Within the next couple of weeks - or so - the National Hunt trainer Emma Lavelle moves into the Bonita Stables in Ogbourne Maizey she has bought from Peter Makin, who has retired after 48 years as a trainer.
They say that moving house is one of the most stressful things you will do in your life. Moving training stables - with sixty valuable horses - should be even worse. But what if you are moving into an ambitious looking building site?
Emma Lavelle is utterly calm and apparently completely unstressed. The day before I visited Bonita her builders had lost a day to incessant rain. When I arrived her assistant trainer and husband, Barry Fenton, was painting the new tack room and cement trucks were delivering special concrete for the base of the new horse walker.
Twenty-five of the loose boxes in Bonita's original red brick have been refurbished from the roof down and new drainage put in. But twenty new boxes in the middle of the yard are so far represented by a concrete base and steel uprights.
And another set of new boxes just outside the main yard do not yet have all their steel uprights in place.
The work is being done to very high standards - so they have carefully re-used the old semi-glazed black bricks that now edge the yard and its new drainage and the new boxes will use red brick to match the colour of Bonita's early twentieth century stabling. As Emma Lavelle puts it: "The aim is to keep it all as authentic as possible - just making it more practical."
The Bonita yard is horseshoe shaped. In the middle is the main house, which was not part of the yard's sale and will still be lived in by Peter Makin and his wife. One arm holds the main or upper yard where the horses will be and all the offices and the two horse walkers (one for five horses and a new one for eight horses.)
The other arm of the horseshoe, down the hill, is the lower yard. This will be mothballed for the time being - except for a couple of quarantine boxes. But the lower yard is the site for new staff homes: two 4-bedroom houses and one bungalow.
Emma and her husband will be living in the bungalow that is nearly at the apex of the horseshoe. Nearby is an annex where owners can stay the night.
With so much work to be done and time and the weather against her, why is Emma Lavelle so calm? It must be because she is so excited by the potential of Bonita: "It's just stunning. It's the most stunning place."
She is moving from Cottage Stables at Hatherden between Newbury and Andover where she has been training for eighteen years. She has been renting there and wants to develop her own yard and when Bonita came on the market she seized the chance: "It's a long process that will be perfected over years."
She feels very privileged to have such extensive facilities with such a history. Bonita stables were set up by the theatrical impressario George Edwardes in the 1890s. Before Peter Makin came to Ogbourne Maizey, other famous racing names associated with the yard included Bill Marshall, Sir Gordon Richards and Bob Turnell.
Emma Lavelle is installing an all weather gallop. When I was there it was a deep trench waiting for drier weather to add its layer of washed limestone, a membrane and then the all-weather surface.
That will be a major investment for the future. I certainly got the impression that she believes her new facilities will be really good for her horses. Over the past five seasons her horses have won £1,511,840 in prize money - it will be interesting to see what Bonita does to the next five year total.
It is widely agreed that Bonita's gallops are some of the best in the country. As we drive up to see them, Emma Lavelle is openly thrilled at the thought of getting her sixty horses out on the Marlborough Downs' grass: "It's such a privilege that this is ours...though really, of course, we're just its caretakers."
There are three grass gallops. The longest and most spectacular can be used with a mile-and-a-half or a mile-and-a-quarter finish - Emma is delighted to find that it has just been mown and is looking its Spring best.
There is a mile gallop known as the Bungalow Gallop because it passes in front of the bungalow that Sir Gordon Richards lived in when he trained at Bonita for nine years. And finally there is an oval-shaped gallop: "We've even got our own racecourse!"
She smiles when - prompted by these amazing gallops - I ask whether she will stick to training only for jump racing at the Bonita yard: "It certainly lends itself to training flat horses as well. We'll see."
The gallops aside, she also has 45 acres of paddocks. She has sixty horses to move of which half will have already been turned out at the end of the jump season - leaving about 25 still in training for summer jump meetings and needing loose boxes.
When it comes, she thinks 'moving week' will be a 'gentle process'. She will need a lot of transport and horseboxes. But her brother runs a transport company so she is hoping it will be straightforward - and that she will get 'sibling rates'.
As she moves off to talk to the builders, Emma smiles broadly and says: "Next time you come there'll be horses here!"
NOTE: Marlborough.News visited the Bonita yard last Tuesday (April 12) - by now it will be looking very different. [Click on photos to enlarge them.]
A new officer now patrolling the streets as part of Marlborough’s neighbourhood policing team is no stranger to the town. In fact his new posting is something of a return home for 42-year-old Sergeant Barry Reed (pictured).
For he was brought up in Marlborough, went to St John’s School and after joining the police force at 21 returned to serve at Marlborough police station for almost three years in the 1990s.
“It feels a bit surreal to be back in familiar territory and it’s a bit like coming home too,” he told Marlborough News Online."
“So I expect to see some of the people I went to school with and had some dealings with as a police officer."
“The only difference now, 15 years later, is that I will probably be dealing with some of their children now that I am back.”
However, he points out that local contacts are an important aspect of policing, and declared: “Having that local knowledge of an area and the people you are dealing with is a huge advantage."
“I am very keen to be working alongside the community and empowering them to have the trust and confidence in us – they’re issues that do exist today -- to do our job while making them part of that process."
“Hopefully, we can help to make Marlborough a great place. It is a safe place already but we can always do better working with the community.”
Born in Somerset, the son of a herdsman, Sergeant Reed’s family moved to Wootton Rivers when he was five and he went to school in Pewsey.
Then, aged 12, his family moved to Fosbury, near Oxenwood, and he became a pupil at St John’s, where playing cricket with police officers serving in Marlborough and Pewsey inspired him to entertain a life on the beat.
Fellow students ribbed him and friends declared it would never happen, but after initially working on the land like his father, he joined the Wiltshire force at 21, one of the delights being “that every day is different.”
He added: “There are times in my career when I look back and can say I really made a difference in somebody’s life. That’s what we do in the police. And it is massively important to be working in the community in a place like Marlborough.”
That considerable career has included eight years as a dog handler and, more recently, serving in the hectic Swindon town centre.
“I am really excited about my new posting having grown up in Marlborough,” he said. “I believe that the experience and skills I have gained within the Swindon borough neighbourhood policing teams will serve my new community very well.”
Sergeant Reed, who lives near Burbage with his wife, Karen, and their two sons, aged six and eight, has won acclaim in Swindon, where he was awarded a Chief Constable’s commendation for his work in reducing anti-social behaviour in the town centre.
Under recent changes, the Marlborough neighbourhood policing team is part of the Royal Wootton Basset neighbourhood area, which is led by Inspector Mark Thompson.
“Sergeant Reed is a welcome addition to our neighbourhood team in Marlborough,” Inspector Thompson told Marlborough News Online.
“I am convinced he will put his previous policing experience to good use in serving the community. I have worked with him previously and I am looking forward to working with him again.”
She put out the flags for the Olympic torch, waved them about for the jubilee, welcomed a royal visitor and oversaw the planting of a new community orchard. Now, in her final act as mayor, Edwina Fogg has saved the public conveniences that bear her family name.
The toilets beneath Marlborough's historic Town Hall were opened by Edwina's husband, then-mayor Nick Fogg, in 1985, and the nickname Fogg's Bogs stuck.
But the loos were mothballed by Kennet District Council in 2005 to the chagrin of residents, as part of a district-wide programme of closures to save money.
Now the toilets are to be refurbished and reopened, after Marlborough Town Council swung a property deal with Wiltshire Council.
Under the new deal, the Town Council will sell the toilets at Chantry Lane, which were transferred from district council ownership to the town during those cuts in 2005.
Wiltshire Council has agreed to waive the covenant restrictions placed on the Chantry Lane loos, on the proviso that as well as reopening the Town Hall toilets the council refurbishes the facilities at George Lane – saved from Kennet's axe after a vociferous public campaign.
Marlborough Town Council reckons on getting in the region of £150,000 when it sells the under-used and badly-signposted Chantry Lane toilets.
The mayor – who first mooted the idea of reopening the toilets in her inaugural speech last May – outlined her plans to town councillors on Monday (January 28).
The deal was rubber-stamped by the area board on Tuesday, after she told members: “This is a fantastic opportunity that may never happen again.”
Now the town is faced with one final dilemma, over the position of the apostrophe: Fogg's Bogs or Foggs' Bogs?
Winter Olympics hero Shelley Rudman is appealing for help to complete her latest challenge – a sponsored walk through Marlborough's Savernake Forest.
The world cup champion and winter 2006 Olympic silver-winning skeleton bobsleigher is hoping someone will lend her a canine companion for the Best Paw Forward walk in aid of Cancer Research UK.
Shelley’s commitment to her sport makes it impossible for her to own a dog so she’s looking for a temporary canine companion.
“I don’t have a dog of my own at the moment, but would love to take part in such a great fundraising event if someone has a dog I can borrow...I promise I will give it back!” said Shelley.
“Growing up in Pewsey, we had four beautiful dogs and I would love to have one, but sadly my training schedule and competing in North America doesn’t allow me the time.”
The sponsored dog walk is the first regional event outside of London organised by Cancer Research UK.
Organisers are hoping to attract hundreds of dog walkers to the Savernake Forest on Sunday, September 23 between 11 am and 4pm to raise much needed funds for Cancer Research UK. Entry is £10 per dog and is open to walkers of all ages.
To sign up for the event log on to http://supportus.cancerresearchuk.org/events/charity-walks/Best-Paw-Forward-Marlborough
The end of an era was marked today (Wednesday) when Nigel Kerton, the Gazette & Herald's Marlborough reporter since articles were bashed out on typewriters, filed his final story.
Nigel - who reckons he's filled 2,000 front pages for the Gazette & Herald, along with 500 each for the Swindon Advertiser and the Western Daily Press - stumbled into journalism aged 17, when he popped into the offices of the Mercury in Weston-super-Mare to scour the jobs pages.
He was asked if he fancied a job on the paper, doing some administrative work and assisting the journalists, and told to go off and write a 500 word article on a subject of his choosing.
“It was easy,” recalls Nigel. “I came from Lyneham, where my mum and dad ran a village shop, and I was new to Weston-super-Mare with its bright lights and a theatre. They liked the story and offered me a five year indentureship.”
Nigel's first day on the Mercury – a Monday in 1964 – started at 8.30am. “At 8.45 I was given a notebook and a pencil and told to go and interview a woman whose husband had died. It was a baptism of fire.”
And while many young journalists dread the prospect of talking to relatives about the loss of a loved one, Nigel reckons it has become his favourite part of the job, and at the start of his second stint with the Gazette 15 years ago – following a ten-year sojourn at the Western Daily Press in Trowbridge – he insisted on the reinstatement of the obituaries column.
“I love listening to people about their lives, and I think I'm particularly good at empathising with people who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances, because I've been through it: my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's, drowned herself in the sea at Torquay in 1980.”
The journalists at the Weston Mercury taught young Nigel the craft: putting people at ease during interviews, and letting them tell their stories in their own words.
“They were gentleman reporters with copper plated shorthand,” recalls Nigel. “Journalists who would record every word at a council meeting, when reporters had the time, and newspapers had the space, to do that.”
But four years later a career move summoned Nigel back to Wiltshire: he was offered a job in the Swindon Advertiser's Marlborough office.
“I loved Marlborough,” says Nigel. “I used to cycle down from Lyneham as a kid. The Adver's editor, Fred Hazel, heard I had a girlfriend back at Lyneham, and offered me the job.
“I was one of two reporters working at this 15th century building in Kingsbury Street [the office closed by Gazette & Herald owners Newsquest in October last year]. I thought the Adver was the paper I was working for, but I also had to write for the Gazette.”
The following spring – March 1969 – Nigel and Joy were married at St Peter's Church in Clyffe Pypard. Their first home was a flat above a shop in The Parade – now occupied by More Than Pine – before moving to Poulton Hill, and then to The Mead, “Kennet's biggest cul de sac” and the Kerton family home for 19 years.
Nigel and Joy have two children – Paul and Claire – and four grandchildren, aged between 12 and 23. And between them they've acted as Nigel's unofficial news-gathering team throughout his career.
When Nigel first came to Marlborough, the journalist Bob Wise advised him to “never join anything.” The reporter promptly threw himself into community activities.
He formed the Gardening Club 35 years ago, and joined the carnival committee 25 years ago. He's been the chairman of the New Road Centre, which works with 30 special needs adults every week, for eight years. And ten years ago, he and Joy revived the Jubilee Centre Christmas lunch, which is now held in the Town Hall and caters for 60 elderly residents from the town.
In the millennium year the Rotary Club awarded Nigel the Centenary Community Award for Vocational Services to the Town – "I don't suppose anyone else will get that honour for another 100 years," laughs Nigel – and in 2007 Pewsey Parish Council gave him an award for Outstanding Services to the Community.
Recently, Nigel – who has attended local government meetings for nearly half a century, and describes himself as apolitical – has considered leaving the press bench for a seat in the council chamber, by standing as an independent candidate for Marlborough East in the next Wiltshire Council elections.
“I've been described as a socialist, but I'm only a socialist so far as every journalist is a socialist, by fighting for people's rights and championing causes,” insists Nigel.
“I had a brief courtship with the Conservative Party,” he says, “and was interested in joining the majority group on the council.
“But in the light of my colleague Chris Humphries' experience, where he was not supported by his colleagues [Cllr Humphries was suspended from the Conservative group following a reprimand for mistreating a member of the council's staff], I decided that I didn't want to be part of that group.”
“I'd like to join the town council too,” he adds, “but not until somebody provides me with a whip and a chair. At the moment I feel the body has no useful future. Good ideas are thrown out and bad ideas kept in because of the views of those on the majority group.
“Personally, I don't think party politics has a place in local councils.”
Nigel leaves the Gazette just a week before his 65th birthday. He intends to spend more time with his family, exploring southern England in his campervan, and continuing his work with community organisations in Marlborough.
“I've enjoyed my career in journalism; there's no better job in the world,” he says. “But I suspect I'll be busier than ever before. So I guess it's 'goodbye for now', rather than 'farewell for ever'.
Ten students from Marlborough College and St John's School will be talking about their experiences in The Gambia at Marlborough Town Hall later this month.
The students, along with leaders Rosie Carter, Harriet Compton and James Moran, have spent four weeks in Marlborough's twin community of Gunjur with Marlborough Brandt Group, helping to build an extension to the central market.
Nick Maurice of Marlborough Brandt Group explained: “This market, in many ways similar to the new Sunday market in Marlborough, is in the centre of the village and is a vital source of income for the women of Gunjur who sell their produce vegetables, meat and locally caught fish.
“This money is used to support their families and educate their children.”
The youngsters have also been working with the charity Disability Africa, helping to provide an appropriately stimulating, fun and educational environment for disabled children who, too often, are neglected because African traditions expect little or nothing of disabled children.
The group aged between sixteen and eighteen years old are entirely self-funded and have raised £4,000 towards the materials for building the extension to the market.
They are the sixteenth group to make the summer visit and work in Gunjur since the first group went in 1985 led by the then mayor, Nick Fogg.
They will be giving a presentation of their time in Gunjur on Monday, August 20 at 7.30 pm in Marlborough Town Hall. Admission free, but there will be a retiring collection.
Meanwhile, the AGM of the Brandt Group will be held at the charity's office at Elm Tree Park, Manton SN8 1PS at 6.30pm on Thursday, August 9.
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