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We are here to help in tough times says Waitrose’s community champion

You could call it green gold – all those little tokens you see piling up each month in the plastic boxes in Marlborough’s Waitrose.  And in these tough times the supermarket is conscious of the part it plays in donating £1,000 a month to local charities and community projects

That’s why Janice Kingstone (pictured), an all-rounder at the store where she has worked for 28 years, is being given extra time to play her official role as Community Matters Champion, one she has taken up with pride and enthusiasm.

“It is important and something we are passionate about,” she says.  “You do need time to do it properly.  You can’t sit on a till and concentrate on the community as well.”

“The funds we donate are something of a lifesaver for some organisations, especially in these difficult times.  The trouble is you want to help everybody.  That’s why those we do help – three different ones every month – are voted on democratically.”

A special forum of staff, known as partners in the John Lewis organisation, decide in advance the charities and projects that are to benefit.  They come from 12 categories, ranging from education, welfare and environmental projects to care for the sick, the elderly and Marlborough’s Christmas lights appeal.

What each organisation receives is according to the actual weight of the green tokens customers put in the boxes.  Last month, for example, the Aldbourne Band received £287, Oare Church of England primary school £415 and Aldbourne Youth Council £298.

And now 59-year-old Janice, who has worked in virtually all sections of Waitrose, including the wine department, for which she received special training, is being given time by manager Andy Davies to visit some of the charities.

The aim is to discover more intimate details about their operations and have a closer understanding, other members of staff being invited to play a role too whenever possible.

One of them is Wiltshire Air Ambulance, perhaps the most favoured Waitrose appeals, especially by children attracted by its helicopter logo, a link with the RNIB is being planned along with others groups.

“We’ve got a big appeal coming up for St John’s Ambulance, who want to buy a defibrillator for the town,” says Janice.  “It’s an organisation which one of the lads working here helps whenever he can.”

She hesitates when you suggest that being Lady Bountiful must make her feel good.  “I always feel good when I wake up in the morning,” she insists.  “I’m glad to be alive and to be able to help others.

“Our tokens are like green money when you think about it.  Our customers certainly do like the system.  And if people from the various charities come in to shop, then they can put their green token into the appropriate slot.

“It’s a two-way thing really, a way of giving that helps us both.”

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What’s NEW with our local NHS and what’s to happen to Savernake Hospital?

Next month the Health and Social Care Bill goes back to the House of Commons after the government’s rethink.  MPs will have 160 government amendments to consider. This Bill will have a direct and radical impact on how the Marlborough area’s NHS provision is run.

Marlborough News Online continues its reports on the NHS’ restructuring by interviewing Marlborough area GP Dr Jonathan Rayner about the new organisations and about Savernake Hospital.

Dr Rayner has been a GP at the Ramsbury and Wanborough medical practices for the past twenty years. He’s married with three children, sits on Aldbourne Parish Council and he leads the East Kennet part of the clinical commissioning group (CCG) for north and east Wiltshire that in April 2013 takes over the commissioning of health services for our area from the Wiltshire primary care trust (PCT).

When Marlborough News Online spoke to Dr Rayner about the progress in the coalition government’s root and branch restructuring of the NHS, general practitioners’ frustration with the process of change was clear.  That’s not only because the process is moving at what Dr Rayner calls ‘a glacial rate’ and the government keeps altering the rules.

He and his colleagues are still unclear how much autonomy they will have.  The coalition’s white paper indicated that power would reside locally. But now, Dr Rayner believes, more will be ‘dictated from above’. In addition: “More and more limitations are being placed upon us – we have to keep very nimble.”

“The bits [of the changes] the patients are most interested in are still to come.”  For instance the CCG’s use of Savernake Hospital has not yet been discussed “because we’ve been far more involved in the nuts and bolts of setting up the consortium.”

Dr Rayner acknowledges that “Savernake hospital has been under-utilised”. However, he warns: “Whether we can put in the sort of services people in Marlborough want is another matter – because of the economics.”

He describes as ‘a huge burden’ the PCT’s payments for the private finance initiative (PFI) agreed in 2002 which funded the enlargement, refurbishment and equipping of the hospital.  He says the question of who will take over those payments in the re-shaped NHS has been kicked into the long grass and he does not expect any resolution within the next eighteen months.

How far have the plans advanced for the CCG that will cover the Marlborough area? “ It’s difficult“, he said, “to finalise our structure when the government keeps changing its mind.”

But progress has been made.  The CCG now has a name: NEW Consortium – where NEW stands for North and East Wiltshire.  And under the government’s latest regulations they will probably have to tack on an ‘NHS’ – maintaining the NHS branding is important to the government.

NEW Consortium has a chairman, Dr Simon Burrell from Corsham.  It is about to get a manager.  And it has an interim board of six GPs.  Other members of the board, including patient representatives, will follow.

The NEW Consortium will be one of three CCG’s to replace NHS Wiltshire. The others cover the south of the county and the west of the county. But the plan is for some services, mainly back office ones, to be centralised - covering all three CCGs.  This could include human resources, payroll, information, relationships with other health bodies in Wiltshire and governance.

They have not decided where their headquarters should be. To save money they might decide to have a ‘virtual HQ’ with the centralised admin services in Devizes – where the current PCT is based.

If that all sounds very complicated, there’s much more complexity to come – with scores of new quangos to be established across England.  The Department of Health has yet to produce a diagram – known to management buffs as an organogram – showing how the new NHS and its many organisations will work.

But policy experts at the Labour Party have had a go.  If you want to start understanding how it is supposed to work you can check out their organogram at: on an FT blog which includes before and after diagrams or in The Guardian.

The funds the CCGs will have to buy health services from hospitals and clinics will be very tight. Now there’s a real fear that many PCTs across England are not making the necessary savings from their current budgets to meet the coalition government’s £20 billion cut in NHS spending by 2015.  A survey by the General Practitioner journal shows there might be a large shortfall which would mean the CCGs inheriting huge debts.

That scenario takes us back to the present PCT – known as NHS Wiltshire – which when it was formed late in 2006, inherited a debt of £64 million that it is still paying off. This debt was due in part to the overspend by Kennet and North Wiltshire PCT in modernising and then running Savernake Hospital.

History better not repeat itself: that huge historic deficit inherited by NHS Wiltshire arose when Wiltshire was divided into three PCTs.  Now the county is going to be divided into three again – this time into three clinical commissioning groups.

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Town council backs new tourist information centre plans for next year

Marlborough town council is still intent on setting up its own tourist information centre following Wiltshire Council’s dramatic decision to axe the centre in the town’s library as part of cost cutting measures.

Plans for an emergency TIC, based temporarily in the Mayor’s Parlour at Marlborough town hall, were rejected after the town council had voted a loan of £6,240 to a group of volunteers wanting to cater for tourists this summer.

But on Wednesday the town council voted to set up a Community Interest Company to run a new TIC next year and decided to seek out residents willing to play a role in boosting tourism in the town.

The initial aims of the organisation would be to find a permanent home for the TIC and prepare a sustainable business plan that ensures long term viability.

The go ahead decision also gave an opportunity for Tory councillor Stewart Dobson to set right the record following his previous comments that he was opposed to “handing over cheques to strangers seeking profits without a proper financial basis”, a reference to the two Wiltshire Council employees who ran the library-based TIC until it was closed.

“I believed it is important that it should now be minuted that the private individuals who have played such an important part in the TIC committee were not motivated by any desire to set up their own business from which they could profit,” he told fellow councillors.

Any future TIC employees will in fact be paid on a self-employed basis.

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Go ahead given for major flood protection project for Kennet Place

The go ahead for a major flood protection project in the heart of Marlborough was given the green light by the town council last night (Wednesday).

At an extraordinary meeting in the summer recess, the council agreed to cover quarter of the cost of the scheme for grade II listed Kennet Place, proposed by the Environment Agency following extensive research.

The decision is conditional on Wiltshire Council also paying a quarter in a partnership project with the Environment Agency who will be paying half the eventual total cost in a three-way split.

It had been hoped that Wiltshire Fire and Rescue would also join the partnership but they pulled out after being hit by government financial cut-backs.

Marlborough town council will probably recover its share of the scheme by raising its council rate precept, but with the project unlikely to go ahead until next year – or even later – no decision has yet been made.

The Environment Agency brought forward its plan to build a half-metre high wall -- from the Town Mill bridge to the Old Ropeworks -- following flooding in January, 2003, and although the details have yet to be agreed, the final scheme is expected to include an enhancement to the bank of the River Kennet as well.

All 10 councillors present agreed it was a vital “win - win” scheme that had to be carried out even though the chances of flooding in the near future might be remote.  However, it was accepted that a sudden “snow melt” could trigger flooding.  A  dramatic rain deluge too was another possible danger at any time.

Residents of Kennet Place were present in the council chamber to hear the debate and were also given the opportunity to speak.

One of them - Val Compton - who provided the Environment Agency with a photographic record of the 2003 flooding, called on the councillors to “show commitment” and thus encourage Wiltshire Council to join the partnership.

“Without a partnership being formed it is possible that any flood defence scheme could be scuppered before it begins,” she warned.  “The risk to Kennet Place has not changed since 2003.”

“Whatever the design, the implications and technicalities of this scheme, all of which are under discussion, the project will be in jeopardy without a partnership being formed.”

 And the council agreed after going into private session to agree the financial arrangements.

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Earl of Cardigan makes charges against Savernake estate trustees

The Earl of Cardigan is challenging the removal of historic paintings from his home on the 4,500-acre Savernake Estate on the outskirts of Marlborough, insisting that the estate’s trustees had no legal right to remove “fixtures and fittings.”

The 58-year-old Earl claims there is no need to sell the paintings, among them works by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Peter Lely, to recoup the cost of his divorce settlement with his wife, said to have put the estate £1 million in the red.

“There’s no need for them to sell them,” declares the Earl, whose indirect relative led the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. “The divorce has cost money but it’s merely a cash-flow problem.”

“The estate has dozens of valuable assets that we can borrow against.”

In an interview in The Lady magazine, he says too that when he signed a 20-year-old lease with the trustees for his current home, Savernake Lodge, they granted him the right to enjoy “all the fittings, fixtures and furnishings” therein.

“It’s ludicrous to say the paintings aren’t fittings, fixtures and furnishings,” the Earl protests. “And I should know. I fixed them on the walls myself.”

“If they’re allowed to get away with this, it’s logical that the trustees could strip me of everything – and leave me sitting here in an empty house.”

And pointing out the hooks of the 25 works of art that have been removed, he adds: “I felt like Mike Tyson had just clouted me.  It’s like a burglary.”

“One of the works was a portrait of a young Lady Elizabeth Seymour by Sir Peter Lely.  It was on the stairs, and I walked past it every morning and every night.  It was a joy.”

“Successive generations of my family have handed it down for hundreds of years, and now it has been taken on my watch.  That’s devastating.”

The Earl and his second wife, Joanne Hill, he points out, had to live in Savernake Lodge for 14 weeks without hot water and having to boil a kettle to do so, a situation that has now been remedied.

“There wasn’t even hot water in the guest bedrooms,” he says.  “I blame the trustees who manage my estate.  A simple pump has needed replacing since Maundy Thursday (in April), and they’ve only just done something about it.”

“Now I’ve got a leaking roof.  It’s intolerable.”

Some of the now missing paintings were sold in April and will never be returned.  A second Sotheby’s sale has however been halted after the Earl secured a last minute injunction.

The fate of the remaining 12 paintings will depend on a High Court hearing expected to be held in the coming months.

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“Late night drunks will put Marlborough College’s female students in danger”

Gordon Olson, another respected Marlborough figure, who sent his two sons to Marlborough College, has hit out at the College’s bid to buy the Ivy House Hotel and convert it into a hostel for girl students.

He fears for the security of the female students who might live there from “roaming bands of drunks” in the High Street at night – as well as the detriment such a move would have on Marlborough’s tourism economy.

And he points out that the hotel would have a “viable and sustainable” future if it were taken over by the celebrity chef Marco Pierre White backed by the insurance financier Robert Hiscox, the current High Sheriff of Wiltshire.

Mr Olson has followed Sir John Sykes in sending a protest letter to the Bristol-based Planning Inspectorate, one in which he declares: “The College rightly takes the security of its students very seriously.”

“Replication of that level of security in Marlborough High Street, in which the Ivy House is prominently located, would be difficult and potentially intrusive for the townspeople and visitors going about their legitimate business.”

“A new build within the school’s existing perimeter, which the Deputy Master (Peter Bryan) has publicly stated to be an option available to the College, would pose no such new problems.”

“Marlborough has a continuing problem with late night drinking by young people at weekends in its many bars and clubs.  This leads to the frequent presence of roaming bands of drunks in the High Street.”

“A girls’ boarding house in their midst would be a new and unwelcome target for public disorder, putting further avoidable pressure on the Wiltshire constabulary in its ongoing attempts to control this undesirable state of affairs.”

Mr Olson is the retired founder and managing director of Swindon-based Kinesis, the software house that was lead sponsor of the Marlborough Jazz Festival for five years in the nineties.

His sons were at Marlborough College earlier when Mr Olson, now a permanent Marlborough resident, was managing director and a board member of Logica, the internationally-famed technology company.

Mr Olson claims that the loss of the Ivy House Hotel would damage the town’s tourism economy, eliminating 28 of the 61 hotel rooms available in Marlborough, thus reducing the current estimated revenue -- from Wiltshire Council’s own figures -- of between £1.2 million and £1.8 million.

“The proposed conversion would, however, bring zero net contribution to the town’s economy,” he points out.  “This is because the economic inputs that would result from any future expansion of the College’s boarding population would be delivered equally, whether those students were accommodated in the Ivy House or in a purpose built boarding house within the school’s existing perimeter.”

And he adds: “Both the College and the hotel’s owner, Hunts Food Services, have claimed that it is not viable as a hotel and that no purchaser could be found for it.”

“I understand that occupancy rates are above 80 per cent and that under its previous ownership by experienced hoteliers it yielded annual profits in the region of £200,000.”

“At the Wiltshire Council meeting on 14th July a Hunts’ director, Mr Michael Douch, stated that his company had made no investment in the Ivy House subsequent to purchasing it in 2008, hardly a recipe for success in a market with growing expectations of the services and facilities it should find in upmarket boutique hotels.”

“Hunts no longer offers dining in the Ivy House, with the sole exception of a breakfast service.  It is now a matter of public record that Marco Pierre White, as hotelier, and Robert Hiscox, as financier, have come forward to state their interest in owning and operating the Ivy House as part of the Wheelers group of boutique hotels.”

“We can assume that, given their impeccable credentials in their respective fields of business, they would not have done so if they had not judged the hotel to be viable and sustainable.”

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Cyclists celebrate the last train

The 50th anniversary of the last train to travel between Swindon and Marlborough will be marked on Saturday, September 10 by cyclists.

The former railway line between Coate and Marlborough is now a cycle path, and is well used by particularly horse riders, runners, walkers and cyclists.

It passes through Chiseldon and down the Og Valley to Marlborough, giving access to a variety of circular routes and providing a gateway to the North Wessex and Marlborough Downs.
 
The route is managed by Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, which relies on grants, donations and volunteers to maintain it.

The Friends of the Railway Path wants to help Sustrans promote, develop and maintain the railway path to encourage a wide variety of users and make it an interesting place to visit.

They plan to do this by encouraging and coordinating volunteer maintenance along the path, securing funding for maintenance and development, and producing material describing the routes accessible from the path, and its history and environment.
 
Three special events are being held to mark the launch.
 
On Saturday, September 10, enthusiasts will cycle along the path from Coate to Marlborough and back – a distance of about 22 miles – marking the 50th anniversary of the last passenger train to use the railway line.  Cyclists will meet at 10am in the car park at Coate Water, and expect to be back by 4pm.

On Saturday, September 17, members are holding a workday to cut back ivy and small trees and tidy the path. Volunteers should meet at the Barnfield Lane access to the path in Marlborough (grid reference SU 202 691) at 10.30am.

And on Saturday, October 22, the group will hold an exhibition celebrating the history of the path and looking to its future, in Marlborough Town Hall from 9.30 am to 2.00 pm.

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Secretary of State Eric Pickles can save the Ivy House Hotel says Claire Perry

Marlborough’s grade II listed Ivy House Hotel may already be safe from plans by Marlborough College to convert it into a dormitory for girl students.

A planning inquiry into the College’s application for a change of use is already on the cards, but Marlborough’s MP Claire Perry has pointed out that it is more than likely that any inquiry recommendation would not be accepted by Eric Pickles (pictured), Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Because of the government’s localism legislation - due to come into force in October, and major proposals to change the planning system, Mr Pickles would refer the Ivy House Hotel decision back to Wiltshire Council.

And the county council, together with Marlborough town council, have already both rejected a change of use proposal for the 28-bedroom hotel.

“That interpretation is correct,” Mrs Perry told Marlborough News Online before flying off on holiday with her husband Clayton and children to Lake Tahoe, on the edge of the Sierra Nevada, in California.

“Indeed, I have heard Eric make this very point – decisions have to be thrashed out locally.”

Mrs Perry is insistent on not expressing any views herself on the fate of the hotel, but meanwhile one of the objectors to the scheme has pointed out that current legislation also allows the Planning Inspectorate to reject a demand for an inquiry and declare that it is up to the planning authority - Wiltshire Council - to decide the future of a local site.

The possibility of preventing the Ivy House Hotel being sold off – the company of top chef Marco Pierre White has proposed making a bid – has been welcomed by Marlborough county councillor Nick Fogg, the town's former mayor and creator of the Marlborough International Jazz Festival.

He has been leading the campaign to retain the hotel because of the economic tourism benefit of more than £1 million it brings to Marlborough, which would be lost if the property became a students’ hostel.

“This is terrifically good news for us and those wanting to save the Ivy House Hotel,” he told Marlborough News Online.  “It is an early and splendid example of localism in action.”

And he added: “It is entirely appropriate that local communities have an important say about what happens in their arrondissement.”

Mr Fogg also points out that the planning committee that considered the appeal situation last month invited the Wiltshire Council solicitor to give his valid views.

And the solicitor told the committee: “The value in planning terms of an existing use of land is clearly a material consideration in determining a planning application unless there is no possibility that a refusal would result in its retention.”

“The test is to ask whether there is a fair chance that if permission were refused, the existing use would continue rather than stand empty.  But that test should be applied while balancing the planning significance of the existing use.”

Peter Bryan, deputy master at Marlborough College, said: “As far as the Ivy House planning application is concerned, as you know we have appealed and we await the outcome of that process.”

Mr Pickles’ new plans for town centre parking – his draft National Planning Policy Framework aims to simplify the planning system dramatically by slashing 1,000 pages of policy to just 52 – may also prove a boon for Marlborough.

“Families and local firms face a parking nightmare under existing rules,” declares Mr Pickles. “Stressed-out drivers have to run the gauntlet of parking fines, soaring parking charges and a lack of parking spaces.”

“These parking restrictions have hit small shops the hardest, creating ghost town high streets which can’t compete with out-of-town supermarkets.  We want to see more parking spaces to help small shops prosper in local high streets and assist mums struggling with their family shop.”

“We are standing up for local high streets.”

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St John’s School supports the “Marlborough Starlight Walk” for the Prospect Hospice

St John’s School is urging the Marlborough community to get behind an event in September to raise much-needed funds for Prospect Hospice. The Marlborough Starlight Walk, on the evening of Saturday, September 17, takes ladies on a fifteen kilometre night-time walk across local countryside.

The Starlight Walk will begin and end at the school on Granham Hill, and staff and students are keen to ensure the event is a success. “We have been promoting the walk with the students’ parents, through our newsletter and our regular email service,” says Kate Hunter, the school’s development officer.

“When the Hospice approached us, we were only too happy to say yes. The Hospice is a good local charity, and many of the students here will know someone who has been cared for either at the Hospice or by the Prospect Hospice team in the community, so this is the kind of project we are only too happy to support.”

Also joining in will be the team from Pabulum, the school’s contract catering firm. They’ll either be taking part in the walk or will be helping supply bacon rolls to welcome the walkers back at the end of their trek under the stars.

Kate hopes the support for the walk will signal the start of an ongoing relationship with Prospect Hospice. “Many of the students are taking their International Baccalaureate and, as part of that, they must complete 150 hours of creativity, action or service,” she says.  And by supporting the Marlborough Starlight Walk as walkers or as volunteers on the night, they can notch up some of those hours.

Sheryl Crouch, Prospect’s head of fundraising, has expressed her thanks to the school for their support: “We’re very grateful to St John’s School for all they are doing to make our Marlborough Starlight event a success,” she says. “What we are really looking for now is for the ladies of Marlborough to step forward and get signed up.”

This is the event’s second year. Last year 170 women took part, raising just over £15,000. Sheryl hopes that “fantastic achievement” can be more than matched this year.

Prospect Hospice in Wroughton serves the Marlborough area and runs the ground-breaking   Prospect at Home scheme which enables many people to spend their last days in their own home. The hospice needs to raise five million pounds a year before it can receive some top-up funding from the NHS.

To register for the Marlborough Starlight Walk, visit:
http://www.prospect-hospice.net/marlboroughstarlight  or call 01793 816161. Registration costs £15, and it is hoped walkers will raise sponsorship of at least £100 each.

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Marlborough Council to consider floodwall solution for Kennet Place

Plans to alleviate any future flooding of the River Kennet in the heart of Marlborough are to be considered by Marlborough town council at an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday.

The Environment Agency is proposing to build a three foot high floodwall on the banks of the river in Kennet Place, extending from the Town Mill bridge to the Old Ropeworks.

Town Mill under water in 2003
This was the area hit by flooding in January, 2003, and now the Agency is proposing a three-way partnership deal to cover the cost of the floodwall, thought to be in the region of £40,000.

The Environment Agency did consider flood defences for the Town Mill area itself as well as Culvermead Close, but decided there was only a one per cent chance that they might be directly affected.

It was hoped that Wiltshire Fire and Rescue would also be part of the partnership plan for Kennet Place, but the service, facing financial cut-backs, has now pulled out.

“Wiltshire Council has yet to decide its position but the Environmental Agency wants to go ahead with the work next year,” Liam Costello, Marlborough’s town clerk, told Marlborough News Online. “We have called a meeting to decide on our position.”

He added: “It may seem ironic that the Kennet is now at one of its lowest levels for many years -- with little fear of any flooding -- but rivers can always rise up suddenly.”

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The Merchant’s House summer lunch raises a record £2,500

The annual Merchant’s Summer Lunch, held on Sunday in the grounds of Marlborough College, was attended by 125 guests and raised a record £2,500 for Marlborough’s Merchant’s House appeal.

Before the lunch, Sir John Sykes, chairman of the Merchant’s House trustees, invited guests to observe a minute’s silence in remembrance of the seventy-six Norwegians who died in the bombing and shooting tragedy in Oslo.

Sarsen Song Men

The Sarsen Song Men, a four part male voice choir (pictured with conductor Michael Reynolds) were among the entertainments provided, together with a Quirky Question Time, written and hosted by John Yates

An unusual panel of grumpy celebrities answered questions from the audience with hilarious results.

Brewin Dolphin sponsored the event, and the many local traders who donated prizes included Charlotte Quest,  East,  Majestic Wines,  Primrose Lane,  Rowlands,  Tesco,  Susie Watson Designs,  The Food Gallery,  The Merchant's House Shop and the Trust Office,  The White Horse Book Shop,  Viyella,  as well as private donors.

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