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News

Youth unemployment soars in the Devizes constituency

When the unemployment figures were published last week the headlines picked out the soaring increase in youth unemployment across the nation.  In the last quarter (July to September) there were 1,090,000 young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four claiming job seekers allowance.

That was a rise of 67,000 on the previous quarter and a rise 112,000 compared to the same quarter last year.  One in five young people is now out of work.  The total number and the rate of unemployment – 21.9 per cent – is the highest since these figures were first collected in their current form in 1992.

Few commentators noticed another statistic: during the last quarter (July to September) 43,000 women lost their jobs bringing the total number of women claiming job seekers allowance to 1,090,000 – the highest that figure has been since 1988.

Taking all the age and gender groups together, unemployment in the constituency rose in October 2011 by fourteen-point-five per cent against October last year.

A few days after the national statistics, the unemployment rates for each constituency are published.  These do not break the total figures down by gender.  But they do give a picture of youth unemployment in the Devizes constituency.

Although the total numbers may not look big, it’s not a pretty picture.  In October last year the number of unemployed youth fell by 39.7 per cent.  In October 2011 it rose by 43.2 per cent.

This huge jump will partly be explained by the coalition government’s actions: fewer people are going to university because of the rise in tuition fees and fewer are going to colleges because the Education Maintenance Allowance has been abandoned. And when young people choose to go to work rather than continue in education, they find suitable jobs are not there.

But this increase is not unique to the figures for October 2011. The annual increase – that’s the 2011 level compared to the same month in 2010 – in those aged twenty-four and under who are claiming job seekers allowance has risen sharply for several months:
-- July 2011 showed an increase of 5.8 per cent over July 2010.
-- August 2011 showed an increase of 10.9 per cent over August 2010.
-- September 2011 showed an increase of 23.1 per cent over September2010.                                              And now we get October 2011 showing an increase of 43.2 per cent over October 2010.

However, the actual numbers affected within the constituency are still small: 315 people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four were claiming benefit in October 2011.  Numbers alone do not tell the stories of those who cannot find work.

Coinciding with the publication of the unemployment figures, Devizes MP, Claire Perry, issued a statement welcoming “the creation of almost 2,000 apprenticeships” within the constituency.

During the 2010-2011 academic year “1,840 apprenticeships were delivered in the Devizes constituency” – an increase of 16 per cent on the previous academic year.  It is, however, not quite clear what now constitutes an apprenticeship.

Mrs Perry said: “This is great news for the businesses and young people in the Devizes constituency.  Nationally, a record rise in apprenticeship numbers, particularly in Advanced ‘A’ level equivalent qualifications shows the Government’s commitment to helping employers train the skilled workers they need to build a stronger economy and sustainable growth.”

And the Skills Minister, John Hayes, shed a little more light on the matter when he said the government aims to “help young people who currently lack basic skills make the grade for an apprenticeship, our Access to Apprenticeships programme will provide 10,000 work experience and training opportunities every year.”

If you know a young person who has started an apprenticeship or joined a pre-apprenticeship work experience placement and who could explain for our readers the value of such schemes, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Avebury’s manor is reborn – courtesy of the BBC

The story of the unique restoration of the interior of Avebury’s  historic manor is coming to a screen near you very soon – very near you.  In fact it’s a prime time television series on BBC1.

The Manor Reborn is a four-part programme made by the BBC in collaboration with the National Trust.  It starts on November 24 and stars Penelope Keith (of the iconic series To the Manor Born) and Paul Martin (presenter of the antiques show Flog It!) – and, of course, the historic rooms of Avebury Manor itself.

The four sixty-minute programmes will chart the ambitious renovation of nine of the manor’s main rooms to reflect the lives of people who lived in the five hundred year-old manor during six periods of British history: the Tudors, Queen Anne, Georgian, Victorian and the early twentieth century.  For the most recent period they’ve created an art deco room.

The series illustrates the story of British design across five centuries.  It draws on a wide range of craft and furniture-making skills and reveals how ‘the home’ was invented.  And it’s not just about the manor’s interior – a kitchen garden has also been restored.

Presenter Paul Martin is no stranger to this area.  He used to own The Table Gallery antique shop in Marlborough and now lives in Seend.  He and Penelope Keith are joined for the series by experts including the architectural historian Dan Cruickshank, gardener David Howard, interior designer Russell Sage and historian Anna Whitelock.

Sarah Staniforth, the National Trust’s museums and collections director, explained the ideas behind the renovation and the series: “An empty house is like a blank canvas, so this was an exciting opportunity to interpret the interiors in an authentic but imaginative way.  The Manor Reborn has broken new ground in how we bring our places to life and we hope that Avebury Manor will be an inspiring experience for our visitors.”

One of the great advantages of the scheme is that it provides what is called ‘an immersive experience’ for visitors.  It will be one of the few National Trust houses where people are invited to touch, handle, sit on and enjoy every element of the house.

During filming – which began in April – two young visitors were encouraged to climb into a Queen Anne bed and see what satin sheets feel like.  Watch the programmes and see whether their experience made it into the edited programmes.

The presenters and the experts were joined by volunteers, apprentices and a whole team of talented craftsmen and designers.  Local villagers were also invited in during the restoration process.

Jan Brunning lives in nearby Beckhampton and serves on the committee of the Avebury Society.  She was invited in to see the work that’s been done: “It is a wonderful attempt to recreate the settings of the lives of people who lived in and enjoyed Avebury Manor through its five hundred year history.”

Jane was especially impressed by the carpets which have been individually designed and woven to fit the period of each room.  Another room she mentions is the dining room which is fitted out as it would have been in the eighteenth century when the manor was owned by the trader Sir Adam Williamson who became governor general of Jamaica.  That room features quite a collection of antique tea caddies.

If you want to see the rooms for yourself, the Manor will be open – in the first instance – from November 19 to December 19, from 11.00 am to 3.30 pm with last entry at 2.30 pm.  Entry will be by timed tickets available from Avebury’s Barn Gallery – fifteen people will be allowed in every fifteen minutes.

It’s planned to re-open the Manor during February 2012’s half-term week.  Beyond that plans have not been finalised.  Having had a preview of the rooms, Jane Brunning is certain it will be very popular attraction.

And if you’re short of Christmas present ideas, there’s a book to go with the series: The Manor Reborn – The Transformation of Avebury Manor by Siân Evans.  On sale at the recommended retail price of £20.00.

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Teachers will drop dead from exhaustion warns Marlborough headmaster

Teachers will drop dead from exhaustion if they are forced to work longer under the government’s new pension and extended working proposals.  And teaching recruitment too will be put into jeopardy.

That is the grim warning that has come from Dr Patrick Hazlewood (pictured), headmaster for the past 16 years of St John’s School, Marlborough, who declares he would have chosen a different profession if the proposed new conditions were in force when he became a teacher earning just £1,780 a year in 1976.

While he hopes that strikes by the teaching unions will be avoided by positive government action, he fears that St John’s will have to close its doors to its 1,700 students on November 30 if 25 per cent of the teaching staff of 125 walk out on strike.

“We are not a child minding business,” he insisted in an exclusive interview with Marlborough News Online.

And as unions ridiculed the government’s latest suggestion that teachers should go on strike for just 15 minutes and save losing a days’ pay, Dr Hazlewood declared: “I am certain there is a legitimate grievance here.”

“For three of the unions who are about to take strike action if things aren’t resolved, that is something that teachers have never done before.  It gives an indication of the degree of anger there is, but I think it is more than anger.”

“It is the degree of what this actually is.  And while I hate to use the term unfair because it sounds like a child moaning, it is literally an unfairness because it has no basis in fact.”

He does not belong to the National Association of Head Teachers, whose members – there are 365 in Wiltshire whose schools could be hit --  have voted to strike for the first time ever in the union’s 114-year history.

Yet Dr Hazlewood, who has won international recognition for St John’s, still attacked the government’s “steamrollering manner” in reducing teachers’ pensions and extending the retirement age and accused it of failing to check the facts, especially the fact that teachers’ pensions schemes are currently running in credit, not a deficit as some politicians have suggested.

“The teachers pay huge amounts into their pensions already,” he pointed out.  “The amount that goes in each month is about seven per cent of the teachers’ salary.  That has been met by a sum from the employers.  And that has been true for many years.”

“Whilst the government does seem to have done the basic calculations, it hasn’t checked the current basis of the pension scheme.  When that question has been asked of them, they have sort of fudged it.”

Teachers currently earn £27,000 to £30,000 a year with final salary scheme pensions at just under £10,000, but if an average salary scheme is imposed they will lose out considerably, having to pay more for a reduced pension.

“If the pension age is to change as well, then that is another problem,” he protested.  “It is a complete madness as far as I can see.  For those who know what teaching is like, it is a very draining activity.”

“You imagine 30 children of whatever age in your classroom all through the day.  Most parents may find one child difficult but 30 constantly through the day.  The pace of education today is so intense that teachers are very worn out.”

“By the time they reach the age of 55 they are looking for early retirement because they simple can’t cope any longer.  As a head, I would hate to be presiding over a school in which people were dropping dead, literally dropping dead from exhaustion.”

“It is really that bad.  It is that serious.”

“We have very few teachers over 55 here at St John’s.  Those that have not taken early retirement have stepped down, either to a lesser post but usually to part-time contracts.”

“Quite a number of my staff who are over 55 work three days a week.  That’s the only way they can see they can get to retirement in one piece.”

He believes there are bigger issues too if the government’s proposals are enacted.  They will seriously impact on teacher recruitment.

“Senior leaders of the profession like myself could earn a lot more doing jobs elsewhere,” he added.  “The government will find it has a headship recruitment crisis in particular.  If I had known if something like this was going to happen a long time ago, I would not have come into the teaching profession.”

He views with sadness a strike, an action that was a last resort by teachers and enormously regretted.  “I hope the government will negotiate properly and effectively,” said Dr Hazlewood.  “I desperately hope that this strike can be avoided.”

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How the Health Secretary’s new rules on patient choice will affect NHS Wiltshire’s bottom line

If you need a hip replacement you will soon be able to choose where and when to have it done with no interference from the Primary Care Trust (PCT) – or, in the future, from GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups that will replace PCTs in 2013. That’s the result of a ruling by the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, making it plain that in the government’s eyes patient choice trumps everything else.

Lansley’s ruling this week follows the recommendations of the Co-Operation and Competition Panel in July when they addressed a complaint from a private health care provider, Circle Health, that NHS Wiltshire and the adjacent PCT (Bath and North East Somerset) were making unfair restrictions on their access to patients for elective surgery like hip and knee replacements.

The new ruling bans PCTs from enforcing minimum waiting times on referrals and putting caps on the number of operations a provider can carry out – actions that “do not take account of the healthcare needs of individual patients.”

In the paper entitled ‘Patient Choice’, which details the acceptance of the Panel’s nine recommendations following Circle Health’s complaint, there’s just one reference to the cost of this new policy: “The Department [of Health] agrees that it is not in patients’ interests for commissioners to restrict choice of provider on the basis of their relative costs….”

In publishing the new rules, Lansley said: “PCTs have to manage resources carefully but they must do so without restricting patient choice.”  The new rules are to be brought in as quickly as possible, but must be in place by 31 March 2012.

The good news is that this will avoid the NHS Wiltshire having to find between four and eight million pounds from this year’s budget to accommodate these rules.  But the impact of the ruling on next year’s NHS Wiltshire budget will be considerable.

It is also noted that the Health Secretary did not impose fines on NHS Wiltshire and on Bath & North East Somerset PCT.  Perhaps this is a sign that some in the Department of Health recognise how difficult managing  the costs of treatment really is - and how difficult it will prove for the new Clinical Commissioning Groups.

Even if NHS Wiltshire’s ongoing campaign to make the savings ordered by the government is totally successful, it already looks as though there may be a £23million gap in 2012-2013 between expenditure and income.  And that’s without taking account of these new ‘patient choice’ rules.

Twenty-three million pounds will probably be well below five per cent of NHS Wiltshire’s income for next year – depending on whether the uplift the government provides is a real or an unreal increase.  But it’s not the only pressure the commissioners will face.

It is certain to impact on NHS Wiltshire’s careful plans to pay off the debt it inherited when it was formed in 2006.  At the end of March 2009 this debt stood at £27,415,000.  By the end of this financial year it is expected to be £16,990,000.

But the costs of the coalition government’s major NHS reorganisation, the negligible increase in the budget decreed by the government for 2011-2012, the unforeseen costs of the new patient choice ruling and the expectation that the government will find new challenges that have to be met without extra funding (like Lansley's new move against waiting times), will make for what one non-executive director called “a really awful” final year for the PCT’s finances.

And as far as putting the patient first is concerned, the financial squeeze may well mean there will be ‘a big step down in activity from this year to next year’ – which is a polite way of saying there will have to be cuts in services.

For more on the background to this ruling go to our original story on Circle Health’s complaint and the Panel’s ruling.

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The Aldbourne Band have won another cup – this one’s silver

The Aldbourne Band is ending 2011 on a strong note – they’ve been awarded second place in the open section at the sixty-fifth annual championships of the South West Brass Band Association.  The contest was held at the Riviera Centre in Torquay with thirty-seven bands competing for the top prizes.

Musical director David Johnson chose an extremely challenging test piece for the band – On the Shoulders of Giants composed by Peter Graham.  This piece was commissioned for the British Open in 2010. The ‘giants’ that the music reflects are the composers who have influenced the style of brass bands over the past hundred years.
The piece took a great deal of concentrated practice and rehearsal.

The band’s chairman, James Sheppard said: “It was great to see so many supports and ‘Friends of Aldbourne Band’ with us on the day. We had a marvellous result being placed above four other championship section bands.”

“We achieved the task we’d set ourselves – to play a challenging test piece in preparation for the area finals in March 2012.”

The adjudicator, Peter Bassano, praised the band’s performance and even noted the loud, prolonged and enthusiastic applause from the audience who appreciated a piece well executed.

The band has now moved up into the top world rankings and lies at sixty-first in the world.  The band aims to be within the top fifty by this time next year.

You can hear the band play at several Christmas concerts including one at St Michael’s Aldbourne at 7.00pm on Sunday, December 11.

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A silent rebuke for Claire Perry on government’s draft planning proposals

A bid by Marlborough MP Claire Perry to change the mind of Marlborough Town Council on its opposition to the government’s new draft planning policy, which has outraged the National Trust, has met with a silent rebuke.

The council wrote to government minister Grant Shapps opposing the planning framework, which it is feared will give developers carte blanche to build extensively on open country sites in rural areas.

And in a reply to that, Tory MP Mrs Perry sent a detailed two-page letter declaring that the policy was “incredibly important” and “vital that we get it right”.

She pointed out: “I love our green county of Wiltshire and I completely agree that if the result of the changes was to create ‘rubbish homes in densely populated estates’, as some constituents have suggested, then that would be a very bad outcome.”

“This is not what the government is proposing.  Instead these changes have two key aims – to simplify the voluminous and complex national planning policy now to over 1,000 pages, and to enable a far greater degree of local control over development.”

And Mrs Perry added: “I don’t agree with the view that these reforms will undermine important protection of the countryside, or that it will lead to ‘Los Angeles urban sprawl’ as the National Trust, of which I am a member, suggested rather irresponsibly in my view.”

“The new guidelines safeguard national protections such as green belts, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest, and include measures to protect wildlife, biodiversity, cultural heritage and tackle light pollution.”

But the town council’s Planning Committee decided last night (Monday) to let the letter lie on the table unanswered.

Councillor Nick Fogg (pictured), angered that massive local opinion has been overruled by a government planning inspector in allowing Marlborough’s Ivy House Hotel to become a hostel for Marlborough College students, remains unconvinced about the new planning strategy.

“It's a politician's illusion that house-building creates economic growth,” he told Marlborough News Online.  “It reflects it.  It doesn't create it.  That's done by increased trade.”

“I know a lot of informed people are extremely worried about changes in the planning laws.  Our countryside should continue to be protected.  It's our heritage to pass on to the next generation.”

Councillor Richard Pitts, one of the pioneers behind the “transitional town” project for Marlborough, aimed at limiting energy costs, had reservations too.

"Its very clear to me we need to develop a community/neighbourhood plan, which is crafted to take account of the needs and wishes of Marlborough town,” he said.

“I believe under the Localism bill this would allow us to set the agenda to suit the community here.  Given our aim for a sustainable community our own neighbourhood plan should empower us to keep Wiltshire Council and developers dancing to our tune rather than the other way round.”

 And he added: “Given how Wiltshire responded to the overwhelming community demands to retain Ivy House hotel as a Hotel, based on the economic data.  I suspect we are facing ‘you are allowed your own neighbourhood plan provided it agrees with our version of plan’.”

“I hope we can call on Claire Perry to defend our plan should this happen."

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More fish rescued from drought hit River Kennet at Manton

More than 100 fish including brown trout and grayling were rescued from the River Kennet at Manton, near Marlborough, on Thursday.

The main pic shows Environment Agency Fisheries Officer Dan Horsley transferring a brown trout to a flowing section of the Kennet

Responding to a report by a member of the public, Environment Agency Fisheries Officers successfully netted the fish from isolated pools in a section of the river that had dried up as a result of the exceptionally low rainfall.

Fisheries Officer Dan Horsley told Marlborough News Online: “This is the first time we're carried out this type of operation so late in the year. Fortunately we were able to transfer the fish downstream to a location with a secure flow of water.” 

The Environment Agency is collaborating with Action for the River Kennet (ARK) and local river keepers to protect fish stocks in the upper Kennet during the danger moments created by low flows of water, which is also piped to Marlborough households.

“We are currently in contact with British Waterways regarding a potential water quality issue in the canal around Bedwyn,” added Officer Horsley.

Environment Agency Fisheries Officers Andy Killingbeck and Dan Horsley netting fish trapped in pools
 
Environment Agency Fisheries Office Dan Horsley transfers a brown trout to a transport tank
 
The dry bed of the River Kennet at Manton
 
A dead grayling
 
Environment Agency Fisheries Officer Dan Horsley and riverkeeper John Hounslow transfer rescued fish to a flowing section of the Kennet
 
Fisheries Officer Adam Hilliard recovers a dead grayling
 
Environment Agency Fisheries Officer Dan Horsley transfers a brown trout to a flowing section of the Kennet
 
One of the young brown trout saved by the Environment Agency Fisheries Officers

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The mayor’s London lodger tunes up to become renowned pianist for charity concert

Memories of an unknown lad who became his lodger in London will be revived for Marlborough’s mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, when  the internationally renowned concert pianist Andreas Boyde comes to town at the end of the month.

Andreas is to give a charity concert recital at St Peter’s Church – and a piano workshop at St John’s School – at the end of the month to raise funds for the mayor’s two charities, the Wiltshire Air Ambulance and the Helen & Douglas House children’s hospice.

As a child in East Germany, Andreas he went to a school for the musically super-talented and played the piano for the likes of the East German Communist boss Erich Honecker when he visited Dresden. 

Just before the Berlin Wall came down, Andreas won a British Council scholarship to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.  And that’s when he linked with the mayor, a student seeking somewhere to live.

“We lived in Islington close to Highbury football stadium and used to take lodgers from the Guildhall -- they provided a very civilised class of lodger,” recalled the mayor.  

“So it was that Andreas came to live with us on the fifth floor for several years, while he studied with the quite famous, but now dead, Jimmy Gibb.”

 “After about a week we had to ask him not to practice on our 100 year old Broadwood grand -- a soloist expecting to be heard at the back of a concert hall is a bit fierce on an old piano -- and he went to the practice rooms at the Steinway Hall and a proper Steinway piano.”

Andreas, now 34, is an established as a major international concert pianist, playing all around Europe, North and South America and the Far East.  “But we have always kept in touch and now I am delighted he is coming to Marlborough to boost my charities,” added the mayor.

He will be at St John’s for a one-hour piano workshop for students on November 24 and the following evening will be offering a programme of Brahms, Haydn, Liszt and Robert Schumann at St Peter’s Church.

Tickets for the 7.30pm concert costing £5, including a glass of wine, can be obtained at Sound Knowledge and the White Horse Bookshop.

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Now it is YOUR chance to see the town hall improvements and give your views

A major four-day consultation exercise is to be launched on Monday to give Marlborough residents a chance to express their views on continuing plans to revamp the historic town hall.

The aim is to seek support for the council’s project to make improvements that will enable better use to be made of the building, in particular providing better value for money for local council taxpayers.

And it is being carried out against a backdrop of controversial claims that the council wants to dump the million pound plus cost on local residents, which have been proved to be totally fallacious.

More than £250,000 in grants and donations have enabled the council to carry out already highly visible improvements to the town hall entrance and in particular to the assembly hall, now fitted with big screen and sound facilities first used at the time of the Royal Wedding in April.

And the improvements will be staged over time, as and when the finance, partly through low interest Public Loan Board finance now extensively used by Wiltshire Council and town councils throughout the county, becomes available.

As from Monday, residents will now have their chance to see in detail plans of the proposed further changes, bringing into action former unusable areas, to make their own suggestions -- and to give their views on the project.

Councillor Guy Loosmore, chairman of the council’s Property Committee, which has masterminded the plan, told Marlborough News Online: "This is an exciting  proposal to transform the use of the building into a living, breathing focal point for the community.”

“And at the same time we want Marlborough town council’s activities to be open seven days a week while at the same time maintaining the heritage of this iconic landmark.”

“We hope that many people will come in to see our proposals and respond to the consultation.  This plan is about turning the building into one that is fit for the future of this town”

The consultation event will be held in the town hall over four days from Monday to Thursday next week.

An exhibition will be on view between 10.30am and 4:00pm, and on the evenings of 23 and 24 November between 7.00pm and 9.00pm

“We shall also be mailing out a leaflet to all households in the town asking informing them of the proposals and asking for comments,” said town clerk Liam Costello.

It is approximately 100 years since the last major work was undertaken on the town hall and the building was in a state of neglect when this council came to power in 2007.

“Slowly and surely we have moved to allow the building to command respect in the town,” said former property committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts.  “I started not long after taking office to seek funds to do just that.”

“Councillor Loosmore took my work forward very positively.  The new steps replaced badly worn access and discretely created disabled access to the court room area in a way which is completely inclusive.”

An essential part of the project is to transfer the council’s current offices at No 5 High Street back to the town hall by bringing unusable areas back into action, then renting out No 5 to add to the council’s income stream.

And it is hoped that all future elections, parliamentary and council, will again be held in the town hall in the heart of Marlborough.

“This council has a good track record of consultation,” added Councillor Pitts. “We hope as many people as possible will visit the town hall and see the plans.”

 “We will listen, take onboard the community’s view and develop and enhance the project based on those views.  We are keen to show how we can extend on the work to date, which has been overwhelmingly well received.”

“We hope to show with this public consultation what careful considered design can produce in a sustainable way, which enhances the building, reduces its operating costs, and allows flexible spaces which can be used in many ways to contribute to the life of the community.”

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Local author extends her fund raising for breast cancer research

Since August, Marlborough author Grace Conti has been donating royalties from her novel Through an Icon’s Eyes to Breast Cancer Research.  She had planned to end this generous fundraising at the end of October, coinciding with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, instead she’s extending it until Christmas.

This is Grace Conti’s debut novel, and with steady sales she hopes to increase her fundraising by catching people who are given Kindles and iPads over Christmas.

Grace explains, “In recent years a shocking number of friends and neighbours have been touched by this insidious disease. The day I decided to publish my novel in Amazon's ebook format I received the news that another close friend had been diagnosed – so donating the royalties seemed the right thing to do."

“ I know people who run marathons for charity, but I haven't got the stamina for that. The best thing I can do is offer practical support through friendship and hope that sales of my book result in a significant donation."

Through an Icon's Eyes is a magical story of love, heresy, murder and betrayal. Set in 1440s Europe against a turbulent background of inflammatory politics and religious divisions. Benedict Paston a former sundial-maker, is lost to the world. His self-imposed exile in a remote monastery is relieved only by the task of painting an icon.

As the hours of devotion mark the progress of one day in his monastic cell, escape from self-destruction is brought about by the painted image of Mary Magdalene. Meanwhile, in England, Annie Carter, a young widow beset by visions and facing death, finds that she too has an unusual guide and confessor as the light and shadows mark the progress of her day in a very different cell .....

Grace explains the background to her novel: “The historical research really took the time, it is the cusp between the medieval and the renaissance periods when Europe was teetering on the brink of dramatic change.”

“The story of Benedict & Annie began to unfurl the more I read, although it wasn't until I went to Greece on holiday and stumbled across some fifteenth century icons in a little Church that the character of Mary Magdalene joined the story and the novel took shape. She is their confessor, therapist even. It’s a story of two people who misunderstand their intentions and let that destroy their relationship. A little bit of magic helps unravel their story.”

The rising popularity of the ebook is gradually changing the face of publishing, an industry that’s dominated by large corporations which hold sway over bookshops and readers. Writers like Grace Conti have chosen to remain in control of their work by using Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing.

Grace has found the process fascinating:  “I had always thought the only route for a writer was to find an agent and hope they can sell your work to a big publisher. I knew that my novel was difficult to pigeon-hole, they like genre-specific books and these days it seems to be more about authors’ personalities rather than their actual work.”

“I was given a Kindle earlier this year and I was very dubious to begin with. Like so many people I love holding a book in my hands, but the more I read the more I enjoyed it. It is great to be able to take a whole library on holiday with you, or on the train.”

“Publishing for Kindle was easy. Just a case of formatting it correctly, designing a cover and away it went. My partner designed a website to go with it and I created a facebook page ... I even tweet excerpts of the book."

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Commuters campaign over rail service threat

Commuters who use Bedwyn Station near Marlborough to work in London are campaigning to secure rail services as the government looks to roll out rail electrification.

The electrification of the rail line between London and South Wales will mean faster travel times for rail passengers using that route – including commuters who catch the train at Swindon.

But electrification of the line will stop at Newbury, and rail users on the Berks & Hants Line, on which the Bedwyn-to-Paddington trains run, fear a reduction of services at Hungerford, Kintbury and Bedwyn.

Transport minister Theresa Villiers has told MPs Claire Perry, whose constituency covers Bedwyn, and Richard Benyon, the member for Hungerford and Kintbury, that after 2016 diesel-only trains will not be able to run on the electrified line between Reading and Paddington.

It is proposed that through services to Exeter will be in two categories: a fast service between Paddington and Reading, stopping at Reading and Taunton, using the existing high speed trains, and a slower service using 'bi-mode' trains that can run under the wire to Newbury and on diesel thereafter, between Paddington and Exeter, stopping at additional stations including Newbury, Pewsey and Westbury.

A worst case scenario after electrification could be the loss of direct trains into Paddington. Instead, passengers would have to catch a diesel shuttle service to Newbury, and change for the electric service.

Now Bedwyn Trains Passenger Group has taken up the cudgel to secure services for the Kennet Valley stations.

In an official response to the Great Western Draft Route Utilisation Strategy, the group says: “Bedwyn, Hungerford and Kintbury have enjoyed an hourly off-peak service with additional peak trains for some years. More recently a sizeable percentage of these trains have operated directly to Paddington.

“We are concerned that from 2016, with only partial electrification, stations west of Newbury may be given a reduced or lower standard service.

“BTPG would strongly oppose either a shuttle service to Newbury or ‘skip-stopping’ for stations west of Newbury. The pointless attempt to reduce the service to Bedwyn and Kintbury in 2006 directly led to the formation of the BTPG and we see no valid reason for this to be considered again.”

The passenger group is concerned that rail operators underestimate the number of people using Bedwyn station because there is no ticket office or ticket machine, meaning the collection of accurate data is difficult. A November 2010 passenger survey by BTPG showed that 200 people used the outbound services from Bedwyn.

Anyone who is concerned about reduced rail services between Bedwyn and Paddington is urged emeial the train passenger group at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with their name, address and the name of the station they use, or to write to Claire Perry MP at House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA and send a copy to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Meanwhile, Transition Town Marlborough and BTPG are campaigning for a better bus service between Marlborough, the villages and the station, for more information log on to www.transitionmarlborough.org and http://betterbedwynbuses.wordpress.com

Campaigners will be surveying train users about the viability of new bus services on Wednesday, November 23 from on the 8.40am train and the evening trains.  

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