Saturday, 15 January 2011

Upcoming Free Reed Band ceilidh to raise money for Kenyan children's charity

Lancaster's Free Reed Band will present a ceilidh at the Cathedral Social Centre in St Peter’s Road on Saturday 29th January to raise money for the Double Joy Children’s Farm in Kenya.

Free Reed Band has been providing lively, danceable traditional music for ceilidhs in the Lancaster area since 1980. Andy Hornby, Charles Ely and Tony Coke, are widely regarded as some of the finest folk music players in the area. They all have wide and various musical interests and you may catch the influence of classical, bluegrass, big band, rock or "world" music in their arrangements.

Tony Cooke tells us the evening will also incorporate a couple of “surprise cabaret interludes” and he's hoping that one of these will be from the spectacular a cappella singing group, Five In A Bar.

While hoping to provide a wonderful evening and also to raise money for Double Joy Children’s Farm in  a rural area of South West Kenya – a home for children orphaned by AIDS.  It was established in 1994 by Mary Hinde, an English woman who had been living and teaching in Kenya for 20 years.

After witnessing AIDS becoming a major cause of death in her community, Mary felt moved to do something to help the children abandoned when their parents died of Aids. She started Double Joy to provide a home and school for these children and a chance for them to survive in their community.

Double Joy started with 24 children and now has 90 and continues to grow from strength to strength and all those who visit us describe it as a place of great joy and inspiration.

• Free Reed Band ceilidh, Saturday 29th January, the Cathedral Social Centre, St Peter's Road, Lancaster from 8.00pm – 12 midnight. Soft drinks will be available, but if you require alcohol please bring your own.

• The Dance Caller will be Deb Kermode.The cost is £8.00 (£6.00 concessions).

• For further details about the event or to book a ticket please telephone (01524) 847794.  

• Free Reed are on the web at:

• More about Double Joy at:

Friday, 14 January 2011

Lancaster drug dealer ordered to pay £44,000

Francis Hackett, a convicted drug dealer has been ordered to pay £44,005 under a Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation order.
Hackett, 48, of Albion Street, Lancaster, was convicted of possession with intent to supply heroin and money laundering in May last year. He was jailed for three years as a result.

Following a raid at his home address in October 2008, officers found wraps of heroin stuffed into a cavity wall in the back yard. A small amount of money was found and a financial investigation into Hackett began.

“It became apparent that Hackett had been on benefits and was not declaring any income," explains financial investigator Anna Willetts, of Lancashire Constabulary's northern division. But that he had laundered more than £40,000 through his various bank accounts – a figure that was way beyond his income.”

At a POCA hearing at Preston Crown Court today the judge deemed that the benefit of Hackett’s criminality was £44,005. This was matched by money in his bank account, cash recovered by the police, and the value of his home.

He has six months to arrange to payment of the equity from his house otherwise he will face a further 12 months imprisonment.

“One of the important things about confiscation orders is that if the offender doesn’t pay the amount prescribed by the court within a given timescale then a prison sentence is imposed in default," Anna Willetts added, "and the offender still owes the money together with the interest when they get out. In other words they can’t trade off the debt by going to prison.

“It’s just not right that decent law abiding people have to tolerate criminals enjoying a standard of living that they are not entitled to. More often than not that lifestyle has been achieved at someone else’s expense. The public want to know that in addition to any punishment handed out by the court that, whenever possible, offenders are going to be deprived of any profit that they have made from their criminal activities.”

Man assaulted in own home in Torrisholme

Police are appealing for information after a man was assaulted in his own home in Torrisholme, near Morecambe late last month.

Sometime between 9.30pm and 10pm on Wednesday 29th December 2010, a group of six or possibly seven men, one armed with a machete, entered a flat on Lancaster Road. Once inside, the group threatened a man inside the property.

He received a cut to the cheek before he was punched and kicked to the ground. The group then made off from the flat having stolen a mobile phone.

It is not known if they escaped on foot or in a vehicle.

The man was taken to Royal Lancaster Infirmary where he received stitches to the cut on his cheek.

DC Rachel Killinger said: “I would appeal to anybody who has information about this incident to contact police. I would also like to speak with anybody who may have seen a group of men in the Lancaster Road area on the evening of 29th December.

“Unfortunately, the only description we have of the men is that they were dressed all in black and were wearing balaclavas. But if anybody saw any suspicious activity in the area around the time of the assault then I am keen to hear from them.

• Anybody with any information should contact police on 01524 596634 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Local Disability Access Guide goes online - and mobile

Lancaster-based disability charity One Voice Disability Services released The Good Access Guide for the Lancaster area last year, compiled by a team dedicated to access for disabled people. Now, they're offering even wider access to the guide through the Internet.

The new guide was launched by the Mayor of Lancaster in October and can be accessed by the traditional way of paper back and CD - but now on it's also available via a dedicated website -

The guide includes information about a variety of the District’s attractions, shops and services which can be viewed by   category, town or service. It is suitable to be used by those with low mobility, a disability or parents with pushchairs.

"We have also got it on mobile phones," says Disability Access Coordinator Wayne Clinton, who heads up a team of volunteers, "so you can access it on the go via

"The guide is updated on a regular basis to allow for new businesses and old one closing.

"We have taken the guide into the 21st  century and tried to bring up to date," he adds. "We also have are Facebook page for where members can contact us regarding a access issue  and we are also on Twitter (

• For more information email

Castle prison to close in March, says Clarke

Inside Lancaster Castle. Photo: Dave Clark (, from his book A Little English City:

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has confirmed Lancaster Castle prison, which employs 300 staff, will close in March.

The closure comes after years of claims that the Category C men's prison, which has a capacity for 238 prisoners and is leased from Lancashire County Council, was overcrowded. (It is believed it currently has about 240 inmates).

Mr Calrke said prisoners will be moved to other prisons and staff will be offered a "voluntary exit" scheme or moved to neighbouring establishments. A document circulated among prison officers last July (Word format), posted to, gave assurances that there would be no redundancies.

All prisoners will be securely moved to other establishments, appropriate to their category, when final decisions and timescales had been agreed.

"The decision to close any prison is a difficult one but one that we have had to make," Kenneth Clarke told MPs. "Closing outdated and expensive prisons is an important step in our strategy to provide a secure and modern, fit-for-purpose prison estate, while improving efficiency and value for the taxpayer."

Lancaster Castle, which sits on land owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, has been a prison since the 17th century. In 2006 the Lancaster and Morecambe Vision Board launched a consultation on the vision for the future economic prosperity of the district.

Formally adopted by the council as its Economic Regeneration Strategy, it recognised that Lancaster Castle had the potential to be transformed into a major tourist attraction which could attract significant complimentary private sector investment and that this would be a highly valued development for Lancaster.

Closure was first mooted last year, with the Ministry of Justice arguing the prison was both outdated and costly and its closure would allow the castle to be opened up to visitors and tourists as a permanent attraction, but local MP Eric Ollerenshaw  said there was “scepticism” about how the prison service will terminate its lease at the castle and how the major work needed to convert the jail into a visitor attraction would be funded.

Speaking in the Commons in October last year, Mr Ollerenshaw said he wanted to broker talks between the Duchy of Lancaster, which owns the castle, the Ministry of Justice, which leases it as a prison, Lancaster council and prison staff to work out a way forward.

“The castle is not as big a tourist attraction as it could be,” he said. “There is a degree of scepticism about where the funding will come from to remove a prison from an ancient castle and to terminate a lease.”

His concerns were echoed by local Green councillors after a visit to the prison last year to meet staff and inmates and left impressed. Coun Melanie Forrest felt the prison was doing good things around drug treatment, education and rehabilitation, possible because it is small.

"Staff and inmates say they have not experienced that elsewhere," she told local press. "Prison officers are very concerned and fear for their jobs, they are not sure what's going on."

"Neither the city nor the county council have any money to make it into a museum," argued Coun Chris Coates.

"While it would be very nice to have public access to the castle, I can't see that it would happen so we could end up with an empty building."

In 2009, a survey by The Prison Reform Trust revealed the prison has 70 inmates too many and criticised the amount of time that inmates were locked up for and how many occupied each cell. The report made recommendations for keeping prisoner numbers down, including more money being spent on crime prevention, drug rehabilitation and mental health problems.

Ashwell prison in Rutland will also close in March, and Morton Hall women's prison in Lincolnshire, will be turned into an immigration detention centre "as soon as possible", the Ministry of Justice said.

Lancaster Castle on Wikipedia

• Indigo FM News report, 27th August 2009: Lancaster Castle is overcrowded 

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Repair works at Lancaster Town Hall

Work is due to start on a wide ranging programme of building repair works at Lancaster Town Hall, part of a wider refurbishment of council property which is already seeing work done on the Assembly Rooms in King Street.

Lasting approximately six months, the works will involve extensive scaffolding to the building with a hoist for materials and a builders’ compound on the private roadway.

As a result, access to the Customer Service Centre, which will remain open throughout, will be via the George Street entrance (opposite the magistrates’ court).

Signs will direct customers to the entrance via Robert Street or Thurnham Street.

The memorial gardens will also remain open and disabled parking can be found on George Street (instead of directly outside the Customer Service Centre).

Coun Stuart Langhorn, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “The town hall was 100 years old in 2009 and like any building of its age needs to be carefully maintained.

“These building works are vital to ensuring that the listed building continues to serve the citizens of the Lancaster district for another 100 years.

“There will be some small disruption to the usual access route to the Customer Service Centre, but it will remain open as usual throughout the period of the works.”

Community pools saved at last?

January's Lancaster City Council's Cabinet meeting next week is expected to decide to save the District's community swimming pools at Carnforth, Heysham and Hornby, currently operated by the City Council in a partnership agreement with the County Council.

Steps taken by the County Council that will enable the City Council to keep these facilities open – and also provide additional funding for other community and cultural facilities – were first announced on 28th January last year.

Discussions have been ongoing between the city and county council and this month, Cabinet is being asked to consider the rescinding of the city council's decision to withdraw from managing the pools on Lancashire County Council's behalf.

If Cabinet agree to rescind the decision (subject to call in), Lancaster City Council will continue to manage the pools.

While this is hopefully great news for pool users, City Councillor Roger Mace told virtual-lancaster he is bemused by the delay.

"Why has it taken nearly a year to accept that offer from the Conservative-led County Council to help the City to find the funding necessary to continue operating these pools?" he asks.

But the City Council point out that while it may appear it's taken some time to reach this point, both they and the County Council agreed a year ago to bring forward options on shared services that would save the city council up to £300,000.

"We now have in place plans that will deliver savings from April that more than cover the cost of the pools," Chief Executive Mark Cullinan told virtual-lancaster, "which is why having worked on this issue for a year we are now in a position to make that decision."

Lancashire County Council and Lancaster City Council began working together to find a way to ensure that the community swimming pools at Carnforth, Heysham and Hornby remained open for the benefit of local residents last March.

"We are looking at how we can share services or work on joint initiatives to save money for the city council," Councillor Stuart Langhorn, Leader of Lancaster City Council and Councillor Geoff Driver, Leader of Lancashire County Council said then in a joint statement, "and ease pressures on its finances and this should release sufficient resources to keep the pools open."

View the Agenda and documents for the Cabinet meeting on 18th January

Arts worth "millions" to local Lancaster economy

Lancaster’s arts sector is taking centrestage in the local economy, boosting it by £50 million annually, a new report reveals.

This £50 million is generated across Lancaster district by 600 businesses and organisations which are directly or indirectly involved in the arts and cultural sector, supporting between 1,400 and 2,400 jobs.

And the report says there are significant opportunities to increase the benefit of the local arts sector despite uncertainty over the future of government funding as cuts to councils, who finance many activities, from The Dukes to Spotlight Club, begin to bite.

Lancaster Arts Partnership commissioned the comprehensive report, titled The Economic Value of Arts Activity in the district of Lancaster, which captures the scale and economic value of arts activity in the district over the past 30 years and was compiled over nine months.

Funded by orgainisations such as the Northwest Regional Development Agency, Lancashire County Council and Arts Council England NorthWest, its findings provide evidence for funders faced with difficult decisions and suggest ways in which the arts can further improve their contribution to the economy.

The report primarily focused on seven member organisations of the LAP and showed that the direct and indirect activities of these generated £7.5 million annually, through their role as employers, purchasers of goods and services and their audiences, together supported 200 jobs. The report also found that these arts organisations alone produced £800,000 of marketing/promotion value through media coverage outside the district and provided more than 20,000 separate activities for young people each year.

Sleeping Beauty at The Dukes
Arts bring in visitors

Audience research showed that of visitors attending arts events in the district, such as The Dukes plays or concerts at Lancaster University and LitFest events at the Storey, 85 per cent said it was the event itself which was the prime reason for their visit.

According to the report, LAP offers good value for money for its core funders – the Arts Council England, Lancashire County Council and Lancaster City Council – who together provided £1,651,155 of funding in 2009/10.

For every £1 of core revenue investment received, the seven LAP organisations in this study deliver £5.19 in economic benefit compared to a national average of £2.80.

The report included the results of a survey of 1220 arts attenders. More than 80 per cent agreed or agreed strongly that the arts are 'a very important part of my quality of life'; 71 per cent thought that the arts 'enhance the quality of life in Lancaster District'; and just under 50 per cent thought that ‘the range of arts activities in Lancaster District differentiates it as a place to live’.

Of people living within 30 minutes drive from central Lancaster, the most popular attended activities include the cinema, any performance in a theatre and pop/rock.

60% of those surveyed thought the level of arts funding in the district should be increased.
Only 2% thought it should be decreased.

Local writer and musician Mollie Baxter,
performing at the Storey as part of
Spotlight Club
"Nationally recognised" local arts businesses and organisations

Formed in 2009, LAP is chaired by Dukes director, Joe Sumsion, and aims to champion and promote strategic development, strive for excellence and innovation in arts activities, and to establish a strong lobbying voice for the arts in Lancaster. The partner companies are The Dukes, Storey Gallery, Litfest, More Music, Ludus Dance, Live at LICA (Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts), folly, and Green Close Studios.

“Long-term investment in a small cluster of excellent arts organisations has paid off," argues Joe Sumsion, Chair of Lancaster Arts Partnership.

"The Lancaster and Morecambe district has become nationally recognised for arts and culture and it’s no coincidence that there are now so many other artists and arts businesses making such a strong contribution to the local economy.”

The range of over 600 arts businesses and organisations in the district is very varied, including some 114 visual artists, 29 potters and glass or ceramic artists, 19 dance schools or classes, 13 entertainment and stand-up artists (including a burlesque artist), 53 live music venues, 43 bands, 31 musicians, 18 professional actors, 18 theatrical companies, 10 digital arts companies, including film studios and production companies.

Creative talent provides "significant impact"

“The contribution of the arts and art-related organisations to the region’s economy cannot be underestimated," feels Nick Brooks-Sykes, Director of Tourism at NWDA,who part-funded the study with a £30,000 grant. "In the past 11 years, the NWDA has recognised the huge importance of this sector to our visitor economy and maximised opportunities to unlock investment.

“England’s Northwest is well known for its creative talents and has made a significant impact on the world of arts and culture," he added. "The report demonstrates that with sound investment and strong partnership working, the arts sector makes a significant contribution to the economy of Lancaster, providing jobs for local people, boosting the quality of life for residents and encouraging more visitors to the area.”

Lancaster district is the third largest recipient of funding from Arts Council England NW, behind Manchester and Liverpool. This recognises its excellence and innovation, particularly in dance, digital media, visual arts and live performance.

LAP now hope that there will be more recognition of the value of the arts sector in Lancaster, especially as the report has identified opportunities for both local businesses and for the image of Lancaster generally. Its publication is also timely as Councils consider local arts funding, with many waiting anxiously to hear if they will get their public financing renewed in the coming year.

These opportunities include: more local events and festivals by involving arts providers, promoting Lancaster’s talent pool of arts businesses beyond the district, working with the local hospitality trade to encourage audiences to stay over in the district when attending events, and promoting live arts as having as much to offer Lancaster’s cultural reputation as its built heritage.

• For further information and to view the report go to

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Driver killed in Hornby accident

A driver was killed in an accident near Hornby this morning.

Police were called to the A683 near Hornby around 8.40am this morning, following a report of a collision involving a Renault Trafic van and a Ford Focus. Ambulance and fire crews also attended the scene.

The driver of the Ford Focus was taken to Royal Lancaster Infirmary where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

The driver of the van was uninjured and did not attend hospital.

The road is currently closed and is expected to remain so for a least the next couple of hours.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Fron Male Voice Choir Sing for Lancaster's CancerCare

The Fron Male Voice Choir in Yeovil last year.
Photo: The Fron Male Voice Choir web site

For one night only, the world famous Fron Male Voice Choir is coming to Lancaster Town Hall to perform a concert in aid of CancerCare. Supported by soloist Margaret Pattison accompanied by Ian Pattinson, the evening promises to be a fantastic event.

The Fron male voice choir have received ‘platinum’ awards for all four of their CDs in the ‘Voices of the Valleys’ series and have toured most of the world bringing their delightful sound to many thousands of people. And now it’s Lancaster’s turn, with a concert on 12th March at 7.30pm in the Ashton Hall in Lancaster Town Hall.

CancerCare is your local cancer support charity, providing free care and therapies to local cancer patients, their families, carers and those bereaved by cancer. It costs over £1.1 million to provide their services and the charity is  hoping to raise a good amount of money from this concert kindly performed free of charge by the  Choir.

• Get your tickets now by ringing 01524 381 820, card details can be taken, or call into CancerCare at Lancaster(Slyne Rd) or Kendal (Blackhall Rd) or visit

Warning: Beauty Pageants May be Damaging Your Health

Lancaster Feminists, were, undertandably, disappointed to hear that the Lancaster Grand Theatre has been booked for the Miss Morecambe 2011 regional heat for the Miss England competition. Disappointment turned to disgust when they saw that the eating disorder charity B-Eat was featured as a partner on the competition website.

Studies consistently show that competitors in beauty pageants suffer significantly higher rates of eating disorders and that our society's preoccupation with body image is driven by a fashion and beauty industry to the detriment of health, particularly in women, who are an intensely targeted market.

Pageant organisers have tried to deflect criticism by including sections in the competition in which competitors may display their talents and interests. However, your chances of seeing a well-padded renaissance woman make it through the regional heats into the Miss England competition are as skinny as its eventual winners have invariably been. And while titles reflecting solid achievement, such as 'Dr' or 'Captain' are not a bar to 'Mr' competitions, entry rules state that a Miss Morecambe entrant must be a person "who usually uses the prefix Miss."

Some say that it is a cynical move on the part of pageant organisers to offer 'support' to eating disorder charities such as B-Eat, who are constantly in need of funds to support members in desperate circumstances. Acceptance of this support is treated by organisers as an endorsement of their competition's relative 'healthiness'.

Imagine if Cancer Care got a donation from United Tobacco, and United Tobacco then took that as an endorsement by Cancer Care that cigarettes are good for you. And then went on to make a special brand of 'healthy-teen' cigarettes!

Questioned about their relationship with B-Eat, the organisers at the Miss Morecambe and Miss Teen Morecambe website told Virtual-Lancaster that, "We are just finalising the details on a huge and exciting increase to our support for B-EAT in 2011."

However Mary George from B-Eat tells us that they have no connection with the competition this year though she's grateful for past support. The charity is still featured as a partner on the competition website but, when asked, neither side seems able to comment on what support has actually been given, or on what terms.

Mary George tells us: "All too often nowadays we are bombarded with images of unrealistic body shapes which bear very little resemblance to the majority of women and the competition organisers are keen to get the message across that natural womanly curves should be celebrated." She just doesn't seem to recall how they do that. Asked if she would be recommending entry to either pageant for any of her members, she declined to comment.

There is no mention on the Miss Morecambe site of such a celebration though the website does make clear that entrants will feature in The Sun and the News of The World newspapers.

Accounts by former models and beauty queens of their struggles to conform to an unnatural fashion ideal of female 'beauty' to the detriment of health and sanity make tragic reading. It makes no sense that a model competition that feeds and capitalises on the fashion industry's obsession with body image, and in itself promotes competition and the ranking of 'winners' and 'losers', should be endorsed by an eating disorder charity largely consisting of casualties of that same obsession.

The media tells women we have to wear wonky little shoes that damage our feet, hurt us, and slow us down, or crazy, flappy, pink clothes that have nothing to do with the temperature and everything to do with making you look like a set of frilly curtains, and bombards us with images of lissome, fragile, female bodies doing just that. The message is that this is what makes a 'winner'. The thousands of women who've been suckered by this message to the detriment of thair health and self-respect rely on hard-working charities like B-eat to help them repair their damaged bodies and souls.

It's time the name of B-eat disappeared from the list of Miss Morecambe partners. We should all back away from the beauty pageant industry and its abuse of the dignity and intrinsic value of all people in our community, whatever their role in this mean charade.

And they have no right at all to start calling it 'Miss Morecambe & Lancaster' as they have begun to do. Lancaster wants no part of this sleazy trade.

Image courtesy of the Miss England website.

Made in Lancaster launched to boost local arts

Made in Lancaster is a new networking group offering support, feedback and development opportunities to local arts practitioners wanting to produce new work - and a showcase event is now in the works.

Made in Lancaster's members are producing theatre, film, animation, print, design, visual arts and music and a showcase event celebrating local talent is being planned for 8th-12th June 2011 at The Dukes.

"It's an opportunity to meet people who can help you realise your ambitions or see what projects you can get involved with," says one of the group's co-ordinators, Ceri Mumford, a local practitioner in the Alexander Technique.

The next planning meeting takes place on Wednesday 26th Januay in the Dukes Theatre Gallery, Moor Lane, at 7.30pm and all are welcome to come along and find out more about MiL.

• Contact Ceri on 01524 555861 or for more info.

Teenagers in court on burglary charges

A 17-year-old boy from Lancaster has been charged with burglary in a dwelling and theft and is due to appear at Lancaster Magistrates Court this morning.

The charge relates to a burglary at an address on Eastham Street, Lancaster on Saturday 8th January, during which a TV, watch and disability scooter were stolen.

A 16-year-old boy from Lancaster has also been charged with burglary in a dwelling and theft and has been bailed to appear at Lancaster Youth Court on 25th January 2011.

Bin Men bring Boiler rescue to senior Jean

Steve Peel with Jean Oldham
outside her home
An elderly resident is singing the praises of two Lancaster City Council refuse collectors after being found without heating and lighting at her Yealand Redmayne home.

84-year-old Jean Oldham was struggling with a broken boiler and no lights during the freeze before Christmas when the knights in a shining bin truck came to her rescue.

Driver Alan Kitchen and Loader Steve Peel were on their usual collection round when they were told of her dilemma. Conscious of the cold weather, Alan and Steve soon leapt into action, and, although unsuccessful in tackling the problem themselves, refused to leave Jean out in the cold and arranged an appointment with someone who could.

“They dedicated their time checking the electrical fuses and light bulbs in my house to try and solve the problem," she said.

“When they realised they weren’t able to fix the problem they organised an appointment with Council Housing Services for me, who then swiftly sorted out the lighting and heating.

“I didn’t for one second expect Alan and Steve to help the way they did. Their kindness and helpfulness was second to none. I am really thankful for everything they did for me.”

Despite their additional job, Alan and Steve still managed to complete the day’s round and Jean is now warm and cosy in her will lit bungalow thanks to the good deeds of the two bin men.