Friday, 29 January 2016

Festival of Questions Come to Lancaster Next Month

Next month sees the Festival of Questions across Lancaster - a three-week programme of special events, panel discussions and cultural projects, at venues across Lancaster in February 2016 with some speakers proving so popular their events have already sold out.

A festival concerned with domestic and global issues highlights include:

  • Afghan refugee turned politics major and author Gulwali Passaralay joins ex-Demos Director David Goodhart, journalist Homa Khaleeli and BBC broadcaster Colin Grant to help answer Should We Welcome Refugees?
    Owen Jones
  • Columnist and commentator Owen Jones on The Politics of Hope, his vision for an ethical, equality based approach to British politics. The Dukes is running his appearances and after the first night sold out, during the Festival has invited him back to appear in May, information here
  • Beirut based Tania El Khoury's Gardens Speak - an immersive interactive sound and theatre experience allowing audiences to connect with the oral histories of Syrian men and women who lost their lives in the conflict.
  • Belgian artist Sarah Vanhee debuts the UK premiere of Oblivion making visible the hidden reality of waste denial within western consumer society.
  • David Kynaston, author of Austerity Britain (dubbed 'book of the decade' in The Sunday Times) joins campaigner Melissa Benn and writers Shiv Malik and Lynsey Hanley to ask in today's society - Are We All 'In It Together?

•For more information and the Festival brochure, bookig etc visit:

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 27th January to 4th February 2016

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

Four new films make it to the cinema screens during this period. There is adult comedy with Dirty Grandpa (15) and adult drama/suspense in Room (15). Family fantasy adventure is provided by Goosebumps (PG) and animation comes in the form of The Little Penguin: Pororo's Racing Adventure (U).

Just one movie has vanished from our screens with the loss of Dragon Blade. However it looks like the following films are coming to an end of their screening: Hotel Transylvania 2; Snoopy & Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie and The Good Dinosaur. By way of compensation the drama Radiator and the family movie Pan have made a return.

Again there is a good selection of drama with In the Heart of the Sea; The Big Short; The Hateful Eight and The Revenant. Science fiction is provided by Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The 5th Wave.

For adult comedy there is the newly released Dirty Grandpa along with Joy and Ride Along 2. In early February we find the longstanding TV comedy Dad's Army making it to the cinema screen.

High Culture during this period comes with ROH Live: La Traviata and NT Live: Les Liaisons Dangereuses.


Director: Ryan Coogler
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tony Bellew
Adonis "Donnie" Jackson (Jordan) is the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed. He is determined to become a fighter and looks up his fathers old friend Rocky Balboa (Stallone), who agrees to become his trainer despite problems of his own. Jackson gets a chance to prove his worth by fighting the world light heavyweight champion "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Bellew). The movie closely mirrors the original Rocky with fighting underdog making good. However this is very much a film in its own right with Stallone and Jordan giving excellent performances, making for great entertainment.

Daddy's Home
Director: Sean Anders
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini
A comedy. Conservative radio executive Brad (Ferrell) marries Sarah (Cardellini) and tries to be a good step dad to her two children. However his wife's charismatic and musclebound former husband Dusty (Wahlberg) comes for an extended visit. Brad finds he must now compete with their real father for the affection of his step children. There is a real on-screen chemistry between Ferrell and Wahlberg as they vie with each other and this provides plenty of opportunity for gags and comedy set pieces. However some of the gags are rather predictable leaving a film that is genuinely funny but seldom hilarious.

Dirty Grandpa
Director: Dan Mazer
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Dermot Mulroney, Aubrey Plaza
Dick Kelly (De Niro) is a foul mouthed old man who has recently lost his wife to cancer. He coaxes his grandson Jason (Efron) into driving him to Florida on the pretext of seeing an old army buddy. However, once there Dick follows his ambition of getting drunk, getting high and bedding a younger woman Lenore (Plaza). This is a bawdy comedy, with an unrelenting stream of bad language and tasteless jokes, few of which are funny. It has received poor reviews. Not De Niro's finest work.

In the Heart of the Sea
Director: Ron Howard
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Ben Whishaw, Brendon Gleeson, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy
A film based on a non-fiction book by Nathaniel Philbrick. It is set in the winter of 1820 when the whaling ship the Essex sets sail. Finding the local whaling ground is depleted, the ship ventures into the Pacific Ocean. Here prey is bountiful, but a massive sperm whale seeks vengeance against the hunters. It attacks the ship and the crew take refuge on a tiny island where they face the prospect of starvation. Hence they have little option but to take to the seas again to face the hardships and privations of an extended voyage to return home. This is a gripping film with convincing special effects and plenty of action, though somewhat lacking in suspense. An entertaining sea-fairing yarn.

Director: David O Russell
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Diana Ladd
A semi-fictional biographical comedy drama about a mop, or how Joy Mangaro (Lawrence) became a millionaire. Joy is a divorced mother with two children, living with her extended dysfunctional family who all depend upon her. In the early 1990s she invents and markets the Miracle Mop. This becomes a great success, selling on a TV shopping channel. Her grandmother Mimi (Ladd) is always supportive of her, and it is she who supplies the narration during the film. The movie has a strong cast and Lawrence provides an exceptionally strong performance. There are some laugh out loud moments during the movie though at times it seemed a little flat. A good, but not a great film.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J J Abrams
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver.
The movie is set some thirty years after 'The Return of the Jedi'. The power vacuum left after the Empire was vanquished has been filled by the 'First Order' who start to control the galaxy with their stormtroopers. The movie tells of the adventures of Han Solo (Ford), Chewbacca and Princess (now General) Leia (Fisher) as they join new characters including Rey (Ridley), a scavenger, Finn (Boyega) a First Order Conscript and a spherical droid BB-8 as they battle the First Order led by the ominous Kylo Ren (Driver). This movie follows the style of the first star wars trilogy and, for this reviewer, was much better than the prequels. Old characters make a welcome appearance to supplement the newer heroes and villains. An excellent movie in all respects and the best Star Wars yet.

The 5th Wave
Director: J Blakeson
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Chloe Grace Moretz, Zackary Arthur
A 'young adult' science fiction movie based on the 2013 novel by Rick Yancey. Our planet is being attacked by aliens called The Others, and their space ships hover over the planet. Rather than attack in battle, the aliens initiate a series of malevolent events or waves that devastate humanity. The first four waves occur rather early, and the movie concentrates on the fifth wave. Teenager Cassie Sullivan (Moretz) is caught in the action. She becomes separated from her younger brother Sam (Arthur) and seeks to survive so she can find him again. The movie benefits from a rather novel alien invasion plot, excellent special effects and a good number of twists in the plot, not all of which were predictable. Along the way Cassie finds love and the movie itself offers more by way of drama than action. An entertaining science fiction film.

The Danish Girl
Director: Tom Hooper
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw
The film is based on a novel by David Ebershoff and inspired by the lives of Dutch artists Lili Elbe/Einar Wegener (Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Vikander). Set in the mid 1920's Gerda is a portrait painter, but a sitter is late for an appointment. Hence Gerda gets her husband Einar to stand in for the missing female sitter. This has consequences. Einar has been harbouring a disire to become a female and the finished portrait attracts favourable attention from art dealers. Einar decides to permanently convert to his alter ego Lili Elbe and becomes one of the first people to received a surgical sex realignment procedure to change from a man to a woman. The movie follows both the artists as they come to terms with the change from Einar to Lili. A serious movie, well acted and well received that highlights the issues of gender reassignment.

The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Certificate: 18
Cast Includes: Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins
A mystery western set in Wyoming some years after the American civil war, and told in six chapters. A stagecoach bound for Red Rock picks up a number of passengers. These include John Ruth (Russell), bounty hunter, Daisy Domergue (Leigh) a criminal, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) another bounty hunter and Chris Mannix (Groggins) the prospective sheriff of Red Rock. Due to a blizzard, the stage coach is forced to make a stopover at Minnie's Haberdashery and here the travellers meet a local hangman, a loner, a Mexican and a Confederate General. These eight must spend the night together. However, one of them is plotting evil and the night descends into violence and death. This is an excellent movie, stylish, well acted and with excellent dialogue. Tarantino slowly builds up tension and suspense during the first half of the movie, leading to a final climactic resolution.

The Revenant
Director: Alejandro G Inarritu
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy
Set in Montana and South Dakota in the year 1823 and based on the book by Michael Punke, this is a tale of revenge. A party trapping for pelts in the American wilderness come under attack by native Americans of the Arikara nation. With most of the hunting party slain, the remainder escape. However one of their number, Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is attacked and nearly killed by a bear. The remainder of the hunters split up. The larger group go back to their barracks whereas a couple of men including John Fitzgerald (Hardy) stay to look after Glass. However Fitzgerald tries to kill Glass and then abandons him to the wilderness. Against the odds Glass survives and is intent on revenge. The scenery in the movie is breathtaking and the action shots are stunning. The bulk of the film shows the tribulations of Glass as, wounded, he tries to return to safety after his abandonment. An emotional, well acted and very convincing movie.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Marsh Residents Rally To Save Community Centre

A heartfelt appeal for support for the Marsh Community Cente from a young user
The future of the popular Marsh Community Centre is under threat - to the dismay of its users and supporters across the city.

Responding to cuts in central government funding, Lancaster City Council's Cabinet has proposed ending its £13,650 funding of the Centre, which pays for a wide range of activity sessions through the week for children aged between four and 13.

The unwelcome cut in the Centre's funding, is just one of a number of cost-saving measures proposed to save £2.8 million annually over the next few years, as part of action plan to tackle a £5.6million funding gap by 2020 imposed by the Tory government as it pursues a policy that is crippling public services across the country.

As we reported last week, if approved by Full Council the plans also include cuts to CCTV provision, an end to Lancaster's role in the Youth Games, reviews of arts funding and the continued support of the Cottage and Maritime Museum, will see huge changes to the services delivered by the city council.

Children enjoying one of the many sessions at the Centre which face being cut if Council funding is withdrawn
"The Community Centre is available for use by anyone in the Lancaster area," Centre Manager and social worker Rebecca Joy Novell told virtual-lancaster, "but it's predominantly used by the residents of Marsh Estate, a very deprived area of the city which struggles with widespread heroin use, substance addiction, long-term unemployment, anti-social behaviour and mental health problems."

Each one of the sessions facing loss of funding is used by ten to 30 young people, a service that is much valued and appreciated by the local community and, often, a welcome refuge for many young people facing difficulties in their lives. 

"A large number of the young people we work with have Social Services involvement due to family problems," says Rebecca. "This Centre is a lifeline and a home to them. 

"When we recently asked the 8-13 group what they think of when they think of the Centre, the most common response was 'a safe place to go'.

Cutting the funding would have a long term impact on the Centre, its users and the wider community that, it seems, government clearly doesn't appreciate as it continues to reduce public funding of council services.

"If this £13,650 is taken from us, we will no longer be able to run the above sessions, says Rebecca, and, worse yet, it could bring an end to the Centre itself despite fund raising from local schools and support from local businesses.

"A lot of what we do in these sessions is prevention work to stop more acute problems in their older years, such as drug use, offending and mental health problems," Rebecca explains. "We currently work with a 14-year-old who was arrested for dealing heroin as well as a young man who was shot in the head at the age of 12 due to gang involvement. 

"The level of need here is much greater than I suspect a lot of Lancaster residents realize. The police have told us that if these sessions close, the level of anti-social behaviour and crime will sky-rocket.

"The £13,650 is a very small amount that goes a very long way. As a centre, we were already struggling financially and if this money is taken, I cannot see how the centre can survive past April."

The community centre is clearly valued locally, and now needs everyone’s support to keep going. 

• The Council's Cabinet will present its draft budget for 2016/17 onwards for initial consideration by Council on Wednesday 3rd February 2016. At that meeting, it will also seek a decision to increase City Council tax by 1.99%, in line with previous years.

Final approval for the budget will go to Full Council on Wednesday 2nd March 2016.

• View more information on Cabinet’s proposed budget

• Find out more about the work of the Marsh Community Centre on their official site: | Find the Centre on Facebook

• You can make donations to support the work of the Marsh Community Centre here on JustGiving:

• Lancaster's People Cafe is running a pop up cafe at the Marsh Community Centre on Satuiday 30th January from 12 noon to 3.00pm. All proceeds from this cafe event will go to Marsh Community Centre. More details here

Contact Points

• Lobby your own City councillor

• Lobby Lancaster's MP Cat Smith: 01524 566 551 or 01253 490 440 email: | Twitter @CatSmithMP 

• Lobby Morecambe MP David Morris: 01524 841 225 email: Twitter @Davidmpmorris

• Want to get a quick response from Lancaster City Council? Tweet and include the twitter handle: @LancasterCC

• The Council's Facebook page:

Residents Rally Against Denny Beck Development Threat

Under threat from potential development. Photo courtesy Janet Taylor
The Denny Beck Residents Action Group is gaining support in its campaign to protect a huge area of nearby Lancaster countryside that could be earmarked for housing and industrial development if the Local Plan goes ahead as outlined in the near future.

The Local Plan currently being considered after consultation has identified a number of sites all over Lancaster for potential development, including Denny Beck - the UE2 site.

Land identified for potential development
Going, going gone? Countryside that will all be lost if plans go ahead
Under threat as part of the plan is Grimeshaw Lane, one of the oldest and untouched lanes in the district which, if it were a building, would surely be listed. An ancient byway, it runs between the A683 and Ridge Lane in East Lancaster and dates back to pre-Conquest and has never been touched.

The Lane is part of the Witches Walk 400 and some local historians suggest is the most likely route that the Pendle Witches took on their way to Lancaster Castle.

Clay Pit Wood and Moss Syke Wood, which are also part of the site, are ancient and have been put under a Tree Protection Order.

As you can imagine, the threat to the countryside so close to Lancaster - popular not only with local residents but walkers, runners and nature lovers - has been greeted with dismay. As an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, local campaigners have gained support against the proposals from the Ramblers Association, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the(PD F)

"We have worked tirelessly to save this part of our Lancashire heritage and wildlife," says Denny Beck Action Group organiser Janet Taylor.

"We have to try and fight the Council. The Labour group and most Conservatives are for this."

"Grimeshaw Lane was part of the old York to Lancaster road and possibly has a plague stone," she continues. "The lane has ancient hedgerows and development would destroy an area that has been untouched for possibly a millennium."

Campaigners know they have a tough battle. Without a Local Plan, developers can more easily apply for planning permission willy nilly, as they have done elsewhere in the country, but, equally, earmarking swathes of the countryside for industrial development is not going down well with local residents.

Launched last October, the Group has already written a report on the reasons UE2 is not suitable for development (PDF link), which includes documentation from bodies supporting their claims.

"We were flooded quite badly on Denny Beck Lane on the 5th December last year and people are rightly worried that building next to the river will increase the flood risk, as we hear now that wetter weather is to become the norm.," says Janet. "The increased levels River Lune forseen by the Environment Agency means there is more flooding to come.

• If you think Denny Beck should remain an Area of Outstanding Beauty, you can find the Denny Beck Action Group on Facebook or contact Janet to receive the latest newsletters about their campaign via tayj21(at) 

Web Links

• View the proposals on the City Council's planning portal at:

Read residents objections to the Local Plan (PDF)

Ancient Roads and Trackways in Quernmore/Lancaster (Archeology UK PDF)

Flood-hit Lancaster charity shop opens at church

The Venerable Michael Everitt, the Archdeacon of Lancaster (right), cuts the ribbon to declare the shop open assisted by shop manager Faye Smyth and the Vicar of Lancaster, The Revd Chris Newlands.
A charity shop which lost goods donated to help vulnerable children has re-opened at a local church.

The Children’s Society’s shop on Damside Street in Lancaster was among city centre buildings affected by flooding during Storm Desmond over the weekend of 5th - 65h December.

Flood waters entered the shop while it was closed and rose to around two and a half feet high, ruining thousands of pounds worth of stock.  It could be months before the building can re-open to the public.

But an agreement was reached with the Church of England for The Children’s Society to open a ‘pop-up’ shop at Lancaster Priory Church.

The shop opened on Monday at the church on Priory Close off Castle Hill.  Shop manager Faye Smyth and volunteers were joined for the ceremony by the Vicar of Lancaster, The Revd Chris Newlands and The Venerable Michael Everitt, the Archdeacon of Lancaster, who cut the ribbon to declare the shop open.

Fittingly, the shop occupies the area of St Nicholas’ Chapel, The Priory’s children’s chapel.

It will be open to the public from 10.00am - 4.00pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays while repairs are made to the flood-damaged city centre unit.

The Children’s Society is now appealing for more donations from kind-hearted members of the public as it stocks its unusual new outlet – and anyone interested in volunteering at the shop is also urged to get in touch.

Proceeds from their sale will help to fund the national charity’s vital work fighting child poverty and neglect – including in Lancashire and the Lancaster district, where projects include support for children in and leaving care as well as those at risk of child sexual exploitation and of going missing from home.

Faye said: “We’ve had a great response from the public to the news we were re-opening at The Priory and we’ve already received half a mini-bus full of toys from Morecambe High School which is hugely appreciated.

“But we are still in need of more donations from generous local people and of course, we need people to come up to The Priory to see what the shop has to offer and hopefully find something nice for themselves or a relative or friend.

“The flooding had a terrible impact on many local organisations in Lancaster but for me, the way everyone has rallied together to ensure The Children’s Society can continue to operate here is a positive thing which will benefit vulnerable children and young people.”
“Although not hit as badly as the Cumbria area, parts of Lancashire, including the Lancaster area, have been badly affected by the recent floods," the Venerable Michael Everitt, the Archdeacon of Lancaster, said.

“So I am delighted that Lancaster Priory has been able to support The Children’s Society by finding space to provide a pop-up shop.

“This good news is a great example of the way in which local churches are continuing to support people in their communities in whatever way they can at this difficult time.

“It is also good that the shop is supporting the excellent work done nationwide with vulnerable children and young adults through The Children’s Society.”

If you would like to donate goods to the shop please contact Faye Smyth on 01995 606661 or at and she will make arrangements to collect them.  You can also contact Faye to discuss volunteering opportunities

The shop is looking for everything from clothes, books and toys to music, jewellery and other household goods.

The Children’s Society was founded by a Sunday school teacher in 1881 and although the two are separate organisations, the charity works in close partnership with the Church of England.

Man, 38, injured in Morecambe incident

Police are appealing for information after a man suffered serious facial injuries following an incident in Morecambe.

Police were called around 11.00pm on Saturday 23rd January, following reports a man had been assaulted outside New Pound Plus in Westminster Road, Morecambe.

A 38-year-old man was found at the scene with damage to his teeth and cuts and bruises to his face.

Officers believe the male was waiting at a bus stop with a friend when a fight started with a group of men.

Police are appealing for anyone with information about the alleged incident to contact officers.

DC Ben Chieffo, of Lancaster Police, said: “We would like to speak to anyone in the area at the time who may have witnessed this.

“A man has suffered some nasty injuries and we need to find out what has happened.

“Anyone in the area or who has any information that can assist in the case please contact me at Lancaster CID on (01524) 596559, quoting log reference 1551 of January 23.”

Four males, two aged 18, one aged 19 and another aged 15, were all arrested on suspicion of wounding in connection with the incident and have been bailed until March 3.

Hunt Still On for Christmas Attacker

Lancaster Police are trying to trace this man (pictured) after a reveller was left needing stitches following an assault in Lancaster before Christmas.

The incident happened outside McDonalds on Cheapside at around 5.00am on Friday 18th December when the victim, 26, was out with two friends and he was punched from behind.

The victim fell to the ground and the offender then stamped on his head.

The victim received stitches to the inside of his mouth after attending hospital. He was also left with bruising to his body.

DC Jill Neil from Lancaster CID said: “The victim was left with some nasty injuries as a result of this unprovoked attack.

“I would ask you to cast your mind back and if you remember seeing anything that morning that could help us with our investigation, please get in touch.”

• Anyone with information can contact Lancaster CID on 01524 596639 or they can call 101 quoting incident reference LC-20151219-1698. Alternatively Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at

Police appeal for witnesses to Carnforth collision

Police are appealing for witnesses after a car collided with a pedestrian in Carnforth.

Officers attended at around 7.40pm on Sunday 24th January, following reports a black Range Rover had collided with a pedestrian on Market Street, close to the Station Inn Hotel.

The pedestrian suffered minor leg injuries.

Officers have since spoken to the driver of the vehicle, but are now keen to speak to anybody else who may have witnessed the incident or who was in the vicinity prior to the collision.

PC Mark Howson, of Lancaster Police, said: “We are investigating a report that the driver of the Range Rover was assaulted prior to the collision and we are appealing for information so that we can establish exactly what has happened.

“We believe several people may have seen this incident unfold and we would urge them to get in touch to assist our enquiries.”

• Anybody with information should contact 101, quoting log 1238 of January 24, 2016.