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All that jazz in Marlborough helps to beat the recession blues

Yolanda Brown, appearing at the Jazz Festival

Recession or not, Marlborough’s International Jazz Festival is already providing evidence that in tough times people want to forget their troubles and enjoy themselves – even listening to the blues.

The weekend July event, selected by the Sunday Times as one of the five best festivals in Britain, has lost only one of its sponsors due to the economic downturn. “But we’ve actually gained three considerable new ones,” revealed Nick Fogg, founder and organiser of the festival.

“I had been thinking that it would be an achievement to get even close to last year’s sponsorship figure. But we’re up on that figure, not by megabucks but enough to give us a sponsorship income of £80,000.”

That is almost half of the £180,000 cost of the festival, whose main sponsors are the Marlborough-based financial investment firm of Brewin Dolphin, whom former Marlborough mayor Mr Fogg describes as “one of our most loyal supporters.”

And he added: “When the Sunday Times picked us out a few years back, it was absolutely fascinating to know that our ticket prices were about a third or a quarter of the other four festivals. So we are really value for money.

“We’re not totally recession proof but we’ve certainly not been torpedoed by the recession so far. We are already getting loads of inquiries and selling tickets before we have even officially launched the festival.”

But while ticket prices have been pegged for the past three years, they have gone up this time. “We had to,” explained Mr Fogg. “But you can still see the whole weekend for £60 and the highest price of £25 for a stroller ticket to see all the events on the Saturday.”

Surprisingly, Mr Fogg is not a born jazz lover, having originally launched  a general music festival in 1986, during his first term as Mayor, only to discover that promoting classical music events was the surest way to lose money.

“Opera is even a safer bet,” he recalled.  “It became obvious that a jazz festival fitted best into the topography of the town. And the jazz festival has grown by a process of evolution over the past 12 years. This year’s will hopefully be the biggest ever.”

One of the major attractions among a galaxy of international performers will be 37-year-old Clare Teal, Britain’s top jazz singer. She is the only jazz artist in recent times to have had a CD in the Top Twenty and twice been winner of the Singer of the Year prize at the British Jazz Awards.

Also on the bill is the American pianist Darius Brubeck and his trio and Frances Ruffelle, the Tony award winning star of Les Miserables, will be there with her septet, along with saxophonist Yolanda Brown, twice winner of the prestigious MOBO award.

And it is a truly international affair, the jazz performers coming from no fewer than 24 different countries, ranging from Argentina, Chile and Italy to Russia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The festival dates are July 15, 16 and 17. For full details of the programme – and tickets – see Marlborough Jazz Festival website.

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An historic moment to celebrate Marlborough’s jewel in the High Street

Sir John Sykes, Chairman, The Merchant's House

The Merchant’s House, for 350 years the surviving jewel in Marlborough’s High Street, has opened its doors to visitors for the new season – and with new determination, writes Jeffrey Galvin-Wright.

This year, the charitable trust which runs the magnificent property, celebrates its 20th anniversary since its formation in 1991, a vital moment for optimism for the future says its chairman, Sir John Sykes.

Following an initiative from locally born and bred Michael Gray, now the historical adviser to the trust, it was the far-sighted decision of Marlborough Town Council to purchase The Merchant’s House for the town from WH Smith, for £335,000 in 1991.

That enabled the trust to be set up under the chairmanship of Sir John Sykes, with the objective of raising the funds necessary to restore the property and open it to the public.   

Since then the passionate efforts of Sir John and his team to save the house for posterity have raised nearly £1 million through grants, donations and fund-raising events.   The unplanned, but very welcome grant from the late Kennet District Council in 2009, cleared the trust’s outstanding mortgage and confirmed its economic viability.   

What has been achieved in the refurbishment of the iconic 17th century house, rebuilt by Thomas Bayly, a prosperous Marlborough silk merchant, after the Great Fire in 1653, has been truly amazing.   

During the conservation work, unique wall paintings were discovered, both on the staircase and on the walls of the dining room, and most recently during the restoration of the bedroom over the kitchen.   

Painstakingly restored by experts, these unique striped wall paintings enhance this visitor attraction, one which features in Simon Jenkins’s book England’s Thousand Best Houses.

Earlier years have seen refurbishment of the shop, main staircase, cellars, grand panelled room, dining room and Thomas Bayly’s study, but more recently the trust has been able to afford to carry out work on the servant’s garrets, the kitchen chamber, and repairs to the servant’s staircase, as well as purchasing a 17th century dining table and other appropriate furnishings.   

More restoration work is planned as and when funds become available.

The trust relies on more than one hundred volunteers to keep The Merchant’s House running smoothly.   In total, they donate  240 hours of voluntary effort each week, serving in the shop, giving conducted tours of the house, organising events, costume making, working on the turkeywork dining chairs project, restoration work and maintenance in the garden.   

The trust houses a comprehensive library specialising in local history, 17th century history, craftsmanship history and a growing archive of items relating to Marlborough over the centuries.   

Many volunteers are also Friends of The Merchant’s House.   The ‘Friends’ is a large and committed group, around 400 strong, which supports the work of the trust and in return receives membership benefits.

Behind the house, a 17th century style garden has been constructed.   The design, construction and planting have been carefully researched, so that the garden is as accurate as possible to the style of a formal yet utilitarian town-house garden which would have existed in the mid to late 17th century, belonging to a Puritan family.

Sir John says: “ The project continues to challenge and enthuse everyone involved in it as well as our visitors.   We enter 2011 with optimism and in good shape but local support remains vital.   

“Not only are we restoring and furnishing the building to an exceptional standard, but the many ways in which we use the house are playing a major part in enhancing the cultural and educational life of the town, and making it a must-visit tourist attraction”.

The Merchant’s House and the garden is now open to visitors until the end of October on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am-4pm.   Entrance is £5 for adults.   Under 16s £1.    Or why not visit the house on its free open day -- on Saturday 21 May.   

More information on our web site www.themerchantshouse.co.uk

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They call it ‘localism’, but just how local is localism going to be?

In days gone by the word ‘local’ had either a positive meaning – as in ‘pub’ – or a negative meaning – as in the anaesthetic you’d rather not have. Now it’s become another ‘ism’.

Localism is the cornerstone of the coalition government’s decentralisation policies and it’s the name of a parliamentary Bill (all 400 and more pages of it) that’ll become law by the end of the year.

As with many ‘isms’, localism has been more rhetoric than reality, so it was to explain what the Localism Bill will mean for the Marlborough Community Area that two senior Wiltshire Council officers brought their road show to the Town Hall last week for a seminar chaired by councillor Nick Fogg.

Broadly speaking the Bill will bring new freedoms to local government, give local communities new powers and local people more of a say, and change the way new housing is planned.

Steve Milton, the council’s head of community governance, explained how the new policy would give communities the right to buy their local pub or shop if it closed and might become a private house. And a community will be able to take over some services – litter picking for instance – from the authority higher up the chain of command.

One example that has already happened is Pewsey taking over its car parks. But that was pretty simple because the parking was free. When Marlborough Council tries to take over the town’s paid-for parking from Wiltshire Council it will get very complex indeed. Unpicking the intricate web of unitary, town and parish councils is not a simple matter.

Wiltshire Council are taking this policy very seriously. Over the next four years they have committed £3.2 million more to the area boards, in addition to the £10 million already allocated. But the full details of how the policy will be implemented won’t be clear until the Bill becomes law.

Joan Davies, who chairs Savernake Parish Council, raised the vital matter of scale. How would Savernake with a population of about 200 spread over a wide area and without any village focus, manage to take part or afford to draw up its own neighbourhood plan?

Wiltshire Council’s Alistair Cunningham said there was no chance of redrawing parish boundaries, but parishes might be able to join into clusters. Quite how that could work financially, democratically or legally was not addressed.

One of the most contentious parts of localism will be changes to the planning laws. These were supposed to give the final say to local communities. But after the coalition government’s budget last month, a ministerial edict rules that the necessity for economic growth must trump local decisions on planning applications.

It looks as though the Treasury’s big stick is about to knock a hole through the Localism Bill.

After the meeting, Councillor Fogg told Marlborough News Online: “The Localism Bill is as much rhetoric as matter as far as I can deduce. What emerged from the meeting was that not all that much is going to change.”

“I don’t think it is going to make a lot of difference when it comes to local councils like Marlborough taking over pubs, shops, this kind of thing… .It is disappointing. There is a lot of rhetoric attached to this government, which I had high hopes for but they are slightly being dashed.

Watch this space as Marlborough News Online follows how our area fares under this new policy – and see whether Councillor Fogg’s judgment is right.

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Royal Friday will be a day to help others at Kate’s old college

Marlborough College has dubbed it Royal Friday, the day when its students play their direct part in celebrating the wedding of former student Kate Middleton to the handsome heir to the throne.

It is deliberately building upon the remarkable success of last year’s Super Sunday, which raised more than £5,000 for charities through pupil-led initiatives and activities staged within the College.

Super Sunday, which was held in April 2010, was inspired by the memory of St John’s School educated College teacher Rupert Rosedale, 37, who was killed in an avalanche on Ben Nevis last New Year’s Eve.

The College thought it fitting to combine Marlborough’s charity event with the royal wedding, the funds this time being divided between the Kempson-Rosedale Trust, which supports enterprise projects at the College, El Roi, a primary school in Kenya, SKRUM, a charity aiding children in Swaziland, and another, Hope and Homes for Children, whose work is directed to Central and Eastern Europe, as well as parts of Africa.

Headmaster Nicholas Sampson explained: “We see the principle of service as being the link between these two events and, therefore, we are seeking to celebrate the College’s strong interest in, and connection to, the royal wedding through a series of enjoyable but valuable pupil-driven initiatives.

“It should be a great and memorable day”.

Lessons will cease mid morning and pupils will be free to watch the royal wedding on TV among their friends in their individual boarding houses.
Then they will be invited to a special Royal Lunch in the school’s dining hall, ahead of a rich and varied programme of fundraising in the afternoon.

Royal Friday has been led and organised by the College’s Charity Think Tank – a group of eight Upper Sixth students, who work together to co-ordinate and plan the College’s charity events.

The main focus of the day will be a Royal Fete within the College’s famous and picturesque Court, an event that will be opened by the College’s own Brass Quintet playing the national anthem.

There will be stalls in the marquee, live music, Morris dancers, personal caricatures and a penalty shoot-out competition, donated by Swindon Town FC, among other activities.

The events will not be open to members of the public but staff families and members of the wider Marlborough Town community, whom pupils have contact with through the College’s Social Service Programme, are being invited and encouraged to attend.

Around the College campus there will be cricket, croquet, football and volleyball tournaments, a triathlon, a climbing wall challenge and a film competition.

Royal Friday will be rounded off by a special “Illumination” performance in the evening, when pupils will showcase their own musical and dramatic talents on the stage of the Memorial Hall.

Ottilie Macpherson, head of the Charity Think Tank and an upper sixth form student, said: “Royal Friday will be a wonderful celebration and a great opportunity for everyone to get together on behalf of some really important causes.”

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