Pewsey StationA massive 65 per cent of passengers using the First Great Western main line to London Paddington would consider moving house if the service significantly deteriorated.
And if the service in future forced them to change trains at Newbury, then 30 per cent of passengers would “definitely” stop using the service altogether while at further 58 per cent said they would “may be” stop buying a ticket to London.
These are among the alarming answers to the five-day survey carried out by Pewsey Train Watch as part of the Department of Transport consultation process to discover the economic benefits of electrifying the line to Westbury.
It also shows that the number of passengers using Bedwyn and Kintbury were under-estimated by up to 38 per cent.
And it reveals that “an overwhelming proportion of passengers” would abandon the rail service and turn instead to their cars for transport” if extended electrification doesn’t take place.
There was a huge response to the “anonymous” survey, which produced more than 1,900 responses, 96 per cent of whom travel regularly from Kintbury, Hungerford, Bedwyn, Pewsey or Westbury and 94 per cent travelling eastbound beyond Newbury.
“It is worth noting that local interest in this issue is so high that the Pewsey Train Watch website crashed under the weight of hits and we had to move to a larger server within a few hours of opening the survey,” spokesman Karl Lloyd told Marlborough News Online.
The survey provided further evidence of the value passengers put on direct services to London, especially for business purposes. Some 48 per cent of respondents “often” work on the train while 37 per cent do “sometimes”, this productivity being lost if passengers were required to change at Newbury or instead drove to London by car.
The survey showed the average annual wage of respondents to be £72,000 with 22 per cent earning more than £90,000, thus under-pinning the economic benefits to the region of an extension to electrification.
“This will be a significant factor in the economic modelling and how it takes into account the benefit of the trains to the wider local economy beyond the train users as studies suggest as much as 80 per cent of income is spent within 20 miles of home,” adds the survey report.
And it adds: “Ninety-four per cent of respondents who moved into the region were influenced by the rail lines with 68 per cent citing good rail links as “very” important to their decision to move.
“Sixty-five per cent of respondent individuals would consider moving out of the region if the rail services significantly deteriorated. Forty-eight per cent of business owning respondents located their businesses in the region “very much” because of the trains.
“A further 25 per cent cited the trains as “partially” responsible for their decision to locate their business in the region.”
The survey points out that another 83 per cent of unemployed people considered rail links as “very” important to their search for work, “clearly indicating that trains bring a disproportionate amount of wealth into the local economies by attracting high worth individuals and businesses – and facilitating higher levels of employment.”
And it reports: “Sixty-five of residents would consider relocation if rail services deteriorated. Seventy-four per cent of business respondents would consider relocating their businesses if rail services deteriorated.
“This exodus is unlikely to be offset by “replenishment” given the figures quoted for residents and businesses citing rail links as a major factor when locating to a region.
“Eight-one per cent of respondents said their business/place of work would ‘definitely’ suffer if rail services got worse, an overwhelming proportion of passengers potentially abandoning the rail service have indicated they would take to their cars, causing significant impact upon stations other than those directly along the electrification extension route.”
In all the recent coverage in newspapers, online, on television and on radio of the fiftieth anniversary of Lord Beeching’s 1963 report on Britain’s railways, no mention has been made of two local railway stations which escaped his axe.
Charged by the Conservative government with re-designing the whole rail system in Britain so it could be run without losses, Lord Beeching’s two volume report The Reshaping of British Railways proposed the closing of 2,363 stations and halts – not to mention the loss of 5,000 miles of track and tens of thousands jobs.
In articles about his plan, Lord Beeching has been called a ‘vandal’ for his swingeing attack on the nation’s rail network. But like most vandals, Beeching did not entirely get his own way. His list of stations to be closed included Bedwyn and Pewsey. They are still open – and are now the subject of a fervent campaign to maintain the current level of passenger trains that serve them.
Marlborough’s two railway stations had already been closed in 1961, with the goods yards closing in 1964.
Other stations in the area did not fare so well under Beeching’s closure programme. The Devizes Branch Line was closed by 1966. And Patney-and-Chirton station was closed with it.
The aim of Beeching’s plan was to produce a rail system that did not run at a loss and would enable the Railway Board’s huge deficit to be cleared. As Lord Beeching summed up his hopes for the plan’s success: “If the whole plan is implemented with vigour…much (though not necessarily all) of the Railway deficit should be eliminated by 1970.” A statement that has a certain resonance with current plans for deficit elimination.
Dr Nick SnashallTen o’clock on a misty and distinctly chilly late March morning in the middle of the week and Avebury’s car park is already filling up. It is, Dr Nick Snashall says, the remains of a Saxon settlement lurking underneath the car park that helps to make Avebury such a complex site:
“The fascinating and enchanting thing about Avebury is that we have a sense that it’s a living community – not just prehistoric. It’s got Roman, Saxon and medieval signs of life. It’s a wonderfully rich story – wherever you turn there’s the evidence of the people who lived here.”
Dr Snashall is the National Trust’s archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury UNESCO World Heritage Site and on April 12 she’ll be telling the Avebury Society about ‘Avebury - The Story So Far’. We met in the National Trust’s re-vamped café near the Avebury barn – over a warming hot chocolate.
Although now hidden under assorted people carriers and muddy saloons, the Saxon remains are just one important symbol of Avebury’s past: “There is no one story – the story is continually changing – we’re discovering new parts of it – and sometimes discovering things we thought were true are not.”
Which perhaps leaves recent claims by a television documentary to be the final ‘true version’ of Stonehenge’s beginnings as just another theory along the way.
Dr Nick Snashall’s role involves archaeology in the Stonehenge landscape and Avebury. At Stonehenge the Trust owns more than 2,000 acres which includes monuments around the great stone circle – which is itself owned by the State and cared for by English Heritage.
The National Trust monuments there include round and long barrows, much of the Stonehenge Avenue and one of the best preserved cursus monuments in Britain. The cursus is a long thin monument with parallel banks and ditches.
Dr Snashall calls this cursus “One of the great remaining mysteries” – no one knows why it was built or what it was used for. It is 1.8 miles long, pre-dates Stonehenge by 300-600 years and probably had banks that stood 1.5 metres high.
A recent archaeological investigation at Avebury re-discovered the ‘Beckhampton Avenue’ which runs west roughly along the current High Street and has one extant standing stone to mark its way (the much more obvious West Kennet Avenue runs south.)
Dr Snashall is co-director of the current archaeological programme at Avebury. It is entitled ‘Between the Monuments’ and is intended to place the people back into prehistoric Avebury. As Dr Snashall puts it: “Was the area inhabited – or were people living there temporarily or just visiting the site to build or use the monuments?”
Avebury - waiting for SpringInvestigating Avebury’s long past is a very serious business: working alongside Dr Snashall on this major fieldwork project are Dr Josh Pollard (leader – from Southampton University), Dr Mark Gillings (Leicester University), Dr Mike Allen an environmental archaeologist, and Dr Ros Cleal (the curator of Avebury’s Alexander Keiller Museum and an expert on prehistoric pottery.) Dr Nick specialises in ‘lithics’ – the study of stone tools.
In these straightened times, money for such investigations is hard to find – analysis of finds may take ten or twenty times as long as the fieldwork itself. Projects are getting more costly as more scientific analysis is possible.
“We live,” says Dr Nick, “in incredibly exciting times. Radio carbon dating is now accurate to within twenty-five years on samples as much as 6,000 years old. ‘Absorbed residue analysis’ can detect different kinds of fats trapped in a prehistoric pottery vessel – and so tell us what food was being eaten. ‘Stable isotope analysis’ on bones and teeth can tell us where a person or animal was from the take up of water-borne remnants of the geology.”
However, there’s still much fascination in what visitors to Avebury normally see, can walk around and can read about. The henge ditch used to go down nine metres from the level on which the stones now stand and its sides were almost perpendicular – all worked with stone tools and antler picks.
Many of Avebury’s stones are so heavy the effort and organisation taken to transport and erect them would have been immense. The biggest Cove stone weighs about 100 tons. Even the Swindon Stone – the one you think you may hit as you drive north towards Swindon – weighs sixty tons.
Maintenance of such a popular site is a constant task. Some parts will be closed off in rotation to allow grass to regrow: “Each year we have a lot of feet walking on the main monument, which is why we put so much work into conservation all year round.”
On the Avebury site even replacing a fence post has to be overseen by an archaeologist in case something important is dug up or disturbed.
“In your head, after a while, you can begin to see what it was like when this great Cove stone was first hauled into position. Sometimes your image changes quite suddenly after talking to another archaeologist or after a find. You have to be flexible and be prepared to throw out earlier images.”
Make a date to hear much much more about Avebury’s past and its people at Dr Nick Snashall’s Avebury Society Annual Lecture – for details of time, place and tickets click 12 April on our What’s On calendar.
Avebury Henge, the restored part of West Kennet Avenue and Windmill Hill are owned by the National Trust and in English Heritage guardianship. They are managed by the National Trust on behalf of English Heritage and the two organisations share the cost of managing and maintaining them.
The Sanctuary, which is owned by the nation, and West Kennet Long Barrow, which is owned privately, are also in guardianship and are managed by the national Trust under an agreement with English Heritage. Silbury Hill is owned privately, is in guardianship and is managed by English Heritage.
The Alexander Keiller Museum is also in guardianship, the majority of the collections are owned by the nation, while the National Trust own the buildings and manages the museum on behalf of English Heritage.
Marlborough PoolYoung people will be able to swim for free again this Easter at Marlborough and Pewsey's leisure centres.
Children aged under 16 can enjoy free swimming until April 5.
They will be able to gain free access to general swim sessions and fun and feature sessions including using the inflatable assault courses.
They do not need to sign up to a membership package for the free swimming, but each leisure centre will retain the right to request proof of age before granting entry. People are advised to arrive early as some sessions can be busy.
The free swim sessions do not include sessions such as aerobics, aqua natal, aqua tots, parent/toddler sessions or children’s swimming lessons.
Train entering Bedwyn stationDoubts are being expressed about improvements to the Great Western train services following the government’s decision to extend for a further three years the disputed First Great Western franchise on the main route to London Paddington.
The long-term future of the line has been pushed back to 2016 causing concern over current plans for the electrification of trains beyond Newbury, from Great Bedwyn to Westbury, now part of a consultation process.
More than 1,400 local passengers had completed the Pewsey Train Watch survey on the economic effects of electrification by Sunday’s deadline, but delays in the government’s other major franchise projects have raised fears that funding is no longer available to go ahead now.
“We’re waiting to see what the study says, but it is vitally important for the southern part of Wiltshire and Somerset,” said Claire Perry, Tory MP for Devizes.
“It will provide a big boost for business in my constituency and the others along the line.”
South West Wiltshire MP Andrew Morrison added: “With high speed rail in the offing, the South West is in danger of being left behind. A fast, frequent and reliable service to London and good connections from Westbury to Bath and Bristol will do a great deal for our economy.”
Pewsey Train Watch spokesman Karl Lloyd told Marlborough News Online that he had yet to see the latest news reports, but added: “I can't offer a comment on what this means for electrification.
“But, in itself, a further extension to the franchise is good news in as much as it means continuity of service, to use the government's own term, for that much longer.
“Eventually the ITT issues that Pewsey Train Watch was founded to fight will come back but we have respite for a meaningful amount of time so that takes the immediate pressure off.
“The survey eventually garnered over 1,900 responses, which is a great response considering how little time we had to reach people. This, along with the fact that our website crashed within a short time of the survey opening and had to be moved to a bigger server to handle the number of hits we were getting, speaks volumes about the interest and concern there is over this issue in the local communities served by Kintbury, Hungerford, Bedwyn, Pewsey and Westbury stations.”
On Monday Mr Lloyd, representing Pewsey Train Watch, along with Steve Smith of the Bedwyn passenger group joined Hungerford Town Council and representatives from Kintbury at a meeting with ARUP, the consultancy firm evaluating the economic case for extending electrification, at Hungerford Town Hall.
“It was a very constructive with many interesting points raised,” he pointed out. “As with the previous meeting with ARUP in Westminster, their representatives were certainly listening and taking onboard the views and concerns expressed and were thought full and considered in their responses.”
The survey report will be delivered to ARUP in the next few days and will also be published on the Pewsey Train Watch website.
March did indeed come in like a lion but it stayed roaring windy weather with local records going back more than 30 years proving it to be the coldest.
We shivered just like the rest of the country, according to Marlborough weather man Eric Gilbert, who told Marlborough News Online: “We have to go back to 1987 to find the previous very cold March but even that was almost 2C warmer than 2013.”
Overall, he reports: “March 2013 was a remarkable month for the persistence of winds from a north-easterly (17 days) or easterly (9 days) direction and the strength of that wind over many days due to a persistent blocking high pressure over Scandinavia.
“There were five days with gusts above 30 mph and a maximum of 42 mph on the 11th.
“The strong winds and low temperatures gave a wind chill that was a major factor during many days. There were several days with a wind chill factor of minus 4C, also minus 6C on the 24th and a very low of minus 8C on the 11th.
“It proved to be the coldest March I have recorded with a mean 3.6C below the long-term average but this masks the fact that the daytime mean temperature was 4.4C below the long-term average.
“We remember with fond memories March 2012 which had a mean almost 6C higher and twelve days warmer than this year with a high of 21.0C on the 28th.”
He adds: “There were a record number of days with air frost, 19 in total -- the previous record was 17 in 1995 -- with the most severe on the morning of the 31st when the thermometer dropped to minus 6.6C.
“This was the lowest air temperature for the whole of the past winter. However, this is not a record for March as we experienced a low of minus 8.4C in 1985 and 2004.
“The incidence of air frosts has varied considerably over the last 30 years from lows of just two in 1994 and three in 1992.”
And as to the future, he added: “The meteorological experts blame this cold spell on the Jetstream being to the south of the UK. Looking at the forecast track of these high altitude, fast moving streams of air which move weather systems around the globe, it is not predicted to move further north until 8th April at least.
“Perhaps then we will begin to see the thermometer rising several degrees to herald the season of spring rather the continuation of winter.”
Mrs Jan ThorntonA complaint by Bedwyn resident Mrs Jan Thornton has led to Parish Councillor Roger Durie being found in breach of the standards code. The Wiltshire Council Standards Sub-committee Hearing said he should not have allowed a motion to be put that named Mrs Thornton as ‘vexatious’.
The Hearing was held in Marlborough Town Hall on March 11 and the minutes with the Sub-Committee’s decision have now been published.
Mrs Thornton had complained that Mr Durie should not have allowed the motion naming her under the Parish Council’s Vexatious Complaints Policy to be discussed and voted on while public and press were present. She had found the actions of the Parish Council and Mr Durie to be “humiliating, inappropriate and excessive”.
The Sub-committee said that the motion was contrary to the Parish Council’s policy, was not on the agenda and was therefore contrary to standing orders and should not have been accepted as a valid motion. The Sub-Committee Chairman made it clear that the Hearing was ruling not on whether “Mrs Thornton was in fact vexatious, but on whether the motion should have been allowed.”
The decision added that the Parish Council Chairperson is under an obligation to follow the required procedures: “By failing to do so the meeting was conducted in a way whereby a member of the public was subjected to adverse comments without any opportunity for reply and was not availed of due process under the Parish Council’s vexatious complaint policy.”
This matter arose following Mrs Thornton’s attempts to get the Parish Council to take action on the random parking in the vicinity of Bedwyn railway station which often blocks dropped kerbs and access to homes of The Knapp’s social housing. The word ‘parking’ does not appear in the minutes of the Hearing.
The Investigating Officer in the case referred to a relevant case from Durham County Council which had stressed “…the effect on an individual who is subjected to disrespect as a result of procedural oversight.”
The problem is that the substance of the motion remains on the record. Bedwyn Parish Council minutes are displayed on two village notice boards and are available online.
The Hearing ruled that Mr Durie had breached the standards code on two counts: “You must treat others with respect” and “You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.”
The Sub-committee’s recommendation said that “the Monitoring Officer for Wiltshire Council will conduct a training session for all members of Great Bedwyn Parish Council.” It also suggested that Mr Durie “may wish to provide Mrs Thornton with an apology” – but realised that this could not form part of the Hearing’s ruling as it is not one of the “permitted sanctions that can be recommended.”
Marlborough News Online understands that following the Hearing Mr Durie has received support from a number of residents.
Mrs Thornton told Marlborough News Online: “I’m pleased it’s over. Taking your Parish Council Chairman to a hearing before the Standards Sub-Committee was a very daunting process.”
“I’ve been encouraged by friends to set up a blog (Bedwyn Blogger) to put over our arguments about the parking problem and how it’s been handled. Much of it is humourous – but there’s a serious message.”
Andy Davies and plaqueGood Friday is going to be Farewell Friday tomorrow for Andy Davies, the ebullient manager of Marlborough’s Waitrose, who has announced his departure from the store that is the vital magnet of the High Street shopping centre.
After five-years in that role, Andy is heading for London to head a project management team of up to 20 John Lewis/Waitrose partners and consultants for the next 12 months.
“And I won’t be returning to Marlborough,” 47-year-old Andy, who joined Waitrose as a weekend schoolboy helper, told Marlborough News Online. “It is a great opportunity for me and I am going to grab it. This is a really exciting chance for me to move into the corporate world.
“I fought really hard to get to Marlborough in the first place. I had a two-year plan and had to jump through many hoops to be given a brilliant branch like this and I’ve been only the fourth manager here in the store’s 36 years.”
His dramatic decision to leave has not come as a total surprise to his staff of 230 as he spent a six-month secondment to London last year. But he leaves in his considerable wake a dynamic record of success and community support.
Two years ago he was in control of a £3.5 million revamp of the supermarket that introduced a “green” refrigeration system and a new café. Since then, his activities have included creating an orchard of 20 rare-breed apple trees in the Waitrose car park and launching a Waitrose kitchen at St John’s Academy, providing initial jobs too for students and and mentoring them in writing job CVs.
“And we have been in the heart of the community for the last three years by giving £12,000 each year to 36 local charities,” he said. “That’s a big impact on the community and one I am proud of.
“It’s been a privilege to work here and I shall be sad in some ways to leave. I’ve got just a 20-minute drive to work every day with a fantastic team in one of the most wonderful parts of the country.
“You could say, ‘Just stay, that’s the easiest thing to do.’ But I’ve got this constant need to look for new horizons and to keep moving forward. That’s the way I’ve always been. So I can’t give up this great opportunity to learn new skills.
“I certainly shall come back to Marlborough to shop – and to drink the first glass of cider from our apple orchard. I love running branches. I love the whole buzz of our team, customers and working in the community.
“That’s why I’ve done it for so long. Now I have the opportunity to go out and do something different.”
Already in the pipeline for Marlborough are plans to revamp the High Street entrance to the branch and perhaps introduce a community notice board.
Interviews are now taking place over the next few weeks to find a successor, someone, possibly a woman, who already manages a Waitrose branch since Marlborough is considered one of company’s major rural stores.
“We expect to have someone in place by the end of April,” said Andy.
Meanwhile, it is likely that Marlborough Chamber of Commerce will be inviting Andy to return for an event to pay tribute to his work in the town.
“We are losing an ambassador to business in Marlborough with Andy’s decision to move on,” Paul Shimell, president of Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, told Marlborough News Online.
“He will be a great loss to the town and to the Chamber of Commerce as a man who brought great ideas and resources to our committee, giving us essential information as to how he worked to keep his store in front.
“Waitrose is the main attraction in the town centre and the work that Andy has put in has kept it just so. He will be an asset to the next project he runs. We wish him well in the future.”
Plans for Marlborough to have its own giant two-day Food and Drink Festival in July covering the whole of the Common have been rejected by the town council for a variety of reasons.
But the company behind the proposal refuses to be defeated and wants to hold talks to find a way ahead for an event aimed at boosting tourism and the local economy.
“I certainly want to do something positive, to talk to the council and find alternative dates and ensure that we meet their criteria and also the local community’s,” John Rhodes, who runs Garden Events Ltd, told Marlborough News Online.
“Marlborough is a beautiful town and I am sure food and wine lovers would be very interested indeed in our festival. There are always hurdles to jump over and if I can work with the council and the local community we can do our best to keep everyone happy.”
And he is particularly interested in Marlborough’s link with the wine-producing town of Marlborough, in New Zealand, as Mr Rhodes is himself a New Zealander.
His company, which organises a similar festival in Cheltenham, wanted to take over the Marlborough Common for the festival on July 13 and 14.
His plan, outlined to the council’s Amenities and Open Spaces Committee, would have included two marquees for food lovers, separate international wine education and cooking demonstration theatres, a champagne garden, real ale marquee, festival café, music stage and some 30 individual stalls.
But his chosen dates are already booked for boot fairs. The dates also clash with this year’s Marlborough International Jazz Festival, due a week later, plus the fact that Marlborough’s Communities Market is having its own food festival on June 30 and in October there will be the annual Feast for Food in aid of Cancer Research UK.
And there is the additional serious problem of where visitors to such a major event, expected to attract thousands of people, will be able to park.
“Bringing people into the town for events is great,” Councillor Val Compton told Marlborough News Online. “But parking is a very real problem.”
Concern has also been expressed that Marlborough residents would be denied access to the Common unless they bought tickets for the festival.
In a letter to the council, Mr Rhodes pointed out that blues and folk music would enliven the event too, adding: “This is not a rock concert, more a picnic in the park along the lines of the Cheltenham food and drink festival that we also organiser.
“There will be company’s selling food and alcohol for consumption on site, the event is a ticketed event and will be aimed at a family audience. We would like to have a decision from the council as soon as possible so that it allows us enough time to organise the event.”
Cheltenham Food Drink Festival
Deputy Chief Constable Mike VealeWiltshire Police have announced the appointment of 47-year-old Mike Veale as Deputy Chief Constable in the county force following his role for almost 12 months as the temporary deputy chief constable.
Interviews for the permanent post – a challenging role with police budgets under pressure and morale depressed -- were held yesterday (Monday) at the police headquarters in Devizes.
Chief Constable Pat Geenty told Marlborough News Online: “The interview panel were very impressed by his engaging and motivational leadership style and his awareness of the substantial challenges facing the wider police service over the coming months and years.
“I very much look forward to continuing to work with him.”
Mr Veale, a policeman since 1984, responded: “I am really proud and privileged to have been selected. I do not under-estimate the significant responsibility this exciting and challenging role brings.
“The force continues to be one of the top performers in the country, not only in terms of reducing crime and anti social behaviour but also being one of the least costly and providing value for money.
“The force priorities over the coming months are to maintain that success, continue to prevent crime, protect the most vulnerable in society and improve the high quality service we provide to local communities.”
And he added: “We will build on the continued support of the people who live and work in Wiltshire and listen to their views so that we are able to tailor the service to meets their needs and expectations.
“I would also like to pay tribute to our officers and staff who remain dedicated to public service and, despite some of the daily challenges they face, continue to be selfless in their endeavours to keep people safe.
“Leadership is made slightly less challenging when you are amongst so many who are so courageous and committed to their local communities.”
Mr Veale, married with one son, joined Wiltshire Police in 2005 as a Detective Superintendent from Avon and Somerset Constabulary. He was subsequently promoted to Detective Chief Superintendent as the head of CID, before being promoted to Assistant Chief Constable in 2011.
Locally sourced, freshly cooked – that’s not quite what ‘nursery food’ conjured up in the minds of generations past. But it’s the way the local Sixpenny Childcare Nurseries and Pre-Schools do it.
The nurseries – owned and run by Kate Easter – have their own purpose-built kitchen in Minal, three chefs and two delivery vehicles taking hot food to Sixpennies in Aldbourne, Minal and Devizes – and to also to the Stepping Stones centre in Froxfield.
Kate Easter employs seventy staff who care for up to four hundred nought-to-five year-olds a day – with staff-to-child ratios varying with the age groups. The nurseries are open from seven-forty-five in the morning until six in the evening and mostly cater for the children of working parents.
As Kate told Marlborough News Online: “That age range is so wonderful – they’re little sponges absorbing everything and you can see their characters coming through.”
Minal Manager Toni Holness receives the hot lunchFeeding the four hundred is quite a task: there’s breakfast, a mid-morning snack, a two course freshly prepared hot lunch, afternoon snack and, for those still around, a tea of soup and sandwiches or wraps and fresh vegetable sticks – all with plenty of fresh fruit.
All the meat comes from Marlborough’s Sumbler Brothers – and they know precisely which farms have supplied every helping of meat. Fruit and fresh vegetables come from the ‘5adaybox’ specialists at Coate, near Devizes.
The day MNO was on hand to see the hot lunch arrive at the Minal nursery they were having roast pork, roast potatoes, fresh veg and gravy, followed by fresh melon. As the chef lifted a lid to check the temperature inside, the aroma was very appetising indeed.
Next day’s menu included jacket potato, cheddar cheese and baked beans with fresh bananas and hot custard. The following days’ main courses were savoury mince and fish fingers - ‘100 per cent cod’.
The Minal nursery is in a converted barn and has sheltered fresh-air areas and warm inside areas divided up to accommodate the various age groups – and there’s all manner of things to do and to play with. And plenty of hands-on staff.
Kate likes to recruit her staff locally. And she takes on a number of young trainees who do an NVQ equivalent course in conjunction with Swindon College with trainers and assessors coming to the students in their nurseries so they can earn a full week’s wage.
“To be able to offer a really good training in a village they’ve grown up in and know well – that is really important. And it’s important they’re coming out with a properly recognised qualification at the end of it.”
The nurseries also have a good relationship with St John’s Academy for work experience so students can see whether they went to start on a career in childcare.
The economics of childcare have been in the news recently as the coalition government tries to make childcare cheaper and so make it easier for people with small children to go back to work: “There are more and more people needing to go back to work – if a husband’s job is not so secure, wives need to go out to work.”
But the economics do not make it straightforward for those running nurseries: “Anyone who goes into childcare to make money is mad – we don’t do it for that, you have to have a passion for what you are doing.”
The main costs are rents, staff and food. But on top Kate has to pay business rates and they keep rising. Also rising are heating costs: “You can’t just turn the heating down and put another sweater on the children.”
There has to be constant reinvestment – toys and walls get a fearful battering from young ones trying out their skills and strengths.
The government plans to make childcare cheaper by relaxing the specified ratios of staff to children. “We don’t think,” Kate says, “it’s a good idea. We don’t think it will achieve their objective of cheaper childcare. Especially when safety of children is absolutely paramount – the more staff the better.”
“I don’t know anyone in the industry who thinks it will be best for the children.”
Certainly the government adviser, Professor Cathy Nutbrown agrees with Kate’s views. She has said the loosening of staff-to-child ratios is ‘nonsense’ and will only harm vulnerable children.
Sixpenny at AldbourneThe government responded to Prof Nutbrown by saying they had calculated that the change in ratios would enable nurseries to pay expert teachers £3,000 a year more, which is strange logic when you are trying to make childcare cheaper. It would have less impact on the children simply to reduce the business rates nurseries have to pay.
But enough of the politics. Back to the Sixpenny food regime: the day before MNO visited Minal Nursery the children had a lunch of ‘Fresh locally sourced beef and vegetable Bolognese with pasta’, with fruit and natural yoghurt to follow. A healthy foundation for an afternoon of constructive play and good fun.
|Sixpenny Nurseries were started in Aldbourne by Veronica Handover, wife of Richard Handover, then chairman of W.H.Smith. She lived in the village in Sixpenny Cottage and the nursery moved from her kitchen to the local Methodist Hall. When Kate Easter needed childcare for her own children, she took it over. She had previously worked in the sports and leisure industry – especially on children’s programmes and the provision of crèches. She moved the first Sixpenny to a converted barn and then opened the other branches – seeking out farmers who had to diversify and were eager to earn rent from redundant barns. The Minal barn conversion was opened in 2001. There are now Sixpenny Nurseries in Aldbourne, Minal and at the Roundway Hill Business Centre in Hopton, Devizes. And there’s the Stepping Stones nursery and Pre-Prep centre in Froxfield – also in converted barns. The nurseries are subject to unannounced inspections by Ofsted.
Click on pictures to enlarge them.
As part of a national campaign to support independent retailers, a number of Marlborough stores will be taking part in an Easter Egg hunt from Saturday until Sunday April 7.
Families with children can pick up a collection card from Ducklings Toy Shop in Hilliers Yard.
They will then be able to follow the map (see below) along the High Street to collect Easter Egg stickers.
Once the card is complete it can be returned to Ducklings Toy shop and exchanged for a free Easter Egg.
No purchases are necessary and the cards can be handed in any time over the two week of the Easter holidays.
All returned cards will also be entered into a prize draw for a further special prize.
“We always arrange activities and product testing sessions in the school holidays,” Ducklings’ Janice Pattison told Marlborough News Online.
“So getting involved in this national campaign seemed like a great way to extend this to work with other retailers in the town and have some fun.”
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His parents and grandparents before him were showmen. So it was natural that, aged 10, Billy Whitelegg learned how to fire a .22 rifle using live ammunition on his parent’s fairground shooting gallery.
Marlborough’s twice annual Mop Fairs became one of his favourite places as, over the years, he rose to be top gun of the of the Showman’s Guild, chief steward of the Marlborough event and national president of the organisation.
And yesterday (Wednesday), Billy, now 83, recalled those years roaming the towns of the West Country and beyond bringing the fun of the fair to families as Marlborough paid tribute to him.
A plaque in his honour, originally presented to him by Marlborough’s mayor, Edwina Fogg, at a Showman’s Guild lunch in February, was unveiled on the wall of Marlborough’s Conservative Club.
It has been a warm and welcome place for Billy to operate from during his visits to Marlborough, fellow showmen describing it as his office, the more so as he could look out of the window to keep a watchful eye on the family shooting gallery and all the fairground machines.
“It’s been a good life,” Billy, who lives with his wife Louise in Devizes, told Marlborough News Online. “I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been hard work, though we were brought up to get used to that.
“Louise and I consider Marlborough our second home. We love Marlborough and love coming here for the Marlborough Mops. I am the chief steward and everyone looks to me and my committee of good young showmen to keep it running.”
The Mop Fairs, an ancient tradition dating back to hiring fairs for indentured servants and labourers, were run by the local council until they were taken over by the Showman’s Guild in 1951, Billy being a steward from the start.
The plaque in his honour, which recognises his commitment to local charities, was unveiled from behind a huge Union Jack by Marlborough’s mayoral consort Nick Fogg.
He is himself twice Mayor of Marlborough and a honorary member of the Showman’s Guild, whose tie he wore for the occasion.
Members of Billy’s extended family stood in the bitter weather to watch the ceremony and to heard Councillor Fogg pay tribute to Billy.
“Billy has been the town’s ‘Mopmaster’ for many years, organising the ‘ground’ where his fellow showmen pitch their attractions,” he told Marlborough News Online. “We are proud to be associated with this honour to him.
“And it is a great honour for Marlborough too because Billy is such a wonderful friend to the town, organiser of the Mop fairs, which are always conducted immaculately and in raising funds for local charities.
“Unveiling the plaque to him is a significant moment because Billy is such a wonderful asset to Marlborough.”
Androulla DerbyshireForget the chocolate eggs and the hot cross buns. For the Greeks, these koulourakia cookies are a seasonal favourite, as cookery coach Androulla Derbyshire of Culinary Capers explains.
“These cookies are traditionally made for Easter. Two strands of dough are twisted together or formed into “s” shapes before being glazed with egg wash and baked. Flavoured with orange and vanilla they are lovely with a cup of coffee.”
Ingredients (makes 40 cookies)
8oz/200g butter – allowed to soften for about 2 hours at room temperature
8oz/200g caster sugar
4 whole eggs + 2 yolks
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
grated rind and juice of one orange
1oz/25g baking powder
2llbs/800g plain flour
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons of milk to glaze
Heat oven to 200◦ C/ gas mark 6
Cream the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer or hand held whisk until light and fluffy.
Beating continuously, add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition and then mix in the two egg yolks. Then add the vanilla extract and orange rind and juice.
Fit the mixer with a dough hook or use a wooden spoon gradually add the flour and baking powder.
Keep mixing until the mixture begins to form a soft dough.
The mixture should be soft but not sticky.
Using your hands break off pieces of the dough and roll into long thin sausage shapes about the thickness of a finger. Fold the sausage shape in half then twist the two ropes together or form the dough into “s” shapes.
koulourakiaPlace the cookies onto greased baking sheets. Glaze them with the egg/ milk mixture. Space them well apart as they will expand during cooking. Bake in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes until golden brown.
Marlborough-based Culinary Capers offers one-to-one coaching to people who'd like to learn to cook, or want to improve their skills. Unlike traditional cookery schools, Androulla visits the homes of clients to teach them cooking skills with their own equipment and based around their own dietary requirements and tastes.
For further information and more free recipes log on to www.culinarycapers.co.uk
Mayor Edwina FoggEdwina Fogg, Marlborough’s elegant Mayor during a highly successful royal diamond jubilee year, is standing down as a town councillor -- because she has been diagnosed as suffering from cancer.
The news was given to her on Thursday following tests for cells on her lung, which proved to be for a treatable form of cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“So it could be worse really,” 71-year-old Councillor Fogg told Marlborough News Online. “But it nevertheless came as a shock. What is really worse is breaking the news to your kids.”
She and her husband, twice Marlborough Mayor Nick Fogg, have six children, as well as numerous grandchildren, and are among Marlborough’s most prominent and active citizens.
“I'm to see a haematology consultant shortly and will begin chemotherapy sessions after Easter,” she said. “I hope to fulfil as many mayoral engagements as I can in the next few weeks.
“I'll probably lose my hair so I might get a red wig, I've always fancied being a redhead!”
But after six years as a town councillor – the normal four year period was extended to six years when Wiltshire Council was created as a unitary authority – Councillor Fogg will not contest the council elections in May.
“I can’t stand,” she explained. “I am going to have months of chemo so it won’t be possible. When I campaigned six years ago now I hand delivered leaflets and knocked on as many doors as I could. That’s the way I like to do it and obviously I can’t do that now.
“Lots of good things have happened during my year as Mayor and you have covered them all. I’ve got good memories of that and good print outs.”
She deliberately decided to announce her illness because “the Marlborough grape vine moves so fast,” Councillor Fogg explained.
“I want to tell people about it. If you are a public figure you just want to get it over with so that people need not worry about whether they can approach you.”