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Ideas pour in for boosting the future use of Marlborough’s railway path

A host of good ideas for the future came from members of the public who attended last week’s open meeting of the Friends of the Railway Path held the Calley Memorial Hall, Chiseldon, reports chairman Dick Millard.

The aim of the meeting was to discuss how the path could be made better and more enjoyable for users.  Some of those taking part were cyclists, some walkers and some were horse riders.

And all of them knew about and used the path.  

Among the many suggestions made were calls to:

1. Provide better signing, particularly through Chiseldon, and in Marlborough.

2. Develop better access for a variety of users, especially at the Marlborough end of the path.

3. Identify parking areas for horse boxes.

4. Give better views of the surrounding countryside while preserving the habitat value of hedges and  trees.

5. Make much more information available on the history of  the path and the landscape which it traverses.

6. Create more things to look at and do on the way.

The committee of the Friends of the Railway Path will now start to develop a plan for what to do, and start to find suitable sources of funding.

If you would like to suggest something, please contact the Friends of the Railway Path, either via their website at, or by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The future of publishing lies online

Three Wiltshire-based authors shared their publishing experiences at Marlborough Library to a crowd of would-be authors to celebrate National Libraries Day on Saturday.

The main message of this talk seemed to be that unless you are an established author or writing a series in a popular genre then expect little support from either agents or publishers.

Print publishing is in disarray, hard hit by the electronic format, and the main bookshops and online retailers push a few best sellers at the expense of other authors.

Self-publish an e-book, promote it on social media such as Facebook and Twitter (though don't let these sidetrack your writing) and then expect – and consider - a traditional publishing deal only when your sales hit 100,000 plus.

Mavis Cheek, who spoke alongside fellow writers Helen Slavin and James Aitcheson, gave a potted history of how she became a published author of some twenty-five years and fifteen books.

Most memorably she received her best advice when taken out by a publisher – to tell her why her first book would not be taken up. “It wouldn't happen over lunch today,” Mavis remarked.

Mavis became a writer after she fell pregnant and needed something to do that “made me a viable member of society” whilst she brought up her child, a situation mirrored by JK Rowling decades later.

A working class girl who had the right look for the 1960s arts vibe, Mavis spent over ten years working for an art publisher and then an eminent gallery before taking an arts degree.

Her first efforts at writing aimed for her to become the next Virginia Woolfe 'with no humour whatsoever,' however a publisher who recognised her underlying talent recommended that she write funny books.

And thus she become the 'Godmother of Chick Lit', a label she resists with a wry smile.

James Aitcheson, who was brought up and lives in Mildenhall, published his first book, Sworn Sword, in 2010, which he began writing whilst on a post-graduate creative writing course at Bath Spa University.

This is the first of a three book deal with Preface Publishing, the second instalment of which he is completing for release this September.

The series is set in England 1067, the aftermath of the Norman invasion, and is told from the point of view of Tancred, a Norman oath-sworn knight.

Trowbridge-based Helen Slavin began as a script writer, cutting her teeth on scriptwriting factories such as EastEnders and Holby City, before writing novels such as The Extra Large Medium and The Stopping Place.

Her fortunes in book publishing has been mixed as a 'mid-list' author; her first three novels were followed by a meeting with her publisher Pocket Books where 'I wasn't even bought a coffee'.

With Helen's suspicions raised, she was told that a book series – especially with a supernatural theme - was where it was at and what did she think?

Helen left the meeting having promised a three book series featuring a Swedish vampire detective. “I didn't like him,” she said, “And a troll ate him in the third chapter.”

So Helen decided to self-publish which is not the 'vanity' project it once was when the printed format was the only option.

In these days of the Kindle, smart phones and tablets, authors can easily convert their hard work into a self-distributing e-book format and promote the book themselves.

Whilst waiting for a response from her publisher regarding the first novel written after the beverage-free meeting, werewolf-themed Will You Know Me?, Helen has published this and her following two books online through Amazon.

The host, Marlborough Library, ended the event by announcing that in a few weeks time borrowers will be able to download books onto their e-readers, though not as yet to the Kindle due to compatibility issues.

Follow them on Twitter @wiltslibraries 


Plans for a diamond-shaped orchard as a tribute to the Queen’s jubilee

A diamond-shaped orchard growing amid wild flowers in a spot with its own picnic area – that is the vision for the apple tree orchard being planned for Marlborough Common.

Details of the tribute to mark the anniversary of the Queen’s 60 years on the throne were given to Marlborough town council’s Amenities and Open Space Committee on Monday by Philippa Davenport, founder of the town’s Apple Day initiative.

But before it goes ahead the council is to consult with the Commons User Group on its proposals for an area some 30 by five metres near the site of the Marlborough Rugby Club, off Frees Avenue.

“We need to float the idea to get reactions,” said committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts, who pointed out that the apple trees will all be rare Wiltshire varieties.

And Philippa added that they would be half-standard trees so there would be no danger of people climbing them and possibly falling to the ground once they have grown.

There will also be another area of mixed fruit trees, including plums and pears. “And the fruit will be reachable to pick,” she said.

Councillor Peggy Dow declared: “Having a picnic area will be an ideal way of encouraging people to use this spot.”


Home-Start is calling for new volunteer parents

Jane is a young mum who has just had her third baby.  She has no family or friends nearby and is feeling lonely, exhausted and overwhelmed.  She would like support from another parent, especially from someone with time to listen.

The Home-Start charity needs new volunteers who can be trained to help and support families like Jane’s who live in the Kennet areas of Marlborough and Devizes and the South Wiltshire areas of Larkhill, Downton, Mere and Whiteparish.

The Home-Start team is especially keen to find volunteers who will be able to provide support in Tidworth and Amesbury and in the surrounding villages.  Home-Start’s trained volunteers support both non-military and military families.

Their next volunteer training course will run on May 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 and June 6 and 27 at The Beeches in Bulford.

Volunteers should contact the Home-Start offices:  Marlborough 01672 515686 (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Amesbury 01980 676237 (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


Record response of more than 2,000 throng Marlborough’s prize-winning Science Fair

Children galore, parents and friends turned up for Saturday’s Marlborough Science Fair, the third of its kind at St John’s School – and proved its most successful.

“We had a total of 2,200 there, which is the highest number ever,” said specialist college co-ordinator Sally Bere. “And so we were very pleased to have beaten last year’s attendance of 1,900.”

The fair, part of National Science and Engineering Week, originated out of desire to interest more children in the subjects, and it has more than proved its worth.

The first year St John’s won the top prize from the British Science Association for the best school fair in the country, earning it both recognition and a grant of £600 towards science activities.

Last year it finished in second place. “And we already we know we are in the top three schools to win the prize again,” said Sally. “But it will take a little while before we know the exact result.”

“The day was an enormous success enabling St John’s to provide a stimulating and inter-active family learning environment.  It wouldn’t have been possible without the outstanding contribution of staff, volunteers, external agencies and the St John’s students, all of whom helped.”

Events at the fair, sponsored by Cadley Garage, included hands on events in the school labs, a code breaking treasure hunt, Lego robotics, and an amazing planetarium show organised by Wiltshire Astronomical Society using its solar telescopes.

It was aimed at children from four upwards with subjects ranging from fossils and earth science, mechanics through the ages, a Wiltshire Heritage programme about Stonehenge and a chance to design your own glass using laser cutters.

Stalls were also set up promote the work of ARK (Action River Kennet) in protecting the rare chalk stream during the current drought conditions and the forthcoming Farmers’ Markets, due to launch on Sundays this summer in Marlborough High Street.

A selection of pics from the day below:


Careful on the corners... MNO goes slot car racing

I consider myself a pretty good driver. In 22 years behind the wheel I've mastered many vehicles, from a Challenger tank to a 185mph TVR Sagaris in the name of local newspaper journalism – and I have the pictures to prove it. But today I'm racing a Formula 1 car... and I've just been beaten by my five-year-old son.

Perhaps this statement requires some qualification. For a start, Milo is nearly six – that extra nine months makes a real difference in the world of competitive parenting.

And for another, it's not full-size cars we're racing, but 1/64th scale slot cars. We're joining the Swindon Four Lane Blacktop Slotcar Club at Marlborough Scout Hut, as they host the local heat of a 10-stage regional competition.

Slot car racing is the affordable Formula 1 – heats are held in Marlborough, not Monaco, and cars start at £15, rather than $4 million. But like F1, there's a winning combination of driver skill and technical know-how – owners will often modify their box standard cars, and it's not unusual to find guys with engineering skills behind the controller of a slot car.

Deane Walpole of the English Association of HO Racing Clubs - the HO is the model scale - tells me: “All the guys like to tinker with the cars – they tune them and fit new motors to them to eek out a little more speed.”

And like full-size racing, fractions of a second are vital. When my son beats me – to my eternal shame – in the first heat, it's by half a second.

The cars travel at around 18 mph – no mean feat when the wheels are the size of garden peas – around a 100ft long course with four slots. Drivers take it in turns to have inside and outside lanes, racing on each of the four slots in the qualifiers before going through to the final rounds.

A beginner, like me, can expect to achieve around 13 laps in the allotted three minutes. Experienced drivers will record around the 20 mark, meaning the novices are lapped time and time again. The race ends when the three minutes is up. The power is cut and the cars grind to a halt. A computer, which has been measuring lap speeds and the distance of each car travelled, displays the podium places.

Within my first couple of practice laps I reckon I've got it sussed – fast on the straights bits, and slow right down for the bends. Milo prefers driving at full throttle, which means his cars fly off the track at every sharp bend, and into the hands of a marshal (yes, they do spell it with one L in motorsports), who quickly sets the car back on the track.

It soon becomes evident that slow and steady does not necessarily win the race. Milo's flying car tactic gives him an average lap time pretty much equal to mine. He soon learns to moderate his driving – slowing down slightly for the corners – while I become more of a risk-taker, and lose my car several times as a result. The cars of the experienced drivers, I notice, rarely if ever leave the track.

Between heats I grab a minute with Rob Lees, a member of the Swindon club, which meets on Tuesday evenings in St Mary's Church Hall in Marlborough – the club's home since the Swindon clubhouse burned down, when thieves torched a stolen motorbike too close to the premises.

The local club actually races 1/32 scale models – the size used by brand-leader and household name Scalextric. The club has 20 members, with around 10 racing at each meet, and the membership includes an airline pilot and a guy who works with industrial lasers.

“Because a lot of the fun is in modifying the cars it attracts people with an engineering background, and it's a great way of educating yourself about mechanics and electronics. But you can have a lot of fun just getting a car off the shelf and racing it too,” promises Rob.

Anyone interested in slot car racing in Marlborough can contact Rob on 07785 111999 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Advice on how to make some headway out of the financial gloom

Myles PalmerMyles PalmerThere may be gloom all around, but the new tax year does offer advantages to be considered while making a spring clean of your finances.

Advice on the subject has come from Myles Palmer (pictured), divisional director of Marlborough-based Brewin Dolphin, the investment house that sponsors arts events in the town, including the jazz and literary festivals.

“New ISA limits mean you have never been able to save as much in the tax-efficient shelter,” he points out. “This tax year you can invest £11,280 in an ISA, with a maximum of £5,640 allowed in cash.”

“It is the same with pensions.  The more you put in the more you get back from the Treasury. High earners paying the top rate 50 per cent tax should maximise their pension contributions to get the 50 per cent relief.”

“They could also take advantage of the 22 per cent tax gap between capital gains tax and income tax to increase capital return from investments.”  

He admits that with the economy still fairly fragile many households will be eager to give their finances a boost.

“For starters, get yourself an action plan,” he suggests. “Dig out your financial records, including savings, bonds, insurance plans, both general and life, pensions and mortgage statements.”

“If you have debts, use it to repay them.  Borrowing rates may be low, but savings rates are lower still. It is more than three years since the Bank of England cut base rate to just 0.5 per cent.”

“And so it makes sense to repay debt now while rates are at rock bottom.”

He adds:  “Spring-cleaning your finances is not just about cutting back.  It is also about making the most of what you have.”

“Check whether you had an account that offered a bonus a year ago.  If you did, that bonus has probably disappeared and so you may find that your rate has fallen off a cliff. If so switch to a better paying account.”

Becoming an early bird investor too by taking advantage of the new tax year ISA and pension provisions and take a look too at Enterprise Investment Schemes.

From April 6 anyone investing up to £100,000 in a new start-up business will be eligible for income tax relief of 50 per cent, plus for 2012 any tax on capital gains invested in such businesses will be waived.

But he warns: “The risks related to these investments are high and are not suitable for all investors.  Though of course, you should never let the tax tail wag the investment dog.”

“But irrespective of whether you are a higher rate or a lower rate taxpayer, get your tax personal tax affairs in order.”


Lansley aims to end doctors’ criticism of the coalition’s NHS Bil

The health secretary, Andrew Lansley has sent (February 16) an email to the “leaders of all prospective clinical commission groups (CCGs)” reassuring them they’ll be fully in charge of commissioning health services in England once the primary care trusts are abolished in March 2013. This follows criticism from GPs that too many regulators are being put in place to oversee their new commissioning duties and that their freedom to commission will be much reduced.

As Marlborough News Online has reported, some local GPs have voiced this criticism and following our reports a copy of Mr Lansley’s email has been forwarded to us.  It seems to reflect the government’s anxiety that they may be losing the argument over their NHS reforms.

The email opens: “I am writing to you to set out the important freedoms you can expect when the Health and Social Care Bill is passed into law and when CCGs take on their full statutory responsibilities. You will no doubt be aware of some of the interest the Bill’s return to the House of Lords is attracting in the media. This is not unusual for high-profile legislation, and I would like to reassure you that the Government remains fully committed to the successful passage of the Health and Social Care Bill.”

Mr Lansley then gives his reassurance to CCG leaders on three main counts:

“1. You will have the freedom, with your new powers and responsibilities, to commission services in ways that meet the best interests of your patients.”  He tells the GPs: “It is a fundamental principle of the Bill that you as commissioner, not the Secretary of State and not regulators, should decide when and how competition should be used to serve your patients’ interests.”

This is a remarkable u-turn as from the general election onwards Mr Lansley and the Cooperation and Competition Panel have been telling commissioners when and how to put services in the hands of various kinds of private provider – what this government used to call ‘Any Willing Provider’ and then changed to the softer ‘Any Qualified Provider’.

“2. You will have the freedom to work with whoever you want to in commissioning health services.”  This section of Mr Lansley’s email is all about the fears that the CCGs’ support services – such as payroll, record keeping and analysis, HR and financial control, all work previously done within the PCTs – will in future be carried out by large privatised companies which will to all intents and purposes take over the commissioning work.

This refers to the widely voiced criticism that the CCGs, sometimes clubbing together to pay for support services, will merely be reinventing PCTs, just on a slightly smaller scale.

Mr Lansley puts the onus firmly onto the GPs: “Whatever commissioning support arrangements you choose, you will always retain responsibility as a CCG for the commissioning decisions you make – the Bill does not allow these decisions to be made by other bodies.”  This, of course, provides cover for other parties to put forward commissioning plans – so long as they are signed off by CCGs.

“3. You will be free from top-down interference.”  Mr Lansley tells the GPs leading the CCGs that they “…will have the legal responsibility for the NHS budget entrusted to you from April 2013 onwards, and the legal power to use it in the interests of your patients.”

In fact the CCG leaders will not have responsibility for the NHS budget for England – as a quarter of it or about £20 billion will be kept back and used by the NHS Commissioning Board for, amongst other things, directly commissioning primary care and specialised services – and to create a system to  ‘oversee ’ the CCGs.

Mr Lansley also tackles the criticism he’s heard from some CCGs that the clinical senates (which he writes without capital letters) being set up in response to last summer’s re-think on the Bill, will not be able to ‘second-guess the decisions you take.’  He reassures the GPs that these ‘senates’ will only “advise both CCGs and the NHS Commissioning Board on clinical issues at a broad strategic level.”

There are two elements of the coalition government’s policies for the NHS in England that are not mentioned in Mr Lansley’s email.

First, there is no mention of the local authority-based Health and Wellbeing Boards (H&WBs).  These are supposed to be responsible for assessing the health needs of their whole area – rather than just the needs of the area covered by each CCG.

The policy in the coalition agreement was to elect people onto the PCTs to give, as the Lib Dems wanted, democratic legitimacy or accountability.  When Lansley suddenly decided to abolish PCTs, the Lib Dems needed to find some other way of getting their democratic legitimacy.  They chose the H&WBs.  But as the Bill’s is written only one elected councillor has to serve on each of these Boards (this may be increased by amendment in the House of Lords.)

However, this appeased the Lib Dems’ demands for democratic input. The precise role of the H&WBs and their place in the new hierarchy of quangos is still not clear.  It is well known that some councillors thought the H&WBs would allow them to commission NHS services.

Mr Lansley’s words of support for the CCGs make it quite clear the Boards will do no commissioning. And their omission from Mr Lansley’s email makes it unlikely they will ever be a threat to the ‘freedoms’ promised to GPs and their CCGs.

The other startling omission is that there is no mention at all of Mr Lansley’s mantra for patient power which featured so clearly in the White Paper that preceded the Bill: “No decision about me without me.” In the world of GP power that Mr Lansley portrays in his email, the role of the patient has disappeared.

This is almost certainly because some GPs in the CCGs had begun to see a nasty conflict of interests between what patients would want and what the GPs would want to commission.

In case GPs leading CCGs really were beginning to feel unloved, Mr Lansley has soothing words for them: “Your desire to improve services stands as testament to your dedication as public servants. In return, the Government will hold true our word to give you the powers and freedoms you need to deliver better services for patients.”

As one doctor expressed it to Marlborough News Online, some doctors feel they are being set up to take the blame when the money runs out for the NHS.  Will they then be seen as ‘dedicated public servants’?  Others believe there will be conflicts of interest with some GPs taking advantage of the reforms to bring more work into their surgeries, so earning themselves more money. Will they then be seen as ‘dedicated public servants’?


Historic crane returns to Burbage Wharf

An important piece of canal heritage has returned to Burbage Wharf after an absence of five years.

The Burbage Wharf crane is the last surviving example of seventeen cranes along the 86-mile stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal, between Bath and Reading.

Two hundred years ago those cranes loaded and unloaded goods from and onto canal barges, travelling along a busy trade route that was the equivalent of the M4 today.

The crane was originally constructed in 1833 and was used to load and unload coal, timber, lime, bricks and other commodities at the then-busy wharf.

But by the 1950s, when commercial traffic on the canal ceased, the crane was in a state of disrepair, and many original parts were missing altogether, as metal pieces had been salvaged and melted down to help the war effort.

Project manager John Webb, of the Inland Waterways Association, told Marlborough News Online: “A replica Burbage Wharf crane was erected in 1978. But the crane had been hewn from soft wood and slowly deteriorated. This new crane is made of English oak from Herefordshire, and will last considerably longer – perhaps as long as the original did.”

The first replica crane was dismantled and removed in 2007. The new crane was made by volunteers based at Claverton pumping station near Bath, which uses a wooden wheel to lift water up 48 feet from the River Avon to the canal above.

Volunteer Patrick Lawrence said the building of the new crane had been a four-year labour of love for fifteen volunteers.

“The only original piece of the crane is the two-tonne stone counterweight,” he said. “The oak was delivered cut to size, but had to be hewn and put together at Claverton.”

The wooden structure was transported from Claverton to Burbage Wharf in two parts back in November. A large modern crane was needed to lift the structures over the roofs of the two cottages to the towpath, where it was assembled.

The erecting of the crane, whose jib is 30 feet long and which stands at over 20 feet at its highest point, was officially celebrated yesterday (Monday, March 5) when a token ceremonial load was lifted by president of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, David Bruce, and the last cobble stone – bearing the date 2011 - was laid by South West regional chairman of the Inland Waterways Association, Chris Birks.

It will make an unusual feature for whoever buys the 18th century farmhouse and adjoining cottages, on whose land the crane resides. The property is being sold by The Crown Estate through Carter Jonas for £900,000.

  • The crane is on private property, but is best seen from the Burbage Wharf bridges on the A346 Marlborough-to-Burbage road, or from the canal towpath, which can be accessed via a track on the southbound side of the bridges. Visitors should be aware that the bridges form a narrow part of an extremely busy road without a footpath.


A magical year ahead for Edwina Fogg, Marlborough’s new mayor for jubilee year

Edwina Fogg neew MayorEdwina Fogg neew Mayor“Yes, I suppose it is going to be one of the most exciting years of my life,” says Edwina Fogg as she contemplates becoming Mayor of Marlborough in May.  “And I hope it will be an exciting year for all of us.”

An historic one too.  For elegant Edwina, at 70 the mother of six children with four of her nine grandchildren still to babysit, will be Marlborough’s first citizen as the town celebrates both the Olympic torch racing through to High Street en route to London and the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

She has a positive organising hand in all the celebratory events taking place – 20 so far – for her mayoral year has a special significance because her husband, Nick Fogg, has twice been Marlborough’s mayor before her.

So it means that not since King John granted Marlborough a charter in 1204, to hold a market and an annual fair, has a married couple both carried the gold chain of office round their neck.

And not since 1948, when King George VI was the last reigning monarch to visit Marlborough, has a major royal event coincided, as it did then, with the first post-war Olympics staged at the White City.

Edwina, a member of the town council for five years, sees her double period as wife of the mayor as “work experience for the proper job ahead”, and has been deputy mayor too for the past year.

And warming to the coming months of commitment and celebration, Edwina admits: “It is going to be a magical year, one I shall never forget.”

She has her own remarkable story to tell.  The only child of a Royal Navy sailor who became a Tilbury docker, who died when she was at any early age, she was brought up by a mother who was an ardent Labour Party supporter and also a monarchist.

“I was a working class in a middle class environment at a girls’ grammar school where I had free school dinners and free school uniforms and all that,” she recalls.

“On Saturdays I used to earn 15 shillings working for the last of the Gravesend shrimpers, who would go to sea and bring back his catch.  And in the huge yard at the back of his shop we cooked winkles, crabs, cockles and all that kind of stuff.”

Edwina’s first encounter with royalty was at primary school when the headmaster announced the death of King George VI. “We were all really, really shocked and some of us were crying,” she says.  “There are so many people of my generation who remember that happening.”

“I can’t remember getting a Coronation mug – Nick still has his – but I do remember my mum going up to London to all the big royal events that she could get to from work and she was up there early for the Coronation to find herself a good place.”

“On that occasion I was left with an aunt who had one of the first television sets.  There were about 20 of us glued to this tiny screen on which you could hardly see anything.  But then film of Coronation burst into the cinemas and we all saw it there.”

Edwina, who had not identified any particular ambition, was so inspired one teacher at school that she went off to Nottingham University to study theology, meeting Nick in freshers’ week on a bus, and marrying him when she was 25.  He went on to work for Christian Aid and she brought up the first of their children in a house in Catford before Nick became head of religious education and also taught history at Marlborough College.

Complications prior to the birth of their fifth child, Tom, meant she couldn’t join him at first, but then they moved into a Marlborough flat when Tom arrived in 1978 and later bought their present home in Oxford Street in 1985.

And subsequently she too taught religious education for 20 years at St Mary’s School, Calne.

It was on her retirement there that Edwina entered into the world of parish politics.  Although initially a Liberal in the inspiring days of Jo Grimond, she has always maintained that being an independent working under the banner Marlborough First was the course she inevitably had to follow.

Out canvassing, she became conscious too that while Marlborough is perceived as a wealthy, upmarket town, it has its own share of working class families facing hardship and living on benefits, seriously more so now with youth unemployment at record levels.

“I hope the Olympic and diamond jubilee events will help lift the economic gloom we have at the moment,” she declares.  “We’re a lot gloomier now than even in the difficult times of the miners’ strikes and the Winter of Discontent.  And the fate of our young people worries me.”

Now, she believes, is the time for the community to come together to celebrate and help those in need in the historic setting of Marlborough and its famed High Street, due to be decorated with flower baskets, bunting and flags.

She laughs at any suggestion that she is a member of a toytown council with few powers and a budget of just £400,000.

“More Clochmerle,” she jokes. “And we punch above our weight because we are an historic borough with a royal charter that goes back centuries.  That gives a sense of importance.”


Ceremony marks arrival of shepherd's hut at windmill

What is thought to be the country's largest shepherd's hut was pulled into place at Wilton Windmill on Saturday (March 24), where it will act as a souvenir shop, refreshment area and education centre.

At 24ft long by 10ft wide, the new mobile shepherd's hut is twice as long and much wider than the standard 12ft by 7ft buildings – including the two it has replaced.

At a ceremony on Saturday a 1937 Farm All F20 tractor was used to pull the brand new hut – designed in the style of the originals, which date back 120 years – onto the site, before a modern tractor and winch truck positioned the building.

The shepherd's hut was built by cousins Will Vickery and George Bannister of Blackdown Shepherd's Huts, a business started in Taunton last year by carpenters with 20 years experience.

The sheer size of the hut posed considerable challenges for the craftsmen. “We worked with a fabricator to build a frame and roof arch that would support a structure of this size,” said Will.

“Now we know we can do it, we hope it will open up a whole new market for us – these shepherd's huts look much better than the static caravans you find at caravan parks, but don't cost an awful lot more.

“For tourism in heritage areas, or for the glamping – glamourous camping - scene we can offer something very attractive.”

The hut cost £32,000 fully fitted. The exterior, floors and internal fixtures are all made of FSC certified seasoned oak, and the cast iron wheels were forged by a foundry in the south west.

George explained: “A shepherd's hut is basically a mobile home used by shepherds to provide shelter as they herded their flocks across the land.

“The first evidence of a shepherd's hut dates from 1596 and became a common sight in Southern England in the 1800s as sheep were moved across the light chalky soils to fertilise the land.”

Peter Lemon of the Wilton Windmill Society said: “We are delighted with the hut created by Blackdown Shepherd Huts.

“We wanted something versatile and an eco-friendly venue that would fit comfortably into the Centre and provide a stimulating environment for the school groups to learn. The quality of the shepherd hut is outstanding”.

The hut was funded and equipped through fundraising by the Wilton Windmill Society, the North Wessex Downs AONB and the Pewsey Area Board.

The ceremony took place in glorious sunshine, with enough wind to make the sails of the windmill turn – which won a cheer from visitors. The official Wilton Windmill season starts on Easter weekend, with guided tours and demonstrations from 2pm to 5pm on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

The season runs until September and the annual heritage open day will be held on Saturday, September 8 from 1.30pm to 4.30pm.  

Pictured: Above: Will Vickery and George Bannister of Blackdown Shepherd's Huts (seated) with Wilton Windmill Society volunteers and members Below: Mike Walsh on his 1937 Farm All F20 tractor


The new sport of slack lining proves a fun idea for St John’s teenagers

An new fun sport has manifested itself in Marlborough – slack lining is its odd name – but it has so interested the town council that it is helping to get it established.

Slack lines are tightropes  that you can string between two trees – protected with pieces of carpet round their trunks – and that gives you a chance to test your balance like a circus trapeze artiste.

But it all happens safely just three feet off the ground – and you can do it barefoot too.

Seventeen-year-old Harry Shakeshaft and a group of fellow sixth formers at St John’s School tried it out in Priory Gardens last month and immediately attracted attention – and the need for permission to continue.

And Harry was at Monday’s meeting of the council’s Amenities and Open Spaces Committee to explain the sport to councillors and seek their approval.

“I was given a slack line for Christmas and it all started from there,” Harry told Marlborough News Online. “Then a school friend bought one too.”

“Now most days after school we come down to the park and put up the slack lines.  It’s good fun.”

Councillor Richard Pitts, the committee chairman, showed councillors a video he took of the slack liners in action.  Councillor Caroline Jackson commenting: “Learning balance is so important.  It’s a wonderful idea.”

Deputy mayor Edwina Fogg approved too.  “A nice activity for youngsters,” she said.

Now Councillor Pitts has had an offer from a company to put up easily removable slack line poles in the council’s Salisbury Road play area to give a chance to other youngsters to try out the sport.

“I’m all for it,” he declared.


We meet Nerissa Vaughan as Great Western Hospital makes some good news

Last week was a good week for Great Western Hospital: it did not get caught in the headlines over increased waiting times for elective surgery, or in those lurid headlines about patients being sent home at night – and then it scored a first with a new heart operation.

GWH has checked its records and found that a tiny proportion of those discharged from its wards do so between eleven at night and six in the morning – about three per cent.  And the great majority of those are pregnant women who come in but find it’s a false alarm or new mothers keen to get their babies home as soon as possible.

Patients are only discharged if they want to be, are fit to be and if support is in place at home.  One patient looking forward to going home was 76-year-old Derek Wakefield who lives near Malmesbury and has just had a pioneering operation to insert the country’s first ever defibrillator implant that is safe under an MRI scan. A patient with one of the normal defibrillators, which are inserted to prevent cardiac arrest, cannot have an MRI scan because the instrument reacts badly and can seriously damage the heart.

When Marlborough News Online met GWH’s chief executive, Nerissa Vaughan (pictured right), she was keen to point out that the hospital had recently been in the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley’s list of the top ten hospitals for keeping waiting times for elective surgery within the eighteen week target.  And the average wait was lower in 2011 than in 2010.

Nerissa Vaughan has only been chief executive at GWH (officially Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) since last October.  She came from King’s Lynn hospital which was her first appointment as chief executive.  She joined the NHS in 1991.

She is openly bullish about the process of change that is affecting all parts of the NHS: “The NHS is going through a lot of structural change – but it’s remarkably good at coping with structural change – because it has so much experience of it.” 

What does she think about the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) led by GPs that will be taking over from the Primary Care Trusts in April 2013?   “What I think is good is that GPs are already opening up direct dialogue with our consultants in a way that they wouldn’t have done without CCGs.  In the past they talked about individual patients, now they are beginning to decide how services are planned and finding new pathways.”

And the bad things about the changes? “Reorganisation inevitably means disruption – but it’ll be resolved over time.”  She admits the Wiltshire GPs have been a slower than most in getting themselves setup: “But they’ve done a lot of in depth thinking about what works for Wiltshire.”

One of Nerissa Vaughan’s priorities is the county’s community health services which GWH took over in June last year after the Primary Care Trust was forced by the government to give up providing services as well as commissioning them.  “There are things we can do to improve community services – like embedding better technology in people’s homes.”

These services will be part of GWH’s changing workload due to the aging population: already the average age of patients in their general medical wards hovers around the late 70s: “We’ve got to find better ways to meet the needs of the elderly – this will mean redesigning care to help more of them to live at home.”

Ms Vaughan sits on Wiltshire’s shadow Health and Wellbeing Board which under the new Health and Social Care Act will, from April 2013, bring councillors onto the commissioning stage.  She believes these Boards could turn out to be the best thing in the current NHS reforms: “If they work effectively, they’ll bring agencies together and provide a democratic link.” She’s not worried by any political input the Boards may bring to the NHS.

Finally, what about the future of Savernake Hospital?  GWH are using more beds at the hospital for recuperation, for patients on their way from surgical wards to their homes. They have just announced an increase in these beds at Savernake to thirty-four.

“The direction of travel will mean moving care away from hospital’s and into communities – where it’s appropriate to do so.”  But she’s also certain that this will not endanger GWH’s income stream from services provided on the hospital site.

To round off GWH’s week, the now spritely sounding Mr Wakefield was interviewed on BBC Radio Wiltshire about his new-style defibrillator implant: “I can’t praise the gentleman that put this in and all his staff enough…It’s been absolutely fantastic…If you’re frightened to come into hospital, don’t be frightened to come to the Great Western.”

Bruce Laurie, who chairs the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, will be speaking at the annual general meeting of the Friends of Savernake Hospital on May 16 at 7pm in Marlborough Town Hall.