Friday, 15 July 2011

In Review: 'Merlin and the Legend of King Arthur'. Dukes Walkabout Magical 25th & Final Season

The Dukes Walkabout Theatre has begun its 25th season in Lancaster’s Williamson Park to the poignant news that this will be its last promenade as Government cuts have left Dukes funding cut by 11% over the next three years.

Just to put this into perspective, proposed Arts Council spending in 2012/13 is:

• £5.97 per year per head in Merseyside,
• £4.26 in Cumbria,
• £4.18 in Greater Manchester yet only ......
• £0.60p per head in Lancashire.

So this year, to make sure the magic lingers on, they bring us Merlin and the Legend of King Arthur, a new telling of an old legend, of a realm divided, of love, destiny and loyalty, betrayal and greed, and the springtime of a nation.

Kevin Dyer’s tale is fixating from the off. The wizard Merlin has a masterplan, which needs King Uther’s male child, not his daughter, to unite two kingdoms in Queen Guinevere’s bedroom. Seeking her royal inheritance Morgana demands fair treatment after a test Merlin has had to pre-enchant so that only Uther’s son, Arthur, can win it.

Cheated, she loses her sense of humour and becomes a bitter rebel of treasonous intent. Arthur beats her fairly in the final and most important test, but the iron has already entered her soul. She uses her gifts to plot his downfall.

Joe Sumsion’s direction brings the archetypal qualities of every character into relief. Each is strongly drawn, holding their presence across wide sightlines. Ian Brown played Uther’s soldier to the hilt in a powerful opening scene that exploded expectations. Every character has a strong, human identity calling us to root for them. Except Uther, obviously.

The performance is atmospheric from the start, down in the Dell. Noel White, as Uther Pendragon, swiftly builds his character as a ruthless, shallow monarch who wields his power against death like a cornered rat. He has to, as Uther doesn’t last too long.

Merlin, played by Kieran Buckeridge, is a dark, statuesque figure, potent with mysterious power. Kieran is a late arrival in the production, as the original casting, Patrick Bridgman, unfortunately broke his foot. You'd not guess it, he makes a haughty Merlin. Merlin's really, really strange plan for uniting a kingdom shows its fallibility from the start as Cristina Catalina makes a frankly astonishing entrance as Morgana, the first, the faster, and undoubtedly the brighter of the two fatefully entangled siblings. She is Game Girl. She fills every scene apparently effortlessly and weaves enchantment between them.

Arthur is played by John Cockerill (pictured above fighting Noel White's Dragon) as the hot-but-dim Once and Future King cast willy-nilly from rash childhood into the web of destiny. It’s an active, well-choreographed part and his delivery is slightly choppy as he catches his breath, but he has the niaive, hotspur vigour we revel in, in our Princes, and the joy with which he sets his Court about founding a new and better world, to Mark Melville's infectious music, stays in my mind.

Shelley Atkinson as the Barrow Woman is a hilarious anchor to the production, filling her boots with the part. She gets my gold star. She seamlessly organises the walkabout, gives commentary on the action, and recycles any spare corpses that fall handily. Her account of her night spent with a member of the audience, while waiting for Arthur to complete a ‘test’, was priceless.

Andrew Ashford plays Billy Poggit to comic effect as a traditional 'rude mechanical', rising stoically from the gutter to the Round Table by taking on Nick Camm’s Green Man. The Green Man is a crafty effect, threatening and comic, therapeutic by nature, and quite an eyeful.

Noel White makes a ruggedly graceful Lancelot, Guinevere's minder, a simple, dedicated knight, who (swoon) is always true. So we are given to believe… His cleverly timed swordplay and gentle dignity make him a very credible object of jealousy.

Joanna Crull is fair Guinevere, a light and frolicsome springtime queen in contrast with the dashing Morgana’s Celtic intensity. Joanna’s crone had me laughing.

Merlin is a long way from being a feminist interpretation of the legend, and gay people won’t get any comfort from it either. A woman friend of mine told me later that she got fed up and left the show early on this account. Little girls in the audience will be left in little doubt that it is always good to do what the man with the robe and the crozier tells you to; let the boys go in front to their doom; give them your kingdom if they will kiss you – or else go mad or stay imprisoned in loneliness until you die. Or perhaps that it’s best to just give up on being a woman altogether and stay a nice, harmless little girl. The suggestion that a chap might be gay is entirely hilarious in Merlin's Camelot, although, to my mind, it was the only thing that could have got Lancelot cleanly off the hook.

In fairness, though, the deep lesson in Dyer's telling is the futile grandeur of a masterplan founded on a (very well-staged) magical perversion of birth, bearing a legacy of deception and distrust. There is no Grail in this Camelot.

But there's always hope. And this devil dances to a very good tune. There are some weakly plastered holes in the plot. Like, why wouldn’t Arthur just drink the medicine? But on the whole it sparkles. The comedy is laugh-out-loud funny, as when Morgana is trying to negotiate a kingdom out of Merlin at the start, and he offers her – Penrith. The dramatic tension hooks you, whether you like the way it’s going or not.

Brent Lees’ sound and Mark Melville’s music are atmospheric, a folk riff echoes the timeless springtime of a new land and the dark woods sheltering us are haunted by threatening forces. How did we escape from a summer’s day to the eerie darkness of the flickering torchlit forest? Beats me, I was completely drawn in.

A dramatic unravelling in the final act surprises us yet again. How do they think of these things? It was a great night out, a real treat and well worth the money. Enjoy.

Merlin and the Legend of King Arthur runs until Saturday 20 August, Monday to Saturday at 7.15pm in Williamson Park.

Monday - Thursday: £16, £12.50 concessions, £11 children
Friday: £17.50, £13.50 concessions, £12 children
Saturday: £19, £15 concessions, £13 children

Family and Friends tickets:(5+ people)save £1 per ticket.

Groups: Buy 12+ and save £1.50 per ticket.
Buy 40+ tickets and save £2.50 per ticket.

Box Office open 10am - 8pm, Mon - Sat. Tel: 01524 598500.
Book online at:

Oppose the Catastrophic Arts Funding Cuts to the County of Lancashire on Facebook.

Lower picture, L-R: Guinevere (Joanna Crull), Arthur (John Cockerill) and Morgana (Cristina Catalina)

Morecambe Council seeks views on future festivals

After the success of the Festival and Events programme over the past two years, Morecambe Town Council is keen to support and promote a further comprehensive programme of events next year.

With this in mind, the Council is asking for members of the public to give their views regarding the 2011 programme and the type of programme to be put together and supported in 2012.

This year a programme of events over a 20 consecutive week period has been supported by a range of partners, running between April and September which will culminate in the spectacular Seaside Festival over the weekend of 10th and 11th September.

Whilst the “Top 20” has received widespread acclaim, the Town Council is aware that organisations may wish to extend this programme or simply add new events. The public’s views would greatly assist the Council in its decision making.

The specific questions within the Consultation are: what are your views on the 2011 Programme of Events and what the types of Festivals and Events should be organised and supported financially in 2012 by the Town Council?

The Council would also like to know if there is support for a special event to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in June next year; and whether or not a special event(s) should be organised to celebrate the Olympics being held in this country.

Members of the public are invited to access the Discussion page on the Town Council’s website at to leave their views or alternatively  email the Town Clerk at, or write to the Town Clerk at: David Croxall, Town Clerk, Morecambe Town Council, Morecambe Town Hall, Morecambe. LA4 5AF.

The closing date for this consultation is 31st August, 2011

Will the train now standing at Carnforth let passengers off?

Morecambe MP David Morris campaign to get West Coast trains to stop at Carnforth and let passengers on and off seems to be gathering momentum - although it has yet to get government backing.

Although the government still seems set on pushing for less, not more local stops for train services, Mr Morris revealed their reasons for not granting a reinstatement to Carnforth stopping trains - that it would add five minutes to journey times - were groundless as most trains already stop at the station, despite its lack of platforms.

Building new platforms and reinstating stopping trains could not only boost local tourism, to Warton and the Lake Distirct, Mr Morris argues - it could benefit local commuters suffering the drive into Lancaster, which he describes as "biggest car park in Europe".

Stopping trains at Carnforth were scrapped during the Beeching era and Mr Morris has long campaigned for that to change, this week, imploring Minister Norman Baker to take action "because Carnforth station is the centre of the railway universe in this country.

"Everything passes through it from Edinburgh to London but nothing stops there," he told the House of Commons in a debate that followed the recent publication of Network Rail's Route Utilisation Strategy for the West Coast Main Line.

"Eleven years ago, a friend of mine, Peter Yates MBE... raised £1.4 million to rebuild this historic station," noted Mr Morris, "not just for the sake of the station, the community, the “Brief Encounter” café and the iconic clock — if anybody goes to Carnforth, they will see just what an amazing place the station is — but so that the station can be used as a railway station once again.

"Although we would not have used the phrase at the time, this was a big society project—before the phrase was even coined."

The problem for Carnforth station is that currently, neither trans-Pennine and west coast main line trains cannot stop at Carnforth because there are no platforms there. "It is a chicken and egg situation," argues Mr Morris. "Carnforth was not even included in the route utilisation strategies report to any great extent because the trains could not stop there, yet everything goes through it. We cannot put the platforms in, however, until the rail operators agree to stop there.

"As a community, therefore, the people of Carnforth have suggested that we take the bull by the horns and request that we start negotiations with the Department for Transport and Network Rail to start rebuilding the platforms. We need to cut through this Catch 22 situation, which is nobody’s fault but highly damaging to the whole community. We envisage a future in which trains from north, south, east and west will use Carnforth as a hub for north Lancashire and the south lakes.

"With all the will in the world, Oxenholme is, with respect, too small to be the hub. We have tried it for many years but it has not worked. The Lake District is full of cars because existing rail services cannot cope with the capacity."

Mr Morris says his campaign has had a welcome reception from Virgin Trains, with company representative Chris Gibb agreeing Carnforth is in a strong position to be a rail-ride hub. "Not only do we have the space and direct and fast access to the Lake district via the M6; we have a comprehensive road network in the area," says Mr Morris. "Virgin was clear that anything that pushed more lakeland tourism into the west coast main line would get its support, and now we have agreed an action plan under which Virgin will agree to stop trains there if it is satisfied with Carnforth. We also have the solid support of councillor Tim Ashton, the head of transport at Lancashire county council.

"It is not only tourists who would benefit from these platforms being rebuilt. At the moment, it is hard to travel between the Furness peninsula and Kendal," he told the Commons. "It would be an easy and short journey if passengers could change at Carnforth and it would enable ease of access to the lakes for those on the east coast. Enabling commuters to move around our area by public transport would bring huge economic and environmental benefits to north Lancashire and the south lakes.

"When the now Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right honorable Friend Mrs Villiers visited Carnforth during the election, the train stopped in the station for 10 minutes. That was my cue to get her to Lancaster. If anybody has ever driven around Lancaster, they will know that it is the biggest car park in Europe. I had to park the car up, transport myself through the streets and put her on the train that had stopped at Carnforth half an hour before.

"We have everything in place to be a real transport hub — except the platforms," he said. "We are committed as a community to put them in; we just need Government support... We are not going to ask for any Government money. We have a proven track in our community projects of rebuilding and the whole community is behind the proposal. This is the big society in its highest form. We want to integrate with an infrastructure network that has been serving our country for more than 100 years.

Responding to Mr Morris, Norman Baker, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Regional and Local Transport outlined planned developments for the inter-city rail services on the west coast main line and its plans for the new, longer inter-city west coast franchise, which is due to commence in 2012 and will replace the current Virgin Trains rail franchise and include "exploiting the full potential of the route and maximising capacity".

In that context, he said, "A key issue in any proper consideration of the matter is whether a proposal to stop London train services at reinstated platforms at Carnforth would work operationally and commercially. Initial analysis by the Department suggests that a call at Carnforth would require a stop at another station to be deleted. Therefore, a potential gain at Carnforth would result in a disbenefit to passengers from other stations on the route. Obviously that would require some hard and careful decision making."

Challenged on this claim, Mr Morris pointed out that Virgin trains already stop in Carnforth for 20 minutes in the morning and evening, but they do not let passengers on. "I spoke to Chris Gibb about this subject less than 12 months ago, and he said that if we had the platforms, those trains could take passengers on. The issue is something to do with the schedule for cleaning the trains."

Although unaware of this, Mr Baker would not commit to supporting the Morecambe MP's proposal. "There is a potential trade-off between extra stops on the service and the speed of the journey between two key points where the main market is. In an ideal world, we would obviously like to meet both requirements — the local aspirations that exist, as well as the need to get longer-distance traffic transferred from air to rail — and journey times are key to delivering that.

"...It is fair to say that the west coast main line is heavily used in the Carnforth area," he conceded, "with up to three long-distance services an hour between London, Birmingham or Manchester and Glasgow or Edinburgh, plus regular freight services. Those trains are already popular and well loaded. Capacity problems already exist, and growth in demand continues. Indeed, it is interesting to note that, even in the recession, we have seen buoyant markets for rail that have continued to expand at a time when other forms of transport have not seen the same response. Despite the £8.8 billion upgrade, the west coast main line is already suffering some congestion when it comes to access for freight services and local services, so we have to ensure that the line is used to best capacity.

"Network Rail’s route utilisation strategy for the west coast main line was published on 1st July. It corroborates the heavy usage of the line and the resulting capacity issues, but as my honorable Friend said, it did not consider the reinstatement of the platforms at Carnforth. The Department’s analysis is that journey times would be increased by around five minutes to accommodate calls at reinstated platforms at Carnforth. That has to be borne in mind and weighed against the significant journey savings and more frequent services that have resulted from the upgrade to the west coast main line. London to Glasgow is now 30 minutes quicker than it was before the changes, with a very competitive four hour and 50 minute journey time, while trains from Manchester airport and Birmingham to Glasgow and Edinburgh are now around 20 to 30 minutes faster.

"These enhancements have delivered significant revenue growth since December 2008 and increased rail’s share of the total travel market on the routes served by the west coast main line. These are markets rail serves well and there are strong calls for further journey time reductions... All these and a number of other issues mean that stopping long-distance London services at Carnforth would probably involve a number of trade-offs that are less straightforward than might first seem to be the case.

"...The Government welcome local initiatives to improve rail services as fitting their wider localism agenda," insists Mr Baker. "I will go back to my officials and raise with them one more time the points that he has raised... to see if there is any way we can make any progress."

Network Rail Route Utilisation Strategy for the West Coast Main Line

Anniversary art marks 25 years of Dukes 'Plays in the Park'

The cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1987 by Matt Worden
Some of the most striking images from 25 years of Dukes plays in the park have provided the inspiration for a new exhibition at the Lancaster theatre.

Park Shows, Past and Present commemorates the 25th anniversary of The Dukes staging outdoor walkabout theatre in Lancaster’s Williamson Park.

Over the years, hundreds of photographs have been taken of the 36 productions ranging from The Wizard of Oz to Much Ado About Nothing and from The Importance of Being Earnest to Peter Pan.

Now, local artists Simon Nixon, Iain Sloan and Matt Worden have chosen a selection of these images to recreate in paint, pencil and linocut - and the result is a beautiful exhibition which takes a new look at 25 years of memorable shows.

Park Shows, Past and Present, one of three exhibitions taking place at The Dukes and across Lancaster to mark the 25th year of walkabout theatre in Williamson Park, is on display in The Dukes gallery which is open from 10am to 11.00pm, Monday to Saturday. 

Meanwhile, the Museum of Childhood at the Judges Lodgings museum in Church Street, Lancaster is currently staging an exhibition of costumes, props and photographs from 25 years of Dukes park shows throughout the summer.

• Please call the box office on 01524 598500 to check opening times if you’re making a special journey as occasionally the space is closed to the public.

High Sped Rail "essential', says government

Theresa Villiers MP
Despite what looks like mounting opposition to its plans for a High Speed Rail line that will pass through Lancaster, the government is pushing forward with its support for the project - and has the backing of Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw.

As we previously reported, the public consultation on the Government's proposed high-speed rail line between London, Birmingham and the north of England will close on 29th July.

Speaking in the House of Commons this week, Minister of State for Transport Theresa Villiers backed Lancaster MP Eric Ollerneshaw's support for the scheme.

"A fundamental reason for our need for high-speed rail is to deliver the capacity we need to meet the growing demand for inter-city travel," she argued. "Despite significant capacity upgrades in recent years, with more to come on the west coast, Network Rail predicts that the line will be pretty much full by 2024. That saturation point could come earlier.

"If we fail to provide the capacity we need, we will significantly hinder economic growth and worsen the north-south divide. No Government can afford to sit back and ignore that.

"High-speed rail can provide the capacity we need, as well as shrinking journey times between our major population centres, spreading prosperity and creating jobs, without a net increase in carbon emissions... that is just the sort of sustainable growth we need.

"High-speed rail will reshape our economic geography and start to tackle and reduce the economic divide between north and south, as my hon. Friends the Members for Lancaster and Fleetwood and for Pudsey pointed out," she added. "The full Y-shaped network is expected to generate about £44 billion for the economy. We are convinced that high-speed rail will do a tremendous amount to integrate the economies of Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, and to spread prosperity well beyond the cities that are directly served by the line, including destinations in north Wales.

"We believe that the country should aspire for the future to a genuinely national network, which we hope, of course, will include Wales and Scotland. However, long before that point, passengers in Scotland are expected to benefit significantly from shorter journey times resulting from the Y-shaped network, with journeys of 3.5 hours from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London providing an attractive alternative to flights."

Speaking in May in a Business debate, Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw argued that transport infrastructure is also necessary for businesses to thrive. "The coalition has done well in that area so far," he felt. "After years of underinvestment in our transport network under Labour, in just one year there has been a lot of good news for the north-west, and for my constituents in particular. The renewal of the west coast franchise offers extra capacity for the overcrowded rail services on that route.

"In the longer term, High Speed 2 offers more capacity, speed and choice for journeys to London and, ultimately, Scotland. It might also open a direct link to Heathrow and the channel tunnel."

Mr Ollerenshaw also argues investment new rail capacity should begin now, rather than wait for HS2. "We should start the other way round by building now from Glasgow to Edinburgh," he said this week, "and then slowly build downwards while there is a discussion in the south about where the line should end up. However, I am not sure whether civil servants could cope with that thinking."

Local transport expert Professor John Whitelegg has condemned the HS2 scheme as a white elephant, arguing that it would have a serious impact on local rail services if it went ahead.

"The country needs a proper integrated transport network," he argues, "not an experimental ultra-high-speed line with virtually no connections to existing services."

To take part in the consultation you can either:

  • Reply by post to Freepost RSLX-UCGZ-UKSS, High Speed Rail Consultation, PO Box 59528, London SE21 9AX 
• Department for Transport web site:

• The Wendover HS2 site offers  arguments against HS2

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Wildlife events galore for Morecambe Bay residents

Local children taking part in the Morecambe Bay: A Wealth Of Wildlife project. Photo courtesy the Lancashire Wildlife Trust
For those of us living around Morecambe Bay, there's so much beautiful scenery and wildlife to see - and an exciting new project from the Wildlife Trust continues to give people a chance to learn and engage with the coastal environment around them.

The Morecambe Bay ‘A Wealth of Wildlife Project’ aims to connect communities with the inland, coastal and marine environments through a series of initiatives that will increase access to the beautiful natural places between Fleetwood and Ulverston.

Led by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and in partnership with Cumbria Wildlife Trust, this project will run family events, walks and training opportunities for everyone to engage, explore and experience the wildlife delights of Morecambe Bay.

Supported by Natural England through Access to Nature, as part of the Big Lottery Fund's Changing Spaces programme, this project will also be working in partnership with many other organisations and will encourage a greater diversity of people to connect with wildlife - and offers opportunities for people to take ownership of their local environment in the future. The project aims to provide training and resources to help people appreciate and protect the natural environment beyond the lifetime of the project.

Here's a run down of some of their Morecambe Bay events over the next few weeks...

• Heysham Hedgehogs Wildlife Watch monthly group (every third Saturday of each month)
Saturday 16th July at 10 am - 12 noon

Join the Heysham Hedgehogs who are getting arty and learning about different trees within Heysham Nature Reserve. For children aged between 8 and 13 years. Fee: £1. Booking is essential.
For more information and to book a place contact Emma Garston on 01524 855030, mobile: 07717366812. Email:


Jack Scout and Beach Walk with the National Trust and Wildlife Trust North West - Silverdale

Tuesday 26th July, 10.00 am – 2.00 pm

Enjoy an amble around this beautiful coastal headland. Identify birdsong, find strange holes in the ground and the creatures that made them and look for the flower whose petals follow the sun across the sky! Many more exciting things will happen on the land before you step down to Morecambe Bay where you will explore the shore and hear about Marine Conservation Zones and their importance in the Irish Sea.

Meet at the field gate opposite Ridgeway Park School, Silverdale at SD460737. Parking is limited. Bring lunch. There is a £2 donation. This is an event for families and booking is essential.
For more information and to book a place contact Emma Garston on 01524 855030, mobile: 07717366812. Email:


Prom Art - Art with a sea view with the Cumbria Wildlife Trust - Grange-over-Sands

Sunday 31st July, 9.30 am – 4.00 pm

Held along the promenade at Grange-over-Sands. Drop in and visit our stand at Grange-over-Sand's famous Prom Art and try our family-friendly marine life art and crafts activities to mark the beginning of National Marine Week.
This family event is free, no booking required. Please visit

The Wildlife Trust protects all native wildlife, creating wildlife havens, standing up for wildlife, inspiring people about the natural world and encourage sustainable living.

• For more information, visit:

Moorside School pupils help in police road safety crackdown

moorside_primary_school.jpgMoorside Primary School pupils helped officers deal with 28 motorists who were stopped for driving irresponsibly near their school during a road safety crackdown.

Four youngsters from the Lancaster school took part in a roadside restorative justice project as part of Operation Pathway, a Lancashire-wide initiative aimed at reducing the number of people who are killed or seriously injured on Lancashire’s roads.

Each month has a different theme – with July concentrating on lowering the number of child casualties in the county.

During an hour and half, members of Lancaster’s neighbourhood police teams stopped 28 vehicles that were being driven irresponsibly along Barton Road. The motorists were then asked to speak with the pupils, who explained how the motorists’ driving could put young lives at risk.

“It goes without saying that motorists should be paying particular care to their driving when they are on roads where there are likely to be children nearby," notes Sergeant Guy Hamlett of neighbourhood policing, "especially in residential areas and close to schools.

“As we are looking at reducing child casualties this month it seemed fitting that the pupils should be the ones to point out to the motorists that their driving could be endangering young lives.”

He added: “Over the past five years the number of people killed or seriously injured in collisions on roads in the north of the county has fallen by 20 per cent. We are always looking for new ways to reduce this figure even further and this always proves to be an effective way of making drivers think twice about their behaviour behind the wheel.”

Although welcoming the scheme, former City Councillor and transport expert Professor John Whitelegg feels more could be done to improve road safety as a whole - and not just around schools.

"It's a good idea to involve children but the problem is much bigger than death and injury near a school," he told virtual-lancaster. "Only a small minority of child road casualties - just 20 per cent - occur on the way to or from school, and very few casualties occur outside the school itself.

"The mean radius of school safety zones is just 300 metres, yet the mean distance travelled to school is 1.8km - so school safety zones apply to only 17 per cent of the journey. At exit gateways to school safety zones drivers are reminded of an increase in speed limit to 30mph.

"Schools operate around 240 days a year so things we do near schools should be matched by things we do for the other 125 days," he argues. "The answer is the Swedish 'Vision Zero' road safety policy that says 'there will be zero deaths and zero  serious injuries in the road environment'. 

"This means a general 20 mph speed limit that is rigorously enforced by the police and a general culture of zero tolerance for drivers that break the limit."

Lancashire County Council announced the introduction of a 20 mph speed limit for residential roads across the county back in January, after years of campaigning for lower speed limits by the Green Party and health professionals, and, more recently, by a local 20s Plenty group.

Neighbourhood police teams have also been carrying out child road safety lessons and driver awareness sessions at schools across the north of the county as part of this month’s activities.

Fly your flag at Morecambe FC

Morecambe FC boss Jim Bentley has told fans he wants every day to be a flag day at the Globe Arena.

Bentley is offering fans the chance to put up a flag in the home terracing at the Globe Arena for the coming season to add a splash of colour and atmosphere at home games.

"When you watch Italian games you often see flags hanging at the back of the stand and they are a great sight," he explained via the Club's official site. "I have spoken before about making the Globe Arena, and the stand behind the goal especially, feel more like home and this is something that will help us. It is a lovely ground but it lacks a Morecambe touch at the moment.

"It would be great for supporters to have their own flags hanging up at the ground all season. They could be of a favourite player, a favourite moment or even in memory of a loved one. The flag would be individual to that person and be a permanent landmark for them at the Globe."

The plan has the full backing of the Club's Chief Executive, Rod Taylor.

"Jim is really keen to get the fans more involved this season and this is something all supporters could really relate to," he said. "The club will do all it can to support any fan who wishes to get involved."

The only stipulation is that the flag has to be fire retardant and a certificate gained to prove this and handed into the club.

- If you have a flag you would like to put up please contact the club on 01524 411797

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Statue stolen from Lancaster garden

(Updated 14th July, see addition at end): Local police are appealing for information after a stone statue was stolen from the garden of a house on Albion Mews, Lancaster last week.

At sometime between 6.30pm on the 4th July and 10.30am on the 5th July a two feet tall, gold-painted statue of a boy was stolen from the garden of the property on Albion Mews, which is off De Vitre Street, close to Lancaster Canal.

The statue was the last gift given to the elderly lady owner from her late husband and has great sentimental value to her and police are urging anyone who may have any information to help locate the item to come forward.

“This theft has left this lady extremely upset," says PC Ben Hanley from Lancaster Police "and I would urge anyone who may have seen anything suspicious in the area or with any information that might help to come forward and contact us.”

While there is no suggestion the crimes are connected, there have been several garden thefts in recent months, including that of a summer house from the grounds of a much-loved local charity, CancerCare.

The police advise residents to, where possible, lock valuable garden items away at night so that they don't provide temptation to thieves. They should also consider measures such as chains on hanging baskets or benches. Postcoding items is also a good idea as this helps identify the owner.

• The police reported 14th July that the statue has now been recovered and returned to the owner.The investigation into the theft continues. Anyone with any information can contact police on 01524 63333.

• Anyone who wants to discuss improving safety measures at their home can contact police on 01524 63333. There's also a brief guide to Garden crime prevention here:

Lancaster Freewomen are on the Roll

Last Saturday saw Lancaster's first six Freewomen of the City admitted onto what is now the Roll of the Freemen and Freewomen of Lancaster, at a historic session of the 2011 Court of Admissions. The Ceremony took place in the Council Chamber of Lancaster Town Hall.

The Court was presided over by the Right Worshipful Mayor of the City of Lancaster, Councillor Paul Woodruff, who entered dressed in his ceremonial robes, preceded to his throne by the Great Mace. Ceremonial has it that when the Mayor is seated the Mace should be placed horizontally in front of him, with the crown to the Mayor's right. The Mace is only reversed in the presence of Royalty. So if you ever see it with the crown to the left, you'll know why. Its gleaming gold really sets off the antique panelling.

The City Council's Chief Executive, Mr Mark Cullinan, presented the history of the Roll of Freemen, since its origin in 1900, He gave an account of subsequent changes to the criteria for admission to the Roll and the timely reasons behind those changes.

He went on to present the latest amendment to the admissions criteria, noting its historical significance as it meant women being admitted to the Roll for the first time, as the daughters of Freemen or Freewoman. In conclusion he outlined the proposed procedures that will, possibly by 2012, remove gender discrimination from all the criteria.

The 2011 applicants were presented and later enrolled in the following order:

Scott Preston, Ellen Brockbank, Roger Sherlock, Lisa Vines, Wendy Newbery, Kerry Mason, Julie Taylor and Deborah Mason. Each had to have their identity vouched for by a supporting witness. The court was impressed when Julie Taylor's (very) young son stood to vouch for his mother.

All the applicants swore to a very long and complicated oath, involving loyalty to those in the state chain of command from the City Council up to the Queen, with a rider requirement to report secret gatherings of insurrectionists if they should come across any.

The order of entry on the Roll was determined by a draw from the Beadle's Hat, a stately topper, and so the honour of being Lancaster's First Freewoman of the City fell to Ellen Brockbank. Ellen, an 18 year old student at Ripley St Thomas School in Lancaster, is also Lancaster's youngest Freewoman.

Councillor Roger Sherlock was also admitted as a Freeman of the City, having been a citizen of Lancaster for seven years (and then some), as was Scott Preston, who was born in the RLI, which falls within the City boundary.

Lisa Vines, Lancaster's second Freewoman to be admitted, also assisted the Court in her role as Civic Support Officer, guiding her fellow applicants with her through the ceremony, from arrival through to the tea and biscuits. To top it off she then shared with us an expert guided history of some of the Town Hall artefacts around us.

I asked several of the new Freewomen what had prompted their applications. In every case the response was based on a sense of history. The recorded history of families within a community. They are, in their way, participants in a longitudinal study of a place, its community, its trades and its heritage.

Kerry and Deborah Mason, sisters, introduced me to their father, Freeman R J Mason. Freeman Mason Sr qualified by serving a seven year apprenticeship to a Freeman. There is also a brother who is a Freeman. They are almost a full Free Family. Except, that is, for the one in the middle of the chain. If the criteria for admission were amended to remove the gender discriminatory condition entirely, their mother, for example and if she had the wish, could also apply for admission, thus becoming visible to the record.

Freeman Mason Sr expressed a slight worry that the £13 Marsh Grass, his annual Freeman payment, should have to be stretched so far (confirming all my worst suspicions) but I think he could just have been pulling my leg!-)

Image: The new Freemen and Freewomen of the City who were admitted on July 9 2011.
Back Row
Wendy Newbery, Chief Executive Mark Cullinan, Kerry Mason, Deborah Mason, Lisa Vines, Scott Preston
Front Row
Roger Sherlock, Ellen Brockbank, Mayor of Lancaster Coun Paul Woodruff, Mayoress Dee Wodruff, Julie Taylor

See previous Virtual-Lancaster reports
'Council to invite applications for Freewomen of the City' and
'Lancaster's first Freewomen of the City to be admitted this Saturday.'

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Bulls stolen from Wennington farm

Police are appealing for information after four bulls were stolen from a farm in Lancaster.

Overnight between Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th July somebody approached Bull Bank Farm in Wennington and took the cattle from the field, leaving without being seen.

While the value of the bulls has not been disclosed, an adult can cost thousands to replace.

Police are now appealing for anybody with any information about the theft to come forward.

“I would like to appeal to local markets which sell livestock to check the registration chips of cattle being brought in to see if they match any of the stolen bulls," urged PC Ben Hanley. “I would also urge people buying livestock to be vigilant and check the tags. If anybody has any information at all about the theft then I would urge them to contact police.”

All four animals have been tagged in both ears with DEFRA registration chips: the numbers are 182413500459, 103409300635, 182075400069 and 125659500897.

Although the theft of four bulls may seem unusual, rural crime is an ongoing problem for Lancashire Police. Last month, the Farmers Guardian published statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that reveal many forces - including Cumbria and Lancashire - are battling a significant increase in thefts.

In Lancashire, machinery thefts hiked up by 12 from 28 thefts to 40 during the period 1st October to 31st March 2009/2010 and 1st October to 31st March 2010/2011; and Cumbria saw the number of sheep stolen lunge from 328 to 519.

• Anybody with any information is asked to contact police on 08451 25 35 45 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

University of Cumbria launches support packages for students

Future University of Cumbria students will have access to additional scholarships and bursaries thanks to the university's new Access Agreement - a scheme that will especially help locals.

The university's Access Agreement for 2012/13 has been given the go ahead by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) and confirms that the University continues and expands its extensive commitment to widening participation offering excellent educational opportunities for students in Cumbria, north Lancashire and beyond.

The university already has a proven track record for offering excellent financial and other support to its students but its new agreement will see it participating in the Government's national scholarship programme and has committed to providing 126 local students support of up to £6000, including £3000 in the first year and £1500 in years two and three if applicable.

The university has also pledged up to £4,500 of financial support for an additional 295 Cumbria bursaries of £1,500 per year as well as a range of additional achievement and performance awards.

The university says it will continue to provide existing financial support to its current and 2011 entry students under its current bursary scheme and will also be investing in new staff and teams to further develop access and retention of students to help them achieve their full potential. This will include continuing the legacy and some work previously delivered by Aimhigher Cumbria and Lancashire schemes.

“We're delighted that our Access Agreement has been given the go ahead," says Vice Chancellor Professor Graham Upton. "This reaffirms our ongoing commitment to widening participation for our students and ensure that everybody has the opportunity to study with us.

"The student experience remains at the forefront of all the university’s planning and budgeting," he continued. "The drive to offer high quality resources to match the already high level of teaching was fundamental to our decision for setting our new tuition fee."

The University has ongoing plans for new developments on its campuses, including St. Martins in Lancaster.

"We will continue to invest in facilities and accommodation, as well as learning and teaching resources, to enhance and support the overall quality of the student experience," the Vice Chancellor reveals. "Our new Access Agreement will also enable us to build on our strong commitment to and current widening participation activity in order to encourage able students from less advantaged backgrounds to embark on a degree.

"The range of financial support packages that we will be putting in place will ensure no student is deterred from enrolling at the University of Cumbria purely on financial grounds, but instead can take advantage of the life and career enhancing opportunities that we are proud to provide.“

Appeal after Heysham HGV theft

Police are appealing for information and have released CCTV images following the theft of an HGV unit and a trailer in Heysham last month.

At around 11.50pm on the 26th June, a man stole an HGV unit from a business premises on Heysham Business Park. The man walked into the office of Hancocks and took a key for one of their HGV units. He then walked over to the tractor unit and using the keys, drove away, out of the business park.

At around 12.15am later the same night, a curtain sided ‘Surefreight’ trailer parked on Shore Road near to Heysham Port containing approximately £40,000 of goods was stolen. The load on the van was made up of Nivea products and Quality Street chocolates.

The HGV unit and the trailer were both found abandoned on the A675 Bolton Road near to Abbey Village the following day (27th June 2011) with only a small amount of Quality Street remaining, the total theft estimated at around £30,000.

Police have issued CCTV images of a man they wish to speak to in connection with the thefts and are asking people who may recognise him to come forward. The man is described as around five feet ten inches tall, with light blond, short hair and a tanned complexion.

“This is a particularly unusual and well planned theft," notes PC Mark Nelson who is investigating. "It is thought that this man could have a knowledge of the company at the business park in order to have been so specific in his actions on the night and I would appeal for anyone who may recognise the man in the CCTV to come forward.

“I would also be keen to speak to anyone who may have been in either in Heysham or in the Bolton Road area that may have seen anything suspicious, either around the times of the offences, or in the hours leading up to and following the offences to come forward.”

• Anyone with any information can contact police on 08451 25 35 45 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Mollie Baxter back at Spotlight Club

Writer and Muscian Mollie Baxter

Ace singer-song writer Mollie Baxter makes a welcome return to Lancaster's Spotlight Club on Friday, after some last minute changes to the event's line up.

Mollie is a writer, editor, musician and tutor, which she puts down to either a lack of focus or an unfettered hurrah. Her short stories have been published widely including Before the Rain (Flax, 2008) and in the NAWE journal. She has been placed in several competitions, most recently The Biscuit International Flash Fiction Contest. A freelance creative writing tutor and mentor, she also edits for Back&Beyond, Lancaster’s new arts publication.

Offering a night of poetry, horror, comedy and very good music, this month's Spotlight Club also includes performances by poets Norman Hadley and Mihkel Hassan, author and World Fantasy Award nominee Simon Unsworth, comedian Christopher Kay and more music from The Low Countries - Nigel Parrington and Els D'hooge.

• Doors will be open from 8.00 pm; Open Mic 8.30 - 9pm. Admission £4 / £2 (conc.). More info:

• More about Mollie at:

The Miller's Tale re-told

Pete Morton. Photo: Joe Dilworth

Musician and songwriter Pete Morton will present Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale with the songs of Bob Dylan on Friday 29 July, in aid of the Quaker Tapestry Appeal.

This energetic one-man show has been described as a "mad medieval musical monologue of poetry, comedy, song and the occasional dance". This fabulous fun-filled fable from the famous Canterbury Tales is performed by Pete Morton with the help of some Dylan songs... as well as a few other classics. While keeping close to the original poetry, it is easy to follow and understandably bonkers!

A vulgar, ribald, and satirical fabliau in stark contrast to the courtly love of "The Knight's Tale" which precedes it in the original by Chaucer, "The Miller's Tale" is of an amorous student (Nicholas) who persuades his jealous landlord's much younger wife (Alison) to have sex with him. They plan a way to have sex by duping John, the landlord and a carpenter, through an elaborate scheme in which Nicholas convinces him that a flood of Biblical proportions is imminent.

Their safety depends, says Nicholas, on waiting overnight in separate tubs suspended from the rafters, and to cut their tubs from the roof when the water has risen. He adds that if the landlord tells anyone else people will think he is mad (although he says this to make sure that no man tells the landlord to see sense in the matter). This comic prank allows Nicholas and Alison the opportunity to sneak down, after the landlord falls asleep, and have sex.

After Pete’s rendition of this tawdry tale there will be a concluding dance to the music of Moorgate ceilidh band, so it's bound to be a great evening.

• The Miller’s Tale, Friday 29 July 2011, 7.30pm - 10.00pm, The Quaker Meeting House, Meeting House Lane, Lancaster (next to the railway station). Admission: £8.00 (£5.00 concessions)

• More about Pete Morton at:

Youngsters to reel in prizes at fishing competition

A quick reminder that young anglers can reel in prizes by taking part in a police fishing competition later this month.

Junior angling matches, organised by Lancashire Police, give youngsters the opportunity to receive free fishing tuition and then put it into competitive practice.

The next event will take place on Saturday 30th July at Borwick Waters, Borwick, Carnforth. Fishing will begin at 10am, with the prize giving at 2.00pm. Anglers aged between five and 18 are invited to take part, although only 60 places are available.

Entry and accompanying tuition is free and limited equipment will also be available for novices. Entry forms can be obtained from Lancaster, Morecambe or Carnforth police station front counters – the closing date is 15th July.

Certificates and medals will be given to all those who take part.

The events are organised and run by PC John Bassinder and PC Kath Bromilow. The officers spend all year raising funds so that they can put these events on free of charge for the benefit of the local community. They have received help from Bardon Aggregates, Jerry’s Fishing at Morecambe and Carnforth Rotary Club. The events are held in partnership with the Environment Agency, which provides staff to tutor novice anglers.

“The event will give novice anglers the chance to learn a new skill and those who are more experienced the chance to show off what they can do," says PC Kath Bromilow. "It's important to encourage youngsters to get involved in constructive activities so that they have something proactive to occupy their time.”

Monday, 11 July 2011

Police appeal after Heysham crash

Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward after a Carlisle motorcyclist was seriously injured in a road traffic collision in Heysham on Thursday (7 July 2011).
The incident happened at 3.50pm when the 29 year old man was riding his Honda CRR 1000 motorbike towards the direction of Overton along Moss Lane.
The rider is believed to have lost control on a right hand bend and has left the road down a ditch leading into the River Lune.
He has struck a fence where he became trapped by barbed wire around his leg but was released within the hour with the assistance of Lancashire Fire Rescue and paramedics.
The rider was then airlifted to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary with serious leg injuries and later transferred to Preston Royal infirmary for further treatment.
PC Shaun Canning from the Road Policing Unit said: “I would urge anybody that witnessed this incident to contact me at Morecambe Police Station quoting log number LC-2011-0707-0954.
“The rider was extremely lucky that he had been travelling in company with a friend on another motorbike otherwise it is unlikely he would have been seen from the road by members of the public.”