Marlborough News Online welcomed its 150th Twitter follower on Friday, in the week that it celebrated its first six months of publication.
It was a landmark for the the site, which saw 1,126 visitors read 5,385 articles. Meanwhile our web stats revealed that while most visitors, predictably, came to our site from the UK, we enjoy quite a following abroad, including 22 visits from America (howdy!), eight from Australia (g'day!), three from France (bonjour!), and two each from Slovakia (ahoj!), Germany (guten abend!), Poland (czesc!), Canada (chimo!), and the United Arab Emirates (مرحبا).
Are you one of our international readers? Are you an expat who misses home, or a resident travelling for business or pleasure. We'd love to know - please get in touch!
Marlborough’s mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, was full of praise for our endeavours....
“Congratulations to Marlborough News on Line for establishingitself so quickly as an indispensable part of the townscape,”
“To have published well over 500 articles, and had so many hits on the site within six months of starting up, speaks volumes both for the professionalism of the way you run it, and also for the need for up-to-the-minute information on issues concerning the town.
Nationally the NHS has come in for some dreadful headlines in recent weeks. Indeed it’s quite hard to keep up with the flow of reports and statistics – both official and unofficial.
Late on Monday evening (October 17) the Guardian’s main online headline ran: “Revealed: how NHS cuts are really affecting the young, old and infirm – Services slashed affect patients on frontline such as pregnant women and elderly despite assurances they would be protected.”
Leaving aside the headlines about the passage through Parliament of the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Bill and the dire warnings from some of its critics and from health professionals, we can dig through the data behind the headlines to run a quick health check on some of our local health care provision.
Waiting for treatment
August’s figures for the time taken from referral to treatment showed a rise in the number of patients waiting longer than the all-important recommended maximum ‘waiting time’. Across England there was a forty-eight per cent rise in patients waiting more than eighteen weeks to be treated in hospital: “Sharp rise in NHS patients waiting more than 18 weeks for care”.
Nationally the average waiting time for those completing referral to treatment in August was 8.1 weeks for those admitted to hospital and 4.1 weeks for those who did not need to be admitted to hospital.
For NHS Wiltshire patients admitted to hospital, the average (median) waiting time from referral to treatment was 10.9 weeks – only eight PCTs recorded longer waiting times. But the percentage of NHS Wiltshire patients admitted to hospital and treated within the eighteen week target was a respectable 93.5 per cent against the national average of 90.4 per cent.
For those not admitted the average (median) waiting time was 4.8 weeks with 97.7 per cent completing referral to treatment within the eighteen week ceiling.
For Great Western Hospital the average (median) waiting time between referral and treatment for patients admitted to hospital was above the national average at 12.7 weeks. Yet the average (median) waiting time from referral to treatment for those not needing hospital admission was 3.6 weeks – well below the national average.
And 98.1 per cent of non-admissions were treated within the eighteen week limit – against the national average of 97.3 per cent.
Care of the elderly by hospitals
Some of the most alarming and outraged headlines concerned the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) report on the care of the elderly in hospitals. Based on unannounced inspections in April this year, this looked at two elements of that care - patient dignity and nutrition. The report did not look into the elderly’s medical treatment.
The headlines were damning: “Treatment of the elderly is a national disgrace” (The Independent.) Under the headline “Our nurses must go back to basics”, the Mirror’s veteran columnist, Paul Routledge, said: “Making nursing a graduate profession has been a medical success and a caring disaster.”
The Great Western Hospital was among those criticised in the report – but not as harshly as were some hospitals. For the full story and GWH’s response, read Marlborough News Online here.
While the CQC’s national report was very worrying indeed, there was also worrying news about the capability of the CQC to monitor care properly. While the coalition government has cut the CQC’s budget by about one third, its remit has been widened to include GP’s premises and it currently has about two hundred staff vacancies.
The wait for diagnostic tests
August’s monthly data from the Department of Health showed a growing number of people in England were not getting one of the fifteen key tests - like scans and gastroscopies – within the NHS’s recommended six week waiting time: “Patients waiting too long for NHS scans”.
NHS Wiltshire scored well in this data even though August’s figures are liable to reflect appointments postponed because of holidays and specialists on leave. Out of a total of 4,427 tests in the fifteen categories, nineteen were performed beyond the six week wait and three were beyond thirteen weeks. Some of those may have been based on rogue data recorded by the first time use of new software.
To take one of the more common diagnostic tests as an example: out of 1,633 non-obstetric ultra sound tests commissioned by NHS Wiltshire, 1,233 were completed within four weeks and none ran over the six week waiting time.
The NHS’s budget
On October 7, NHS managers called on the government to be more honest about the financial challenges facing the NHS in England. They fear that the public will hear the government’s claim to have increased spending in real terms and not understand when cuts have to be made.
The Primary Care Trusts are facing cuts to their staff, huge savings and the intricacies of the government’s developing and changing restructuring plans.
When in April a Marlborough News Online writer challenged Devizes MP Claire Perry’s upbeat press release – “Claire Perry welcomes £19 million extra for NHS in Wiltshire” – the Conservative Research Department did finally agree that the increase over inflation was “marginal”.
In fact it was 0.1 per cent. To call the 0.1 per cent an increase at all increase was optimistic based as it was on an inflation figure of 2.9 per cent with a 3 per cent funding increase. That was what the promised ‘real terms’ increase meant.
Even with pay freezes and job losses, the NHS has to cope with the steep increases in fuel and energy costs and other inflationary pressures. At the same time, NHS Wiltshire has to meet its share of the national target of £20billion in savings and to pay off the debt inherited from its predecessor care trusts.
And lurking in the background is the Health Secretary’s forthcoming ruling on the changed emphasis of the government’s competition rules that may wipe out much more than that ‘marginal’ increase in Wiltshire NHS’s 2011-2012 budget.
Stonebridge Meadow, site of the proposed large wildlife pondARK (Action for the River Kennet) has launched a Grand Pond Raffle to raise funds for the proposed large wildlife pond in Stonebridge Meadow adjacent to the river Kennet as it flows through the middle of Marlborough.
"A pond in the meadow will add a new habitat for wildlife and will also be a wonderful place for children to learn about all the plants and creatures that inhabit a natural pond" said Anna Forbes, ARK's Grand Pond Raffle organiser.
"Local businesses have been extremely generous and we have over forty prizes, first prize is a £200 voucher for David Dudley, we also have meals for two, family passes for days out and a wide range of other fantastic prizes" she added.
Other major prizes include a day's flyfishing on Marlborough College's two trout ponds, six bottles of champagne donated by Hamptons International and a round of golf for four at Marlborough Golf Club, as well as many other smaller prizes.
The raffle will be drawn next April at ARK's Spring Stonebridge Meadow Day on 29th. This event is open to everyone. The day will have a range of wildlife walks, a children's nature trail and lots of other activities.
Tickets cost £1 each and can be purchased from the Town Council offices at 5 High Street (opposite the Town Hall), or directly from Anna on 01672 511 028
Chamber president Paul Shimell celebrates the opening of the Marlborough Fashion Show with Rachel Fisher from Joules, and Lisa Sprouting and Karen Coulthard from Phase Eight.Marlborough put on its glad rags for a night of fashion on Thursday, when 10 boutiques paraded their wares in front of a capacity audience at Marlborough Town Hall.
Models sashayed down the runway to a pounding dance music soundtrack, showing clothes stocked by local independents and multiples, including Joules, Rowlands, Spirit, Landmark, Phase Eight, Belles, East, Joan Pressley, Kath Kidston and Jigsaw.
For the organisers Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, it was a chance to show what the town had to offer ahead of the festive season and the month of late night openings when, from November 24 when the town's lights display is switched on, shops will be open until 8pm every Thursday until Christmas.
Chamber president Paul Shimell told the audience: "Effie Robins, the manger of Joules, and I realised that Marlborough town needed to fight back against the recession, so in order to bring the town together we put on this fashion show. We were so overwhelmed by the amount of traders willing to take part, that we felt we could raise money along the way for the major's charity, Wiltshire Air Ambulance."
The event, which raised £1,000 for the Air Ambulance Appeal, was compered by Liz Williams, owner of The Perfumery in High Street and a herself a former fashion model.
Before the fashion show started upstairs, guests were treated to a glass of champagne courtesy of Waitrose and invited to browse stalls selling the wares of more local shops.
In all, 24 local businesses were involved in putting on the show a feat described by Mr Shimell as a great community effort. Effie Robins and Sam Candy, from Joules, toast the success of the event with a glass of champagne.fHats off to them - Inge Valentiner, Charlotte Saker and Harriet Booth from Charlotte Quest in High Street brought along some of their beautiful home wares. Sammy Waddell of Lovely Stuff shows off her lovely stuff. Models from Joules, Spirit, Kath Kidston and Joan Pressley show off some of Marlborough's eclectic range of fashion.
Hundreds of people flocked to We Love Marlborough's Christmas Art Market and Santa's Grotto on Thursday to shop, meet Father Christmas and have arty fun.
The not-for-profit arts organisation hosted a day and evening of events on two floors of the Town Hall, to coincide with the switching on of the Christmas Lights.
Louisa Davison, from We Love Marlborough, said: “We are throughly exhausted but really pleased with how many people came to see Santa, see the stalls and take part in the art activities.”
Upstairs, Santa – accompanied by the Sleigh Belles – met over 100 children, some of whom brought him small gifts, pictures and hand-written letters.
On We Love Marlborough's Facebook page mum Lucy Brenk said: “Santa was worth the wait when we finally met him. Very good with the children,” while Jim Nicolson praised the “great atmosphere.”
And while parents faced long queues at times, children were entertained by a host of activities including face painting, Christmas crafts and the production of a huge Christmas mural, featuring Santa on his sleigh and measuring over four metres by three metres.
Meanwhile downstairs, 13 craftsmen and artists from across Wiltshire – including woodturners, jewellery makers, fine artists and potters – offered visitors the opportunity to buy beautiful handcrafted gifts.
Stall holders enjoyed themselves as much as the shoppers. Victoria Mellor, from Usborne Books, said: “Many thanks to We Love Marlborough team! It was a good event with lots of people bustling around. Look forward to next year.”
And Amanda Horner from Ramsbury Tea Co said: “Thanks for a great market last night; we met some wonderful people and talked a lot of tea!”
Children decorating the giant Christmas muralEager children queue to see SantaEager children queue to see Santa
A Christmas tree with a difference is planned to welcome visitors to Marlborough in December.
Instead of putting up a traditional fir tree on The Green, the town council is considering decorating with sparkling lights the fully grown ancient yew tree growing beside St Mary’s Church, plus the avenue of lime trees running alongside it.
“The plan is the greenest of our proposals,” Open Spaces Committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts told the town council on Monday.
The mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, personally supported the proposal while other councillors felt there should be a Christmas tree on The Green as well.
“This is cracking idea,” declared the mayor. “Having a tree on The Green is in fact difficult for motorists to see as they drive up and down”.
“But there are a lot of loose ends to this proposals. We shall have a meeting to sort them out.”
Councillor Peggy Dow agreed that it was a good way forward, adding: “I think this is an excellent idea.”
When the increases in car park charges across the county were announced in April 2011, Wiltshire Council’s press release said they were “designed to protect subsidised bus services…. Any additional revenue generated from the changes will go straight into protecting bus services.”
It would appear, from the information supplied to Marlborough News Online by Wiltshire Council that Marlborough residents are losing out, and a significant proportion of what we pay in parking charges funds bus services in other areas of the county.
This policy is justified by the statistic that forty-four per cent of households in the county have limited access to a car with sixteen per cent having no car at all.
When costs of maintenance, wardens, collecting money from the ticket machines and so on, were taken into account, the net value to the Council this year was to be £6,641,000. How much of that sum is spent on subsidising bus routes?
The Council has also justified steep increases in some towns’ car parking charges on the grounds they want to harmonise the varying charges they inherited from the district councils when Wiltshire became a unitary authority. Have they also harmonised the spread of bus subsidies? Is it fair to our area?
For the current financial year the Council allotted £5,167,760 to pay for or subsidise public bus services. But this figure includes £1,112,800 spent on Salisbury’s park-and-ride buses – that’s 21.5 per cent of the total amount.* (These figures do not include the Council’s budget for community bus services - about £175,000* - or concessionary fares, school buses and other public transport costs.)
Some bus routes are paid for in full, others are subsidised to allow companies to run services which may not be economically viable at certain times of day or on certain days of the week, but which the council deems are needed to get people to work, school or college.
The money pays for all or parts of: - thirteen local Salisbury services; - twenty-five “rural/interurban services radiating from Salisbury/Amesbury” (none of which pass through Marlborough); - 112 “services in other parts of Wiltshire” of which thirteen serve Marlborough (including the now reduced Bath service.) *
Is Marlborough getting its fair share of the Council’s spend on bus subsidies? It’s hard to tell without more detailed figures, but it does not look as though the money is very evenly spread.
In January 2011, Councillor Dick Tonge, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for highways and transport, told Salisbury Area Board that £1.2 million of the 2010-2011 bus subsidy money was spent on routes in the Salisbury area. Adding in the park-and-ride bus services, that means forty-one per cent of the county’s total bus subsidy (money coming from car park charges across the county) was spent in the Salisbury area in 2010-2011 – a proportion that will not have changed much for the current year.
It is difficult to prise out of Wiltshire Council precise figures for a town’s car park revenues. But at the Council meeting in July 2011 figures were presented showing income during the first quarter (April to June) for each of Salisbury’s off-street and on-street car parks. If the first quarter’s figures are maintained until the end of March 2012, Salisbury will contribute £2,816,400 to the county’s total car park revenues – that’s about thirty per cent.
From the figures it certainly appears that the Salisbury area is getting more than its fair share of bus subsidies. And, of course, Salisbury has the advantage of a rail service, whereas a Conservative government stripped Marlborough of its rail connections in 1963.
One question that comes to mind is whether the difference between the income from car parks and the money spent on bus subsidies (over one million pounds) is just set against the total public transport budget.
However, there is one other very pertinent question raised by these figures: who will subsidise the buses if, as many people hope and a few expect, car parks are handed over, under the government’s ‘localism’ legislation, to town councils?
(* Facts and figures obtained by Freedom of Information requests.)
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At the end of last month, a new organisation was launched to help support the well-loved railway path between Marlborough and Coate Water near Swindon. The inaugural meeting of the Friends of the Railway Path coincided with an exhibition at the Town Hall to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the last passenger train to run on the Swindon to Marlborough line.
The old line is now part of the National Cycle Network, managed by Sustrans and much used not only by cyclists, but also by walkers, runners and horse riders. It passes from an access point in Five Stiles Road, Marlborough, up the Og valley past Ogbourne St Andrew and Ogbourne St George, through Chiseldon to Coate Water. It gives access to a variety of circular walking routes and provides a gateway to the wonderful landscapes of the North Wessex and Marlborough Downs and along the Kennet valley.
The route is managed by Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity. They rely on grants, donations and volunteers to maintain the path. The Friends want to help Sustrans promote, develop and maintain the railway path.
And the Friends want to encourage a wide variety of users and make it an interesting place to visit. They plan to do this by: • Encouraging and coordinating community involvement in its maintenance (both as a path and as a wildlife habitat) • Securing funding for maintenance and development • Producing material describing the routes accessible from the path, its history and its environment.
The Friends are organising a series of workdays along the path.
Three red poppy wreaths were left at the foot of Marlborough’s war memorial to the town’s “own” 7th Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment in yesterday’s traditional Armistice Day ceremony.
One was laid by the Mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, on behalf of himself and the town council, the second by Lt. Col Austin Pearce of 4 Military Intelligence Battalion, who were honoured with the freedom to march in Marlborough last June.
But it was the third wreath, laid by 73-year-old retired schoolteacher David Chandler, that evoked the poignancy of the moment on what was the remarkable date of 11.11.2011 watched by dozens of students from St John’s School.
It was Mr Chandler’s tribute to his grandfather, Private Andrew Ferguson, the gamekeeper who went to war and never returned, his body never found in the fighting fields of far-off Salonika, in northern Greece.
He laid his wreath on the stone World War 1 memorial on his behalf and that of two other grand children, Carolyn and Christopher, who last month, together with their spouses, went to see the battlefield for themselves.
As the memorial inscription recounts, the 7th Battalion, formed in September, 1914, was sent to billets in Marlborough in April, 1915, and trained on the Common, hence its local link.
After going initially to France, it was then sent to Salonika, to protect the Serbs from the Ottoman Turks who together with the Bulgarians had joined the German cause.
But Private Ferguson, gamekeeper to the Marquis of Aylesbury who volunteered for the army, aged 39, was killed at the front a year later, on April 24, 1917, his body one of many never recovered.
“He was my mother’s father, my grandfather,” Mr Chandler told me at his home in Alma Place, Marlborough. “He left a widow and seven children. We have no information as to where and how he died.”
Last month Mr Chandler led the family party of six to Salonika, visiting the town of Doiran, on the border of Macedonia, where there is the main Commonwealth war grave but no memorial to Private Ferguson.
“He was one of 2,000 soldiers who just disappeared without trace, lost forever,” said Mr Chandler. “But we were delighted to make the journey and to be there. It was a moving experience we shall always remember.”
He was equally pleased yesterday to see so many students from St John’s School, Marlborough, and a few from St Peter’s School, taking part in the ceremony of two minutes silence outside Marlborough town hall, then walking down to hill to the London Road memorial to see the wreath laying ceremony take place.
It was a reminder for him of a similar Armistice event that used to be staged at a school where he taught.
“It is important for them to know what happened is all part of life,” explained Mr Chandler. “It was very moving to see them all there. I never ever thought it was something that would take off in its own momentum and still be appreciated today.”
That is thanks to Dr Patrick Hazlewood, St John’s headteacher, who was there supervising the event along with colleagues.
“We had two representatives from every tutor group in the school,” he told me. “We talked a little bit about the event before we went down, about the importance of remembrance and what the two minutes silence actually means.”
“They found it to be a very moving experience. On the way back to school, we talked about how they felt. It was a tingle down the spine for them. One or two said they were close to tears.”
And he added: “It was part of their education. It is really important that every generation remembers.”
More than £600 was raised by parents, children and supporters at Saturday's St Katharine's School Christmas Fair, which was held at Marlborough Town Hall.
Stick the nose on Rudolph, lucky dip, face painting and a competition to find hidden Christmas objects in a container of fake snow - courtesy of toy shop Ducklings - were among the attractions.
There were also plenty of activities: children were invited to decorate biscuits, paint ceramics and make holly decorations, while some stalls sold Christmas gifts made by the children in their classes.
The children themselves serenaded shoppers with Christmas songs and even Father Christmas took time out of his busy schedule to visit the event.
Jeff James’ resignation last month as Chief Executive of two primary care trusts (PCTs) – Wiltshire and Bath & North East Somerset (BANES) – came as a great shock to his colleagues and friends. He had been with Wiltshire NHS since it was formed in 2006 and was appointed to BANES this year.
As part of the government’s major reorganisation of the NHS, Wiltshire and BANES were ‘clustered’ together to save money and make way for the abolition of PCTs in 2013 when the GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and Wiltshire Council take over. During the ‘clustering’ process, the team he had built at NHS Wiltshire saw many redundancies as costs were saved.
Jeff James, who is 58, has worked in the NHS for thirty-one years – sixteen of them as a chief executive. He was ordained priest in the Church of England in 2002.
Why did he resign? Jeff James told Marlborough News Online that he had looked at the balance in his life between work, home and the church, and found it was not the balance he wanted.
Why did he resign now? “Now is as good a time as any. If I didn’t change now, I’d have to wait till 2013. Going now gives someone the chance to see through next year’s business plan and conclude the handover to the CCGs and the local authority.”
Did he resign because of the government’s reorganisation? No, but… “In 2013 the kind of job I’ve really enjoyed doing won’t exist.” The fragmentation of the NHS means that no one will again have the whole canvas of health services to work with. James now has national, regional and local responsibilities and is involved in almost every part of Wiltshire’s health service.
The Wiltshire PCT’s portfolio of responsibilities is being divided between the CCGs (in charge of some local commissioning), the yet-to-be-formed NHS Commissioning Board (in charge of specialist services), Wiltshire Council (public health and, through the new Health and Wellbeing Boards, strategy), Great Western Hospital (community health) and support services (Commissioning Support Services – CSUs, the latest out of the Department of Health’s copious store of acronyms, whose agenda is still be settled and which will ultimately be privatised.)
Jeff James would miss, for example, overseeing NHS Wiltshire’s work running the screening calls for Wiltshire, Swindon and Devon – work in which his team have become expert.
In the Marlborough area, Jeff James is best known as the man who closed Savernake Hospital Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) and Day Hospital very soon after the community hospital had, at great cost, been expanded and renovated. Why were they closed?
James says the decision was not specific to Marlborough and was brought about partly by costs and partly by a change in the model of service – creating a new balance between care at home and care in hospital. During his time at NHS Wiltshire he has pioneered the much admired Neighbourhood Teams bringing care and daily treatment to people in their homes.
James makes the point that consultation on the future of health care across Wiltshire had begun in 2005 - before he and NHS Wiltshire came on the scene. And that was also driven in part by costs. The Kennet and West Wiltshire PCT (K&WW) had run up an over-spend of £44 million by the end of 2005 and were on track to add another £24 million during 2006-2007.
The future of Savernake had been considered by the (then) Wiltshire Health Authority in 2002. Then the issue was handed over to K&WW: “They were very optimistic about the money available, very optimistic about the clinical role of Savernake and not as aware as they might have been about the trends in hospital usage.”
Beds in community hospitals were becoming less busy. More people were going home sooner after surgery. And community nursing and minor treatment in GPs surgeries was becoming the norm: “Gosh! How did anyone reach the conclusion that [upgrading Savernake] was the right thing to do.”
James and NHS Wiltshire’s Chairman, Tony Barron, have been criticised for the way they conducted the judicial review led by Val Compton which alleged the consultation on closing the MIU and Day Hospital was unfair and the decision unreasonable. Why, for instance, did they contest the cap on costs? Each side had to pursue their ‘best interest’ and “The wider consequences in the NHS if we had lost would have set a pattern with serious financial consequences. We had a responsibility to conduct our case pretty vigorously.”
Both James and Barron have been the subject of some pretty fierce personal attacks. During the 2010 general election campaign, the Devizes constituency’s independent conservative candidate pictured them as arrested criminals in American-type police mug-shots. And one campaigner greeted James’ resignation with a tweet: “The end of the road for Jeff James”.
“It’s part of the rough and tumble. When I first started in the NHS there was a committee, in the late 1980s chief execs and chairmen came along and we started to have a much more personal debate. Tony and I decided to make a lot of the running in the public debate – it was a style choice. If you are the person who is the accountable officer you can’t but be held responsible.”
“We don’t live in respectful or deferential times – that’s a good thing. But we can all wish there was a different tenor to the debate. The alternative is that you withdraw from the public. Out of the public exchange you don’t get agreement, but by not doing it anonymously people may come to understand the reasoning.”
The NHS’ future
Jeff James sees some risks in the government’s new design for the NHS. He has made sure that as an organisation NHS Wiltshire has low costs – “mean management to fit austere economic times” – and the costs for the CCG’s will be higher. (Wiltshire NHS costs £21 per head of its population, against an average of £35 for other PCTs in the region and a probable £25 for the CCGs.)
In the government’s Health and Social Care Bill, local authorities get more say in health services, running the new Health and Wellbeing Boards. Might some of them flex their muscles and try to dominate the commissioning process? James admits there may be ‘tensions’. They may know the pain in closing a school: “Imagine how much more exquisite that pain would be if they were allocating health service resources” – closing a ward or a hospital. And at least one person on the Boards will have to face re-election.
In Andrew Lansley’s new order “We’ll have three agendas: the local ‘popular’ agenda, the clinical agenda and the national political agenda – with the local agenda bumping into the national one.”
Jeff James’ future
Once it’s decided when he will leave his posts (he can be held to six months’ notice), Jeff James wants to take some time off. “It’s a bit like deep-sea diving – after the pressure of the last few years, I need to decompress for a time – or I’ll get the bends.” Then he wants to divide his non-family time about 50-50 between work and the church, and would very much like to do more parish work. Where will that be? “My wife comes from Cornwall and I’m from Wales – so we’ll see!” Having watched Jeff James in action over the past six months for Marlborough News Online, I’ll bet he very soon gets a call from a university – his experience and analysis will be a great draw for them. The university might be in Wales or it might be nearer to Cornwall.