Saturday, 3 May 2014

Rt Hon Alan Milburn appointed next Chancellor of Lancaster University

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn
The Rt Hon Alan Milburn will start as Lancaster University’s Chancellor from 1 January 2015. The Chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission and former Health Secretary will take over from mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington CVO CBE DL, who will have served for 10 years.

Alan Milburn was Labour MP for Darlington (1992 to 2010) and now runs his own consultancy, advising governments and corporations worldwide. He is also involved in a variety of charitable projects as diverse as working with Tony Blair in Africa, to acting as a trustee for Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

He credits the skills he learned at Lancaster, where he studied history, as a foundation for the whole of his working life and career. A member of Pendle College, he graduated in 1979 with a 2:1.

He arrived at university with a girlfriend, who was doing her teacher training near Preston. So he never lived on campus (which he now regrets) but lived with her in Morecambe and in Galgate, where they spent many hours at The Plough by the canal.

He was later awarded an honorary degree in 2000.

Following his graduation he started a PhD in Newcastle but ended up running a radical bookshop; became active in the trade union movement and took a leading role in a campaign to save Sunderland's shipbuilding industry. He eventually won the Darlington seat next to Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency in 1992 and was immediately identified as one of the Labour party's modernisers.

He went on to serve within the UK Government as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Health (1999 and 2003) and as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, before his resignation from party politics in 2010.

According to Bloomberg, Alan Milburn also serves as:
  • Chairman of the European Advisory Board of Bridgepoint Advisers Limited 
  • Chair of the Global Advisors for Mars Incorporated 
  • Member of Board Advisors at Mars, Incorporated 
  • Chair of PwC's UK Health Industries Oversight Board
  • Chairman of iWant GreatCare Ltd
  • Adviser and a Member of the Healthcare Advisory Panel at Lloyds pharmacy Ltd
  • Non Executive Director of Diaverum AB
  • Member of Strategic Advisory Board at WellDoc, Inc since September 30, 2013
  • Member of Advisory Board at Pepsico, Inc., since April 2007

His more recent focus has been on social mobility, an interest inspired by his own background. According to his Lancaster University profile his mother brought him up on her own on a council estate in County Durham. She married when her son was 16 and moved to North Yorkshire. Suddenly the teenager was dragged away from a future suggested for him by his low-aspiring school as a Social Security administrator, and into the high-achieving Stokesley Comprehensive.

For the first time, he recalls, he began to consider university as both desirable and attainable. Equipped with a fistful of 'A' levels that would have got him to Oxbridge, he ignored his teachers and picked Lancaster for the attractiveness of the course it offered. In English. He later changed to History, with a then-available option to structure part of his course for himself, in his case in the form of a dissertation on the American Revolution.  He was the first member of his family ever to go to university:

"It is obvious that the top jobs in the UK come about via a well-travelled route from affluence, through private school and Oxbridge;  I got very very lucky in my life in where I ended up, in a journey from council estate to Cabinet. It is far more difficult today. The young people have talent, but the opportunities to move forward are not as well distributed in society as they should be - or as they were. That is wrong. I just want to do what little I can to make sure that university education is open to all young people to develop their talents, whatever their social or economic background."

In 2009, Alan Milburn chaired a governmental commission, the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions. Its report recommended improvements in social mobility by acting at every life stage - school, university, internship and recruitment. This work continues as Chair of the newly created Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty to which he was appointed by the Coalition Government.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith said: “We are delighted to welcome Alan as Chancellor in the year of Lancaster’s 50th Anniversary, especially as an alumnus. The University, like him, is committed to making sure that higher education is open to all young people to develop their talents, whatever their social or economic background.

“I would also like to pay tribute to Sir Chris Bonington who retires this year after ten tremendous years of being committed to Lancaster as our Chancellor.  We look forward to a continuing association with Chris.”

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn said: “I am honoured to follow in Chris’s footsteps.  He has been an outstanding Chancellor of a great university.   It is a privilege to become Chancellor of the university that gave me such strong foundations for my life and career.  Now, as then, Lancaster is leading the way in creating opportunities for young people to realise their aspirations in life.  I look forward to working with students and staff in making Lancaster University even more successful in future.”  

Alan Milburn will be Lancaster’s third Chancellor, the first being the founding Chancellor HRH Princess Alexandra who served from 1964 – 2004 and was one of the longest serving university chancellors in the UK.

Watch a video of Alan Milburn remembering his time at Lancaster, recorded in October 2013 during his visit to campus, where he delivered a public lecture on social mobility.

Friday, 2 May 2014

City Council considers its options to spruce up Queen Victoria statue

Queen Victoria Memorial, Dalton Square, Lancaster
Lancaster City Council is looking at ways to restore the listed Queen Victoria memorial in Dalton Square to its former glory - but is conscious that at a time of cuts to vital services, they have to look assess the costs very carefully, which run into thousands of pounds.

While the donor of the statue, Lord Ashton, is these days considered by some to have a dubious relationship with the city where he made his fortune, the statue, which he donated to the city in 1906 is a fascinating snapshot of Victorian Britain. The work of Herbert Hampton in Portland stone ashlar with bronze reliefs and statuary, it features a wide range of eminent Victorians, including inventors, politicians and creators. (But, apart from Victoria herself only two women, Florence Nightingale and George Elliot).

Detail of the Queen Victoria Statue, Lancaster

Sadly, the statue has been the target of graffiti artists and council staff and councillors agree it is in a poor state and after the Council has contacted English Heritage about the poor condition of the grade II listed memorial, it was added to the Buildings at Risk register in 2012.

Florence Ningtingale - one of only three women on the Memorial
Florence Nightingale - one of only three female historical figures on the Memorial

As well as the graffiti, the bronze on the statue is corroding (which gives it a green patina) and the stonework suffers from staining.

"Recent graffiti removal is not effective and has left stains on the stonework," says Stephen Gardner, the council's Senior Conservation Officer in the Regeneration & Planning Service Department, in email discussion following my contact with Councillor Ron Sands.

Some solutions have been proposed by the Local Authority and agreed by English Heritage, but the question of cost at a time of cutbacks weighs heavily on officials and councillors.

"The deteriorating condition of the memorial is a serious concern" says Stephen Gardner, "[But] this may not be a priority in a time of austerity."

The last condition survey of the memorial was carried out for Property Services by Acanthus Clews Conservation architects as part of the Municipal Buildings Works programme in 2011. In total, not including the cleaning of the stone work, it was estimated that taking into account the delicate nature of the restoration, scaffolding and other costs would be at least £14,000.

Victoria Statue 'Fresco', Dalton Square, Lancaster

The major issue and cost with the restoration is the restoration of the memorial's bronze - in particular, the removal of the green corrosion. Some parties would have views as much as they would argue this is stable and part of its intrinsic value, while others argue re-patinating over such deep-set corrosion would be similar to painting over rust.

Because of this, Bronze Restorations, the London-based specialist restoration company approached to consider the problem, suggested the use of calcite, which would enables them to remove the layers of corrosion without unacceptable metal loss – but the cost would run to £20,000 at 2011 prices.

Victoria Memorial Fresco

Given the potential costs, it's easy to see why the City Council is reluctant to commit to the Memorial's restoration, despite the Square being a regular destination for tourists. But where possible, the Council has been busy making good other listed locations, including the War Memorial garden beside Lancaster Town Hall. The railings and gates were repainted and redecorated after years of neglect and the grade II listed war memorial (designed by Thomas Hayton Mawson) has recently been cleaned and the sandstone masonry repointed. Ivy growth covering part of the grade II listed balustrade walls to the memorial garden has also been removed and recent works to the gardens have also made a significant improvement to the setting of the memorial.

"We do have a rapid action anti graffiti team for our own properties and an anti graffiti team for any offensive graffiti on any property, regardless of ownership," says Councillor Sands. "Despite all the cutbacks... we do still have access to funds for such work as this which has a high priority because of our commitment to maintaining the civic dignity- heritage of our townscape.

Given that the Queen Victoria Memorial was donated by a private member of the Lancaster community back in 1906, perhaps the community might consider backing a public appeal for its restoration? It's a question I put to Councillor Sands, suggesting the Council investigate social funding options such as a Kickstarter campaign, for example.

"We will certainly be interested in investigation the other funding avenues you mention," he told me.

Let's hope that, four years on from the last quotation, some action might be taken to spruce up this major Lancaster landmark soon.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Roses all set to bloom at Lancaster University

War of the Roses at Lancaster University in 2012

3000 students, 40 activities and 120 fixtures are all lined up for the annual Roses tournament, the traditional battle between Lancaster University and the University of York.

Staged by Lancaster in its 50th year, this major sporting event, also celebrating a milestone golden anniversary, promises to be a real treasure trove of events from 2nd May to 4th May.

And it’s fingers crossed that Lancaster, on home turf, will be taking back both trophy and triumph in front of a home crowd with the overall score standing at York 25 – Lancaster 23 and one draw.

With everything from the more traditional rugby, netball and football to ballroom dancing, fencing, a bake-off and a ‘university challenge’ event, this year’s Lancaster University Students’ Union-organised event will be even bigger and better.

War of the Roses at Lancaster University in 2012
The opening ceremony on the Friday evening (2nd May) heralds the start of the fun-filled weekend. It will feature performances by student groups and an array of traditional sports theme songs guaranteed to set emotions running high.

This will be followed by the men’s football match, which kicks off at 7.45pm.

Tickets for the opening ceremony, which are all free, were snapped up fast and it has now sold out. The university has brought in a special covered stadium for the event to ensure spectators get the best views of sports on the main pitches.

On the Saturday Olympic track cyclist gold medal winner and Lancaster University alumnus Jason Queally, complete with Sydney 2000 gold medal, will be the guest of honour at Saturday’s event when he is due to take part in the community-focused ‘Mass ParticipationBike Ride’ in aid of the Lancaster Guardian’s St John’s Hospice Appeal.

The open event encourages people to don their cycle helmets and start pedalling in this family-friendly, all-level, bike ride, which starts from Lancaster University Sports Centre at 10.00am.

Afterwards Jason will talk about his ‘journey’ into cycling at Lancaster University Sports Centre at noon when he hosts a question and answer session.

And on the Sunday Chancellors (Sir Chris Bonington and Greg Dyke), Vice-Chancellors and Students’ Unions presidents from both universities will go head-to-head in a crown green bowling match on the green at the back of the sports centre.

A special Roses Village set up on the Sports Centre car park will provide the main hub throughout the whole weekend complete with score centre, food and drink stalls, event merchandise stands and additional entertainment.

This will also be the setting for a ‘strawberries and fizz’ alumni reunion on the Saturday between 11am and 3.30pm.

The weekend will also feature at least eight alumni sporting events which will include at least one family battle when Lancaster alumnus Ben Holden meets his York alumnus father, Martyn, on the squash court.

“The Roses is on a much bigger scale this year,” says Lancaster University Students’ Union Vice President (Activities) Emily Pollitt. “We have got more clubs, societies and people involved and, in its 50th year, the event promises to be an excellent tournament. We would love the local community to come and see what’s happening on campus over the Bank Holiday weekend.”

• For more information about the weekend go to

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Local Cinema Round-Up for 30th April to 8th May by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day listings every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

There are two new releases during this period. Action/Adventure with Sabotage (15) and comedy with Bad Neighbours (15).

The following films are no longer being screened in our region: Divergent, Frozen, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Quiet Ones. Also this period is likely to be the last chance to catch Muppets Most Wanted, The Love Punch and Noah. However we see the welcome return of Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy and, for one day only, The Book Thief.

If you are looking for high culture, there is a screening of The National Theatre Live: King Lear and NT Encore: King Lear.


Bad Neighbours Director: Nicholas Stoller
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Seth Rogen, Jake Johnson, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne
Released as 'Neighbors' outside the UK, this is a comedy about Mac Radner (Rogen), his wife Kelly (Byrne) and young baby and the disruption they face when a college fraternity led by Teddy (Efron) moves in next door. Initially relations between the neighbours are not too bad but increasingly the frat boys work to ruin their family life and the Radner's give as good as they get. The film is a bawdy comedy as the tit-for-tat acts of sabotage escalate to hilarious (and possibly offensive) effect. One of the better Frat house comedies.

Mr Peabody & Sherman
Director: Rob Minkoff
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter
A DreamWorks comedy animation. Mr Peabody is a dog, but this does not stop him being an inventor, scientist, sportsman and general genius. Accompanied by his boy Sherman, the duo use their WABAC time machine in order to impress Sherman's friend Penny. However during their adventures meeting famous characters of history,they accidentally rip a hole in the Universe. As a result they must repair history in order to save the future. A great yarn and appealing family movie. There is little here to offend the youngest of children, and some of the jokes will entertain an older audience.

Muppets Most Wanted
Director: James Bobin
Certificate: U
Cast includes: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Eric Jacobson, Steve Whitmire
A long awaited sequel to 'The Muppets' in which the entire Muppet cast undertake a sell out world tour. However Constantine (a Kermit lookalike and major criminal) and his right hand man Dominic (Gervais) involve the Muppets in an international crime heist. The film is an upbeat Disney musical comedy that will appeal to all ages and generates plenty of laughs. An excellent film.

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins
A movie based on the biblical story of Noah and the flood, but it takes quite a bit of artistic license. Crowe and Watson as Noah and Ila respectively give excellent performances and this is epic movie which very much goes its own way. With stunning effects and some surreal sequences this is a very entertaining film.

Pompeii Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, Kiefer Sutherland, Emily Browning
The year is 79AD and the backdrop of the movie is the epic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Mile (Harington), a gladiator strives to save the love of his life Cassia (Browning) who is betrothed to Corvus (Sutherland) a corrupt Roman Senator. This is a film that is hard not to like as it 'ticks all the boxes' portraying poor boy/rich girl romance with action combat set in a disaster movie incorporating spectacular special effects.

Director: David Ayer
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Mireille Enos
John 'Breacher' Wharton (Schwarzenegger) leads a special drug enforcement team, all with equally outlandish nick-names, to raid a drugs cartel. However a large sum of money goes missing and there is suspicion of internal corruption. The members of the drug enforcement team find themselves targeted and start to be killed. There is no shortage of gore and bad language in this movie, though perhaps it is a little lighter on action then previous Schwarzenegger films, having just one major shootout piece. The film however supplies suspense as we learn what became of the missing ten million dollars. A star cast and one of Schwarzenegger's better films.

The Book Thief
Director: Brian Percival
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Roger Allam, Emily Watson
The film is based in World War II Germany and tells the story of Liesel (Nelisse) a young girl sent to live with a foster family after family problems. She copes by stealing books to read and this enables her to become close with her foster father and with Max, a Jewish boy hiding in their basement. The film does not make any comments on the horrors of Nazi Germany, it simply provides a backdrop for what is essentially a love story, and during the film we have Death providing the narration. The acting is acceptable but the characters are not totally believable.

The Love Punch
Director: Joel Hopkins
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Pierce Brosnan, Emma Thompson, Tuppence Middleton, Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie
Richard and Kate (Brosnan and Thompson) are a divorced couple who hit financial hard times as Richard is facing bankruptcy as a result of a corporation wiping out his company's pension fund. Vincent, the villainous boss of the corporation, has used these proceeds to buy a diamond necklace for his own bride. Richard and Kate, along with friends Jerry and Penelope (Spall and Imrie) decide to get revenge by stealing the necklace and using this to replenish the retirement fund. This is a comedy with big name stars set in an exotic location. The humour seems a little contrived at times but in all it works well to make a genuinely funny and entertaining movie.

Director: Wally Pfister
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Paul Bettany
Dr Will Caster (Depp), a brilliant scientist in the field of researching artificial intelligence, is creating a sentient computer called PINN. However anti-technology extremists embark on a series of of attacks against the artificial intelligence community and Dr Caster is one of the casualties. In order to survive he digitises and loads his consciousness into the computer. Here he starts a quest for knowledge and for power that seems unstoppable. The film is well produced and visually appealing. However the characters come across as rather wooden and the topics examined in this film have already been explored in earlier science fiction movies.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Donations to aid vital mountain rescue work

Mountain Rescue Teams
work "invaluable", says
Lancashire's Crime
The vital work of Lancashire's life-saving Mountain Rescue Teams has been praised by the county's Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw, after Lancashire police donated £1,500 to the charities.

The Constabulary works closely with the county's three MRTs in Rossendale and Pendle, Bowland Pennine and Bolton, and – with approval from the Commissioner – has agreed to donate £500 to each team to help with operating costs.

Today, Mr Grunshaw praised the teams' work as "invaluable".

Mountain Rescue Teams he commented. "There are many occasions when their expertise is called upon to save lives, and they work closely with police officers in high-risk scenarios ranging from the safe evacuation of casualties to searching for high-risk missing people.

"Our MRTs rely on fundraising and donations to operate and therefore I believe it is only right the constabulary should offer them financial support. These donations will help with the operating costs of the three teams, and aid them in continuing their vital, life-saving work."

The funds for the donations will be taken from the Proceeds of Crime Equalities reserve.

It's a Dog Hair Day for Ethical Pet Owners

Katie Jenkins of Ethical Pets Online with her Dog Hair Day shampoos. Photo: Steve Pendrill Photography
A Lancaster businesswoman will launch a bespoke, herbal shampoo especially for dogs at Wray’s famous Scarecrow Festival on 5th May 2014.

Dog Hair Day, a flynnthedog product, has been developed especially for Ethical Pets Online which is run by Katie Jenkins. For each bottle sold, Ethical Pets Online will donate 20p to an animal charity chosen by the public. The launch takes place during National Pet Month.

The new product, which comes in four varieties - Lavender, Aloe Vera, Sensitive and Honeysuckle – celebrates the relaunch of Ethical Pets Online.

“We are very excited about bringing Dog Hair Day shampoo to the market," says Katie. "Our motto is ‘Kind to your pet, kind to the planet’ and Dog Hair Day shampoo really does fulfil our ethos. It comprises 100 per cent natural, biodegradable ingredients and all of the herbs used in Dog Hair Day shampoos are organic and of human food grade.

"Packaging is minimal and the bottles can be refilled or recycled. We use Dog Hair Day shampoos on our own dog, George. He loves them!”

“We set up Ethical Pets Online because we recognised that today people understand how our actions - the choices we make - can affect our planet," she added. "This applies with regard to animal welfare too, from how we treat our companion animals to how animals that are used for food supplies and other purposes are treated in their lifetime.

"We appeal to a broad base of customers," she feels. "We don’t preach because we realise that you don't have to fall into a particular category or stereotype to care about our planet - and all who live on it, human or otherwise.”

Ethical Pets Online has nominated three animal charities to receive a percentage of proceeds from the sales of Dog Hair Day. They are: GSP Rescue, a small charity that rescues and re-homes German Short-haired Pointer dogs within Britain and Ireland; local animal charity Wolfwood, which is devoted to the rescue and rehoming of the least wanted dogs from the area and which is constantly expanding its work with wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, and Woodlands Animal Sanctuary, whose purpose is to relieve the suffering of animals of any species who are in need of care and attention. Vote for your chosen charity at

Katie is well-known in the area for having run flynnthedog on Alfred Street, Lancaster, for five years. She is now concentrating wholly on ethical products which she sells through the Ethical Pets website and also through Esme at Galgate Mill. Esme sells ethical, eco-friendly and Fairtrade products.

Web: and

Easter Hope Festival brought plenty of cheer

Last week's Easter Hope Festival in Dalton Square certainly brought plenty of smiles to many Lancastrian faces. Here's some pictures of the event, courtesy of local photographer Alan Phillips.

Lancaster churches held the Easter Festival of Hope as part of a national celebration, taking over Dalton Square and offering a huge celebration including singers, bands, activities, shows, free food, and a prayer and healing tent.

For more information visit Lancaster's page on the HOPE web site

Free Comic Book Day comes to Lancaster

First Age Comics co-owner Mark Braithwaite in the new Moor Lane store

The annual, international Free Comic Book Day arrives in Lancaster this Saturday (3rd may)... but at an all-new location.

First Age Comics are celebrating opening at a new shop this year and are inviting both comic fans and the curious of Lancaster to the first ever Free Comic Book Day at 3 Moor Lane, Lancaster - which has plenty of added space for extra comic fun.

There will of course be ... free comics, as part of the event's aim to encourage new comic readers. This years offerings include Britain's very own 2000AD (Rebellion), Future's End (from Batman publisher DC Entertainment), Guardians Of The Galaxy – Rocket Raccoon (Marvel), Mouse Guard (Archaia), Armor Hunters (Valiant), Adventures Of Jelaby (Capstone), Buck Rogers (Hermes) and Simpsons Comics (Bongo).

But as well as the giveaways, expect to see plenty of costumed comic-book characters, as once again shop owners Mary and Lucy Braithwaite attempt to get a record number of comic book characters in their store on FCBD for the huge annual group photo.

And, most importantly, as well as comics aplenty, there will be – cake! "For energy levels," Mark tells us. For him or the customers, we wonder?

The event starts at 10.00am and runs throughout the day. Get along and help celebrate comics!

• You can also find First Age Comics on Facebook:

Costain open Heysham M6 Link Road Visitors Centre

Costain's Heysham-M6 Link Road Visitor Centre

Road builders Costain have now opened a Visitors Centre for the Heysham to M6 Link Road project.

Situated at the former Broadoak site on Torrisholme Road next to Lancaster and Morecambe College, the Visitors Centre will be open to members of the public who wish to talk to the Community Relations team about the construction of the new road linking Heysham and Morecambe to the M6.

The centre will be open for three half days spread over the course of the week, excluding Bank holidays.

"We’ve already taken on over 30 previously unemployed local people,” said Project Manager, Andrew Langley.

Community Relations Officer Tom Horton said, “The visitors centre is one of many ways people can talk and engage with us about the new road. We’ll initially open the centre for 3 half-days per week and review the opening times after a few months, once we’ve interacted with our visitors.”

Opening Hours
Monday 1.00 - 5.00pm
Wednesday 3.00 - 7.00pm
Friday 8.00am - 1.00pm

The full Address is: Costain Compound, 441 Lancaster Road, Morecambe, LA4 6NB

• If you have any queries outside of these opening hours you can contact the Community Relations Team via the help line: 01524 542 111; or by email:

• Web site: • Twitter: @Heysham_Link