Friday, 16 December 2011

Free Reed Band and John Harper dates at Lancaster venues

Lancaster's ace folk group Free Reed Band will be performing a Christmas/New Year Ceilidh at the Gregson Centre (Moor Lane, Lancaster) on Thursday 29th December.

"We have secured the services of our good friend and superb Dance Caller, Fiona Rigg, for the evening," band spokesperson Tony Cooke tells us. "We start at 8.00pm and end at 11.00pm and it will only cost you £8 (£6 concessions) to get in and dance your socks off." You have been told...

John Harper

Kicking off the 2012 folk-wise, John Harper will be appearing at the John O’Gaunt, Lancaster on Thursday 5th January 2012. John is a regular Lancaster entertainer, who was playing at the Robert Gilow only l;ast week, and always dazzles everyone with his powerful renditions of British and American contemporary songs, his own compositions and traditional folksong. His gig at the Gillow completely zapped the audience with a wonderful, powerful performance.

While folk music has always been popular in Lancaster since the days of gigs at the Brown Cow in the 1970s, the number of live venues offering regular spots for the music has declined down the years. Sadly, there's no news as yet on whether or not the Gillow - still seeking a permanent landlord - will continue with live music in 2012, but hopefully we'll have some news on that front soon.

• More about John Harper at 

Rush Hockey storms into Salt Ayre

Salt Ayre staff Anna Simpson, Elliot Trafford, Tom Ball and Hannah Corless try out the new sport, Rush Hockey.
Photo courtesy Lancaster City Council
Lancaster City Council is inviting local people to try out a brand new game which combines elements of hockey with fun, fast and furious game play.

Rush Hockey is a new game for four to five players developed by English Hockey and is being trialled at a handful of sports and leisure centres across the UK.

It is hoped that if the game proves popular here, a district league could be created. Matches will take place at Salt Ayre Sports Centre in the winter and Happy Mount Park in the summer.

Although the new game is a great way to keep fit, the emphasis is on fun with simple rules, shorter games and smaller pitches.

Two special free taster sessions are taking place at Salt Ayre Sports Centre and open to anyone aged 16 and above who wants to try their hand at this exciting new game. No previous experience of hockey is necessary and all equipment will be provided for people who attend.

The free taster sessions will take place on Wednesday, 28 December from 12pm to 2pm and Monday 9 January from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.  There is no need to book to take part.

• For more details about the taster sessions, call Salt Ayre Sports Centre on 01524 847540 or visit

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Occupy Camp celebrates first fortnight with events

On Wednesday the Occupy Lancaster camp completed its first fortnight in Dalton Square. Tuesday night had already seen a gathering of local folk artists in a rousing session in the meeting tent. Tonight (Thursday) supporters are invited to bring food to share to celebrate two weeks of Occupy Lancaster and two months of Occupy London. More events are planned for the weekend (see below).

The Occupy movement is the stuff of folk songs itself.  Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street campaign for greater fairness and accountability in economics, signs at the Lancaster Camp refer to the vast concentration of wealth among the top 1% of income earners compared to the other 99%.

Two weeks in and despite the battering it has taken from recent winter gales the camp has taken shape. There is heat and electric light, two large tents decorated for the season for meetings, cooking and communal warmth and a hobbity scattering of smaller tents. There were about half a dozen people there, chatting, doing odd jobs, greeting passers-by who stopped to talk. A new sign had been laminated to proclaim the camp ban on alcohol or drugs. The two campers stapling it to an awning enjoyed a discussion over whether it is always ok to say 'no' so negatively. I recognised one as a care worker. A policeman dropped by briefly to say hello.

The Campers hold open discussion meetings, called general assemblies, every evening at 6pm to settle camp business and give out news. It is an interesting process to watch. As one person speaks, others shake their fingers upwards, signalling agreement, or downwards, to mean disagreement. Side discussions occasionally break out but are rapidly checked by the facilitator, who conducts the meeting and queues the people with points to make (they point upwards). It's slow, building consensus between such diverse people but the signalling clearly helps, good will holds and the cold motivates efficiency. On facebook it's more complicated and the camp now has two facebook sites, Occupy Lancaster! a group for discussion and issues, and Occupy Lancaster UK - Practical Support, which is restricted to the practicalities of camp logistics. Such as how the camp needs an electric oil radiator, if anyone can spare one.

The police have a standing invitation to contribute to the meetings and so far relations between camp, police and the City Council appear to have gone smoothly.  Lancaster City Council told Virtual-Lancaster: "Lancaster City Council together with Lancashire Constabulary are committed to allowing peaceful legal demonstrations. We will both continue to monitor the small encampment at Dalton Square and to provide community reassurance."

One camper tells me that a council official came by and explained why the park walls weren't up to the job of anchoring big tents in a gale, which, he added, was good to know.

The Occupy Lancaster Camp schedule of events for next few days is a follows:

Thursday 5 December:  7 - 10pm after the General Assembly. Celebrate Occupy's birthday. Dress nice (and warm) and bring party food to share.

Friday 6 December

8pm: Locality workshop/discussion.

Evening: Women's meeting: making spaces safe for women

Saturday 17 December:

11am Busking

12 - 1pm Yarn and Darn: Knitting, Crochet and all yarn crafts. Bring wool & other tools of the trade, some will be provided.

1-4pm. Parkour Workshop (free-running),  Art Workshop and Free Shop

3pm Consensus and Facilitation workshop.

Sunday 18 December:

12pm. Economics Discussion: what is the alternative..?

1-3pm. Family Fun:  Family/kids workshop, making flags; Juggling and circus skills workshop; Parkour/free running

Local University suports scheme to engage workers in improving business

Dr Michele Lawty-Jones, David MacLeod, Tim Viney and Barbara Davies

The University of Cumbria played host to a government Task Force in Ambleside this week, to showcase and discuss the success of an innovative leadership programme being delivered to leaders of small-to-medium businesses in the region.

The LEAD programme provides hands-on advice, expert coaching and practical support and concentrates not only on the business itself, but also on the development of the owner, encouraging them to engage with their staff to better the company and its success.

The new independent Employee Engagement Task Force was launched in March, with the am of ensuring that a range of practical opportunities are made available for organisations wanting to learn about engagement. It will share good practice, generate debate and offer support via a new website.

The Task Force is building on the report ‘Engaging for Success’ (PDF link), which David MacLeod and Nita Clarke produced in 2009 for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

David MacLeod, who works for consultancy Towers Perrin, and Nita Clarke, now deputy of thr Task Force, were commissioned to produce the ‘Engaging for Success’ report for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and featured the LEAD programme in the report as a best practice case study.

“Like most people, I didn’t use the term engagement to start with," said David of his interest in this area of business development, in an interview for the IPA when was working on the report in 2009. "The first period of my career was in managing a consumer brand, and consumer brands are critically dependent on their ability to innovate, and stay relevant.

"Trying to get innovation out of a bureaucracy is a big challenge, so the people aspects of innovation really struck me as central.

“Then I went to manage a business turnaround, and while all the analytics were right, it didn’t tell you what to do. And at heart, I think the organisation had lost confidence, and by losing confidence, it had lost engagement. So that was really fascinating.

"[Engagment] is not about work/life balance, although it might touch that," he explained. "It’s not about happiness, although it might touch that; it is about organisations performing, delivering better what they set out to deliver. The question is whether we are harnessing discretionary effort.

“It is not to be confused with HR – which is good stuff. Let’s have a good performance management system, let’s have a good recruitment process. But having a good marketing strategy is equally relevant to engagement. In fact, I’d say having a good, clear, strategy is as important as anything.”

"“People are at the heart of success for companies and organisations," argues vice chair Nita Clarke, "so whether or not the workforce is positively encouraged to perform at its best should be a key consideration for every leader and manager, and should be placed at the heart of business strategy. Where this happens the results are transformational. Spreading this message widely will be the key task of this new employer led task force.”

“This task force has my full support," commented Prime Minister David Cameron at its launch, "because I know that it will work to bring together two of my government's top priorities – delivering sustainable growth across the UK, and coming up with new approaches to help people improve their wellbeing.“

David MacLeod was keen to return to the region to see what progress had been made and the meeting at the university’s Ambleside site on Tuesday brought together representatives from the University of Cumbria, the Centre for Leadership Performance, Lancaster University Management School and LEAD delegates from around Cumbria.

LEAD graduate Barbara Davies, managing director of Gosforth Hall Inn explains:
“Having been in a managerial position for most of my adult life, with very little training, I was blinkered in my approach to staff, suppliers and customers.

“Now, through the various elements of the LEAD training programme, I have attained invaluable lessons on how to stop, stand back, think about and assess a situation, then address and monitor the outcome. More importantly I look forward to exciting challenges and don’t see them as problems.”

Another of the LEAD programme graduates, Tim Viney of Atlantic Geomatics, which is based in Penrith, feels the programme has enabled him to take a more holistic view of his business. “It has grown from employing 12 people to 16,” he says, “and I have achieved my objective of employing a dedicated business manager.”

“It has been great to raise the profile of Cumbria with the Government task force," added Dr Michele Lawty-Jones, Enterprise and Business Relations Manager at the University of Cumbria. "They were very interested to hear about the SME business base that is critical to our local economy and our local LEAD graduates who have benefited from working with the university.”

Comedian Mark Thomas to return to The Dukes

The Dukes 2012 comedy season begins in January with the welcome return of Mark Thomas and his new show, Manifesto.

After a sell out tour, three series on Radio 4, and a book, Manifesto is the show where the audience get to make the policies of the future as the awardwinning comic collects audience suggestions to make the world a better place, create heaven on earth, or just annoy the neighbours.

Ideas are then discussed and debated before the audience votes on the policy they feel best represents them, to create a manifesto.

Past policies voted for by audiences include: invade Jersey and shut down tax havens, there should be a gamble button on all ATM machines, and anyone found guilty of a homophobic hate crime should serve their entire sentence in drag.

Who knows what will emerge this time round?

Mark’s latest tour, which calls into the Lancaster theatre on 11th January, coincides with a new Radio 4 series of the Manifesto.

Mark was last at The Dukes back in April with Extreme Rambling, which toured to more than 40,000 people and was the first two-hour comedy show to be performed at Glastonbury. Mark was also the first comic to be nominated for an Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award for this show.

The Dukes spring 2012 comedy season also features Andi Osho with All the Single Ladies on 1st February; Stewart Lee’s Carpet Remnant World on 21st March 21, which has already sold out; Laurence Clark’s Health Hazard, 14th April; Henning When, No Surrender on 22nd April; and An Audience with Stuart Maconie on 4th May.

• Mark Thomas: Manifesto at The Dukes, Wednesday, 8.00pm 11th January. Tickets: £10. Box Office: 01524 598500 or online at Live comedy at The Dukes is recommended for anyone aged 16 plus.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Morecambe schoolboy mugged for his mobile

Police are appealing for witnesses after a schoolboy was attacked and robbed in Morecambe last Friday.

The incident happened on Friday 9th December at around 8.15pm on Ellesmere Road. The victim, a 15 year old local boy was walking home when he was approached by two men, who asked him if he had any money.

When he said he didn’t, so the offenders felt his pockets and located his mobile phone.

Initially, the boy managed to escape and ran up a driveway, banging on somebody’s front door to try and get some help, but the robbers followed him and dragged him to the floor and kicked him several times in the head before stealing his mobile.

One of the attackers is described as white, slim build, approximately 5ft 8/9 inches, aged around 16 years with spots all over his face. He was wearing a hooded top pulled up and dark tracksuit bottoms.

The other is described as white, smaller than the first man wearing a snood (neck scarf) up to his eyes and a hooded top pulled up.

“This is a vile and nasty unprovoked attack on an innocent schoolboy," said Detective Constable Gillian Topping, "and those people responsible need to be caught and brought to justice.

"The victim is recovering well but it must have been a terrifying ordeal for him. I would urge anyone with information to come forward and contact the police.

• Anyone with information is asked to call Morecambe police on 101. People with information can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

Electronic Money Voucher "cold call" scam hits Lancashire

Residents who purchase electronic money vouchers are being warned about cold caller fraudsters intent on taking their cash.

Lancashire Constabulary and Trading Standards have received a number of reports of residents receiving unsolicited phone calls, where the caller offers the victim a lump sum of money. On occasion this has been an offer of a loan or informing the victim that they have come into some cash through a competition or inheritance. The caller then asks the victim to go to a shop and purchase an electronic money voucher, such as Ukash or Money Gram (both of which are legitimate schemes) in order to prove they can make loan repayments or to fund various taxes before they can be given their windfall.

Electronic money vouchers are widely by those who do not have, or want to use, bank or credit cards, but who wish to make purchases on-line. The victim is asked for the last 10 numbers on the voucher – this is the information that the fraudster needs to use the electronic money voucher for their own gain.

If the resident does not initially realise they have been scammed, the caller may make more phone calls and ask for more voucher codes – meaning the victim loses even more cash.

The scam has been carried out across the county, with a number of offences taking place in the Wyre and Blackpool area.

"The phone calls tend to originate from abroad, making it difficult to trace the offender," notes PC Carol White from Wyre police. "It is therefore important that we try to prevent these offences from taking place in the first place – one victim has lost over £500 from the scam.

"The offer being given by the cold caller differs from phone call to phone call, but the fact that they ask for the last 10 digits of an electronic money voucher is a recurring feature of this type of crime. In fact most electronic voucher companies advise you not to give out any part of the voucher code over the phone and to only use approved websites to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

"Genuine organisations would never cold call, request an upfront fee or ask for personal or financial details over the phone. Any that do should start alarm bells ringing.”

• Anyone wishing to report becoming a victim of such a scam should contact Trading Standards in the first instance on 08454 04 05 06.

Morecambe dog owner fined after attack on warden

Lancaster City Council is warning dog owners to take heed of dog control notices after a local woman was fined for allowing her dog to attack one of the council’s dog wardens in Morecambe’s Regent Park.

Zoe Pickles of Cedar Street, Morecambe, pleaded guilty to a dangerous dog offence, having a dog in a public place without identification, and for having her dog off its lead in a designated dogs on lead area.

Ms Pickles appeared before Magistrates in Lancaster last week and was fined £150 and ordered to pay £100 towards the council’s costs, and £75 by way of compensation to Liz Akister, the council’s dog warden. 

She was also ordered to keep her dog, a Staffordshire bull terrier, on a lead and muzzled at all times when in a public place.

Ms Akister received injuries in October, when she approached the dog’s owner to inform her that the dog must be kept on a lead.  The dog jumped up and ran aggressively at Ms Akister, biting the underside of her right arm.

Ms Pickles told Ms Akister that the dog doesn’t like people approaching her, and that she didn’t think it needed to be on a lead, even though she had seen the signs saying dogs must be kept on a lead.  She had been sitting on a bench next to the children’s play area at the time of the attack.

“We hope that this sends out a strong message to dog owners," commented Lancaster City Council Environmental Health Officer, Sue Clowes.

"Failing to control your dog or keep it on a lead in designated places, particularly if it is known to be aggressive, is not only a serious offence that can lead to an expensive fine, but can also result in injury to other people.”

Homeless find room on the radio this Christmas

Dukes creative learning director Guy Christiansen with Shona Thompson
Photo courtesy The Dukes

The Dukes has teamed up with a neighbouring centre for homeless people to produce a special radio programme this Christmas.

DT3, which houses The Dukes Creative Learning Department in Moor Lane, is just across the road from the Edward Street centre run by Lancaster and District Homeless Action Service.

Over the last few weeks, homeless people have been interviewed about how music has affected and inspired their lives, have talked about their typical day on the streets and the staff have explained some of the changes currently taking place at the centre.

The result will be broadcast in a 45-minute show on Lancaster’s community radio station – Diversity FM – some time over Christmas.

The project has been led by Dukes creative learning director, Guy Christiansen and Shona Thompson, 17,who is in the final year of a work placement at DT3.

Guy said: “Shona had to do a project in her final year which she wanted to be about a social issue so she chose to focus on homelessness.”

The Wireless Project where young people can learn about producing radio programmes has been run at DT3 since 2010.

Recently, professional radio and sound producer, Lauren Walker, who has worked for the BBC, has been running the project along with a worker from the county council’s Young People’s Service.

A partnership has been developed with Diversity FM which involves young people producing an hour long programme which is broadcast on the third Monday of every month. They also make a programme for Boom Radio, Rock FM’s internet station.

Among the features they have created include experiences of international travel,such as a work placement in Ethiopia,to interviewing members of the Youth Council.

• If you are aged 16-19 and would like to know more about The Wireless Project which runs every Wednesday from 6.30-8.30pm, contact Guy Christiansen on 01524 598516.