pendle Witches. Did Alice Nutter and the others really take part in a witches’ Sabbat? Or were these Pendle folk innocent victims at a time of persecution, paranoia and superstition?

Experimental drawing showcased at Uni

Artwork by student Claire-Louise Nutbrown in the University of Cumbria exhibition.

Trainee art teachers from the University of Cumbria will be exhibiting their experimental and innovative drawings in the Lancaster Campus's Alexandra Gallery from tomorrow, Wednesday 18 February to 26 February.

The free exhibition is a showcase of Analytical and Expressive Drawings produced by 4th year students studying for Qualified Teacher Status. In this final Art Module of their programme they have worked on self- directed projects and had the opportunity to extend their skills and visual comprehension by exploring drawing in experimental and challenging ways. Each student has researched and investigated a single theme. A wide range of materials and techniques have been explored in innovative and unexpected ways, along with a significant variety of scales and formats.

In addition to the framed work, visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to see student sketchbooks on display. Some of these are educational sketchbooks and have been designed as teaching aids to help children understand different types of drawing and how colours and materials can be mixed.

"The work on display, produced on self-directed projects, shows original and experimental visual investigations using a broad range of drawing media," explains Course leader Iain Sloan. "The results are exciting and challenging and the wide range of visual research undertaken by all will prove valuable in their future careers as primary subject leaders for Art."

• For more information about studying art at the University of Cumbria, visit the website at or call 0845 6061144. To find out more about the exhibition, contact art lecturers Iain Sloan or Andrea Brook on 01524 384363.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Comic Fans Gather...

Lancaster's comics fans gather at the Gregson this week, for an event organised by Lancaster's First Age Comics, which is based in the Assembly Rooms in King Street.

The Uncanny League Of Astonishing Amazers will kick off at 8.00pm on Wednesday (18 Frebruary) at the Gregson in Moor Lane.

Various comics creators now live in the area, including Andy Diggle, former editor of 2000AD and whose credits include Green Arrow for DC Comics and Paul Harrison-Davies, artist for Boom! Studios and a contributor to an upcoming comic supplement for TOXIC.

• First Age Comics is open Tuesday-Fridays from 10.00am-4.30pm, Saturday 10.00am-5.30pm.

More Public Toilets to Go

With Lancaster City Council facing perhaps its worst financial crisis in years as it seeks savings of some £1.7 million, cut backs to services are under discussion this week that include the closure of over 10 public toilets.

Strangely, it is the Greens that have abandoned their usual opposition to the loss of public services – readers will recall their outright condemnation of local post offices – and are pushing for the closure of facilities in rural areas, Carnforth and Morecambe from the beginning of April. It is claimed the closure will save some £100,000 a year.

The toilets under threat are those on Regent Road and adjacent to The Dome in Morecambe; Heysham Village, Sunderland Point, Glasson Dock, Cockerham, Silverdale, Warton, Red Bank Shore, Carnforth, Bolton Le Sands, Hest Bank and the Victoria Institute, Caton (the latter cleaned by the Council).

Since the plan was suggested proposals to close the Bull Beck toilets on Caton Road, well-used by bikers and cyclists, have been withdrawn, because there are no obvious businesses nearby. That will be welcome news to Liberal Democrat group leader Coun Stuart Langhorn, also a Caton parish councillor, who described the closure facility as “madness” in a letter to Cabinet member Jon Barry.

The closed toilets will be replaced by a scheme similar to that adopted in Richmond, London by which local businesses, including caf├ęs, pubs and hotels, will instead offer use of their toilet facilities in return for a £750 annual payment. £20,000 has been set aside for signage to publicise the scheme. The Richmond scheme has met with high praise from government.

Budget Crisis Forces Council's Hand

The Council is having to make some difficult choices about its budget in order to achieve the agreed four per cent council tax rise. In addition to the toilet closure proposal, other service cuts, which come on top of the closure of Morecambe Dome and the cancellation of the Youth Games, include reduction in cemetery servicing, halving playground repair budget and turfing over even more Council flower beds, this time in Dalton Square, Morecambe Town Hall's sunken gardens and the Harbour garden area of Morecambe Promenade to save nearly £12,000.

“We're doing what Richmond has done,” explains Coun Barry. “To do it properly, you have to pay businesses. We've set aside money to do this.”

“To me, the principle at first appears attractive,” says Carnforth councillor Tony Johnson, “but surely the City Council needs to ensure the availability of replacement facilities before the step is taken to "mothball" existing toilets.

“Also, as independent businesses are not open all day, more than one establishment providing facilities may need to be put in place within walking distance of the toilets due to be closed. The project looks ill-considered.”

“I agree it is all rushed and should have been started earlier,” Barry acknowledges, adding that he supports the provision of public toilets. “But I'm afraid we're having to rush things through in order to hit the budget.

“I hope this works,” he adds, “and I'll be harassing officers to make sure that it does.”

If it does, then further cuts to public toilets may follow. “It may be that we could add a few elsewhere if this works well,” Barry told virtual-lancaster.

The decline of the Public Toilet

The first public toilet in Britain was opened over 150 years ago – and for a long time the provision of state-of-the-art municipal facilities was a matter of considerable civic pride. But in recent years the state of the nation’s toilets has instead been the focus of increasing public concern.

Over many years a significant number of public toilets have closed or been allowed to deteriorate, such that by 2005 a National Consumer Council survey recorded that two thirds of people thought that “public toilets in Britain are a national disgrace”.

In a government document published last year, setting out a strategy for improving such services (PDF link), pointing out they make for a safer, greener environment and improve public health, Baroness Andrews commented “A lack of accessible and good public toilets affects not only the quality of our town centres, parks or bus stations, it also reduces the dignity and quality of people’s lives.

“After all, they are one of the basic facilities that residents and visitors alike depend on.”

Incredibly, despite the commitment of Councils to maintaining public health in other areas such as food hygiene in local restaurants, they are under no legal obligation to provide public toilets – which is why such facilities have become a ‘soft target’ when it comes to budget cuts. In addition, limitations in the 1936 Public Health Act have limited councils’ ability to charge for the use of some facilities, which, as in other countries, would enable some costs to be recouped. The Government has been urged to amend the act to allow this, but this has yet to happen

Toilet closures are, however, very unpopular: in recent years, thousands of people have written letters, signed petitions, attended events, or participated in surveys – highlighting their concern about the availability and quality of public toilets where they live.

A staggering 62% of respondent recently told Help the Aged they felt housebound in Wales because of a lack of the ‘lifeline’ facilities.

The story was prompted by the news that in April Gwynedd County Council will close more than a fifth of the county’s 95 public toilets in a move which will save the council around £133,000 a year.

In the past, some Councils have also claimed the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) as an excuse to close public toilets - estimated at 40% over the last eight years.

Locally, facilities in Torrisholme and Lancaster have both been closed in the past on the basis that they were not fit for purpose, and not replaced. This time, the council say that the toilets earmarked for closure this time will remain standing for the time being to allow their long-term future to be reviewed, and to give parish councils the chance to acquire them if they wished.

The plan will be debated by the Council’s cabinet on Tuesday.

• Public Toliet Finder on Your Mobile:
Offers mobile owners the means to locate their nearest public tolilet
• Campaign for Better Public Toilets:
This campaign is backed by many national businesses.
Richmond's Community Toilet Scheme: Overview
• ENCAMS have produced a toolkit about Richmond Council’s Community Toilet Scheme
• Government level views on toilet provision: (PDF)