Saturday, 7 May 2016

Lancaster's First Age Comics Celebrate 10th Birthday on Free Comic Book Day today

Lucy and Mark Braithwaite of First Age Comics, Lancaster

Lancaster comic shop First Age Comics will be celebrating today - not just because it's Free Comic Book Day, which helps boost visitors to the shop - but also the fact it's the company's Tenth Anniversary.

As you can imagine, dedicated owners Lucy and Mark Braithwaite, who operate the Moor Lane-based store and a thriving web-based comic retail business, are determined to make the most of the day, to thank existing customers and a big welcome to new ones.

Their all-day celebration - which starts at 10.00am and runs until 5.00pm - will give Lancastrians plenty of time to check out two floors of comics, bag some freebies, grab some sweets, and if you haven't already, think about a costume!

First Age Comics have been based in Moor Lane since 2014, and previously had a stall in Lancaster's Assembly Rooms on King Street. Selling imported US comics from companies such as Spider-Man and X-Men publisher Marvel and Batman publisher DC Comics, they also offer tie-in merchandise such as figures, Doctor Who gear, and actively promote local independent comic creators with dedicated self space for small press titles.

They're also one of the sponsors for Lancaster Comics Day, which will take place this year in Lancaster Library on Sunday 5th June.

At 2.00 this afternoon, there will be a group photo opportunity for costumed people outside the shop. (We're told heroes in their civilian disguises can also be in the photo). The highlight of the day will be cutting the birthday cake at 3.00pm, to mark ten years in business this year.

"After this we will be having a Joker's Join so bring food or drink if you can," says Mark, "or just bring yourself - all are welcome!"

• First Age Comics is at 3 Moor Lane, Lancaster, Lancashire LA1 1QD | eBay store | Find First Age Comics on Facebook | Follow First Age Comics on Twitter @firstagecomics

Friday, 6 May 2016

Williamson Park Set to Stage Classic Roald Dahl Play

Lancaster's Williamson Park will host an outdoor theatre production later this month. Roald Dahl favourite Danny the Champion of the World has been adapted by theatre company Illyria for a performance in the park on Monday 30th May at 3.00pm.

 The story follows Danny and his devoted father who live in a caravan and operate the village’s local petrol station and garage. When Danny turns nine he is devastated to find out about his father’s secret passion for pheasant-poaching in the estate of the greedy Victor Hazell, the local wealthy landowner. 

One night, Danny awakes to find his father has not returned from a night of poaching. Fearing that his father may be in danger, Danny sets off to rescue him. Soon Danny finds himself the mastermind behind the most incredible and exciting plot ever attempted against Victor Hazell.

Illyria returns with a funny and heart-warming story perfectly suited to the surroundings of Williamson Park and is perfect for ages five years and over.

Tickets cost £13.50 for adults, £8.50 concession/child and a family (2 adults + 2 children) costs £38. Tickets are available online at, from the Pavilion shop in Williamson Park and Lancaster Visitor Information Centre.

 • For more information on Williamson Park visit or call 01524 33318

New "Walking App" Explores Lancaster's World War One History

Battery buses Market Square 1917
Battery-powered buses in Market Square which took the munitions workers to the Caton Road Munitions Works in 1917

An exciting, new, mobile phone application, which brings to life a step-by-step history of Lancaster's World War One history, will be put through its paces this weekend.

 The ‘app’ which can be used as a stand-alone product, or as an accompaniment to a guided walk, includes rarely-seen photographs, actual film footage and cameo stories linked to key points along the route. On reaching significant locations, viewers can see and learn about, for example, the:

  • Battery-powered buses in Market Square which took the munitions workers to the Caton Road Munitions Works
  • Black and white film footage of the King’s Own Regiment marching to Lancaster Railway Station
  • Bones carved by foreign prisoners held in the former Carriage and Wagon Works in Caton Road 

The programme, created by Dr Keith Cheverst and Helen Turner from Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communication, is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is part of a wider research project led by Lancaster Military Heritage Group, Lancaster University, Curator of Lancaster’s King’s Own Regiment Museum Peter Donnelly and Lancaster Civic Society.

The app brings the current paper trail walk, aptly entitled ‘On the Warpath’, into the 21st Century. 

“This is a highly interactive app which allows walkers actually to delve deeper into certain locations and landmarks or themes that particularly interest them while en route,” says Dr Corinna Peniston-Bird, from Lancaster University’s History Department.

“Stories and images ping in at the appropriate moment. “One of the stops on the tour recalls the story of the German pork butcher, Mr Happold, whose shop windows were smashed at 22 Penny Street, even though his son Freddy was serving with the British Army” says Dr Corinna Peniston-Bird. “But the incident followed the second battle of Ypres, in which Lancaster suffered severe losses and which ignited strong feelings on the Home Front against Germans.”

The facility provides a two-way street for information as walkers are also able to feed in their own comments and stories about locations if they wish. The software comes from the same team who brought the fascinating Streets of Mourning Project to the city two years ago. The project has created a unique, interactive map in which people can track those who died to the streets where they or their loved ones lived.

•  The new app will be trialled on a free walk which sets off from the Campus in the City unit in St Nicholas Arcades at 11.00am on Saturday 14th May 2016.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

"Vindictive" Trade Union Bill Gets Go Ahead

A vindictive trade union bill gets Royal Assent after last night the House of Lords agreed to the final changes made by MPs last week - a bill seen as a direct political attack on rivals to the Tories, a party are largely backed by uncountable big business investors and secretive individuals, many of whom have had their shady dealings exposed in the Panama Papers leak.

The bill, which was first introduced in July 2015, has had a troubled journey through parliament, beset by widespread opposition, public protest, ridicule, Lords rebellions and government U-turns.

The determination and unrelenting campaigning of thousands of union members and their supporters, has meant that the bill has changed considerably from how it started out, but the Public Services and Commercial Services Union, who represent many workers in the Lancaster and Morecambe area, say the new law remains an unnecessary political attack on trade unions and still contains a number of extremely damaging measures.

Key changes include:

  • An independent review of electronic balloting for industrial action must now be conducted with a view to implementing electronic balloting shortly after its conclusion
  • Harsh political fund rules scrapped and the opt-in will now only to apply to new members
  • U-turn on check-off; it will remain as long as unions pay administrative costs
  • Dropping of extreme measures to restrict protesting, including proposals to give employers detailed picket line and social media information two weeks before industrial action
  • Safeguards in place before facility time cap can be introduced
  • Increasing strike mandates from four months originally proposed to six months, or nine months where the employer agrees.
  • Watering down of political fund reporting requirements
  • Certification officer guaranteed independence from ministerial influence.

Undemocratic strike ballot thresholds remain in place, which mean a 50% turnout will be required in order for any industrial action ballot to be valid. Some 'important public services' will face an additional hurdle of needing a 40% yes vote from all those eligible to vote.

The new law also includes worrying requirements to identify picket leaders at each picket line and Unions must now give 14 days notice (instead of 7) before taking industrial action. 7 days may still be allowed if the employer agrees.

The political fund will go from an opt-out to an opt-in system after a transition period of 12 months, potentially hitting parties aided by such support hard, such as Labour.

Facility time reporting (already in place in the civil service) will be required across public sector employers and Minister will be able to cap facility time after three years ; and
there will be an "increased role and power for the Certification Officer (the body which regulates unions) with unions now having to pay a levy to cover their running costs

Costly new reporting and administrative burdens also go into force, although these measures will not apply immediately as the secretary of state must first issue a 'commencement order' detailing when different parts of the act will come into force.

The PCS, along with other unions, has called on its members to fight harder than ever to ensure the new law does not damage its ability to campaign and defend members.

Tory Cuts Continue with over 100 more local Civil Service staff jobs at risk

Analysis of a plan for cuts to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, leaked earlier this month, has revealed that 77 per cent of staff in line for potential redundancy are based in the regions, with more than 10,000 staff across the country in the potential redundancy pool – including 101 in Lancaster.

The document, part of the ‘BIS2020’ plan promoted by embattled Business Secretary Sajid Javid, was leaked to Labour’s shadow civil service minister Louise Haigh MP earlier in April and prompted fury from trade unions and worried staff.

Since the leak, the government has, Labour allege, tried to hide the true extent of the job cuts.

It revealed that the Department is modelling 40 per cent job losses in a number of targeted agencies and government-owned companies, as well as civil servants in the Department itself, in an attempt to meet Javid’s self-imposed target of cutting £100m more than required even by the Treasury.

The Department has refused to answer questions on the leaked document but answers to parliamentary questions have revealed a  breakdown of staffing by location in each of the affected organisations, as well as total staff numbers. The total number of staff in the organisations being targeted for job losses is 14,183 and 10,873 of those work in the regions rather than the Department’s Whitehall head office.

Around 40 per cent of these workers may be cut, according to the leaked document, but with many agencies facing merger or closure, and further regional offices likely to be closed, all are facing potential redundancy, and many towns across the UK face losing all of the local jobs provided.

The jobs in Lancaster are in the Natural Environment Research Council, all of which the recent BIS leak revealed were being considered for cuts of around 40% of total staff.

Other organisations being targeted for cuts according to the leaked document are: the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills itself; the Research Councils (targeted for combined cuts and merger)
Skills Funding Agency (also facing both heavy cuts and potential merger); the Student Loans Company; Insolvency Service (INSS); Innovate UK; the National Measurement Regulation Office; the Higher Education Funding Council for England; the UK Shared Business Services Limited; ACAS; the Financial Reporting Council; the Green Investment Bank PLC (currently being privatised); the UK Commission on Employment and Skills (being merged or closed);
the UK Space Agency; the Office for Fair Access (OFFA); and British Business Bank PLC

“I’m shocked to learn about this threat to local jobs," commented Lancaster MP Cat Smith. "But what really irks, is the Government’s attempts to hide this devastating news.

"Ministers have tried to keep the details of this plan secret, despite questioning from MPs. We need full transparency now, and it is time for a fundamental re-think on their agenda of centralisation and cuts.

“The fact the news had to come out in this way is insulting to the staff whose jobs are under threat. This news is bad news for us locally in Lancaster, but also for the North West as a region given almost a thousand jobs are at risk from Government cuts. The scale of this will not be easy.”

“It’s deeply alarming that the government is considering cuts on this scale to the regional economies that are already suffering the most under the Tories, says Labour’s shadow civil service minister Louise Haigh MP. "It makes no sense to target the services that support businesses in growing, ultimately creating and protecting jobs in the long run. The cuts simply won’t work – we need a government that invests in growth instead.”

A Written Answer to a Parliamentary Question tabled by Louise Haigh had previously revealed that McKinsey was paid £200,000 for the first tranche of its consultancy work on the project last year. Other answers revealed that the Department was planning to centralise functions in Whitehall, closing regional offices even though it would actually lose money overall due to higher costs in London.

Government Meeting "Challenging" Savings Targets 

Responding to questions a spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said earlier this month: “We do not comment on leaked documents.

“But to be clear, there have been no changes to the plans already announced and discussed extensively with Parliament.”

“We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure as much of the department’s funding as possible is focused on front line services.

“We have deliberately set ourselves challenging savings targets consistent with the spending review and we will continue to explore options in detail before making decisions.”

The figures for each location:

Northern England:

Leeds: 207
Sheffield: 324
Rotherham: 49
Darlington: 1421
Gateshead: 67
Newcastle: 117
Manchester: 284
Liverpool: 130
Bootle: 37
Birkenhead: 43
Warrington: 343
Lancaster: 101

Southern England:

Cambridge: 1263
Oxford: 1417
Didcot: 259
Wallingford: 288
Bristol: 414
Southampton: 486
Swindon: 1933


Leicester: 552
Nottingham: 168
Birmingham: 533
Coventry: 385


Edinburgh: 442
Glasgow: 1454
Total Scotland: 1896


Cardiff: 153
Llandudno: 125
Bangor: 42
Newport: 45
Total Wales: 365

These figures were provided in Written Answers to Parliamentary Questions from Louise Haigh MP and comprise the total number of employees at each agency being considered for job losses according to the leaked ‘BIS2020’ report. Because the original document used “full time equivalent” figures, the actual number of staff affected is considerably higher than first revealed.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 4th to 12th May 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.

There are five new films arriving to local cinemas during this period. There is adult comedy with Bad Neighbours 2 (15) and family comedy with Florence Foster Jenkins (PG). We have drama with Dheepan (15) and Our Little Sister (PG). Finally family animation comes with Robinson Crusoe (PG).

The movie The Boy had disappeared, whereas films that are coming to the end of their screening include Bastille Day; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and The Huntsman: Winter's War. However we do see the return of the science fiction thriller Midnight Special.

New releases due to be appear later in the month include Thomas & Friends: The Great Race; Warcraft: The Beginning and X-Men: Apocalypse.

Caped crusader action continues with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War. For adult comedy there is Bad Neighbours 2 and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Adult drama comes with Bastille Day, Eye in the Sky and Friend Request.

Family entertainment is represented with the Ratchet and Clank, Robinson Crusoe and the excellent The Jungle Book.

High culture this period comes with NT Live: A View from the Bridge being shown at the Vue. In addition, the Dukes is screening the classic black and white comedy Shooting Stars and the arthouse movie Three Colours Trilogy: Blue.


Bastille Day
Director: James Watkins
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Richard Madden, Idris Elba, Charlotte Le Bon
Michael Mason (Madden) is a pickpocket working in Paris. He steals a bag but finds it contains a bomb and this brings him to the notice of Sean Briar (Elba) who is a CIA agent. Briar recruits Mason and uses his skills to help him combat a terrorist threat and corruption within the French police. Some aspects of the plot are not quite believable, but the film is an excellent thriller with a number of very impressive set pieces. An enjoyable movie.

Eye in the Sky
Director: Gavin Hood
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman
Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) is tasked with capturing a terrorist who is attending a meeting in Kenya. The meeting room is bugged and a drone used to provide surveillance. Powell discovers the terrorists are actually planning suicide bombing attacks and so she seeks authority to call in a missile attack on the building. However there is a chance any attack will result in civilian casualties. The movie is a gripping and well received drama that explores some of the moral issues of drone warfare.

Florence Foster Jenkins
Director: Stephen Frears
Certificate: PG
Cast includes: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant
A period drama based on the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins (Streep). Jenkins is a rich heiress with ambitions to be a singer despite a terrible singing voice. Her husband St Clair Bayfield (Grant), despite being something of a cad, arranges for her to sing in a concert, having carefully selected the audience to ensure her efforts will be well received. This is the second recent movie based on the life of Jenkins and it provides a more light hearted approach to the 2015 film Marguerite. The movie is has been well received and provides a good share of laughs, though, for this reviewer, it was something of a one joke film.

Friend Request
Director: Simon Verhoeven
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Alycia Debnam-Carey, Liesl Ahlers
Laura (Debnam-Carey) is a popular college student and an avid user of social media. She received a friend request from an unknown girl Marina (Ahlers) but finds her new friend is stalking her. Subsequently Marina commits suicide but her spirit continues to stalk Laura. Despite some occasional rough lines, this is an effective horror story that delivers enough twists to keep the plot interesting and provides some real scares.

The Jungle Book
Director: Jon Favreau
Certificate: PG Cast includes: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba
Based on Rudyard Kipling's works, this is a reworking of a the well known classic using live action and CGI. Mowgli (Sethi) is an orphaned boy raised by a wolf and thence by Bagheera (Kingsley) a black panther. Mowgli alienates the Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Elba) and so must make his way to humankind for safety, meeting the well known characters Baloo and Kaa on the way. Subsequently he returns to the jungle to face Shere Khan. The movie is a good example a remake that improves on the original. An excellent movie that will entertain all ages.

Zootropolis (Zootopia)
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Certificate: PG
Cast includes: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman
This is a comedy animation set in the city of Zootropolis which is populated by animals. Judy Hopps (Goodwin) is a rabbit rookie police officer. She parters with a con-artist fox Nick Wilde (Bateman) to solve the mystery of a missing husband. An excellently made fun movie that will appeal to a wide range of ages.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Lancaster Comics Day Back in June

Poster art and design by Nick Miller
Lancaster Comics Day is back next month, taking place in Lancaster Library on Sunday 5th June.

Plenty of local comic creators will be on hand to talk about their work, including Marvel Comics writer Andy Diggle, author and playwright Eddie Robson - along with locally-based games publisher Ken Walton and SF and fantasy authors AS Chambers and JS Collyer.

Organised by the Friends of Lancaster Library with local comics writer and editor John Freeman (who also writes for virtual-lancaster), the event has a varied line up of guests, many of them creators known for their Doctor Who comics work such as writer and publisher Tim Quinn (whose anarchic biography is published soon by MIWK Publishing, Blackpool-based artist Adrian Salmon, writers Andy Diggle (better known for his work for Marvel and DC Comics, including Green Arrow) and Eddie Robson - and, from Birmingham, comics artist and British comics archivist Lew Stringer.

In addition to his Doctor Who humour strip for Doctor Who Magazine, Lew's credits also currently include "Pup Parade" in The Beano.

Joining them will be local comics writer Alex Paknadel, who has earned huge acclaim for his work for US publisher Boom! Studios on Arcadia; local SF and fantasy authors AS Chambers and JS Collyer; games publisher Ken Walton; and joining them on the guest list, independent comic publishers Tom Ward (co-creator of Merrick The Sensational Elephantman) and Joe Matthews (creator of Funny Monsters comic).

But that's not all, because a number of great comic talents also have tables at this small and imperfectly formed event, including Nowhere Man artist Dave Taylor. He's no doubt been tempted by the thought of Katie White's comic cake.

Also there will be Jack Knight, the owner and lead designer at Knight Time Creations and the cartoonist for the Lancaster Guardian newspaper. Along with his cartooning work, he has been recognised for his community work, which includes setting up the Independent Lancaster loyalty card scheme to support local businesses last year, inspired by a similar scheme in Liverpool. It's work that's earned him an invite to one of the Queen's birthday parties next month.

Sam Phillips is again organising a dedicated games room and Graham Pearce will be on hand to entertain kids with his popular comic workshops.

Supported by the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and sponsored by Lancaster's First Age Comics, Lancaster Comics Day is ready for its second annual event... But are you ready for Lancaster Comics Day?

• More info at

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Green Ayre Rises Exhibition Celebrates Lancaster's Railway History

Today and tomorrow (1st-2nd May 2016), Lancaster Library will host "Green Ayre Rises"; an event to mark 50 years since the closure of Lancaster Green Ayre station and the Green Ayre railway line.

Organised by the Friends of Lancaster Library and local business man David Chandler, the centre-piece is the exhibition of a 40'x20' model railway of the long-since demolished Green Ayre station, which, as we've previously reported, model-maker Jamie Guest and members of the Wakefield Railway Modellers' Society have been building for the last six years.

There will be displays of archive material relating to railways in the local area, a reunion of those who worked on the line, guided walks of the railway route and activities for children.

As well as the events in Lancaster Library, there will also be heritage tours of Lancaster station, courtesy of Virgin Trains.

All proceeds from the event will be donated to St.John's Hospice in Lancaster.

It promises to be a memorable occasion, as for one weekend, Lancaster's lost station of Green Ayre rises once again!

• Further details can be found at: