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High Street eating: The Wellington Arms has reopened - for pie and a pint and much more

Szymon…and sample pieSzymon…and sample pieThe Wellington Arms, Marlborough’s historic pub, built on the site where the great fire of Marlborough started on April 28, 1653 and named after the Duke of Wellington who stayed the night there in 1836, has reopened after a complete refurbishment.

With an extended dining area which spills out into a sunny courtyard, the pub serves food all day and up to an hour before closing (Monday to Thursday 11-11, Friday/Saturday 11-12 and Sunday 11 to 10.30.)

The new menu includes award-winning pies from Pieminister which are made exclusively from responsibly sourced ingredients including free range British meat and seasonal vegetables.  

Szymon Kocjanwicz, the new manager, told Marlborough.News: “The product speaks for itself. I have visited the factory and it looked just like my grandmother’s kitchen – hearty portions, traditional. The feedback from our customers has been excellent.”

Pies on offer include Moo with British beef steak and ale or Meatador with beef steak, chorizo, olives and butter beans or Heidi with Somerset goats’ cheese, sweet potato, spinach and red onion and even Saag Pie-Neer with peas, paneer, spinach, potato, chilli and mango.

Pies without pastry include Captain Nemo (hake, salmon, pollock and prawns with a cheesy mash topping), Moo & Brew (slow-cooked beef steak with ale and a mash top), and Holy Macaroni (wild British venison and scotch bonnet chilli with macaroni cheese).
All pies are served with sides of mash, minty peas and red wine and onion gravy. Experimental diners can add jalapenõs, PM No.10 Chutney, macaroni cheese and spiced cabbage - perhaps not all at once.

The Wellington offers cask ales and keg beers including Caledonian Deuchars IPA, Sharps Doom Bar Amber Ale, and Sambrook’s Wandle as well as the local Ramsbury Gold. There is  an extensive gin menu including Broker’s, Langley’s and Sipsmith with selected Fever Tree tonics. There are plenty of wines to choose from and Kimbo Italian coffee.

Manager, Szymon Kocjanwicz, has moved to Marlborough from Salisbury and after 14 years working in London:  “It’s beautiful around here. I grew up in the countryside in Poland so I love it here.”

He believes The Wellington Arms is all about “...keeping tradition with a modern twist. We can offer Marlborough something a bit different.”  

And he is keen that the pub is dog and family friendly. In fact there's a jar of dog biscuits on the counter!

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NHS funding crisis: Wiltshire's part in plan to balance Department of Health's end of year accounts

Squaring the circle of the NHS' financial position at the end of the financial year 2016-2017 is proving a complex process - one that changes almost daily and which calls for the proverbial wet towel around the head and a strong cup of coffee.

We will not be encouraged to show any surprise at all when Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) - which buys primary (GPs etc) and secondary (hospitals etc) health care for all the county's residents - ends the year with a 'surplus' that runs into eight figures.  It will be in excess of ten million unspent pounds.

The previous financial year (2015-2016) ended badly with the Department of Health overshooting its total resources.  Balancing the Department's books is done by setting those parts of the NHS that are underspent (NHS England's budget and most of the CCGs) against those parts that are overspent (mainly hospitals.)

If the whole system has overspent its agreed financial resources then Jeremy Hunt has to explain himself to the Treasury - and the NHS may simply get less the following year.

This financial year the NHS' finances have been stretched every which way.  Basically the hospitals are, as the providers of acute health care, deeply in deficit for 2016-2017 and the commissioners (the CCGs) who buy services from them (and from others) are largely in surplus.  That, anyway, was how it looked at the end of the third quarter of the financial year.

So what is this £10m to be left as a surplus on Wiltshire CCG's annual accounts?

Over £5m of it is the one per cent all CCGs have to put by as a 'surplus' - which is returned to them for use the following year.  The second £5m-plus is being used as a new way to try and balance the Department of health's books for 2016-2017.

Without getting into all the figures, each year the CCGs have to keep back another one per cent of their resources - known as 'headroom'.  This money is held to spend during the year on redesign and transformation costs for local services.  

Sensing the financial problems to come, for 2016-2017 the CCGs were required to hold back this one per cent as a 'risk reserve' for the NHS as a whole.  It could only be spent with Treasury permission.  Across England this 'reserve' adds up to about £800m - which would go part of the way to making up the hospitals' deficits.  

Now CCGs have all been told to add this money to their bottom line - making many CCGs' surpluses look alarmingly healthy.  How does this help the NHS as a whole?

Wiltshire CGG's Chief Financial Officer, Steve Perkins, explains: "Within all the available resources, there are differing pressures between the providers and the commissioners. This money on our bottom line is in the system - with providers in deficit and commissioners in surplus - this money will balance the books."

That was then.  And then was the beginning of last week.  Since then new figures have emerged for February which make the challenge of balancing those books look harder still.  And there is now only one month left to get things back on track.

Many of the CCG cavalry that had been riding to the rescue of the NHS accountants clutching their underspends, have suddenly gone lame.  

As the Health Service Journal reported: "The figures released today (March 30) show that the financial position of the CCGs has worsened by £180m - nearly 50 per cent - in just two months, with approximately a third of groups predicting an overspend at the end of February."  (Wiltshire CCG is not among those predicting an end of year deficit.)

Now it looks as though all the CCGs' £800m-that's-not-allowed-to-be-spent may only just bridge the gap.  It is going to be a very close run thing - or as NHS England's finance director put it: "tantalisingly close".  

Unless the March figures show some serious depletion of funds following February's very high demands for treatment, the result across the whole NHS system could show it is in the black by £34m.  Not at all bad out of a total 2016-2017 NHS budget of £120 billion.

The NHS has reached a financial 'precipice' point just as it is about to plunge over the Brexit precipice.  As we have reported, the already perilous staffing crisis is threatened with a catastrophic departure of EU clinical and care workers.  

And talking of Brexit, that £34m figure is, of course, less than 10 per cent of the post Brexit bonanza the NHS was to expect once we have left the EU - remember the 'Vote Leave' bus and its extra £350m a week for the NHS?

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A Shepherds Hut - a traditional local and desirable addition to any garden

Shepherds Hut restored by John ErringtonShepherds Hut restored by John ErringtonOnce a relic rotting on the Downs, made redundant as mechanised farming techniques began to invade the traditional lifestyle of the sheep herder on Wiltshire’s rambling grasslands, and shepherds found that Land Rovers, other 4x4s and Quad Bikes meant that they didn’t have to live out with their sheep, a restored shepherd’s hut is rapidly becoming a desirable addition to a garden, as a summerhouse, garden office or even as ‘glamping’ accommodation.

John Errington, a retired farm manager from Wanborough was aware of many of these sad once-proud mobile homes and made a decision to bring them back to a condition which far exceeded that of the original which once graced the Downs as accommodation for the Wiltshire shepherd.

The earliest shepherd’s huts can be traced back to around the fifteenth century. Sheep were very valuable and provided one of the main sources of income in those days. These first shepherds huts would have been very basic covered carts.

Gradually the sophistication developed, incorporating seating, bedding and a stove for warmth, but still pretty rudimentary although a welcome haven for the shepherd looking after the flock grazing on the vast expanses of Wiltshire’s Downs far away from the farm or nearest village.

John’s restored huts date back to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

Most huts were made locally to their use and although all huts were basically the same, individual variations did occur. These are mainly where the door is situated. some at the front and some at the back. Window placement also varies depending on who made the hut or the purchasing shepherd’s requirements. The major differences were in appearance with some constructed from corrugated iron whilst others were clad in wooden boards.

All of John’s restored huts will be in pristine condition with all major components replaced or restored to a standard better than they were when new. An example is one hut recovered from just outside Salisbury which was in very poor condition when found. Over the years the wooden part of the axles had rotted away and had been replaced with railway sleepers (not mobile an more). New oak axles were the first step in the restoration, followed by a new floor, whilst the inside sides and ceiling were able to be recovered and restored as was the structural frame and floor supports.

A new stove was fitted to the restored hut which was insulated thoroughly as part of the process of bringing it back to life, and it now features a drop down table, two windows (with curtains) and a day seat which converts to a bed.

John can provide a restored hut to order. Some he can source and restore to the specification of the news owner, some can be purchased in an already-restored state, or some can be supplied in an unrestored state for John to bring back into a desirable and usable condition.

Or, if you already have a Shepherds Hut that is in poor or original condition and in need of restoration, get in touch with John as he will be able to transform it to whatever condition and or design that you may wish.

One of John's restored Huts is now sited at the Three Trees Farm Shop & Cafe, on the A346 at Chiseldon.

John can be contacted on: 07530 395152  or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dining areaDining areaSeat that converts to a bedSeat that converts to a bedWood stove for heating and cookingWood stove for heating and cookingRestored but original wheelsRestored but original wheels

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Work of 80 artists goes on show ahead of Open Studios summer trail

MoS Preview Show 2017MoS Preview Show 2017The work of 80 Marlborough area artists will go on show at the Mount House Gallery next month ahead of the famous Open Studios trail in July.

The Preview Show - now an annual event in its own right - gives art-lovers the chance to see works by a range of locally-, nationally- and internationally-renowned artists, in media ranging from oils and watercolours to pottery, ceramics, photography, and calligraphy.

The exhibition will be open to the public between 10am and 5pm from Friday, April 21 to Friday, April 28.

The Open Studios trail returns for four weekend runs on July 1 to 2, 8 to 9, 15 to 16, and 22 to 23.

For full details visit


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Friends set up business recording precious life memories

Lissa Gibbins and Helen SheehanLissa Gibbins and Helen SheehanA new businesses established by a pair of writers and proofreaders sees the life story of clients turned into a printed and bound biography.

Great Bedwyn-based Lissa Gibbins and Helen Sheehan formed Aide Memoire to record the memories of older people for future generations.

Once written, memoirs can be illustrated with photographs, maps, and family trees.

The aim for each of the memoirs written by Aide Memoire is for the voice of the client to shine through their book.

Already they are picking up commissions locally, and further afield.

“Clients want to record their memoirs for all sorts of reasons but, for the most part, the key driver is a desire to pass something meaningful on to their children,” said Lissa.

“This desire goes both ways. We have often found that it is the children’s love of their parents’ stories that inspires them to seek the help of Aide Memoire.”

Through a series of weekly or fortnightly interviews Lissa and Helen record and then write up the stories.

These interviews – lasting a maximum of two hours at a time – generally take place in the client’s own home, and always somewhere that is relaxed and comfortable.

And to record the interviews, the authors have an ingenious tool at their disposal: a recording pen and notebook system that allows the interviewer also uses it to jot down key words, while recording a full transcript of the conversation.

They call it The Magic Pen.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the interviewee to talk about their past, their personal stories and the events that define them,” said Helen.

“Our clients universally enjoy this part of the memoir process, finding it both cathartic and invigorating.”

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Kids let Let It Go go as songs from the movies come to the stage

Rehearsals for the Marlborough Dance Festival finaleRehearsals for the Marlborough Dance Festival finaleThe theme of this year’s Marlborough Dance Festival was songs from film and TV - but to the blessed relief of parents there was no Let It Go from the Disney's ubiquitous hit Frozen.

Instead, 16 dance troupes from 13 schools took the audience at Theatre on the Hill through two 90-minute performances of history of Hollywood, from Calamity Jane and Half a Sixpence to Harry Potter and 2016’s hit animation Sing on Saturday.

After a cockney knees-up from Chilton Foliat’s Consider Yourself, from Oliver!, the audience were treated to a dance by the youngest performers, as Marlborough St Mary’s infants interpreted Tommy Steele’s Flash, Bang, Wallop from Half a Sixpence, featuring a bunch of cheeky jokes they won’t understand until they’re much older.

Easton Royal donned checked shirts and cowboy boots for the theme from Footloose, and there was more of the same from St Katharine’s, who performed The Deadwood Stage from Calamity Jane.

Oare Primary urged the audience to Rock Around the Clock, while Ogbourne Primary went Ghostbusting, with some very scary makeup, and Burbage Primary took us Singin’ in the Rain.

Great Bedwyn brought the theme from Fame back to the St John’s stage, and Shalbourne Primary School channelled Bollywood for Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire.

There was plenty of animal print for Aldbourne Lower School’s Lion King medley, and Preshute Primary turned 21 dancers into a dragon for Something Wild from the 2016 reboot of Pete’s Dragon.

Marlborough St Mary’s juniors gave us one of two interpretations of the Harry Potter theme. Year 9 girls from St John’s also chose the franchise for their ribbon-twirling performance inspired by The Quidditch Match, while St John’s Marlborough boys performed zombie-inspired breakdance to a pounding dance beat.

Full marks to the youngster from Baydon Primary School, who introduced the flamenco Malagueña Salerosa from Kill Bill Vol 2 in Spanish, and to Aldbourne Upper School, who incorporated basketball dribbling into their baller and cheerleader inspired medley from High School Musical.

Finally the entire cast of more than 200 boys and girls joined together to perform Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande’s Faith from last year’s Sing – a routine they’d only had a couple of hours to practise.

Six weeks of rehearsals paid off for all the performers who, when they weren’t on stage, were clapping and toe-tapping along to the routines of the other schools. And there wasn’t an Anna or a Queen Elsa in sight.

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Elliot Lassiter - future Triathalon star awarded Wiltshire Council Grant

Elliot Lassiter representing GB in Aviles, Spain last summerElliot Lassiter representing GB in Aviles, Spain last summerElliot Lassiter (18) a member of Marlborough and District Junior Athletics Club (MADJA) and the South West Triathlon Academy was presented with a Sports Scholarship Grant of £500 by Baroness Scott of Bybrook OBE, leader of Wiltshire Council in a special ceremony at County Hall, Trowbridge on February 23.

Baroness Scott said, “We are committed to supporting our rising sports stars and we know that these grants make a huge difference helping with their development and providing much needed financial support for competitions, events and training camps.”

Elliot finished third in his category in the Duathlon World Championships in Aviles, Spain in June 2016.  This year he aims to qualify for the Elite European Cup Series (a series of races in different European venues). If he finishes in the top eight in the Sospan Sprint Triathlon in Llanelli on May 13 he will represent Great Britain in the Series.

“It will be very difficult because there will be two Olympic development athletes (athletes who are likely to represent GB in the next Olympics) competing against me”  he said.   Elliot’s long term aim is to compete in the 2024 Olympics, but in the immediate future he has embarked on a rigorous training schedule which gives equal weight to the three Triathlon disciplines : swimming, cycling and running.  Usually a triathlon is composed of a 800m swim, followed by a 20km cycle and a 5km run.

Elliot Lassiter on the bikeElliot Lassiter on the bikeHe completes at least twenty hours of training a week, often swimming before school (he is a student at Dauntsey’s).  In the winter he uses the turbo bike indoors but in summer he can be found cycling a 65 mile circuit from his home in Lockeridge as well as training on the Marlborough College track.

It all started when he was eight years old and his mother persuaded him to enter a Duathlon at Throxham which he won.  Elliot is also convinced that his competitive streak has been developed by his older brother, Adam.  “I’ve always been trying to beat him!”  Juggling revising for his A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Maths as well as preparing for triathlons is tough.  Elliot says he is very grateful for the support of his parents to keep organised and on top of things.

In September he hopes to study Human Physiology at the University of Leeds and to make full use of the University’s excellent athletic facilities.  Elliot told that he is passionate about Triathlon because,  “I like all three disciplines and I like having to push myself until you reach the point where you feel like you’re hurting but you know you can keep pushing harder, go through the pain and get to the line and win.”

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A Wiltshire GP practice disappears as staff shortages hit NHS and social services

On Wednesday (March 29) the Prime Minister will trigger Britain's departure from the European Union.  This will undoubtedly leave the estimated 57,000 EU nationals who work in the NHS feeling even more unsettled and anxious than they have been since June.

We know that Brexit is already having an impact on the NHS.  During 2016 2,700 EU nurses left the NHS - compared to the 1,600 EU nurses who left in 2014.  And only 96 nurses joined the NHS from other EU countries in December 2016 - compared to 1,304 who joined last July.

A morning spent at the Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) board meeting offers ample evidence of the way the NHS is already, in pre-Brexit times, struggling with recruitment - and the shortage of staff is also hitting social care which in turn affects the NHS.

1)   It was the impossibility of recruiting two GPs to the Marlborough and Pewsey GP surgeries that has caused their merger.  Now, "due to unforeseen GP shortages",  the Smallbrook surgery based in the Warminster Community Hospital has collapsed - leaving its 4,300 patients unsettled and anxious.

This surgery - which in December had been rated 'Good' by the regulator - lost one GP to maternity leave and then two partners suddenly left.  Recruiting one doctor  - let alone three doctors - in a hurry proved, understandably, impossible.  The surgery has now been 'integrated' - temporarily? - with the Westbury Group Practice.   

Smallbrook is still open for three hours a day with priority for appointments given to those who cannot travel to Westbury. The CCG are working on more permanent plans to make sure those 4,300 people have a full and local GP service.

2)  The Avon and Wiltshire Partnership (AWP), which provides the county's adult mental health services, shows a scary example of the endemic recruitment shortfall.  Their teams in Wiltshire have 117 vacancies - a vacancy rate of about 22 per cent.

3)  There was some wry laughter during discussions on the ongoing 'crisis' in A&E and the missed four-hour-wait target. The CCG Board heard that capital money was available to meet NHS's insistence that GPs should be placed at A&E 'front doors' to act as a first line of triage.  The elephant stalking that room was simply: "Where are they going to find all those doctors?"

4)  The CCG and Wiltshire Council's Better Care Plan work to keep the elderly out of hospital and, if they do have to go into hospital, to get them back home faster, will be supported from April 1 by an experimental scheme involving 30 Rehab Support Workers - a new role.  

The plan is for them to help people during their first ten days at home and, over a year, should effect 1,091 timely discharges from hospital.  In the first year they will be costing £1.2million.

Seven of those thirty recruits have come from Wiltshire's Help to Live at Home  providers - leaving them, in turn, short of seven staff who should also be helping patients get home from hospital - and at a time when their work is getting harder.  

A report to the CCG Board stated: "Help to live at Home providers are experiencing increased acuity and are delivering more hours of care, supporting the same number of clients".  

As one CCG director put it, when it comes to recruitment "We are all fishing in the same pond."

5)  Virgin Care which last April took over community health services for Wiltshire's 110,000 nought-to-eighteen year-olds, is also having recruitment problems.  In January their nursing vacancy rate rose by eleven per cent.  

In the last quarter of 2016 they were short of six whole-time-equivalent school and community nurses and currently have clinical vacancies equivalent to 22 whole-time-equivalent posts.

That is probably enough examples to show how great a problem Wiltshire faces.  Why is Wiltshire affected so much by these shortages?  Recruitment plans and staff retention plans abound.  To some extent it is true that "We are at the mercy of the market." But it may be much more of a cultural issue.

AWP appears to have no problems of recruitment for its services in the Bath and North East Somerset area.  Presumably the cultural and night-life of Bath solves their problem.

Facing the closure of Smallbrook Surgery, one Warminster town councillor was quoted as saying: “The town council doesn’t have much on a say on healthcare, but what we can do is do our best to make the town a more attractive place to live - to encourage more GPs to want to come and work here.”

Locally these staff shortages may be partly due to cultural and partly to housing costs.  The problem may be partly a matter of rates of pay and, more generally, of government imposed pay restraint. 

But as Brexit proceeds and EU nurses, doctors and surgeons (and for that matter those from beyond the EU) feel even less welcome in Britain than they have been made to feel since the EU referendum, then recruitment and staff retention could well become the next great problem that threatens to break the NHS.

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Young actors make a splash at drama festival

The cast of Pond LifeThe cast of Pond LifeA group of young actors from Pewsey have made a real splash at a drama festival – topping three out of five award categories, and winning every prize for which they were eligible.

At the Woolstore Theatre’s One Act Play Festival in Codford on Friday, Pewsey Vale Amateur Dramatic Society saw off four rivals to come home with the Adjudicator's Award for outstanding teamwork, drama, and technical achievement.

There was also a plaudit for writer and director Nettie Baskcomb Brown, who won Best Original Script, and a trophy for Milo Davison, named Best Young Actor at the festival.

Pond Life - inspired by a real-life pond created by Nettie – tells the story of some water plants, who are joined in their new home by creatures including snails, dragonflies, and bees.

When naughty Newton the newt brings a swarm of water boatmen – including the destructive and carnivorous backswimmers – the occupants call on trigger-happy Frog to save the day.

While on the surface Pond Life is a play about the environment, and the balance of delicate eco systems, but there’s an analogical undercurrent about refugees and immigration – why people leave their homes to live somewhere else, and how host societies adapt to integrate new people and ideas.

The 40-minute play was written specially for a cast of 10 to 13 year olds. Nettie Baskcomb Brown told the audience of a preview show at Pewsey’s Bouverie Hall last week that many plays written for young people are ‘issues-based’ and unsuitable for younger actors and audiences.

The next public airing of Pond Life will be at 70th Harold Jolliffe One Act Play Festival at The Memorial Hall, Royal Wootton Bassett on Saturday.

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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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From cuneiform to graffiti – Swindon Festival of Literature has all writing bases covered

Matt HollandMatt HollandAs Swindon Festival of Literature inches towards its quarter century, different methods of written communication – from the oldest to the very recent – will be celebrated this year.

Unveiling the 2017 programme at Swindon Library today (Thursday, March 16) festival director Matt Holland mused on how the way we use writing to communicate our thoughts is changing.

“In a digital world where the currency of topical commentary can be successfully and powerfully compressed into 140 characters – definitely a great method of instant communication – the book is still doing remarkably well,” he said.

“People still love books: the artefact, with its cover and pages and special feel, not just because of the durable technology by which the book is produced, but because of the slow, careful, and undemonstrative attention to clarity, detail, and depth of thought that you really only find in a book.”

Looking back to the earliest form of writing, developed more than 5,200 years ago, Matt announced that Irving Finkel, cuneiform tablet director at the British Museum, would be coming to Swindon to talk about the first written words, etched into pieces of clay by the ancient Mesopotamians.

And a contemporary form of written communication - graffiti art - will be explored as part of a Hip Hop themed evening at The Tuppenny: a new host venue for the festival. Graffiti writer and cultural historian (and who’d have thought yesterday’s ‘vandals’ would be today’s ‘cultural historians’) will be discussing the Four Elements of Hip Hop: graffiti, DJing, MCing, and breakdancing.

Those Four Elements could almost be the (First) Four Elements of Swindon Festival of Literature: writing, talking, music and dance. The festival might be primarily about books, but it’s always a platform for other art forms, as demonstrated by some wonderful storytelling by dancer and musician Bafana Matea who - like hip hop - came to to Swindon via New York, with African roots.

Dancers from The Wilkes AcademyDancers from The Wilkes AcademyPerforming for the festival launch audience, Bafana, with Michael Fergie and dancers from The Wilkes Academy, brought to life the story of three Aboriginal girls and their experiences as members of the ‘stolen generation’, where children were forcibly removed from their families in early 20th century Australia, a story immortalised by Doris Pilkington in her 1996 novel Rabbit Proof Fence.

The festival, of course, has a Fifth Element: thinking. Matt asserts that one of the festival’s ‘hidden agendas’ is the exchange of ideas. And there’s plenty in the programme to provoke deep thinking: Marcus du Sautoy, author of What We Cannot Know, wonders whether it is possible that one day we will know everything, while Brian Clegg, author of The Reality Frame, asks whether science is taking us closer to the essence of being human.

Thirty years after he was captured and held hostage in Lebanon, Terry Waite will seek to shed light on the human condition in a discussion about his latest work, Out of the Silence, while comedian Francesca Martinez, who has cerebral palsy, asks simply: What the *** is Normal?

Politics always plays an important part in the festival, and with Labour currently lurching to the left, the Conservatives veering to the right, and all of us living in Brexit Britain, Mr Centre Ground, David Owen, will discuss Cabinet’s Finest Hour, and explore how close Britain came to seeking a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany.

For some light relief, there’s cookery with Milly’s Real Food writer Nicola ‘Milly’ Millbank, poetry at the Swindon Slam, a 5k Freedom Run around Lydiard Park, and the Children and Families Day on Sunday, May 7 with spoon puppet making, Hilda’s Happy Hut, and child-friendly talks by authors Jack Cooke (The Tree Climber’s Guide) and Rina Mae Acosta (The Happiest Kids in the World).

The festival starts at 5.30am on Monday, May 1 with the Dawn Chorus - singing, storytelling, juggling and music set against a backdrop of the rising sun over Lawn Woods – and ends as it began today, with music from poet-musicians Tongue Fu, and female barbershop singers Barberelle, poetry from Vanessa Kisuule, and stories told by Rachel Rose Reid, at the Festival Finale on Saturday, May 13.

In all, there are 50 events designed to entertain, inspire, and engage the brain over 13 days. For a full programme, log on to


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