Friday, 17 February 2012

Diversity FM to close down in March

Lancaster & District YMCA, who hold the broadcast license for Lancaster & Morecambe’s community radio station Diversity 103.5 FM has announced the station will close at the end of March. The decision has been made on financial grounds.

Diversity 103.5FM began its full-time 24 hour broadcast service in September 2007 and as a community station has engaged with over 300 volunteers in that time. In the last 5 years the station has broadcast a varied mix of specialist music and community programming, most of which has been produced by local people aged between 5 and 80 years old from many different backgrounds. Diversity 103.5FM has also allowed many voluntary and community groups in the district to promote their organisations to a wide audience.

Speaking about the closure Nik Marsdin, Service Manager with the YMCA said, “This is a sad loss to the district. Diversity FM has not only provided a brilliant music and information service to our area, it has supported a wide range of local people who came to the station to learn about radio broadcasting. Diversity has been very successful in moving people into the broadcast industry and some volunteers have gone from the station to work for the BBC and into the commercial radio sector both at home and abroad.

"We’re very proud of what Diversity FM has achieved, much of which the public will never know about. It’s been a great support to unemployed people and has always welcomed those with severe physical disabilities, mental health issues and social problems through its doors and has never seen these as a barrier to broadcasting.

"But running a radio station and training facility like Diversity FM doesn’t come cheap. On average it costs around £6500 per month to keep Diversity FM on air. Much of our funding has come from grants in the past, but these are increasingly difficult to secure in the current financial climate and unfortunately Diversity FM has become another casualty of the recession.”

Diversity 103.5 FM will continue to offer its usual output of music, chat, and feature programming over the coming weeks until the transmitter is turned off and the studios close on Saturday March 31st.  The station staff, who are on redundancy notice, would like to thank the many volunteers who have been involved with the station and those members of the public who have been very supportive over the years.

For further information about Diversity 103.5 FM visit

Love's Labour: Lancaster Shakespeare Festival

The Dukes is playing a lead role in Lancaster’s first Season of Shakespeare which opens today. Shakespeare is England's best known playwriter and if you have not seen any of his plays it is well worth a go.  Drama, film, talks, workshops and an exhibition will take place during February and March.

The season launches at The Dukes cinema with a screening of Coriolanus (15), directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes from February 17-19.

At the Dukes From February 21-25, The Dukes welcome back Northern Broadsides who have chosen Shakespeare’s mischievous and romantic comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost to kick off their 20th anniversary year. Barrie Rutter directs a charismatic cast of 17 multi-talented Northern actors in this fast-paced battle of the sexes.

Painting the Tempest, an exhibition of startling works by acclaimed artist Alan O’Cain runs from February 20-March 11. He will answer questions on the project as part of the free exhibition preview on February 20.

The Dukes is also hosting talks and workshops during the season. An Introduction to Love’s Labour’s Lost takes place on February 22 and there’s a practical drama workshop on  Shakespeare and Love on February 23.  Shakespeare Bites Back is on February 26 when the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s chairman and director of education defend Shakespeare’s authorship of his works.

At Lancaster Castle, from Tuesday 28 February - Saturday 24 March 2012, Demi-Paradise Productions present an indoor promenade production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy 'Much Ado About Nothing' set in the rural England of the 1890’s. It is performed promenade style in Lancaster castle’s historic law courts and Hadrian’s Tower,  adding the neighbouring medieval Priory Church to the indoor stages and backdrops.

A screening of A Comedy of Errors starring Lenny Henry live from the National Theatre takes place at the Dukes on March 1. Tickets are sold out.

Taking on Shakespeare’s most famous love story – Romeo and Juliet – and giving it a 21st Century setting, will be Lancaster’s two grammar schools from March 7-10.

And the cinema will screen Throne of Blood (PG), a classic re-telling of Macbeth from legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa on March 12.

March 16 and 17 see Demi-Paradise Productions present an original monologue written and directed by Lancaster’s Sue McCormick and performed by Amy Rhiannon Worth. Isabella: Measure for Measure Act 6 is an imagining of what happened to the novice nun who is left in an unresolved position at the end of Measure for Measure.

For more details of all aspects of Lancaster’s Season of Shakespeare, visit

See our events listings for details of all events listed above.

In review: The Vagina Monologues

So, done with hearing bishops on the radio wittering on about just exactly how much bigotry against women Jesus would have wanted, I finally went, with some trepidition, to see the annual Valentine's Day production of The Vagina Monologues put on by Lancaster University students at the Nuffield Theatre. And laughed my socks off.  

It's not all laughs of course. The Vagina Monologues is a production staged by groups around the world on Valentine's Day to raise money for organisations protecting women from violence. The V-Day movement campaigns against domestic abuse and rape and also highlights and opposes the mass organised sexual crimes of violence against women that are integral to many military conflicts around the world and endemic in the brutally cruel female genital mutilation practices of many societies. The World Health Organisation estimates that 100–140 million women and girls around the world have been genitally mutilated, including 92 million in Africa.  The short term mortality rate resulting from the procedure is estimated at 10%. A further 25% die in the long term from recurrent infections and complications during childbirth as a result of obstruction and / or haemorrhage. There is no other holocaust in human history organised on this scale. 

Naming the place where must of us were lucky enough to begin our lives makes a lot of people uncomfortable in our culture and it triggers a welter of confused associations and assumptions that we are generally conditioned to block. The V-Day production challenges these by presenting the personal histories of women, undiluted by the false, repressive memes that their bodies are commodified porn and their experiences and priorities as women irrelevant. The script evidently thrives on local adaptations and has been updated.  And I saw: 30 talented, tough, cheerful young women getting to grips together with the reality they have inherited and sharing in an alchemy that has turned painful experience into strategy, warmth and wit. That bubbles into unexpected celebrations. 

This production played to full houses for three nights to standing ovations. And the money will be crucial to local domestic abuse services that have all lost funding in a big way through the cuts. So, kudos to the V-Team and their audiences.

Monday also saw a V-Men workshop on campus for men opposed to violence against women. Hallelujah!

For more about the V-Day movement visit

See also Virtual Lancaster reviews from October 2003:

Puppetry of the Penis (Perksy Jobsworth)

Richard Herring - Talking Cock (Chris Satori)

Supermarket seige threatens council budget

Last month we reported that Commercial Estates Projects (CEP) had resubmitted a modified application for a superstore in Scotforth for the Public Inquiry to consider in March. We noted that Booths, who already have planning permission to build a supermarket on an adjacent site, had objected to their application.

CEP have now in their turn questioned whether Booth's should have been granted planning permission in the first place, and have applied for a judicial review into the City Council's decision. One objection made by the City Council Planners to the CEP application was that it left no room for a road to be built to link a potential future housing development on Whinney Carr to the A6. Having attempted to amend that oversight in the latest version of their application, CEP allege that Booths should have been under an equal constraint to make provision for a through link road with their earlier application.
Perhaps, we wonder, in the same spirit, there should also be a review of the permission granted to build a university out on the A6 back in the 1960's, given that new development proposals have to avoid adding to congestion on the A6, a constraint the university craftily avoided by arriving before it became a problem.

As we reported before, it has already cost the council £115,000 (ex VAT) to participate in the Public Inquiry, which is set to continue at further expense in March. The council may also now be faced with the expense of preparing yet another legal case for a Judicial Review. However the Lancaster Guardian reports an even more serious problem that this fight over our remaining green spaces and our local trade is bringing to our doorstep. If the judicial review is granted, money that the council had been counting on receiving from the sale of the land to Booths could be delayed beyond 2012/13. If the cash is not received by March 2013 the Council would face a £2.6m funding shortfall. Booth's plans for their new site and for redeveloping their old site will also suffer heavily from delay.

Multinational supermarket chain Tesco are rumoured to be behind the CEP application, which faces widespread local opposition. CEP certainly appear to have considerable funds for litigation at their disposal and the city and its council seem faced with a wolf at the gate set to blow down the house if he isn't let in.

Tesco's tactics led to a 2006 report by Friends of the Earth which noted that "Councillors’ decisions to accept a supermarket’s proposal are influenced by their concerns about how much it will cost the council if the supermarket successfully appeals a rejection."

You can view the amended CEP application on the City Council's website here. (Ref: 11/00022/REF). If you object to their latest proposal for a giant superstore in Scotforth next door to the new Booth's supermarket, take a moment to email the city council at or register online through the Planning Department's public access site and register your objection.
Every little helps.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Over £16,000 drugs cash confiscated from criminals

Two criminals who made money through illegal drugs have had a total of over £16,000 cash confiscated from them.

The money was taken from the men during two separate Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) hearings.

27-year-old Lewis Arnfield, of Park Lane, Preesall, was convicted of producing cannabis and money laundering in August 2011. At a recent hearing, the court set the benefit of his criminality at £29,745 and ordered that his available assets - £15,421– be confiscated.

Arnfield’s assets were made up of cash seized at the time of his arrest and equity in his home, which he has been ordered to sell. Arnfield has been given six months to meet the order, or he faces nine months in prison.

At a separate hearing, a confiscation order was made against Darren Hornby, 25, of Ingleton Drive, Lancaster. Hornby was convicted of supplying class A and B drugs in June 2011, when he was jailed for 30 months, and November 2011, when he was given a concurrent seven month sentence.

The benefit of his criminality was set at £15,356 with available assets of £1,711.11 – made up of cash seized during his arrests. Further assets can also be confiscated if they are identified in the future.

Anna Willets, financial investigator for Lancashire Constabulary, said: “The Proceeds of Crime Act gives officers the power to seize cash and recover cars, houses and other assets from criminals.

“Confiscation orders can then be made to deprive criminals of the benefit from their crimes – and take further cash from them if we become aware of other assets that they have. It is not right that law abiding residents should see criminals living a life of luxury because of their illegal activities, which is why we seek to take their cash from them through the courts.”

Appeal following Lancaster pharmacy burglary

Police are appealing for information after a pharmacy in Lancaster was burgled last week.

The offence took place between 8.10pm on Thursday the 9th February 2012 and 8.15am on Friday 10th February 2012 when the offenders smashed a window of Bowerham Road Pharmacy on Gordon Terrace.

Two CD style drugs cabinets, which contained a large amount of prescription drugs, were forced from the wall and stolen, alongside a quantity of cash.

DS Colin Forsyth from Lancaster CID said: “We would urge anyone who has any knowledge of this offence to contact Police.

“If anyone has any information about someone who is selling any prescription drugs or possessing drugs that are not personally prescribed to them I would urge them to make contact with us.

“The drugs stolen should be medically prescribed and any taken without the correct medical advice could be very harmful.”

Anyone with any information should call Lancashire 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.

Freeman's Wood - Public Meeting to save an old friend

A public meeting will be held this Sunday 19 February at 6pm at the Marsh Community Centre about the Freeman's Wood area which has been fenced off preparatory to re-development.  The aim of the meeting is for people who want to help to save the area to come together, organise and get cracking. The organisers are hopeful that the Council will decide not to designate the land for housing when it makes its decision on land allocations in the spring.
One proposal on the agenda is to revitalise the non-political “Friends of Coronation Field and Freemans Wood” body that was set up several years ago to successfully raise funds for the new play area on Coronation Field. It will need new officers but it already has a suitable constitution and a bank account. 

Further possible actions to protect the field are:
Apply for public footpath status for paths across the land.
Apply for Town Green status for the land.
Get the area designated as a county biological heritage site.
Add to the number of people who have already written to the Council objecting to development on this site. 

Some progress has been made on all of these actions and more people are needed to help make them happen and to give evidence of use of the land over the last 20 years or so. The group would like to find out  as much as they can about the history of the site and about any other ideas to protect the land.

If you cannot attend the meeting but still want to help, please contact:

Cllr Jon Barry tel: 844113
Cllr Melanie Forrest tel: 751717
Cllr Tracey Kennedy tel: 64258
County Cllr Chris Coates tel: 840530

Queen Elizabeth I set for Lancaster walkabout this Saturday

A stilt-walking Queen Elizabeth I will be out and about in Lancaster city centre from 12-4pm on Saturday, interacting with people and distributing leaflets for The Dukes Lancaster Season of Shakespeare.

The Dukes tells us the ‘Queen’ will be in various parts of the town centre during the afternoon.

Lancaster's Season of Shakespeare, which starts 21st February with a production of Love's Labour's Lost at The Dukes, is a month long celebration of England's greatest playwright. With performances, talks and lectures, visual art exhibitions and a number of free events in and around the City, there is plenty to see and do.

Full list of Season of Shakespeare events

Smart Gel set to scupper scrap metal thieves

Vulnerable premises in the Wyre are being provided with special property marking kits to help thwart scrap metal thieves.

The kits, funded by the Wyre Community Safety Partnership, contain a DNA-based gel which is used to coat items that may prove tempting to thieves. The gel fluoresces under ultra violet lighting, either on the property itself or the person that has handled it.

Police officers in Wyre will be carrying ultra violet torches when conducting stop checks, house searches and while making visits to scrap metal dealer premises. If traces of the gel are then discovered, the substance’s unique DNA-style code will enable officers to trace the property back to the source where it originated from.

“Metal theft is a significant issue for us and it can cause real problems for the victims," says Inspector Gary Roberts, Lancashire Police. "Replacing stolen materials can be expensive but there can be additional costs if the thieves have caused damage while removing the metal, or if there is flooding as a result of the metal being taken from roofs or windows.

“These kits will help us identify stolen property and people who have been involved in carrying out this type of crime. Metal theft will not be tolerated and we will proactively target criminals that steal metal or assist in the disposal of stolen metal. I want to send a clear message to criminals that if they commit metal theft in Wyre, they will be caught and brought to justice.”

Councillor Roger Berry, cabinet member with responsibility for community safety on Wyre Council, said: "We're pleased to be able to provide these kits and hope they will go some way to tackling metal thefts and burglaries in the area.

"Residents need to make sure that they take precautions to protect their property, including securing any equipment they may have in their gardens and sheds. People also need to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the police."

The gel was created by SelectaDNA, over 75% of UK Police Forces are now using it to reduce burglaries, in-house theft, vehicle crime and metal theft, and that number is still growing. Behind the scenes, Technical Police Departments are using the SelectaDNA markers for undercover surveillance and sting operations.

SelectaDNA claims that theirpartners including Police, businesses and home owners are achieving reductions in crime of up to 85 per cent.

The DNA marker in every SelectaDNA product is securely manufactured and encrypted so that unauthorised or criminal duplication is impossible. The company also offers property marking services to schools, universities and both large and small businesses.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Greaves Hotel retirement home plans raise resident hackles

Residents in Greaves, Lancaster, have rounded on developers McCarthy & Stone’s plans for new retirement flats, describing their consultation as a "sham" - and are campaigning for major changes to the four-storey proposal.

The plans propose the building of retirement flats by converting the Greaves Hotel and building a huge four storey extension on the adjacent carpark opposite Belle Vue Terrace.

Subject to planning permission, McCarthy & Stone are already promoting the development, anticipating construction will start in July 2013, with sales release in February 2014.

First occupations would be expected in October 2014.

Greave Hotel owners Mitchells announced they were considering closing the Hotel in January, describing it as "no longer fit for purpose", even though the venue's web site describes as having "luxury en-suite bedrooms" and "warm and inviting Lounge Bar".

The proposed "Assisted Living" development would have its own private access and "will benefit from its close proximity to nearby shops and Lancaster city centre", according to the McCrarthy & Stone web site.

"Assisted Living bridges the gap between one of our conventional retirement living developments and a residential or nursing home," say the developers. "Whilst Assisted Living will never be a substitute for a nursing home the additional features and facilities offered can help postpone the need to ever consider residential care and most importantly with McCarthy & Stone Assisted Living, you continue to retain your independence and own your own home.

"Key features include a residents' lounge, laundry room, waitress service restaurant (in the event of illness arrangements can be made to take meals to a residents flat), function room, guest suite and lifts that give access to all floors."

But opponents to the scheme told virtual-lancaster the plans for the bulk of the development will not be in matching stone and slate to the Greave Hotel but in yellow rendering with a glass roof which the developers say is being done as a deliberate “contrast”.

"They do not seem to have considered the fact that people living in Victorian sandstone terraces do not want to be faced with a tacky modern building totally out of character with the historic townscape," said Karen Mills.

"The drive into Lancaster from the south is going to get a lot more built up and uglier as a result. Local residents are not against the development of this brownfield site as such, but this development is too intensive.

"There are plans for 60 retirement flats, 17 members of staff and an onsite restaurant – yet only plans for around 20 parking places.

"Where are the residents and their visitors plus health professionals (the residents will be in their 80s) going to park ?

"The four storey building will adjoin the hotel and be the same height, towering over the houses behind and blocking the light and view of those in front."

Residents fear Belle Vue Terrace, directly opposite, will now become Blind Vue Terrace as any view across to Morecambe Bay will be hidden not just for residents but passersby.

"No longer will people walking to work be able to glimpse the Lakes and Morecambe Bay but will instead be faced with the yellow rendering of a four storey monstrosity."

But residents say their objections have been ignored as the developers pay only lip service to consultation. McCarthy and Stone hired a PR firm, The Planning Bureau, to carry out a “pre-consultation” which was a series of meetings with individual residents where people made clear their opposition.

"Residents later invited the developers to meet them as a group but this was declined," says Karen, "presumably as the developers could not face more than one of us at a time."

Even letters of objection sent to their agent Chris Butt were not answered.

McCarthy and Stone then organised a consultation at the Greaves Park Hotel, where they posted pictures of the plans which had not been altered one jot following residents’ objections.

"It is clear that the consultation is a box ticking exercise and the developers will press on regardless," feels Karen.

"A development like this makes money for McCarthy and Stone at the expense of local people, and we call on the council to reject these plans unless it is lowered to two storeys and built in stone and slate in keeping with historic Lancaster."

Jonathan Barker, one of the managing directors of Mitchell’s, who own the Greaves Hotel, said the proposals were “testing the water” for a possible future use for the site.

The building has been a pub since the early 1900s, but is no longer "fit for purpose", he told the Lancaster Guardian in January.

“We have been in discussions with McCarthy & Stone for a number of months about the site,” Mr Barker said.

McCarthy & Stone have been the developers behind several local projects in recent years including 

• Local residents have set up their own blog to highlight their concerns -

Police appeal after birds are shot in Morecambe

A Red Breasted Merganser. Picture: Wikimedia
Morecambe Police are appealing for information from the public following reports that birds have been illegally shot on Glasson Marsh.

The offence is took place on 31st January 2012 when a group of three men were seen on Glasson Marsh shooting indiscriminately at birds.

Witnesses say one gull was shot and thrown up in the air repeatedly and used for target practice. Three shots were fired at a Red-Breasted Merganser, and a small bird was shot and killed near the water’s edge.

Police urging people to be vigilant and are appealing for any witnesses to the incident or with anybody with any further information to come forward.

Lancaster District Birdwatching Society and Morecambe Bay Wildfowling Association have both condemned the incident.

“Glasson Marsh is a unique location and is popular with bird watchers and widely used by legitimate wildfowlers," said PC Antony Marsh. "We are working closely with these groups to identify these irresponsible and cruel individuals.

“I would remind people that Gulls and Red-Breasted Mergansers are not lawful quarry species. Lancashire Constabulary takes wildlife crime very seriously and we will take positive action against such offenders under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.”

The three men are described as white, one man is around 6 feet tall and the other two were shorter at about 5ft 8inches tall.

The taller man was dressed in full camouflage and one of the other men was wearing a camouflage jacket and blue trousers, possibly overalls.

• Anyone with any information should call Lancashire 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.

Lock up to lock thieves out – warning following car break-ins

Local motorists are being warned to ensure their vehicles are left locked with no property on display following a series of thefts in North Lancashire.

Over the last month, thieves targeted 64 vehicles in the Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre areas. Of those, 33 were committed in the Wyre area and many occurred as a result of people leaving property on display including sat navs, laptops and cash.

Patrols are being increased in hot spot areas and members of the neighbourhood police teams have been speaking to motorists and residents to raise awareness of the importance of locking their vehicles.

“If a passing thief sees something that may be of value inside a car they will take their chances," says Inspector Neil Drummond, "especially if people have made it easy for them by leaving their vehicle unlocked.

“Make sure that you wind windows up and lock the doors when you get out of your car – even if you are only popping into a shop. Don’t leave items on display – you may think that the few pence you’ve left out isn’t worth taking but anything can prove to be temptation for a thief.

“Remove valuables from the car and get rid of any signs – such as suction marks on the windscreen or MP3 cables – that show that valuables have been in the car as a thief may assume you have stored them in the glove box.

“Ten of the offences in Wyre involved vans being broken into with expensive power tools stolen," he notes. "I'm urging people to make sure they empty their vans of any valuables and keep accurate records of any tools they own.

"Van owners should make a note of any serial numbers, keep receipts and if possible mark the property with a unique code - preferably a post code which should be hidden so it cannot be removed.

"Taking photographs of tools is another step people can take to help reunite them with their property if they are unfortunate enough to be targeted.”

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Giving Lancaster the Cosmic Finger!

Nick Maudsley and Stef Holden, The Cosmic Fingers. Pic: Andy Theobald.
The Cosmic Fingers, an X-rated acoustic comedy punk duo, kick off a night of punk at The Bobbin on Thursday 8th March, supporting Elmo & The Syx and The Vermin Suicides.

Having supported Peter and the Test Tube Babies at The Yorkshire House this year, the band will take their audience on an uproarious, bitter-sweet trip through their song catalogue that contains themes such as unrequited lust, disappointment, the ageing process, murder, the ignominy of vasectomy, punk rock perversion and loss.

Their world view has gained the band an enthusiastic following within the North West.

“Although my lyrics are mostly For Adults Only I don’t see them as offensive," says Stef Holden, lyricist and vocalist. "They are about real life. You don’t always get the girl, make millions or have the world at your feet.

"The Cosmic Fingers are the polar opposite of the excess and the bragging you see so often in rap and hip hop. We’re anti-bling. Ours is a world of frustration. Even when we do get lucky – as in our song ‘Go Ahead Punk and Make My Day’ – triumph quickly turns to disappointment!”

Nick Maudsley, music and guitar, has previously toured the UK with Born Ugly.

Elmo & the Styx and The Vermin Suicides, who are based on Merseyside.

• The Cosmic Fingers, Elmo & The Styx & The Vermin Suicides: 8.30pm, Thursday 8th March 2012, The Bobbin,  36 Cable Street,  Lancaster, LA1 1HH. Fre

Morecambe memories film a hit on YouTube

A film from a Morecambe resident is gathering a following on online video service YouTube.
Beauty Surrounds Health abounds - a Memoir of Seaside Entertainment is an abstract musical portrait by Sonja Campbell of a town whose industry and unique importance have dwindled over the years.

Filmed entirely in the seaside town of Morecambe, it takes us on a meander through derelict theatres, hotels, and underused ballrooms and into the lives and living rooms of retired entertainers.

Employing a narrative which interlaces ethereal sequences and documentary elements punctuated with visual metaphors - the film tells the story through dance, music, and photography.

Showing people in the here and now, juxtaposed with Morecambe's depleted townscape, the film challenges the invisibility of ageing, and prompts the viewer to question convention and confront stereotypes.

The film, which makes the  most of personal memories of the town, uses the ebb and flow of time as a motif; issues of abandonment, loneliness, and tedium are addressed and contrasted with upbeat frivolity, to show the importance of pleasure and joy to the human spirit.

Morecambe once thrived on a culture of entertainment and pleasure seeking. Physically, very little remains of this hedonistic past. Yet, despite the efforts of both the real and metaphorical wrecking ball, many of those people who worked as entertainers are still here to allow us a glimpse into their unique and fascinating lives.

It's well worth watching for Councillor Ron Sands' rendition of "Bring me Sunshine" alone - but the kick boxing lady and some stunning images of Morecambe are just part of this fab film that is a sheer joy to watch - and will make younger folk think twice about "little old ladies"!

Watch the film on YouTube

Lancaster carpet retailer prosecuted after worker's roof fall

Lancaster carpet retailer A Cut Above has been prosecuted for breaches of the Health and Safety Legislation after a worker was seriously injured when he plunged from a roof onto the ground below.

On the 10th February  2012, David Sowerby and Janet Stretch, partners in a business known as A Cut Above on Bulk Road, Lancaster, pleaded guilty to the offences and were fined a total of £15,000, with £2,037.52 costs and a £15 victim surcharge in Lancaster Magistrates’ Court.

The prosecution came about following an investigation by Lancaster City Council’s Environmental Health Officers.

The Court was told that on 28th February 2011, employee Jamie Heywood, after a request from his employers, went onto the roof of the retail shop and warehouse to fix a leaking skylight, without being given adequate instruction, training or supervision in working at height.

Heywood then fell through a fragile asbestos roof onto the concrete floor below, suffering a brain haemorrhage. He was admitted into intensive care, where he underwent emergency surgery and remained in hospital for over a month.

“Jamie was extremely lucky to survive," commenetd Coun Karen Leytham, Cabinet member with responsibility for environmental health. "The work on the warehouse roof should not have been carried out without proper assessment and implementation of a safe system of work. The fall could have been avoided had appropriate safety measures been taken.

“Falls from height are the biggest cause of workplace deaths and it is crucial that employers make sure work is properly planned, appropriately supervised and that sufficient measures are put in place to protect staff from these risks.”

• Local businesses need to ensure adequate safety measures are in place before any staff carry out work heights.  If in doubt about their responsibilities, they should consult the council’s Environmental Health Service on 01524 582936.

Man jailed for four months following charity box thefts

A man who stole charity boxes from premises in Lancashire, Cumbria and North Yorkshire has been jailed for four months.

Alexander Hewitt, 55, of no fixed abode, appeared at Lancaster Magistrates Court yesterday charged with two counts of theft.

Hewitt stole a Mencap charity box from Harris Pantry, on Whitelund industrial estate, Morecambe, on 22nd November last year and a North West Air Ambulance charity box from Scorton’s post office last December.

He pleaded guilty to the charges and asked for another 31 offences across Lancashire, Cumbria and North Yorkshire to be taken into consideration.

Hewitt was arrested after new CCTV images of him were released in a witness appeal and colleagues at North Yorkshire Police contacted Lancashire officers to make them aware of his identity. He was then seen by officers in Market Street, Lancaster, on 9th February and arrested.

“Charities rely on the generous donations made by the public," commented PC Ben Hanley, Lancaster Police.

"To steal money from such good causes, depriving them of much needed funds, is quite despicable.”

Lancaster's Homebirth Support Group continues to grow

The Lancaster Homebirth Support Group will be meeting on Tuesday 21st February at 6.30pm at the meeting room at the Gregson Centre, Moor Lane, Lancaster.

The group is self-organised and open to all women (and their partners). If you are expecting your first, second, third... child, or even if you are not pregnant but simply want to talk about choices in childbirth: home birth; water birth; natural birth after caesarean; pain relief options, you're very welcome by the growing group.

There will be some toys for small children as well as tea, coffee, cold drinks and cake. Mums wishing to share their experiences either at the group or by providing testimonials to share with expectant parents are also welcome.

The aim of the Lancaster Homebirth Support Group is to give women information to help them make their own decisions about childbirth, and to share experiences in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Currently just two per cent of babies in the UK are born at home, despite lots of evidence that giving birth in the home environment is both safe and normally calmer for both the mother and baby. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) support home birth for women with uncomplicated pregnancies.

The group runs monthly events and also has a website to share information about choices in childbirth and local women’s birth stories at:

A tornado of talent hits Lancaster

Phil Campbell, a Scottish singer-songwriter who's had a truly whirlwind career, plays at the Gregson Centre on Saturday 25th February.

One of Britain’s most talented songwriters, Phil Campbell has shared a producer with Ryan Adams and Rufus Wainwright, toured with David Gray, and appeared several times on Later with Jools Holland.

Raised on a diet of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Elliott Smith, Neil Young, and the Rolling Stones, Campbell burst onto the Glaswegian scene in the mid-1990s after signing a development deal with WEA at the age of 18. Two years later he signed to EMI and released his debut, Fresh New Life. A series of stops and starts followed and found the young artist enduring the roller coaster ride that is substance abuse, but in its wake he managed to build an arsenal of material that would eventually appear on 2007's Joy and 2008's After The Garden

Perhaps his most unusual performance, though, was in a town with the same name as him last year. In April the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama, was devastated by a tornado. Phil, along with many other namesakes from around the world, travelled out there as part of the recovery effort, not only playing benefit gigs, but also picking up a shovel to help with the clear-up. 

For singer Phil this trip meant more than just the name - his own home in London was wrecked by a freak tornado in 2006, so he had some idea of how it felt in Alabama. 

He told BBC Scotland he decided to head to Alabama after reading a news website story about other Phils, Phillipas, Philomenas and Felipes travelling to America to assist residents in the town with repair work.

They had all been converging for an event to mark the town's 100th anniversary but decided to turn the party into a salvage operation after the tornado left 25 people dead, destroyed buildings and left hundreds homeless.

The 36-year-old musician said: "It was all just too weird and too much of a coincidence.

"I had heard about the town before, and had heard about Phil Campbells meeting up there but I had always just ignored it really.

"But when I heard about the tornado I felt I really had to go out there."

His show at the Gregson on February 25th - a warm up for major gigs in London and Glasgow - may not be quite that dramatic, but with his phenomenal, bluesy voice and captivating stage presence, this rare solo performance in a small venue is sure to whip up a storm.

"Poised for success," noted the Sunday Times, "and all set to cosy up against the works of David Gray, Damien Rice and Ray Lamontagne on the shelves of those who have fallen in love with the recent return to proper songs, sung properly, by proper songwriters."

Phil Campbell on

Phil Campbell's music on iTunes

BBC Scotland: Phil Campbell joins tornado town rebuild

Monday, 13 February 2012

Gerry and the Pacemakers at the Platform cancelled

An evening with Gerry and the Pacemakers which was due to take place at the Platform on Saturday 18th February has been cancelled due to ill health.

The event has been rescheduled to take place on Friday 8th June. Ticket holders will be contacted soon and given the option of either holding on to their tickets or requesting a refund.

Fuel Bills Blues: Big Switch turns up the heat.

Many hands make lights work.
Which? & 38 Degrees Big Switch

Two new schemes are underway to help with keeping warm and paying fuel bills. Both are aimed at the increasing numbers of people now living in fuel poverty and struggling to pay rising fuel bills. Mr Cameron tells us to 'shop around' and free Utility Bills Clinics should help us do that, but could there be an easier way?

The Big Switch
National campaign groups Which? and  38 Degrees think so. They have partnered to start an independent national scheme called The Big Switch in which they plan to negotiate a group deal with one of the energy companies to supply gas and electricity at a cheaper group rate. They are also campaigning for billing tariffs that are easier to compare and understand. More than 50,000 people registered with the scheme within the first 48 hours of its opening in early February, and it is growing fast.  Registration ends on 31 March and all you have to provide to register is your name and your email address. You should check when your current supplier's contract expires but you can still register your interest and stay in the loop. Don't forget to tell people you know who aren't familiar with the internet about this new option.

To find out more about the Big Switch go to:
38 Degrees: or to

Raising Awareness
Another scheme recently introduced is backed by a grant from the Department of Health to raise awareness and increase participation  in a number of  current schemes including warm home schemes improving insulation in homes, and other schemes offering free Utility Bills Clinics.  It will also fund some 'safe and warm packs' which include flasks and thermal blankets, socks and gloves.
Partner organisations; Help Direct, Age UK Lancashire, Lancaster City Council, LESS, CAB and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service  will be offering support and information for adults across the Lancaster District.

Help Direct Manager, Donna Studholme, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for adults across the Lancaster District to get the support they need.
“From the enquiries we get, many of those are from elderly residents who are isolated and struggling to get through the winter months."

For more information contact Help Direct on: 0303 333 1111 or email  visit  or pop into the Help Direct office:  7-11 Chapel Street, Lancaster, LA1 1NZ.
(see our 'whats on' calendar and for free Less UK Utility Bills Clinic dates around the area)

More advice on help with paying vital utility bills can be found at the Carer's Direct website:

Lancaster woman's plea for return of treasured photo

Lancaster Police are appealing for the public’s help to reunite a woman with her purse containg the photograph of her toddler son who has passed away, after it was stolen from a till point at a shop in Lancaster last week.

The 44-year-old victim was out shopping at Farm Foods, Lancaster on Wednesday 8th February around 9.45am when she has accidently left her black leather style wallet on the counter.

The woman returned within minutes to find the wallet, which contained a picture of her late son, aged two, who died 10 years ago, had been taken.

“Despite a police investigation and through search of the area the wallet has yet to be found," said PC Lindsay Arnott. "The victim is most saddened by the loss of the picture as it has huge sentimental value.

“I would appeal to anybody that has knowledge of the incident or knows anything about the possible whereabouts of the wallet and picture to come forward and contact police.”

In addition to the photograph, the wallet also contained around £100 cash, banks cards, driving license and TV licence.

• Anyone with any information should call Lancashire Police on 101 quoting crime reference BA1200442.

The Really Heavy Greatcoat: Murdoch

The Really Heavy Greactcoat is a long-running cartoon strip which ace artist Nick Miller and I created years ago and published in alternative Lancaster magazine On The Beat and Off the Beat and, later, on virtual-lancaster.

Just occasionally, Nick (who's constantly busy on numerous projects) teases us all with a new and topical episode.

• View Nick's work over at:  

• Read the Really Heavy Greatcoat online (not a complete archive, but you'll get a taster) here on

• If anyone wnats to pay us to write and draw more Greatcoats, contact