Friday, 12 February 2010

Sport Relief Mile at Salt Ayre Sports Centre

Our City Council is urging people to don their running shoes in support of a national charity.

On Sunday 21st March, the council’s Salt Ayre Sports Centre will be hosting a Sainsbury’s Sport Relief Mile, a charity event open to participants of any age or ability, from toddlers to pensioners and anyone in between.

Milers can chose between a one-mile, three-mile and six-mile course. That means, from teeny-tots with their mums and dads, to super sprinters up against the clock, there’s something for everyone on the big day.

Registration is from 8.30am with a mass warm up from 9.30am. All participants will start at 10am.

The route takes in fantastic views of Lancaster Castle and the Priory church, running alongside a stretch of the River Lune.

• Sign up today at

Lancaster International Women's Day 2010: Exhibitions

The 2010 Lancaster International Women's Day (IWD) celebrations kick off today as two exhibitions of women's art open in the City Centre. Things my Mother Didn't Tell Me (12 Feb - 8 March) at the Dukes Gallery is exactly what it says on the tin. Women at Work and Play (12 Feb - 12 March) at the Gregson Centre pays imaginative tribute to women on many fronts.

A third exhibition, Women and Food will run from 1 - 15 March at the Whale Tail Cafe.

Further events include a Rubbish Fashion Show, (with prep workshops for entrants), a grand Women's Information Day, an exciting theatre season at The Dukes, brilliant comedienne Lucy Porter, the International Women's Peace Service and breakfast.

• For more information see for full IWD celebration listings for Feb and March. They are also on the virtual-lancaster calendar.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

£7000 of vodka seized during raids on off-licences


Police have seized over £7,000 worth of potentially illegally bought vodka following raids on off-licences in Morecambe.

Officers from Morecambe’s neighbourhood policing teams swooped on shops on Wednesday morning as part of a joint operation with the HM Revenue & Customs Specialist Investigations Department.

Four premises were raided including KSK Mini Mart on Queen Street, West End Late Shop on Yorkshire Street, Premier Shop on Westminster Road and KSK Mini Mart on Albert Road.

As a result 673 bottles of vodka – valued at over £7,000 - were seized on suspicion that UK tax had not been paid on the items.

Further investigations are underway and details of the seizure will be passed to local licensing officers.
Town centre community beat manager PC Rob Barnsley said, "This operation sends a strong message to business owners who trade outside the rules. All shops need to ensure the goods they sell are obtained legitimately or they run the risk of having them removed."

Pictured: PC Barnsley with some of the seized vodka

New Down's Syndrome group launches in Lancaster

A new Down's Syndrome Family and Carer's Group has just launched in Lancaster for families and carers of people with Down's Syndrome.

The first meeting is on Sat 6th March 2010 at 10am - 12 noon at Appletree Children's Centre in Milking Stile Lane (off Willow Lane) and all ages are welcome.

• Meetings will be 6th March, 10th April and then every first Saturday in the month. For further information please contact Appletree Children's Centre, Milking Stile Lane (off Willow Lane) Lancaster LA1 5QB Phone 01524 64132

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

In Review: It Snows (Dukes Senior Youth Theatre)

In a February still down to below zero every night, with too-recent memories of trudging down the road with other similarly shapeless people, all avoiding the lethally icy pavements, it’s not hard to empathise with one of the central ideas of It Snows: when it snows, things change, and it’s magic – for a while. The Dukes Senior Youth Theatre do full creative justice to Bryony Lavery’s short play written for an ensemble production.

We start by meeting one of the two main characters: the would-be photographer Cameron Huntley (Nick Wright). He’s bored – but then so are the other, less artistic lads, who give him a hard time in a beautifully choreographed scene featuring a large wheelie-bin. Cameron’s counterpart, Caitlin Amoretti (Anna Sainsbury), is a lover of drama and mime who also provides post-modern commentary on the play. Both are delicately characterised in Lavery’s script and both actors convince in performance. After dancing round each other Caitlin finally gets it together mimetically with Cameron at a bus stop. As a result, they miss the party hosted by Marlee Holmes-Spalding (played admirably by Rosa Cooper Davis), but luckily we do not, as Marlee is cleverly run rings round (literally) by friends she doesn’t recognise and gatecrashers she knows she doesn’t know who treat the malt whiskey and dining-room table in ways Marlee knows will result in big trouble. It Snows is in fact a visual treat throughout, as the ensemble shapes and reshapes itself, puts on white woolly hats and scarves, and throw snowballs at each other and the audience. That is – until the snow changes to slush, as it always does.

Louie Ingham’s production makes as much of the ensemble as the named characters. These young actors talk and dance in impressive synchrony: everyone is thoroughly individualised and at the same time profoundly part of a swift and smoothly-moving whole.

Jane Sunderland

It Snows continues at DT3, Moor Lane, Lancaster on Thursday Feb. 11 and Friday Feb. 12, 7.000pm

Box Office 01524 598500

Tickets £6/£4.

Sat Nav Crime Spree prompts Police warning

wmp__1251881304_satnav.jpgLocal police are advising the public to remove valuable items from unoccupied vehicles after a spate of thefts in the area.

A number of vehicles have been broken in to over the past few weeks after valuable items - including sat nav systems – were left on display in cars and other vehicles.

Officers are reminding members of the public that these systems are portable and can easily be removed from vehicles by opportunist thieves – just as quickly as the owner installed it.

Sat nav systems should always be removed from the vehicle and either taken away completely or alternatively locked in the boot and the tell-tale sign of the suction holder should always be removed from the windscreen of the vehicle. For additional protection, car owners are advised to security mark the sat nav unit with an ultra violet marking pen.

“This type of theft is so very easily prevented," commented Jan Brown, crime prevention officer at Morecambe police station. "Just by taking a few precautions, you can reduce the chances of becoming a victim.

“Most criminals are opportunists - they take what they can see. I urge people to double check when they leave their cars to see if there is anything on display and if there is they should remove it from the car.”

She added: “Thieves are also taking items from glove boxes, so often it is not enough just to hide the item from view – it needs to be removed from the vehicle.”

• Anyone with information about car crime is asked to contact Lancashire police on 08451 25 35 45 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

In Review: My Mother Said I Never Should

Now showing until Saturday 27 February 2010, the Dukes' production of 'My Mother Said I Never Should' is a beautifully and cleverly interwoven observation of women's lives over three generations. Like a tapestry with different coloured textured threads – each thread representing the choices open to the women.

The play smoothly moves through time allowing the audience to experience the influences and consequences of the choices made. It felt like turning the pages of someone's photograph album - opening at the middle, moving onto the end and back to the beginning. Dipping in and out of the black and white images - to relive in colour those lives and memories.

Lorna Beckett, Anne Kavanagh, Christine Mackie and Josie Daxter gave exceptional performances as they transformed from one time one generation to another. In one scene, where Jackie's baby Rosie appears, the extraordinary baby sounds and murmurings created by Christine Mackie bring a realistic yet surreal feeling to the production.

Charlotte Keatley wrote this unusual play to 'represent us all' through the lives of women to show the 'massive social changes of the 20th Century'. In this she succeeds with a touchingly honest portrayal – she has in her own words 'created a vehicle in which other people can make journeys'.

Are you ready for this journey? How different or similar is it to your own?
As the director Amy Leach poignantly writes 'as you watch Keatley's beautiful and brutal play, you'll also be reminded of your own choices and memories.'
What a wonderful production!

Elizabeth Nicholson 10/2/10
For details on the production and performances, go to the Dukes website.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Local jobs threat as Ethel Austin goes into administration

Ethel Austin Lancaster

Liverpool-based retail chain Ethel Austin and sister chain Au Naturale has gone into administration, putting local jobs at risk in Morecambe and Lancaster.

This is the second time Ethel Austin has gone into administration in two years. In April 2008, the company's financial woes resulted in the loss of over 250 jobs and the closure of 33 shops, including one in Preston, after the chain's previous owners racked up some £24.8 million in debt and reportedly left the company with a poor track record when it came to paying suppliers.

Under such conditions, and given the precarious state of the economic recovery, it is hardly surprising its current owner, former MK One executive Elaine McPherson, has had problems securing funders, despite putting £5.5m of her own money into the business which has no banking facility.

The news is a blow for local jobs, with fears from some analysts that this could spell the end to the chain, even though it will continue to trade as MCR try to find a buyer, while warning they were "unable to rule out store closures and redundancies".

The Independent reports the retailer and its sister homewares chain, Au Naturale, have fallen victim to worse than expected trading in January and a failure to secure a refinancing deal. Menzies Corporate Restructuring, the restructuring specialist, was appointed administrator of both chains yesterday.

"There is no doubt in our mind that the onset of the global economic crisis has hit the retail sector particularly hard," said Geoff Bouchier, joint administrator at MCR in a press statement.

"As a consequence of this, the companies have struggled to secure funders, which in turn has impacted their ability to generate sales revenue."

Mr Bouchier said the companies' lack of capital had been compounded by the snow in January, which had deterred shoppers.

McPherson bought Ethel Austin for a reported £10m in April 2008, going on to buy Au Naturale within weeks, with plans to roll out a value empire, promising to restore the chain to its "former glory". Last December, the company outlined plans to open 100 new stores that would amalgamate the Ethel Austin and Au Naturale brands.

Bizarrely, it was McPherson who put the company into administration and then took it over two years ago.

Despite her hopes, the Daily Telegraph notes that a source close to Ethel Austin said that after taking control of the company Ms McPherson was unable to secure hoped-for finance from two large banks and had put millions of pounds of her own money into the business to keep it afloat.

(There were hopes that a refinancing deal had been secured at the end of January, with reports the chain was understood to be in advanced negotiations with an unnamed investor and hoped to tie up a refinancing deal that it will use to inject working capital into the business).

The company has also suffered because suppliers have been unable to secure trade credit insurance. In January, the Independent reported suppliers had not received payments for pre-Christmas bills and were getting nervous about the retailer.

Despite taking the company into administration, The Independent reports that industry sources suggested McPherson is considering rescuing both chains again as part of a pre-pack administration. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), the UK’s fourth biggest trade union, says it is already working with the administrators to secure staff employment.

Ethel Austin, founded in 1934, previously faced administration in 2004 and 2006. It operates 276 Ethel Austin and Au Naturale stores around the UK and employs a total of 3,714 staff, including 401 at the head office in Liverpool.

• If you're am Ethel Austin customer, MCR say you will still be able to redeem gift vouchers purchased before 8 February, but only to pay for up to half of any transaction.

• The BBC reports customers will still be able to exchange unwanted goods bought within the last 28 days, but no refunds will be given

• Customers who have bought goods but not yet received them will need to put in a claim as an unsecured creditor. Those who paid by credit or visa debit cards may be able to get their money back from their card issuer.

Lancaster Nursery School Rated ‘Outstanding’

Lancaster Appletree Nursery SchoolLancaster's Appletree Nursery School has been rated as ‘outstanding’ and described as ‘providing exemplary care’ in a newly-released Ofsted report. The nursery school, which is co-located with Appletree Childrens’ Centre on Milking Stile Lane in Lancaster, has received the highest possible gradings for both its overall effectiveness and its capacity for sustained improvements.

Most other assessment aspects have also been graded ‘outstanding’ with no single category rated lower than ‘good’. Inspectors, who visited Appletree last month, say its teaching is “excellent, ensuring that children learn rapidly”.

They add that although children’s knowledge and skills are broadly typical on entering the nursery overall attainment is higher than typically seen when they leave.

“The headteacher’s outstanding leadership and excellent support from staff and governors lie at the heart of the school’s success,” the report continues. “Learning is exciting and engaging. Children are invariably absorbed in exploring, experimenting and creating whether alone, in groups or with an adult.”

This learning environment, the inspectors state, “is the basis for their good progress in literacy and numeracy and outstanding progress in other areas”. The report also praises the ‘warm and welcoming atmosphere’ which ‘ensures that children settle quickly, make new friends and take full advantage of all the nursery has to offer’. It adds that “parents wholeheartedly agree that their children enjoy school because of good teaching and effective leadership and are happy with their children’s experiences in the nursery”.

Lesley Matthews, the Extended Services Manager at Appletree, added, “The inspectors were very positive about the partnership working with Appletree Children’s Centre. The two work fantastically together and there are huge benefits for the nursery, the centre and the Lancaster community in joint working.”

In particular, Appletree staff have been able to extend the services offered by the centre, particularly in Hala, through their work at Moorside Primary School, Hala Hall and Barton Road Community Centre.

Appletree headteacher, Barbara Wignall, said: “We’re absolutely delighted with the recognition of our work from Ofsted, which follows on from a number of national and local awards given to the school over the past year. However we’re not resting on our laurels and want to press on with continuing to improve the education and well-being of our young children.”

Chair of Governors, Michael Gibson, added, “I’m delighted for the fantastic staff we have at Appletree for the recognition they deserve and for the children who this report shows so clearly benefit from being here. We’re the only nursery school rated as outstanding in the Lancaster district and I’m sure this will have an impact on the number of parents wishing to send young people here and we’d be delighted to welcome them.”

• A full copy of the report can be accessed via the Ofsted website. Anyone wishing to find out more about Appletree Nursery School should call 01524 64132.

Image: David Harrison

Public meetings to discuss Shoreline Management Plans

Two public meetings have been arranged for people to discuss the future of our coastline. The events will be welcomed by many local people who might be affected by coastal erosion, who had complained of being sidelined by recent government investigations into the problems facing Morecambe Bay residents.

Our coastline is changing, as waves, tides, wind and storms move sand and sediment around the coast and estuaries, changing the way that the shoreline looks, works and protects our homes and towns. Climate change will affect these processes and it is important that we take action now to prepare for the future.

To help local authorities to deal with the consequences of a changing coast they are drawing up long term plans to set out how our shoreline is managed and it's hoped the Shoreline Management Plans will help to identify how to manage our coast over a long period of time.

The SMPs analyse the social, environmental and economic effects of different management regimes and the consequences on the protection of communities and land against coastal erosion and flooding.

To enable people to discuss issues raised in a recent consultation on the content of the Shoreline Management Plans, two public meetings have been arranged. The first - a meeting for the residents of Overton, Sunderland Point and Heysham - will take place on Tuesday 16th February at Morecambe Town Hall.

This will be followed by a meeting on Wednesday 17th February at Carnforth Railway Centre for residents of Carnforth, Bolton-le-Sands, Hest Bank and Silverdale.

Representatives from Lancaster City Council, the Environment Agency and the North West Coastal Group will be on hand to answer questions and provide information.

Both meetings start at 7.30pm.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Body found in Scorton

THOMSON%20DAVID%2001-01-84.jpgA body found in a ditch in Six Arches Lane, Scorton, yesterday afternoon has now been identified as that of 26-year-old David Thomson, who had been missing from his home in Poulton since 16th January.

Police are currently treating Mr Thomson’s death as unexplained. A post mortem is due to be carried out later on today.

Mr Thomson, who took medication for severe migraines after being left with brain damage from a car crash in 2005, abandoned his blue Vauxhall Astra van in Station Lane, Scorton, near the Six Arches caravan park on the Sunday 17th January. He was spotted on CCTV after abandonning his car and was obviously confused, cold and wet, and police had already said they feared he might be suffering from hypothermia and were concerned for his safety.

They had been scouring the nearby fields and an underwater search team has been carrying out work in the River Wyre, enlisting the help of walkers and farmers in the search.

virtual-lancaster extends its sympathies to family and friends of Mr Thomson.

Evofit issued after Moorside School alert

moorside_evofit_02_2010_LEN1FINISHED.JPGPolice have released an evofit of a woman after an incident at a school where an unauthorised adult tried to collect a child.

Police were called to Moorside Primary School in December last year, after staff alerted them that a woman had asked to collect a child, but did not have permission to do so.

Officers would now like to speak to the woman so that they can establish what happened.

“The incident received quite prominent media coverage and as a result we have been contacted by a number of concerned teachers and parents, who are worried by what happened," explains DI Glen Oldham of Lancaster CID. "In order to allay those concerns, we would now like to speak to the woman who visited the school so that we can eliminate her from any further inquiries.”

• Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact police on 01524 63333.