Friday, 27 January 2012

Join the Big Bird Watch at Williamson Park

Blackbird image courtesy
There's an opportunity for Lancaster bird lovers to join the world’s biggest wildlife survey alongside local volunteers who are participating in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch in Williamson Park.

The Lancaster and Morecambe University of the 3rd Age (a voluntary organisation for retired people with no religious or political affiliations) is planning the bird watch which takes place on Sunday 29th January.

All you have to do is observe the birds in the park for an hour and the results will be fed back to the RSPB.

You can make a real difference to the knowledge of garden birds and help to find out which are doing well and which need help.

If you would like to join in, the volunteers will meet you at 10.15am in the Wyresdale Road car park. They're planning to cover several areas of the park and meet up at the café afterwards to compare findings.

• To find out more about the organisers, visit

• More about the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch:

Thursday, 26 January 2012

I LIke It! Gerry and the Pacemakers come to Morecambe

A unique journey of music, song and chat reliving the Swinging Sixties comes to the Platform in Morecambe on Saturday 18th February, with Gerry Marsden and the Pacemakers.

Gerry & The Pacemakers topped the UK and US charts for much of the 1960s. This show will hear Gerry talk about his early beginnings in Liverpool, those heady days of that decade and up to the present.  

Hear all Gerry’s greatest hits mixed with stories, jokes and anecdotes from his years at the top. The show promises to be a roller coaster ride of fun, music and nostalgia not to be missed.

• Gerry Marsden and the Pacemakers, 7.30pm Saturday 18th February, the Platform, Morecambe. Tickets are priced at £16.50 and available from the Visitor Information Centres at the Platform, Morecambe and the Storey Creative Industries Centre in Lancaster. You can also buy tickets over the phone on 01524 582803 and online at 

• For more events, concerts and shows taking place at the Platform see the latest brochure at

Popular Lancaster Greengrocers to close

(via Transtion City Lancaster): There's more bad news on Lancaster's independent retail front with word that The Greengrocers in Common Garden Street is closing on 4th February.

Workers for the business reportedly got 11 days notice of the shock closure, which came after the building went up for sale for £250,000 -  and staff have lost their jobs, even though some have worked there for years.

The current owner has apparently already got a prospective buyer for the property who wants to get rid of the greengrocer's – so the only option now for the business (or its experienced staff) is to find another place and start a new business.

The closure is another blow to Lancaster's unique retail offering, following on the heels of the decision to close Lancaster Market and the announced closure of China Street-based pet shop Pearson’s Pet and Aquatic Store, also a victim of a change of building ownership, which the Lancaster Guardian reported will close in March after trading for 41 years.

Another long-standing independent busines, Chirnsides, will also close next month after almost 150 years of trading when its Managing Director retires.

Supporters of local veg sellers are incandescent at the news, but wonder if the time is right for another community veg shop in Lancaster.

"There would be lots of support from the co-op people," suggests Wendy Haslam, "and even the Government are supposed to be supporting this sort of enterprise and there are already some experienced workers and all the contacts.

"It would be good to have that outlet for local growers as well. Perhaps it could stock more organic veg?"

Traders in Lancaster Market are reportedly looking at alternative places for a new Market-style location.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Students turn Superstars to help bring sport to all

Andrew Ashworth teaching
young children
University of Cumbria students have been given valuable employment experience through a sports company set up by a former graduate.

Steven Watson, a former sports studies student at the university’s Lancaster St. Martins campus, graduated more than seven years ago and set up Superstars Coaching soon afterwards.

The company offers a range of sport and exercise services from fundamentals with three year olds, including running and jumping, to rehabilitation with 103 year olds.

Bolton born Steven, 28, is now using his experience to support other University of Cumbria students and graduates by offering them work placements.

“We have offered work to a number of students and graduates and I expect more opportunities to arise for them in the future” said Steven.

“Superstars Coaching has really taken off in the last couple of years and I am keen to support students and give them the opportunity to get some experience and give them a taste of working life.

“Amongst our most successful coaches were Ali Lippok, who used the experience to go on to become a teacher and Dan Ford. 'Sports Man Dan' as the nursery children referred to him, worked with us for three years and will not be forgotten in a hurry. And as we offer such a wide range of services, there is never a dull moment for the new recruits!”

University of Cumbria sport lecturer Mark Christie is full of praise for Steven and the opportunities he is offering. Mark said: “It’s wonderful to see how our graduates make their mark within the industry, but even more special when they come back and offer current graduates a job! Steven clearly demonstrates a passion for his own business model and has diversified from school sport contracts into wider physical activity spheres and population groups. He is a real success story.”

Steven is confident that the partnership is proving to be fruitful for everybody involved. He said: “There are mutual benefits through this partnership. We are able to utilise the skills and fresh ideas of enthusiastic young coaches while they benefit from the range of experiences we can offer and they are paid too. It also supports the university and the opportunities it can offer.”

Steven also runs Exersci, a training provider to bridge the gap between sports science theory and coaching practice. The company provides a team of experts in specific aspects of sports science with plans for rapid expansion.

• For more information visit: or

• For information about sport courses at the University of Cumbria visit

Shhh! There's a new play on at Lancaster Library!

Amy Jo Clough, who plays Penny
in Ssh! at Lancaster Library
Today sees Shhh! opening in Lancaster - "a play about a library, performed at the library". Tom Bramhall reports...

Put together by The Dukes’ Senior Youth Theatre, Shhh! sets its drama around Penny, a librarian who - amongst other things draws tattoos on her arm with biro pens, knows the location of every book in the building and, with 362 unfinished songs under her belt, is well prepared for an X-Factor appearance that she is ‘absolutely definitively’ going to win!

Billed as a play about luck, love, friendship, Shhh! is peppered with references to the local area. It’s also the first of the Senior Youth Theatre’s productions to take place outside of their DT3 base on Moor Lane.

In the lead-up to its run at Lanacaster Library (25th- 28th January), I spoke to directors Kriss Foster and Mary Sharples about a play that's steeped in local culture and community.

Tom Bramhall: Where and when did the ideas for Shhh! come together?

Kriss: The idea came about a year ago. We were interested in doing a site specific piece in Lancaster with the Senior Youth Theatre. We thought about spaces that would be great for theatre in Lancaster and when we thought of the library we thought it would be great. The thought of a play about Lancaster, set in Lancaster and performed in the library space was one that excited me greatly.

Tom: Who’s involved?

Kriss: There’s myself, Mary and The Dukes Senior Youth Theatre from DT3 at the Dukes. We devised the characters with last years group and put the script together over Summer. This years group worked on the piece and added new scenes of their own. As a collaborative, devising process I think it’s been a great success.

Tom: How are you finding the library as a performance space?

Kriss: Excellent, the library are so supportive and encouraging and have made us so welcome in their space. It’s been great rehearsing in the library and seeing how many things go on. Theatre feels like a natural progression, especially after the success of the Get it Loud in Libraries project.

Tom: What’s been the most enjoyable aspect of getting the play together?

Mary: There have been so many enjoyable moments in creating the piece. When we started researching the piece in May it was great visiting the library and talking to people about how they use the space and then developing characters from their answers. Another enjoyable aspect of the process has been seeing the group get involved with all aspects of the piece, for example, devising and adding extra scenes, choreographing pieces of movement and learning musical instruments.

Tom: Have you any advice for people wanting to get involved with local arts?

Kriss: My advice would be to do it. If you have an idea share it and they’ll be a ton of people who want to share and help. Lancaster is full of talented and creative people that are happy to share in and support creative projects. I’ve found organisations in Lancaster also to be very supportive and willing to listen to and support many varied projects.

Tom: Will there be original music?

Kriss: Yes, there will. The group have all been encouraged to learn a new musical instrument to perform a song that the group worked on together. There is percussion, singing and a great variety of instruments!

Tom: Are fame, fortune and leaving Lancaster keys to happiness?

Mary: Perhaps fame and fortune are the keys to happiness but leaving Lancaster definitely isn’t. With so many exciting creative things happening at places like the Dukes and the library and with young people so enthusiastic and inventive as our group, how would anyone not be happy in Lancaster?

Sssh! opens tonight at 7.30pm at Lancaster Library. More information about Shhh! and related projects can be found at The Dukes’ Box Office 01524 598500 or from their website:

• Tom Bramhall runs with future~pizza (

Council joins Post Office pilot that could make it a ‘Front Office for Government’

Lancaster City Council has joined a national pilot to identify opportunities for Post Offices to deliver a wider range of public sector services - and hopefully prevent any further rounds of unpopular post office closures.

The hope is that any long term link up with local Councils and Post Offices will make Post Offices a ‘Front Office for Government’ for local government and other public sector services - although this could, of course, also potentially impact on jobs currently done by some Council staff.

In November 2010, the Post Office launched a year long partnership pilot with Sheffield City Council, looking at how a closer working relationship could benefit both the Post Office, the council and customers. Sheffield was chosen because some 700,000 transactions per year are already carried out at Post Office branches on behalf of its Council, which is the second highest of any local authority in the country.
The pilot ended in November 2011 and now, hoping to build on these experiences further, 24 more local authorities, including Lancaster City Council, have agreed to take part in a further pilot scheme.

Both the Council and the Post Office will work closely together to identify opportunities where the Post Office could deliver some services on behalf of public services locally.

The original pilot offered various recommendations, arguing there was value for Post Offices in linking up with local authority strategic partners, including from the private sector, to identify opportunities to support local service delivery.

It found that the Post Office’s network transformation programme, combined with the community leadership of councils could create opportunities to transform post office facilities, improve service standards and broaden the service offer of post offices to deliver
efficient and effective joined up services.

In particular, the Post Office was seen as offering a vital role in the face-to-face
transactions for those who can’t or won’t go online or where the transaction involves
a face-to-face element.

“The Post Office is at the very heart of our communities and provides a vital service to both the public and to businesses," feels Council leader Eileen Blamire. “At the same time local councils such as ourselves and other public services need to be more efficient and it makes common sense for us to look at ways in which we can work together more closely.

“Delivering some services through Post Offices would not only provide a better service to the public, it could help to maintain a vital community resource.

“We have no preconceptions about which services the Post Office may be able to deliver on  behalf of public services such as ourselves and what is right for one local area won’t be for another.  The purpose of the pilot will be to explore what opportunities may be available and I very much look forward to seeing the outcome.”

Of course, if anything is to come of this, the Government need to do their bit, too, especially after so many local post office closures in recent years which outraged many people. Reporting on the original pilot scheme in Sheffield the report on that argues the Post Office needs to be supported to deliver major public transactional services and take risks to diversify their service offer.

Read the original report on the pilot scheme (PDF link)

Monster Fun for Half Term at The Dukes

Young people wil be able to enjoy a monster half-term treat at The Dukes next month, with its cinema and creative learning department hosting an exciting monster moviemaking workshop inspired by classic b-movies like Godzilla.

How to Make a Monster Movie in Five Days is a crash course in filmmaking for 11 to 14-year-olds which takes place from 13-17th February.

Budding Spielbergs will write, build sets, shoot and edit their very own short monster movie with help from the experts.

This workshop is perfect for anyone with an interest in film and filmmaking. No previous experience is required.

Places are limited and must be booked in advance at a cost of £50. For an information pack, please ask at The Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or email

More cinematic half-term treats at The Dukes include an 1980s classic and a delightful children’s film.

On Monday 13th February at 11.00am, the Ghostbusters (12A) will be called to appear on a newly restored print of one of the most popular films of the decade, recently given new impetus with game releases and more. Tickets are £5.50/£4.50 concessions.

Saturday 18th February sees The Dukes cinema hosting the closing gala pyjama party for Lancaster Children’s Film Festival.

The event features a screening of the wonderful Arrietty (U), a delightful adaptation of The Borrowers from Japan's Studio Ghibli, producer of hits Spirited Away and Ponyo. Tickets are £5.50/£3.50 children (You can save 50p by booking before 1st February).

The party also includes a prizegiving and the winning short film from the festival’s Young Filmmakers Competition. Youngsters are invited to attend in their pyjamas and slippers with their teddy bears and enjoy a complimentary cupcake from Lancaster’s Yummy Cupcake Company.

The Children's Film Festival was held for the first time last year, and organisers say they  hope to continue it for many years to come. Its aims are simple: bringing great films to the city to entertain, and hosting workshops and classes to engage and educate children about film making and the artistic disciplines behind it.

Aimed at young people of all ages, the Festival features a packed programme of films, workshops and special events held at venues all across Lancaster. The films shown will range from shorts to live action and animated features, including some classic family favourites and international screenings.

“With its diverse creative community and fantastic setting, Lancaster is the perfect place for such an event and we have been overwhelmed with the support we are receiving from local venues and businesses, who are working with us to make this a Festival to remember. We wanted to bring some of the passion and love of film that we have to the young people of Lancaster and hopefully inspire the next Steven Spielberg.”
• For more information and to book any of these events, call The Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or visit

• To contact the film festival visit or  email us them:

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Arson attack endangers Lancaster family

 Police are appealing for information following an arson attack on a house in Lancaster which could have ended badly for the family living there - but smoke alarms probably saved their lives.


The incident happened on High Street at around 3.00am on Saturday 21st January, when a wheelie bin was set on fire, very close to the front door of a house. 


A family of six managed to escape the blaze which was put out by the fire service.

“Wisely, the family had smoke alarms fitted," Detective Constable Tim Dodgson from Lancaster police said, "which triggered and the family managed to escape the blaze. 


"The consequences of this could have been severe and those responsible for this need to be caught.”

The fire damaged the main entrance to the property and also the rooms above the hallway.


“I would appeal to anyone who has information about this fire to come forward and contact police," urged DC Dodgson.


Anyone with information is asked to call Lancaster police on 101. People 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

Monday, 23 January 2012

Scotforth superstore: new plan for March Public Inquiry

New layout masterplan for the amended superstore proposal
Commercial Estates Projects (CEP), who in 2011 were refused planning permission for a giant supermarket, petrol station and hotel / restaurant complex on a greenfield site in Scotforth, adjacent to the site where Booths already have planning permission to build a new supermarket, have told Virtual Lancaster that they will be offering an amended application to the Public Inquiry at their appeal hearing, which is due to resume in March 2012.
See our previous story 'Will proposed superstore traffic appeal to city planners?'

Steve McBurney from Commercial Estates Projects (CEP) commented: “The main parties agreed to adjourn the public inquiry into the CEP planning appeal for a new supermarket at Scotforth Road on 1 December 2011.

“The adjournment was required to allow CEP time to prepare and submit additional information as a result of new points raised during the inquiry itself. The inquiry will recommence on 21 March 2012.

“The additional information includes revised plans. The hotel and associated pub/restaurant has been removed from the proposal in order to satisfy Lancaster City Council that, should the Council require Whinney Carr to come forward for development at some point in the future, a link road through the CEP site can be achieved to the Council’s standards.

”The revised proposal will create up to 400 jobs including approximately 65 construction jobs.”

The application and its many associated documents can be viewed on on the city council planning website (Planning Dept ref: 11/00022/REF.
Click here to see a larger version of the proposed Masterplan 

The field south of the proposed superstore access road is reserved for its proposed future new petrol filling station (PFS).

Cynics suggest that the discarded elements of the application - the hotel and restaurant - were never key elements of the application, but were simply included at the initial stages as bargaining chips to be sacrificed to make the final application, for a superstore and petrol station appear more reasonable. While the identity of the superstore operators remains a commercial secret, it is widely believed to be Tesco, who are known to be well versed in overcoming objections to their developments, often to the detriment of local businesses and city centres.

However, strong objections to the plan were aimed squarely, not at its newly discarded elements, but at the proposed superstore itself, with Booths, Mitchells and Lancaster University having submitted evidence to demonstrate how it would place their own proposed developments in jeopardy, namely, the new Booths Scotforth supermarket, the City centre canal corridor (north) regeneration, and the University's Bailrigg science park. The future of the city centre as a retail destination for local shoppers would also be affected by the reduced number of 'side-errands' if more people made their main regular shopping journey outside of walking distance from city centre shops. It would also reduce the desirability of the Market Building to prospective new retail tenants. A second major city centre food store has previously been the preferred option.

The city council also wished to reserve part of the land for future use in the event of greenbelt land at Whinney Carr being released for residential development. The land reserved would form part of the route for a new road linking any new estate at Whinney Carr to the A6 via a bridge over the railway. CEP's new plans have been amended to allow for this via a roundabout on their access road.

But increased traffic on the A6 is also a major drawback to the plan.  It's not yet clear how they will prevent the tail-backs that will build up each way behind the extra traffic lights on the A6, currently included in the proposals to allow southbound traffic to turn right off the single-lane carriageway A6 into the superstore site.

Lancaster City Council has informed Virtual-Lancaster:
"To date it has cost the council £115,000 (ex VAT) to participate in the public inquiry. The council will continue to be a main party in the inquiry when it re-opens.  The cost of any further participation is not known at this time."