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Town council candidates revealed for by-election clash next month

A Tory knight of the realm and an independent IT expert, as predicted by Marlborough News Online, are to clash in a by-election battle next month for a vacant seat on Marlborough town council.

The nominated Conservative is banker Sir Noel Barrett-Morton (pictured lower), who lives in Cromwell Court, in Marlborough High Street, and the independent is Tim Reenan (pictured above), from nearby Chantry Lane.

The Lib-Dems have decided not to contest the vacancy in West Ward, which was caused by the resignation of Tory councillor Martin Houlden, who left Marlborough in July to live and work in Bournemouth, Dorset.

The by-election – to be held on October 13 – is the second successive one for the town council caused by the resignation of a Conservative councillor.

Mr Reenan, 49, an IT professional with extensive experience working in key areas such as manufacturing and healthcare, grew up in Abingdon and with his wife, Jacky, made a conscious decision to move to Marlborough.

“We believe Marlborough offers a truly aspirational lifestyle combining an eclectic selection of shops, cafes and pubs with culturally rich events such as the autumn LitFest and the Marlborough Jazz Festival, for which I am a committee member,” he told Marlborough News Online.

As for the by-election, he added: “I will take my stance as a ordinary hard-working chap who will take a pragmatic approach to the decisions required by the town council.

“I do not suffer fools gladly and have no time for airy-fairy projects that waste time and money.  I hope to be the first of some new blood into the town council that begins to deprecate some of the throwing-toys-out-of-the-cot nonsense that I have read about, in favour of some consensus.”

Sir Noel, who has attended a number of town council meetings, was not available to provide any information about himself or any views as to his by-election campaign.

What will be significant is that the Conservative group on the town council will not be able to continue to accuse the council of being the “high-spending authority” and support the claims made by some residents that the council is “incompetent, reckless and even dishonest”.

The allegations were made on the basis that the town council proposed to spend £1.2 million on improvements to Marlborough Town Hall without the complainants appreciating that the expenditure is to be spread over a period of years and that much of the cost comes from outside grants and other resources.

The town council’s overall budget is just £400,000, one of the smallest in Wiltshire, and its finances ended the last financial year £52,672 in the red compared with £125,555 a decade ago, while it currently has maintained reserves of £284,000.

Sir Noel, who is 67, later informed Marlborough News Online:

“I am married with one grown up daughter. I currently run  my own financial services business and have worked in this industry for more than 20 years having previously had a long career in civil aviation.”

“I have lived close to Marlborough for the past 25 years and in the town itself for the past two years.”

He added: “Although I am standing as a Conservative candidate, I will welcome the opportunity to represent the people of Marlborough regardless of politics.  We  must think about the future prosperity of Marlborough whilst retaining it's unique charm and character and I believe that my background in business equips me to make a positive contribution"

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Beware October’s road works – traffic problems for Marlborough and the western villages

As forecast by Marlborough News Online, the A4 west of Marlborough will be closed for four nights in October with controlled traffic for two further nights.  And Marlborough itself will have road works during October’s half-term week.

The surface of the A4 is badly worn and some stretches no longer meet the standards for skid resistance.  In the past the road has been repaired by laying fresh bitumen and grit.  This kind of treatment is no longer feasible.

A one kilometre stretch from The Bell pub eastwards towards Marlborough has to be completely removed and resurfaced.  The old surface will be removed during the nights of Tuesday, October 4 to Thursday, October 6, with a traffic light controlled flow in alternate directions between 7 pm and 6am.

That stretch of the A4 will be totally closed for the relaying of the new road surface during the nights of Monday, October 10 to Thursday, October 13 from 7pm to 6am.

Access to West Overton using Bell Lane and Church Hill will not be possible.  Diversion signs will be put up two weeks before the work starts.  The main diversion will be through Wroughton and Chiseldon.

To discourage traffic diverting south of the A4, through the villages, the roads off the A4 – to East Kennet, Lockeridge and Clatford – will have signs stating “No route for Diverted Traffic.”

The new road surface should last for twenty years and a further stretch will be removed and resurfaced in 2012.

Marlborough mini-roundabout
Another resurfacing job being done in October is centred on the mini-roundabout at the junction of the A4 and Pewsey Bridge Road – outside the Master’s Lodge entrance to the college. The work will extend along the A4 on the south side of St Peter’s as far as the junction with Hyde Lane.

This work will be carried out over three nights from Monday, October 24, from 6pm until midnight.  Access from the west into the High Street will be open along the branch of the High Street that runs from Hatto’s barber shop to The Sun.

The diversion for traffic going westward will, again, be via Chiseldon and Wroughton.

Watch this space
Later in October, road works will close the Swindon road (A346) between Chiseldon (at the Esso petrol station) and the Swindon-Wiltshire boundary.  These works are expected to start on October 30.   We will publish details as soon as they are known.

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Facing a time of need is no daunting task for Marlborough’s new Methodist minister

Taking on the ministry of no fewer than four Methodist churches is nothing new to the Rev Heather Cooper, who has arrived in Marlborough as the new minister of ChristChurch, which celebrated its centenary last year.

“That is quite a task,” she admits about the prospect of looking after Pewsey, Ramsbury and Ogbourne churches as well. “Last time, in Morley, south of Leeds, I was in charge of seven churches.”

And that is the defiant approach of 51-year-old Mrs Cooper, who recognises that her arrival coincides with the economic difficulties facing families and the need for the church to help them.

Ironically, she originally worked for Barclays International for six years in her home town of Reading before deciding, while training to become a Methodist preacher, to quit and join the church full-time, finding her first appointment to be at church in far off Falkirk, Scotland.

“Banking is not a dilemma for me – I haven’t worked in a bank for 20 years,” she explains, but adds: “The church has a lot to offer in terms of support for those now in difficulties.”

“And I think that is really what we should be doing.  We may not be able to solve financial problems, but we can offer people friendship, support and, above all, hope.”

“The bad times will pass.  And we can get through them when we work together as communities.  Then we can support those in need and perhaps help people to discover what it means to be responsible for each other.”

It was in Falkirk, in 1987, that she met and married her Welsh-born accountant husband, Neale, and since then has served for periods of between five and eight years at Methodist churches in Warrington, Colchester and Morley, becoming a church superintendent en route.

“So we have bounced around the country, covering 200 miles every time,” she says.  “Methodist ministers are itinerants.  My husband and I are both nomads.”

But her latest upheaval at least brings her closer to family members living at Wootton Bassett and from her new home in Marlborough she will now set out to discover more about the different churches she is to serve, ChristChurch and Pewsey in particular having more younger members than most Methodist churches.

She has been impressed by both the beauty of the area and the warmth of welcome she has received following in the footsteps of the Rev Susan Holden, who has moved to a new post as Circuit Superintendent for the Salisbury area.

“I am here to help the churches to develop their worship and fulfil their mission within their communities,” explains softly-spoken Mrs Cooper.  “For the first few months it’s really just learning my way around and learning about the churches.”

“And also learning what they feel they want to do, can do and what opportunities there are within the four communities.”

Off duty, she enjoys reading and cooking, TV sci-fi programmes like Dr Who and Star Trek – “and I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles,” she reveals.

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Trashion Show at St John’s was a fundraising triumph

The Salvage Trashion Show held at St John’s Theatre on the Hill last November raised almost £7,000 for two good causes - Charlie’s Charity and the campaign for St John’s School’s sports facilities.  They each received a cheque for £3,475.

Two of the organisers, Jane Lamb and Angela Hobbs, visited St John’s recently to present a cheque to Headteacher Dr Patrick Hazlewood.   Jane’s son Charlie was a St John’s student and Charlie’s Charity was set up in his memory following his death on 26 September 2009 at the age of eighteen.

As Jane Lamb explained: “Sport, especially football, played a large part in Charlie’s life, and so the money raised from Trashion will help St John’s to complete its outside sports facilities as well as helping Charlie’s Charity support young people to make the most of sporting opportunities. Trashion proved to be a great way to engage young people and we were lucky to have a wonderful organising committee and a large number of sponsors who enabled us to raise a substantial sum on the night”.

Dr Hazlewood was very pleased to accept the donation for St John’s sports facilities: “We are working hard to raise the remaining funds we need to complete our outside sports facilities, the tennis/netball courts and the artificial grass pitch.  Support from events such as Trashion is very important to us and I am extremely grateful to everyone involved in helping to make the evening such a huge success."

The competition to select designs for the show at St John’s was called Salvage.  It was all about designing a wearable item or outfit made from old bits and pieces that were past their wear-by date – making them into something individual and long lasting.

The judges wanted to see how young people could turn their old clothes into tomorrow’s wearable fashion.  It proved a great way to encourage creativity and allow the young designers to show off their talents and, at the same time, show awareness of the planet’s future. The results were outstanding.

Out of over 350 entries from several schools in Wiltshire, including seventeen entries from St John’s, the organisers worked with the judges to select the top one hundred and fifty which were showcased at The Trashion Show on 15 November 2010.

Each student who entered a successful design was asked to start sewing.  Many of the students modelled their own finished pieces, but for those who preferred to stay on the other side of the runway, friends and relatives were invited to step in.

Numerous prizes were awarded to the category winners including a week’s work experience in the buying department at Marks and Spencer's Head Office, a week at the London College of Fashion and a day on set with a film company. Local businesses including David Dudley, Kim Vine, Hills, Joules, Fowler Architecture, Haine & Smith & Peter Maclaine sponsored the competition and the show - and many more showed their support by advertising in the programme.

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A plaque to mark the revamp of Aldbourne scout and guide headquarters

The Scout headquarters in Aldbourne, which is used by more than 140 boys and girls, is now as good as new, thanks to its first full refurbishment in four decades.

A grant of £1,738 from the Marlborough Area Board of Wiltshire Council contributed to the makeover of the Scout and Guide Hall.

And on Wednesday board chairman Chris Humphries will be presenting a “supported by Wiltshire Council” plaque to Aldbourne Scout and Guides to mark the event.

“This is the first full scale re-decoration of the hut since it was built nearly 40 years ago,” Claire Currie of Aldbourne Scots and Guides told Marlborough News Online.  “We are really grateful to the area board for giving us a grant towards the much needed refurbishment of the hall.”

“We were able to use the grant to repaint the interior of the hall, erect notice boards, and install some outside lighting, electrical works and hand dryers.  Since the work has been completed we have had a lot of positive comments from the children and their parents."

The scout and guides in the area, their ages ranging from four to 16, come from Aldbourne itself, as well as Baydon and nearby Hungerford.

Mr Humphries, commented: “We were delighted to give funding towards this very worthwhile project.  Aldbourne Scout and Guides provide a marvellous service for so many of our young people.”

“Now their hall has been refurbished I hope they will continue providing such a service for many more decades to come.”

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Is Marlborough’s police station at risk of closure?

The cuts to Wiltshire police’s budget are beginning to bite.  Changes are being made to the siting of response teams and civilian employees have been laid off.

The eastern area commander, Inspector Ron Peach has told the Area Board that there are “No plans currently to dispense with Marlborough police station.”  But he did warn that more changes and reorganisations driven by budget cuts will be coming sooner rather than later.

From next month the emergency response team covering our area will no longer be based in Devizes but in Swindon.  The clustering of response teams is now an economic necessity.

And while civilian staff have been cut, the investment in new technology has gone ahead.  Within a matter of weeks, Wiltshire police will have the use of a live mapping display to show controllers precisely where response teams, dog vans and armed response units are located or travelling.

Inspector Peach also revealed that the appointment of our area’s beat manager, Police Constable David Tippetts (left), who replaced PC Sarah Watts in early July this year, is only a temporary one.  Inspector Peach hopes to be able to persuade PC Tippetts, who lives locally, to apply for the full-time post with the Rural West Team.

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Tractor fire swirling smoke causes school blaze alarm

Heavy clouds of black smoke over Marlborough last night (Thursday) lead to fears that St John’s School or neighbouring housing was on fire.

But it turned out to be a tractor in a field running parallel with the school entrance road, the machine bursting into flames for no apparent reason and sending up flames and huge clouds of smoke.

Firemen wearing breathing apparatus and using two hoses put out the blaze after being called to the site just before 6pm.

And they were watched by people who drove into the site alarmed by the smoke pouring into the sky.

“We thought it was the school that was ablaze,” one of them told Marlborough News Online.  “The amount of smoke made the fire look much worse than it was.”

The tractor was left a blackened shell, the driver obviously escaping unharmed.

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Wiltshire Council leader comes out of the shadows in sacking sensation

Jane Scott, Tory leader of Wiltshire Council, which has dramatically announced that it proposes to dismiss its chief executive Andrew Kerr, has decided to come out of the shadows – and confer with all her colleagues.

She has suddenly re-launched her personal blog and intends to use it to give regular updates regarding the council’s proposed senior management restructure, which follows the sacking of some 240 staff by redundancy notices.

And councillors of all parties are now invited, in a special Hot Wire communication, to offer their views on the council’s upheaval before its Cabinet meets at the end of the month.

A Hot Wire statement published yesterday (Wednesday) headed, Proposed Senior Management Restructure – Message from Corporate Leadership Team, states:

“Dear colleagues,

“Following last week’s message from Jane Scott regarding the proposal to restructure the senior management team, we wanted to express our thanks, and share some of our thoughts with all of you.

We recognise that the next few weeks could be unsettling for many, including those of us directly affected by the proposal.  It is anticipated that a decision will be made by the Cabinet on the future senior management structure for the council at the end of this month/early October and that following that meeting (the date will be agreed shortly), the decision will be implemented as quickly as possible.  

In this interim period, we wanted to say thank you for your on-going support and commitment to delivering the services that are vital to our local communities.  It is the strength of your hard work, combined with our clear vision and plans for the next four years that has placed the council in a position of strength to be able to consider a structure that promotes a new leadership model.

It hopefully goes without saying that it is business as usual, and that our number one priority is to continue to deliver excellent services to our local communities. We will ensure that you are kept updated of the decision that is made and the process for implementing the decision. In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, please raise these through the rumour buster, the discussion forum, or contact any of us directly.

Thank you again for your support, commitment and the hard work that you consistently demonstrate and deliver.”

Meanwhile, 52-year-old Mr Kerr, who earns £183,000 a year and has his mortgage paid by the council, has expressed his dismay that the council is considering scrapping his post.

“It came out of the blue and so I told her (Jane Scott) I was surprised and would have to go away and think about what they had said,” he reveals.

“I would prefer to stay here, but I think the administration are pushing forward their case.  I perceive that it would be more helpful for the council and for myself if I were to go reasonably quickly if that is the decision that is made.”

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Challenge to local author over the future of Silbury’s ‘little sister’

In June this year, shortly after the Marlborough Mound in the college grounds was proved to be four and a half thousand years old rather than merely the base for a Norman castle, local author Mavis Cheek told Marlborough News Online she hoped it would be restored to look like its contemporary structure Silbury Hill.

Dubbed Silbury’s ‘little sister’, the Mound is looked after by a trust funded by former college pupil and enthusiastic conservationist Eric Elstob who died in 2003.

Once the Mound’s trees have been carefully removed, the trust wants it restored to look more like its eighteenth century incarnation as the centrepiece of Lady Hertford’s very decorative garden – complete with a spiral path (pictured left.)

In June Mavis Cheek wrote: “Gone, I hope, will be the shell grotto, the water feature, the silly trumperies of Lady Hertford’s eighteenth century excess – and returned to us will be the awesome site that we can stand and admire and know was one of the long-ago forerunners of our own innate spirituality.”

Now the archaeologist who worked on the successful dating of the Mound, has told Marlborough News Online that Mavis Cheek is wrong.  Jim Leary backs the trust’s plans and says that while there’s a great discussion to be had about the Mound’s future, Mavis Cheek “is going down the wrong path.”

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Local charity’s help for young families at risk from Council’s spending decisions

Since 1987 Home-Start Kennet has been working in to give focused, flexible support to families experiencing stress and who have at least one child under five.  Families are referred to Home-Start mainly by health visitors, but also by social services, army welfare and GPs.  Some families seek help themselves.

From outside, many problems may seem small, but they can easily develop into the type of problem that disrupts family life and endangers relationships: “My volunteer goes with me to the Children’s Centre – it’s good for my son, it does him good to socialise. I stick to my talking to my volunteer – I find it hard to talk to other people.”

The charity is now under serious threat from Wiltshire Council’s cuts in funding.  The Council is well aware of the charity’s work as its employees refer families in their care to Home-Start.

For 2011-2012 the Council cut half their previous year’s annual grant of £49,000. And for 2012-2013 the grant will go entirely.  Home-Start Kennet is urgently seeking alternative sources of funding.

Already the uncertainty about funding is taking its toll. Up to this month twenty-four families have been supported this year as opposed to forty-one by September 2010.  Home-Start Kennet currently has twenty-five active volunteers on its books, as opposed to thirty-four last year – some volunteers are finding the country’s current economic climate too much for them.

‘Early intervention’ has been one of the key social policies for several years now – typified by the last government’s Sure Start scheme.  In the words of the coalition government “It is common sense that intervening early to stop problems developing has to be the best way of preventing bigger and more expensive problems.”

Home-Start has a national umbrella organisation which has supported local branches since 1973. Out of its 334 branches across the United Kingdom, five – including Swindon – have been closed down due to funding cuts by local councils.

Forty more branches are at risk of closure – including the Kennet branch.  The South Wiltshire branch will also be losing its Council grant in March 2012.  Together the volunteers working for these two branches’ give about 15,000 hours free service a year – even at the level of the minimum wage that equates to some £88,000 worth of time.  For a council to waste that sort of sum is quite a serious decision.

Funding from central government is still in place for early intervention programmes – although reduced by 11%. But it is government policy not to ring-fence such spending, so councils can use their share as they want and cut what they wish to cut.

Sara Holden (pictured left) is leading Home-Start Kennet’s fight for survival.  She is chairman of the branch’s trustees.  She worked for thirty years in social services - most of that time in Swindon - and now lives in Marlborough: “If we don’t replace the greater part of [Wiltshire Council’s] £49,000, we shall either have to contract significantly or close.”

One of the unknown factors is the development of the Ministry of Defence’s new super garrison.  If Home-Start has to shrink, it may need to withdraw from helping those in the Devizes and Marlborough areas and concentrate on the Tidworth area’s army families – especially if that is what new funders want.

What sort of young families benefit from Home-Start’s help?  Sometimes they have difficulties settling into a new area.  The mother may be recovering from a traumatic birth experience.  There may be domestic violence.  They may suddenly find themselves living in rural isolation. They may be faced with chronic illness or disability. Or the father may be working away from home – especially true of military families.  “We can help them learn to cope and be resilient.”

Why is Wiltshire Council turning its back on local voluntary charities as they’ve already done in the provision of Sure Start children’s centres? It seems they want to deal with fewer and much larger organisations. This puts them on a collision course with the government which is spending a great deal of energy promoting its localism and ‘big society’ agendas.

Sara speaks very highly of the volunteers who have been parents themselves and who have to take a two-day a week training course over five weeks.  Their training covers all the fundamentals of social care and ensures volunteers can work effectively and professionally.

Sara Holden told Marlborough News Online that some volunteers have overcome their own troubled backgrounds and now want to help others.

Sara has heard it said that the kind of work Home-Start does should be done by grandparents or neighbours. But she cites a case where a young mother in some trouble could not confide in her mother or her neighbours, but found great comfort in talking confidentially to her Home-Start volunteer – who had be-friended and encouraged her and was at much more of a distance and more approachable.

The Home-Start organisers keep careful track of the volunteers’ work and support them with regular supervision.  As Sara says: “They make sure they do not get too involved so they really can be a help to their families.”

The average cost of supporting each Home-Start family is about £1500 which is lower than local authorities’ costs for comparable social services.

Quite apart from the value they know the charity brings to local people, two things make the current uncertainty about its future especially galling.  First, it’s clear that the government’s general cuts programme is putting increasing pressures on young families and creating ever more complex problems to be resolved.  This will undoubtedly increase the demand for Home-Start Kennet’s services.

Secondly, Home-Start Kennet and South Wiltshire could, in about a year and with the help of the central Home-Start organisation and the assurance of funding, expand throughout the county. As Sara Holden told Marlborough News Online: “We know there’s the demand, in the long term there’d be no problem in finding volunteers – we already have volunteers contacting us from outside our own area.”

Want to volunteer?  Know someone who wants to donate to a charity that helps children and their families?  You can contact Home-Start Kennet on (01672) 515686 – ask for Senior Organiser Mrs Bel Crompton.

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Savernake’s future remains in limbo as government grapples with NHS reforms

Who pays the £1.1 million annual cost of the private finance initiative (PFI) cost of Marlborough’s revamped Savernake Hospital is still yet to be decided by the coalition government.

That leaves the final fate of the hospital, which has served the Marlborough community since 1866, in limbo but nevertheless with little danger that it will disappear in the near future.

Yet serious problems remain as the government grapples with its controversial NHS reform legislation still to come into operation, which is aimed at putting GP consortiums in control of  massive health expenditure.

That was the indecisive message that came out of a high level meeting at the Department of Health, in Whitehall, on Friday. It was set up by local Tory MP Claire Perry and  attended by Savernake activist Val Compton, who fought – and lost – a High Court battle over Savernake continuing to operate  as a minor injuries centre.

“We didn’t get real answers because there aren’t any available yet, and I came away from the meeting without any clear idea of a timescale of what happens in the future,” Mrs Compton told Marlborough News Online. “This is very much work in progress.”

“I don’t envisage closure of Savernake Hospital – I could never envisage that -- as it’s the stuff that nightmares are made of.  I certainly didn’t get the impression there is any dawdling going on, more that there is an overwhelming amount of work for the department to get through.”

“However, somewhere along the line, the money will have to be found for PFI repayments for Savernake and many other much bigger projects.  That’s the worry, but one which Claire Perry is far closer to and fully understands.”

The 45-minute meeting – PFI repayment was the sole subject on the agenda -- was with a team headed by Health Minister Simon Burns alongside representatives of relevant Department of Health and agency officials plus Jeff James, chief executive of NHS Wiltshire.

Claire Perry questioned the possibilities of re-negotiating the Savernake’s PFI contract in order to reduce repayment levels, the current cost being an annual £1.1 million on a 30-year contract, which has another 24 years to run.

The total figure in the end, though it has not been confirmed, could be £68 million.

Jeff James revealed that the repayment figure is £700,000 more per annum than the comparable operating cost of other hospitals.

He gave an assurance that services at Savernake were constantly under review, pointing out a scenario whereby some GPs may wish to expand specific medical services provided within their own practices, rather than clustering a service into a local community hospital like Savernake.

But the future is dependent on the new clinical commission groups covering the Marlborough area, which is working alongside Wiltshire PCT until the projected GP takeover in 2013.

Claire Perry continually quizzed the team on potential alternative solutions and creative ways of tackling the problem.

“She left no stone unturned, and I am convinced we did well in putting over our case at government level,” said Mrs Compton, whose fight for Savernake was mentioned in last week’s Commons debate on the future of the NHS.

“The answer is clearly that at the moment nothing has been decided and we are in a state of limbo.”

“The minister commented that PFIs were born out of a ‘Jam today’ culture.  I mused about the irony of that.  People in the Marlborough area have worked from 1990 to preserve and rebuild their Savernake hospital.”

“They received their ‘jam’ after 15 years of hard work and fund-raising only to find they had a hospital with a distinct lack of land surrounding it -- because a slice was sold off which reduced the PFI cost of £9.5 million by £3 million.”

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