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DOCUMENT: Changes at the Marlborough Brandt Group - Dr Nick Maurice's report to the AGM

For those of our readers who could not be at the AGM and have a continued interest in - or concern for - MBG, we a publishing Dr Nick's Maurice's "Overview of 2016" - which he delivered at the AGM (Thursday, March 23).  Marlborough.News' report of the AGM can be read here. Dr Maurice's 'Overview' gives a great deal of context to the decisions that have been taken about MBG's future.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at yet another turning point in the history of the Marlborough Brandt Group. There have been many in the past!

I hope everyone has had an opportunity to read from cover to cover the very impressive annual report which, while not shying away from the difficulties that MBG has been facing, records yet again the extraordinary role the organisation has played in changing people’s lives, their attitudes, their self awareness and their self confidence as true global citizens.

This has happened as a result of the link programme of sending young people to live and work in Gunjur and as a result too of the extraordinary efforts of the Wiltshire Global Education Centre under Caroline Harmer with its impact in schools, its teachers study visits, the Arkleton trust funded programme of competitions to find ideas for business development in Gunjur and taking young people to Gunjur to share those ideas with young people there.

As Caroline rightly says in her report, there may never have been a more important time in our history when younger people who have developed a global perspective and international values through our work have mattered so much. And indeed I am sure it was brought home to everyone, following the ghastly events in Westminster on Wednesday (March 22), the contribution that we have made and must continue to make in bringing together people of different faiths and cultures to counter the inevitable Islamophobic backlash that there will now be.

Yet there have clearly been huge challenges for the MBG. We operate now in a totally different political, social and economic environment to that in which we lived when it all started 34 years ago.

As has been said many times before, the major challenge to what we stood for, namely mutual learning and understanding through exchange visits, has been completely undermined by the impossibility of getting visas for young Gambians to come to Marlborough, live, work and train with us as they used to do.

Gone are the days when groups of Gambians would regularly be seen walking down Marlborough High Street, chatting amiably with, initially somewhat surprised residents of the town, until Gambian friends became such a common feature of Marlborough life that the surprise turned to warm enquiries “How is Isatou who came last year and trained in early childhood education and ran the London Marathon in her hijab and how is Omar Darbo who trained at the Castle and Ball in Marlborough High Street, now running his own hotel?”

Gone are the days when the sending of groups and individual young people from our schools in Marlborough and more widely in Wiltshire was founded fundamentally on trust. Trust that they would have a great time, would be properly cared for in Gunjur and would come back changed for life.

Unfortunately, we now live in a risk averse society ruled by health and safety requirements, risk assessments etc and as far as my own personal view is concerned, for what it is worth, I believe we run the risk of never allowing our young to grow up understanding where the boundaries of behaviour and activity should lie because they have not been allowed to test those boundaries.

At this point I want to pay some tributes:

I must commend in particular and before anyone else Karen Bulsara, and I am sorry she is not with us this evening. On my standing down as the Director of MBG last February she was left, absolutely rightly by the trustees, with the unenviable task of unpacking MBG and its partners in The Gambia, looking at their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  

She did this through a process of consultation with as wide a variety of stakeholders as possible at both ends of the partnership (and this included several long meetings with me) and coming up with recommendations to be discussed with the trustees.

I believe she has done a remarkable and very difficult, but professional job. I use the word professional advisedly, as I believe that one of the fundamental problems that MBG has faced is that it has been always, not exclusively but to a large extent, dependent on huge numbers of volunteers, examples of whom are sitting in this room. They have given their time and energy to the organisation because of their belief in and, dare I say, love for what it has stood for and the impact that it has had on their lives.

Sadly, the world of truly voluntary organisations has changed and Karen, quite rightly brought the eye of the professional to MBG and uncovered several flaws, not least the major flaw of not having the right measures in place to send young people to The Gambia in safety. I hold up my hand and plead guilty! Karen deserves considerable praise for her objective assessment of MBG - inevitably not always getting the agreement of others.

I also want to pay tribute to the Trustees. I can’t think that any one of them, when persuaded to a large extent by me, to take on the role could have had an inkling of what they were letting themselves in for in terms of support for MBG, its staff and volunteers, as it went through this process of self examination. They again, absolutely properly under charitable law, had the unenviable task of taking the ultimate strategic decision of “whither MBG?'
 

I have had many conversations with individual trustees and I am perhaps as aware as anyone of the time and energy that they have put in, over the past year, giving support to the organisation but at the same time having to reach hugely difficult decisions.

It is perhaps invidious to pick our particular trustees, but I would like to pay tribute to Anna Quarendon who has steered the ship, albeit with help from others, while undergoing surgery.  Also to Theresa Ardley who has spent hours and days in the office seeing the organisation through its transition.    

If the Trustees had a difficult time, so inevitably did the office staff and the volunteers in particular - working initially during a difficult period of uncertainty and then having to cope with the decision to close the office down and lose their jobs.

It is hardly surprising that tensions have arisen and my sympathies go out to all those whose lives will have been upset by the decision. I hope that they can all move on and reflect back and congratulate themselves on everything that they have achieved, the lives that they have positively changed, and the contribution that they will have made to making the world a better place.

As Nikki Swan of the Arkleton Project said “If you could bottle what MBG has done and sprinkle it around, the world would be a better place”. If you look at what many of our volunteers of yester year have done with their lives, based on the opportunity and experience that MBG and our friends in Gunjur gave them, I would argue that a lot of sprinkling has and is being undertaken.

As many of you will know I am in the process of writing a book about the history of MBG and by going through records and being in touch with people who are generously making contributions to the book, I am perhaps more aware than anyone of the global sprinkling that has happened and is still happening.

Simon Chandler who came on the very first visit to Gunjur in 1985, is now working in Mexico and wrote recently: “Today I live on the US/Mexico border and have been involved in refugee/immigrant issues, lived without running water/electricity for four years in a squatter settlement in Mexico etc. I am currently a community organizer with the El Paso schools as well as running a non profit that does football with low income youths. The experience with MBG also set the tone for me to become more radicalized politically and become an activist as an adult”.

Miranda Armstrong is heading up UNICEF’s programme in Ivory Coast.  Sara Clancey who undertook her gap year in Gunjur in 1989, went on to work for the UN Development Programme in Vietnam, ran Oxfam’s programme in Mozambique and was then Director of Concern Universal in The Gambia.

Becky Polack who is now a community clinical psychologist and is training to work with a charity to try to improve the immigrant assessment experience and of course the remarkable work that Lilli Loveday and Alex Davies have done and are doing to make the world a safer place. I could give many other examples as I am sure Anita could.

Lest anyone should run away with the idea that the closure of the office means the closure of MBG I am thrilled that three extremely busy people, who will need lots of helping hands, have agreed in principle - if approved by you this evening - to take on the role of deciding the future direction of the organisation.  I want to pay tribute to Janneke, Lilli and Alex for offering to take on this role.

As you will know, Lilli is currently in Gunjur having conversations with a wide variety of people and assessing the future role for the partnership both in terms of its development programme and also sending young people to Gunjur.

There are already some very positive signs. Meetings have been held and a collaboration has already begun between MBG and Venture Force an organisation that oversees the training, logistical and administrative inputs required to send groups of young people on trips abroad.

Another much broader positive sign is of course the changed political atmosphere in The Gambia, the return to democracy, to a respect for human rights and above all the return of freedom of speech and trust between individuals. We will never know to what extent our efforts and those of TARUD [the Gambian NGO through which MBG does most of its development work] and the Gunjur Community Link were hampered in The Gambia by the Jammeh regime.  I have absolutely no doubt that the new regime will provide a much more positive environment in which we could and will be working.

I would also say that a lot of what we have done over the past 22 years of dictatorship has been a fine example of holding out the hand of friendship and solidarity to people in Gunjur as they have gone through such an awful period of history. I have heard people say, “At least our brothers and sisters in Marlborough continue to care about us”.

Three other positive signs are firstly, the excellent evaluation carried out by Sara Clancy of MBG's Gunjur Youth Development Programme.  This has shown that young people who have received loans are a) creating wealth, b) creating employment and c) repaying their loans at the appropriate time.

Likewise, the programme of sending students to the Gambian Technical Training Institute for training in everything from secretarial work, computer studies, plumbing, construction etc - as recorded by Darren Bew’s report in the annual report and in Sara’s evaluation - has been successful.  Although the proof of that pudding will be when we see how that training is converted into constructive and wealth creating employment.

Both the loans and the training aspects of the Gunjur Youth Development Programme we hope are making a contribution to dissuading young men in particular from taking the back way to Europe.  This is draining The Gambia of talent and adding to the huge problem of migration to Europe with as many as 15 per cent of arrivals in Lampedusa, Italy coming from The Gambia - the smallest African country.

Another very positive sign, has been the appointment, still to be ratified of, Baai Jabang as the new Director of TARUD, following the desperately sad death of Sandang who has been such a central figure in the partnership between our two communities.  In 1984 he was the very first Gambian to come to Marlborough and subsequently led TARUD as its Director for 12 years.

Baai Jabang comes from a background of working for a major NGO in The Gambia: Concern Universal (now renamed United Purpose.) He will bring to TARUD a professionalism, much experience and many contacts in the NGO world - all of which is much needed.

The final positive signal I wanted to draw attention to is a statement made by our Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel reported in the Guardian two weeks ago in which she said:

“Britain boasts an extraordinary number of small, grassroots charities who do amazing, often highly innovative work in the world’s poorest places. This government will continue to give all of you our strongest possible support. I want to harness your grassroots knowledge, local contacts and specialist expertise as we join forces in the battle against global poverty.”

"To empower these smaller charities, I will announce in the summer the launch of a new Small Charities Challenge Fund, aimed specifically at UK-registered organisations with an annual income of less than £250,000 - the first time that Dfid has dedicated funding purely to charities of this size."

“I believe smaller organisations are a crucial part of the Great British offer on international development. Your organisations are found in every corner of the UK, often run by volunteers and highly valued and trusted by your local communities. And it is often your organisations that make some of the most direct connections with the people we’re trying to help and those wanting to help them. You are highly effective at building trust with local communities and tailoring your specialist services around people’s actual day-to-day needs.”

I think we can all agree that she clearly had MBG in mind as she uttered these words!

Lilli returns from The Gambia in a few days time and we look forward to hearing her assessment of the situation there and I hope that everyone here subject to your approval will give her and Janneke and Alex every possible support, as I intend to do, as the new MBG moves forward.

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Explorer Scouts heading to Tanzania to celebrate centenary

Explorer ScoutsExplorer ScoutsFive young people from Marlborough are heading to one of the world’s largest – and poorest – countries to celebrate a century of Scouting there.

Henry Daubney, Jake Wren, Dan and Matthew Bonser, and Megan Hawkins are all Savernake Forest Explorer Scouts.

Next summer they will head to remote parts of Tanzania to help with vital infrastructure projects before getting together for a jamboree with local Scouts to celebrate 100 years of the Scouting movement in the east African republic.

But before they leave, each Scout has to raise a whopping £3,000. A 7,000km static bike ride, bag packing in local shops, and a bake sale has seen them reach the halfway point in their fundraising endeavours.

And yesterday (Wednesday) Marlborough and District Lions Club presented the Explorer Unit with £1,000 – £200 per Scout – to help them hit their target.

Sixteen-year-old Jake will be helping to build accommodation for doctors at a hospital built by a previous expedition.

“The hospital is in a very remote region, so the doctors have to live on site,” explained Jake.

Megan (15) – who will fly to Africa after completing her GCSEs at St John’s – will be helping to construct a medical centre in a different village. The roof and walls are already up, so Megan and her team mates will be tasked with installing doors and windows, and painting the facility.

Henry will be helping to construct a skills workshop to help young Tanzanians learn vital trade skills, while Dan will be creating a jamboree site on a hillside. “We’ll have four weeks to create a campsite for 100 Scouts from the UK and 100 from Tanzania,” he said.

Susan Lampard, president of Marlborough and District Lions, said: “This project appealed to us because we are supporting young local people in a project that will also benefit people in Africa.”

Anyone who wishes to support the Explorer Scouts can contact HCSC Tanzania Expedition ℅ 38 Manton Hollow, Marlborough SN8 1RR

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‘Lonely bouquets’ are a blooming good idea

Free Flower FridayFree Flower FridayYou may have heard of Free Art Friday, where artists leave works in random places for collectors to take home for without having to pay a penny for the privilege.

Well, now prepare yourself for Free Flower Friday. Flower arrangers from Burbage Flower Club are preparing little bunches of flowers which they're going to leave around the Marlborough area this Friday, May 1 for people to find.

The National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies is marking National Flower Arranging Day by leaving 60,000 'lonely bouquets' across the country.

Some will be in phone boxes, some on park benches, and others in various random locations.

Club chairman Julia Russett said: "It's a kind of goodwill gesture that involves leaving a bouquet in a public place to be picked up by an unsuspecting passerby.

"The motivation is to bring a smile to someone’s face and help spread happiness through flowers."

Last year the club left 13 bouquets for people to find. Anyone interested in joining the club can contact Julia on 01672 810829 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

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Star-studded Town Hall bash will celebrate 25 years of Splash

Bear GryllsBear GryllsLocal celebrities including TV adventurer and Chief Scout Bear Grylls will be at a star-studded event celebrating 25 years of Splash in October.

Splash Wiltshire - a charity supporting vulnerable young people in Wiltshire - is holding the event in October at Marlborough Town Hall on October 10. Grylls is a patron of the charity.

The event will be hosted by police chief constable Pat Geenty, and celebrity chef Peter Vaughan - who was this week named as a co-patron of the charity - will be serving up canapés foraged for by Splash young people from Savernake Forest.

Peter Vaughan with Peter DukePeter Vaughan with Peter DukePeter said: “I love this small charity that does such fantastic work with young people in Wiltshire who are facing challenges in their lives.

"I have seen first-hand the positive impact Splash projects have on building self esteem and confidence and equipping these young people with essential life skills.”

A grand auction will be conducted by Paul Martin on TV shows Flog It and The Manor Reborn, which saw him and co-host Penelope Keith give a facelift to rooms at historic Avebury Manor.

Tickets, priced £30, are available from 01380 734106 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Air Cadets seek fresh blood for aviation and adventure

Members of the Marlborough Air Cadets Squadron on a recent exerciseMembers of the Marlborough Air Cadets Squadron on a recent exerciseHigh-flying teenagers are being recruited to join Marlborough's Air Cadets Squadron.

The organisation is inviting youngsters between 13 - or nearing their 13th birthday - and 18 to visit an open evening at the Cadet Centre, London Road from 7.30 to 9.30pm to find out more about the sqaudron and its activites. 

Flying and gliding, target rifle and clay shooting, visits to RAF stations and access to air shows, and military-style excercises are among the pursuits enjoyed by members.

For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/2293MarlboroughAirCadets

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Exclusive club opens doors to a whopping 15 sets of twins

Members of Marlborough MultiplesMembers of Marlborough MultiplesA very exclusive club has just opened its doors. There's no dress code, and no expensive membership fee, but mums who want to join have to bring a set of twins, triplets or quadruplets with them. 

Marlborough Multiples relaunched three months ago after declining numbers led to the demise of its predecessor.

And it must be something in the water, but the club now hosts up to 15 sets of twins, along with delighted but exhausted mums, and is looking forward to welcoming its first set of triplets.

Amber Carling – mum to three-year-olds Martha and Rose – was one of the mums who relaunched the club, after becoming a member of a similar group when her family lived in London.

“It was eye-opening,” she said. “I met other mums going through the same things I was. The logistics of having twins – especially when it comes to feeding – makes motherhood seem a million times harder than just having one.” 

The club was relaunched at the Sure Start Children's Centre in Marlborough, but soon outgrew the premises. Now, mums meet once a fortnight at the Coronation Hall at East Grafton to socialise, share concerns, and suggest solutions.

East Grafton playgroup lend the club their toys, and cost of hall hire is supported by the Marlborough branch of the National Childbirth Trust.

Emily Heaver, from Great Bedwyn, is the mother of the exclusive club's youngest members: five-month-old Bramley, a boy, and his sister Clementine. They were her first children. 

“They're non-identical, which means they develop and learn at a different pace, and that's a real challenge,” said Emily. “Clementine needs a lot of stimulation. Luckily, Bramley is happy to entertain himself.”

Picking both babies up, especially for feeding, is the toughest part of bringing up twins, says Emily, a view shared by Saskia Rogerson, from Marlborough, whose non-identical twins Seraphine and Scarlett were born in November.

“It's easy to feel like you're short-changing one while you're paying attention to the other,” she said. “And it's getting more difficult as they get bigger: it's doing my back in!”

Rachel Eke's twins, Tom and Jessica, are preparing to celebrate their first birthdays on Saturday. Unlike Emily and Saskia, Rachel, from Marlborough, already had a three-year-old, Jemma, when she discovered she was pregnant with twins.

“It was a big shock when we found out,” said Rachel. “We just wanted a second to make the family complete, but now it would feel unfinished without the twins.

“It was really hard to have newborn twins and a three-year-old. I couldn't just collapse on the sofa with exhaustion, because I had Jemma to look after. But actually, Jemma has kept me going.

“Having two babies is definitely much harder than having one. Cooking, cleaning, washing, feeding: everything becomes a lot more difficult.”

Yet despite the challenges of having twins, there's something on which all the mums agree: it's fun, rewarding, and – with multiple births running at just 1.5 percent in the UK – they are members of a very exclusive club.

For more information about Marlborough Multiples, contact Amber on 07967 835831 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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“Lady Thatcher and the reporter”: Elinor Goodman’s stories on sale - for charity

Matt, Badger and Elinor - on a fine dayMatt, Badger and Elinor - on a fine dayElinor Goodman, former Financial Times Parliamentary reporter and Political Editor of Channel 4 News, is launching a fund raising campaign for Marlborough Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).  She wants organisations and companies to hire her to give talks on her experiences – with fees great and small going to the charity.

Elinor who lives near Marlborough at Wilton, is Chair of the local RDA. She says that raising funds is getting harder and harder and that as expenses rise funds are needed more and more.  The RDA relies on the generosity of local horse owners and of Ken and Jilly Carter of Manton.

The owners bring their horses by horsebox to the Carter’s excellent indoor riding school and children from local schools get to ride the horses both in the covered school and, when it’s not raining, outside.  But local authorities and schools are feeling the pinch so much that some cannot afford the transport or afford to spare a teacher to oversee the special needs children.

Sometimes children need three helpers – one each side of the horse and one leading it.  Riding offers a unique form of therapy for the young with many levels of special needs.

During a day they will give one hour sessions to thirty-two riders – each of the eight horses and ponies doing two rides.  The day Marlborough News Online was there Matt from Pewsey was riding Elinor’s own horse, Badger.

Elinor, Babdger and MattElinor, Babdger and MattMatt was simply bursting with enthusiasm at the opportunities RDA gives him: “This opens up a whole world you didn’t know existed. There’s nothing bad I can say about riding.” There were lots of helpers there that day including four girls, all students from Marlborough College.

Elinor hopes voluntary groups will collect £200 from their members to hear her talk on her years reporting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – complete with behind the scenes disasters and triumphs. Or talk about Prime Minister John Major’s reaction to a pretty fierce press – and some scurrilous cartoons.

Elinor has a great deal of experience in the problems and politics (with both a small and large ‘p’) of rural life – she chaired the last government’s Rural Housing Commission, and later served six years as a Commissioner on the Commission for Rural Communities (which this government abolished and which closes on March 31.)

More recently Elinor has been one of the panel of six Assessors assisting Lord Justice Leveson during the inquiry into the ‘Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press’.Good exercise for allGood exercise for all  

Higher up the pay scale from voluntary groups, companies needing a speaker for their annual staff dinner might pay as much as £500 – all going to a charity that really does make a difference.

Help to make that difference has just come from Bedwyn's pantomime team who have given the Marlborough RDA £1,000 from the proceeds of their recent show. "It was", says Elinor, "a wonderful surprise and extremely generous."

There’s more information on Marlborough RDA’s Facebook page.



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