Friday, 25 March 2016

Gym Building Potentially Unsafe After Major Fire

Photo: John Freeman
Firefighters have cautioned that the facade of the building that housed the Inspire Gym on Penny Street is potentially unsound, after the business was consumed by fire yesterday, bringing chaos to Lancaster City Centre.

The gym's owner, Alison Walsh, has been left devastated by the destruction of the business, which has operated in the town centre for almost ten years - but says she is determined to get back in business.

Penny Street was cordoned off for much of the day as emergency services dealt with the blaze, which started after 10.00 am, and its aftermath. Much of the city centre was covered by thick smoke at the height of the blaze.

Just one casualty was reported: a man suffering from the effects of breathing smoke who was taken to hospital by ambulance for a precautionary check.

The fire is believed to have started in the sauna at the premises and both of Lancaster's remaining fire engines (after government cutbacks, the city only has two) and crews were quickly joined by crews from Bolton-le-Sands, Morecambe, Hornby, Preston, Blackpool, Blackburn and firefighters from Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service. In total, over 50 firefighters dealt with the incident

At its height crews were getting through 6,000 litres of water a minute in their bid to extinguish the blaze and the Lancaster Guardian reports United Utilities were asked to increase the mains water pressure in Penny Street to assist with the operation.

The response included Aerial Ladder Platform vehicles from Blackpool and Morecambe in addition to a Command Unit from Blackburn.

Tim Murrell, Lancashire Fire & Rescue’s general manager for the northern area, said the building’s roof caved in shortly after some of his crews had entered the property.

“The initial breathing apparatus teams had gone into the building to check everyone was out when the building collapsed from the roof down, so we had to get everyone out for their own safety.

“We made the decision to shut down the city centre because of the amount of smoke in the area.”

The sauna and gym are on the third floor of a six-storey building and the building was evacuated with no casualties reported inside the business. Premises in the vicinity were also been evacuated as a precaution.

Firefighters have succeeded in bringing the fire under control just after noon, finally extinguishing the blaze by 1.00pm. Fire engines and an Aerial Ladder Platform and crews remained at the scene, engaged on salvage work and to liaise with building inspectors, since a part of the roof collapsed during the incident, and remained on scene until late in the afternoon.

The building is likely to be cordoned off for safety reasons as investigations continue through the Easter weekend.

The Inspire Gym was looking forward to celebrating ten years in business in June
Gym owner Alison Walsh is devsatated - to put it mildly - at seeing ten years of blood, sweat, tears, determination and lots of laughter have just gone up in flames - but determined to get back to work as soon as possible.

"I can not describe how overwhelming your support has been and how determined I am to reopen Inspire, she said in a public comment on Facebook, paying tribute to those who have sent message of support.

"My Inspire Team and members have been amazing and I can't thank you enough for your support today along with the police and fire service.

"I will endeavour to keep everyone updated and in the meantime we will be speaking to venues for a place to carry on training."

"I've been a member a few times, I liked that place," commented Lancaster cartoonist Jack Knight on the Lancaster Past & Present Facebook group.

"Alison and her team were always so friendly. They've lost their jobs and all that equipment and everything. After all the money they've spent updating the place over the years, and they were 10 years old this year too! So sad."

General reaction to the fire was mixed both in the real world and online. We hope the Inpsire team and nearby businesses affected are back in operation soon.

We have to say that we were most bemused by the report of one woman standing outside a pub with a cigarette in hand complaining about all the smoke...

• To keep up to date on Inspire Gym's return book mark or follow them on Facebook or Twitter @inspire_club

View some photographs of the fire here on Facebook (group membership may be required) 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

New Lancaster CC Chief Exec appointed: Susan Parsonage

A new Chief Executive has been selected to run Lancaster City Council.

Susan Parsonage was appointed by full council on Wednesday evening following a recommendation from the cross-party Chief Executive Recruitment Committee.

She will take up the role in July following the retirement of the Council’s current Chief Executive, Mark Cullinan.

Susan is currently employed by the London Borough of Ealing as the Director of Safer Communities & Housing. Susan has worked at Ealing Council since 2000 and commenced employment in local government in 1998 at Chester City Council.

She is also a Non-Executive Director of Catalyst Housing Association and is Chair of the Board of the Hyelm Housing Association. Susan has an honours degree in Law and an MPhil.

According to her profile on Catalyst Housing she has "a lead role in improving safety and tackling anti-social behaviour, regulating businesses and private sector housing and managing the council’s housing stock.

"Susan first started in local government in 1998, when she ran a campaign for Chester City council to raise awareness about the issue of violence against women and children. Previously she has been a trustee for a Women’s Aid refuge and has also worked for BT. Susan has a Master of Philosophy on housing matters."

Ms Parsonage will face a number of tough challenges as cuts to local government funding continue to bite. Over the next five years to 2020/21 the council must deliver savings of £262m on top of those already agreed within previous years' budget processes. This has already resulted in the Council having to approve a City Council basic Band D tax increase of £5 be approved for 2016/17, together with a year on year Band D  target increase of £5 for future years, subject to future local referendum thresholds.

She made an interesting start when she arrived at Lancaster Train Station for her interview and fate arranged for her taxi driver to be one Andrew Kay, of whose dealings with the current chief executive we have written before. Mr Kay apparently took about half a minute to work out what she was in town for (not everyone asks for a tour of local affordable housing, apparently) and was happy to share with her some of his local experience during the tour. The discussion remained amicable, so that's a change already.

Councillor Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council and chairman of the Chief Executive Recruitment Committee, said: “With the post of chief executive comes a series of immense challenges and new opportunities for the District.

“We were looking for someone with the passion to serve the community and lead our workforce through some of the toughest times ever seen by local government, whilst also bringing innovation and entrepreneurial ideas to the Council.

“The recruitment process was rigorous and very thorough and I am delighted to announce Susan Parsonage as the council’s new Chief Executive and look forward to working with her.”

On hearing of the decision Susan said: “I am delighted to have been selected for the role of Chief Executive at Lancaster City Council.  I am looking forward to working with all the staff, elected members and partners to achieve our joint ambitions.”

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Penny Street Assault: CCTV Released after man assaulted outside Lancaster pub

Lancaster police have released CCTV images of a man they are trying to trace in connection with an assault outside a pub in Lancaster.

Officers were called at around 7.30pm on Thursday 17th March to reports of a fight outside the Penny Bank pub on Penny Street.

A 36 year old man was found unconscious on the floor, who had sustained a deep cut to his head. He was taken for treatment at Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

DC Gill Topping of Lancaster CID said: "The victim sustained a nasty wound to his head and our enquiries are on-going to trace whoever is responsible. We would like to speak to the man pictured in connection with the attack and I would urge anyone with any information that could assist our investigation to get in touch as soon as possible.”

• Anyone with information can contact Lancaster CID on 01524 596559 or they can call 101 quoting log 1404 of 17th March 2016

Assembly Rooms Emporium hosts Ukulele Cabaret this Easter

The Assembly Rooms Emporium on King Street in Lancaster will be putting a spring in the step of all its customers this Easter by hosting a special Ukulele Cabaret.

Having been a popular attraction at the emporium during this year’s Lancaster Music Festival, the group of local ukulele enthusiasts will be returning to perform at the emporium on Saturday 26th March from 2.00 to 5.00pm.

There’ll also be Easter chocolate giveaways for every customer with special prizes for every 25th visitor through the door.

Everyone is welcome to come along and enjoy a browse around the stalls, meet the traders or sample the delicious range of home cooked food from the Assembly Rooms Café.

The Assembly Rooms Emporium will be closed on Good Friday (March 25).
• For more information on the Assembly Rooms Market visit or  

Monday, 21 March 2016

Aldcliffe Photographic Competition 2016 Opens

The 2016 Aldcliffe Photographic Competition is now open and is free and open to all - whether you're young or old, ammateur or experienced.

Themes are either Landscape or Nature, but all photographs entered must be be taken from within  the proposed Aldcliffe-with-Stodday Parish boundaries.

Entries must be printed on A4 sized photo paper and submitted at Wilkinson Camera, Lancaster. (Wilkinson Cameras will print for you, if you wish, at a great discount of £2.50 per A4 print - over half normal price).

A photographic exhibition of selected works will be held at Lancaster Library between 5th - 22nd May and a grand prize giving event will be held on Saturday the 21st May

• The closing date the 1st May 2016. More details on the Aldcliffe Residents Association web site

Free Dog MicroChipping Event announced as Deadline Looms

Dog owners are being reminded there are only days left to go before their dog must by law be microchipped - and Lancaster City Council has lined up another free "chipping" event to help owners who have yet to get it done.

On 6th April 2016, new government legislation will come into force making it compulsory for all dogs to be microchipped. Failure to have their dogs chipped could see owners landed with a £500 fine.

The new law can be enforced by local authorities, police officers and PCSOs.

Microchipping will not, however, replace the legal requirement for dogs to wear a collar or tag with the owner’s details in a public place.

Councillor Karen Leytham, Cabinet member with responsibility for Environmental Health, said: “This is an important step forward for dog welfare and will greatly assist in re-uniting dogs with their owners quickly and easily should they ever become lost.

“To prepare dog owners for the change we’ve held a number of free micro chipping events over the last two years and ‘chipped in excess of 500 dogs and we intend to continue holding these free microchipping events throughout 2016.

“There’s therefore no excuse and if someone still has not had their dog microchipped I would urge them to do so as soon as possible.”

The next free ‘chipping event will be on Monday April 11 2016 from 5pm – 8pm. It will again be held at Centurion with Westgate Scout Hut, Tarnbrook Road, Kingsway, Heysham.

Quick guide to the new law:

•  From 6th April 2016 the keeper (who the dog usually resides with) of a dog older than eight weeks must ensure that it is microchipped unless a vet has certified it should not be microchipped for health reasons.

• Dog breeders are the first keeper of a puppy. The breeder must therefore have the puppy chipped before transferring it to a new keeper.

• A dog is not deemed to be chipped unless the keeper’s details are up to date.  It is the keeper’s responsibility to update the details and an offence if they fail to do so.

• It is an offence to transfer a dog to a new keeper unless it is chipped.

• Dogs certified by a vet as working dogs with docked tails do not have to be chipped unless they are older than 12 weeks.

• If a dog is not chipped a notice can be served on the keeper requiring them to have a dog chipped within 21 days. Where a keeper fails to comply with a notice the council  can, without the keeper’s consent, arrange for the dog to be chipped and recover the costs.

It is an offence to fail to comply with a notice, resulting in a fine of up to £500.

University of Cumbria unveils new Ultrasound Skills Hub in Lancaster

Sonography student Emma Timperley
The University of Cumbria in Lancaster has officially opened its new high-tech ultrasound simulator laboratory, one of the largest installation of its kind in the world.

Equipped with revolutionary ultrasound simulators, the laboratory will enable students to gain basic skills by experiencing lifelike, hands-on training before entering the busy clinical environment of sonography.

With a UK-wide shortage of sonographers being identified by the government (sonographers are listed on the government’s Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List, November 2015), this half million pound project was funded jointly by the university and a grant from Health Education North West.

The University of Cumbria has responded to the sonography workforce gap by expanding its portfolio of ultrasound courses to meet the needs of an increasingly pressured health care system. This advanced virtual-reality technology has facilitated the provision of a new accelerated route to a medical ultrasound postgraduate degree, aimed at students from non-clinical health and sciences backgrounds.

“My first degree was in biomedical sciences, but this postgraduate course will allow me to become a trained sonographer in two years," enthuses 24-year-old Emma Timperley, a student from lancaster who is one of this first cohort of postgraduate sonography students at the university.

"I had the opportunity to use this new technology for a few weeks before going out on my first placement and it’s been invaluable.

"It not only gives you a real feel for the orientation of the ultrasound scan, but also provides all the basic information about anatomy that you need at this stage.”

“Students at the University of Cumbria are very fortunate to have access to this world-leading ultrasound skills development facility," says the professional lead for medical sciences at the university, Charles Sloane.

“It will enable us to help address the shortage of sonographers that currently exists and ensure patients can continue to access the services they need to get a quick diagnosis of potentially life threating conditions, such as cancer.”

ScanTrainer, created by MedaPhor, is a specialist ultrasound skills training simulator made using ‘real feel’ technology which gives students a chance to learn what it feels like to carry out a real-life scan, preparing them for what they’ll experience in a clinical environment. In addition, its ‘virtual tutor’ technology means students are in control of their own learning, both in and out of class time.

“The new skills lab signals that the ultrasound education industry in the UK, and across the world, is finally responding to the demand for sonography skills as ultrasound grows in popularity as a diagnostic modality," notes Iain Dunbar, International Sales Manager at MedaPhor. "The university’s approach is truly pioneering and we are delighted to be at the forefront alongside them.”

The new ‘Ultrasound Skills Hub’ at the university’s Lancaster campus was officially opened on 17 March by university vice chancellor Professor Peter Strike. An audience of invited guests from the healthcare professions was also given a demonstration of the new scanning equipment by postgraduate students.

• For more information about the MSc Medical Ultrasound course, visit the university website

• For further details about the ScanTrainer equipment, visit the Medaphor website

Sunday, 20 March 2016

County Council invites bids to run Museums and Libraries

Lancashire County Council has begun inviting bids to run Lancashire's museums and libraries - even though they've yet to identify which libraries they plan to close.

Community groups and volunteers are being invited to run services in Lancashire the county council says it can no longer afford. The services face being cut as a result of draconian, politically motivated cuts on public spending by the Tory government that increasingly appear to be more about the privatisation and sell off of state assets rather than a claimed means of reducing government debt.

The County Council plans to close 40 libraries (which it still has not identified, despite asking for 'opinions' on the plan) and withdraw funding for five museums, including Lancaster's Judges' Lodgings.

The BBC reports County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at LCC, had said talks with volunteers were at an early stage.

"We are working very hard behind the scenes and talking to a number of organisations who may be able to continue to run our historic museums, although no decisions have yet been reached."

Sadly, despite much hand-wringing, the closure of libraries hasn't deterred Labour county councillors from closing them in the past,even before the recession. They previously instituted unpopular cuts to library services in 2006 rather than institute economies suggested by rival political parties.

Nationally, over 10 per cent of UK libraries are currently under threat – over 500 out of a total UK public library provision of just over 4500. The Voices for the Library group noted that library closures and cutbacks are determined by the local authority, but may be influenced by spending/ funding restrictions imposed on them by central government.

The duty of a local council to provide a “comprehensive and efficient library service” is a legal obligation under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. The Act also prohibits charging for book loans.

Some councils are suggesting that library services can be run by volunteers - and Lancaster Library, for example, already has a terrific "Friends" group who work hard to support it - but this takes no account of the professional and ethical standards to which professional librarians must adhere, including data protection.

Fighting back: the 10 minute guide to library campaigns (this might involve writing to gutless Tory MPs who support the theft of public assets)