Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A parade of maps and hats, trumpets and trades

LAST month I described how volunteers in past decades helped reinvigorate ‘Lyme’s shop window’ – its seafront. Let’s spot some examples of people freely giving time and talent to keep that seafront vibrant today.

At Cobb Gate, the Fossil Festival, of course. Growing from Marcus Dixon’s resourceful imagination, this education-fest draws huge numbers – the absorbed, excited faces of children busy with all the hands-on activities being the greatest of its many pleasures.

Organiser Kimberly Clarke reckons the festival relies on around twenty volunteers, whether in preparation or during the weekend, with help ranging from marketing to stewarding. If you haven’t yet dipped a toe in the volunteering waters, try taking the temperature with this admirable event.

Next May Day weekend (the tenth festival) the theme is ‘Mapping the Earth’, marking the 200th anniversary of the world’s first geological map, by William Smith. His background, qualities and experiences with the scientific establishment share much with his near-contemporary Mary Anning. She discovered her Ichthyosaur four years before Smith’s map appeared; he was finally recognised by the Geological Society, awarding him the first-ever Wollaston Medal, in 1831 – eight years after Mary found her Plesiosaur. Simon Winchester’s The Map That Changed The World tells his gritty story well.

Maps are wonderful things, fitting the pieces of reality (and ideas) together. GPS, Sat Nav, Facebook and Twitter focus minds on “Where I am, now”. The more important questions, “Where have we been?” and “Where might we go?” lose out. Maps, in their broadest sense, trace answers and illuminate the nature of such journeys. A contextless humanity without grip on time and space does not bear contemplating, morally or practically.

But let’s cheer up with the Lyme Regis Town Band, whose popular summer concerts in the Shelters’ Performance Area are quintessential Lyme: “We’re a concert band, not a contesting band,” as bookings secretary Val Mahoney puts it, firmly. “And it’s a special delight when small children dance spontaneously on the Parade around us.”

With around 25 volunteer members aged from 13 to 80 and from many walks of life, rehearsing two evenings a week and engaged for around fifty performances each year, this friendly band certainly keep busy. It sustains a mixed-age training band, too, tutored by members, which keeps the flow of musicians alive. The training band will have some numbers at the Town Band’s Christmas Concert on 12th December (8.00pm in Woodmead Halls) so you can hear the present and the future.

Above the Performance Area we might hear jollity and mirth from the Langmoor Room – the Red Hat Ladies getting together. Don’t think I’m stretching the definition of ‘volunteering’ here – “Why, they’re a social club, entertaining themselves!” True, in part. But they add to the gaiety, if not of nations, then of the town: without them, in their red hats and purple clothing, where would Broad Street processions be? (OK, still in Broad Street, but less fun.) Without taking themselves too seriously they contribute, like many other groups from Community Lunches to the U3A, to the important job of fostering the wellbeing of a significant section of Lyme’s residents.

Red Hat Ladies originated in California (where else?) in 1998, inspired by the opening of a Jenny Joseph poem:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me.

The movement spread, bursting on Lyme Regis nine years ago “to keep ladies of a certain age young” as one expressed it. (The ‘certain age’ must be over fifty; the ‘keeping young’ is achieved by enjoying themselves and doing interesting things.) When the Lyme Bay Lovelies ‘chapter’ reached capacity, the Jurassic Gems formed a second, still growing. Each chapter has a monthly social event and regular outings, called ‘hoots’, the name telling us much about their spirited style. Why don’t Lyme Regis men do this sort of thing – could the Montagu Lodge join the Jazz Procession in canary yellow suits and pink berets?

Moving quickly on ... to the Jubilee Pavilion, where for a seven-month season over fifty volunteers welcome and advise those who’ve missed the Tourist Information Centre. The huge Jurassic Coast map on the back wall outside draws people magnetically, while inside are six different maps of Lyme and its neighbourhood. But it’s the conversations with volunteers (and re-direction to the TIC as necessary) that particularly help those from out of town to ‘map’ and plan a satisfying experience in Lyme Regis – conversations that are pleasurable for the volunteers, too.

Since the Shelters re-opened mid-season in 2011, nearly 85,000 people have tapped the volunteers’ friendly store of local knowledge; compliments about the town’s attractiveness abound in return. Such a free visitor service, supporting official provision, is rare along the coast. Users appreciate it, which can only add to Lyme’s welcoming reputation.

Last stop: the National Trust shop. Manager Gill Melly, three part-time and three casual staff work with around sixteen volunteers, most doing a weekly three-hour shift. A small professional staff supported by volunteers – the model we’ve met several times before – is an ideal combination.

The Trust benefits from a loyal, experienced team interested in the shop’s purpose and performance, and contributing to its development. Costs are reduced, enabling this popular shop to keep running. And a variety of enthusiastic residents with local knowledge are ambassadors for the town as well as for the Trust.

In turn, they enjoy a sociably interesting role in a beautiful spot, with the personal reward of helping a valued charity and our community. Under the ‘staff-with-volunteers’ model they train professionally on the job, learn the retail ropes, and come to understand the Trust nationally and locally – for all the profits from its Lyme shop support work within the Trust’s West Dorset area.

In a few hundred yards that’s quite a variety of volunteering – science and music, map-work and laughter, selling and guiding, one-off tasks and regular duties... and all with a sea-view.


STEVE Davies is the owner of Dinosaurland in Lyme Regis. He  went to school in Bristol and a teacher brought him to Lyme Regis on a geology field trip. He said: “On the beaches under Black Ven I found a large golden ammonite and this was a life changing moment. I couldn’t believe that something of such beauty could be found so easily. I knew in that instant that I would work with fossils. I was lucky enough to realise my dream and became a palaeontologist. I worked all around the world but kept coming back to Lyme whenever I had the chance. There is something really special about the beaches and fossils around Lyme. I finally got to come to live here in 1990.”

ARE you married and do you have children?
I have been married to the long suffering Jenny for 31 years.  As part of the wooing process, I brought her to Lyme Regis one winter. We stayed at the Bay Hotel looking out over the sea. I think it helped convince her that I was worth the trouble. We have three children - Chris is a doctor in Birmingham, Ben is a Project Manager in Nottingham and Mairi administers a language school in Seville.

HOW did you first become interested in geology/palaeontology? ?
I studied Geology at Oxford University and then Micropalaeontology at University College, London. I joined BP as a palaeontologist and travelled the world using fossils to help explore for oil and gas. Those were heady days. I got to work on the early discoveries in the North Sea and Arctic Alaska. I was in the first group of foreign experts sent to China in the days when the country was more like North Korea is today. It was all a big adventure. Eventually I became chief palaeontologist for BP looking after all their fossil interests. But one day I decided I had had enough of industry and resigned. I naturally headed back towards Lyme to consider a new direction.

WHEN did you take on Dinosaurland?
Dinosaurland Fossil Museum is housed in the former Congregational Church on Coombe Street. This is where Mary Anning was baptised and where she worshipped for most of her life. You couldn’t write a better script about where to house a fossil museum. I was able to buy the building in 1995. The initial collection consisted of a humble 113 fossils.

WHAT sets the museum apart from other attractions/what's unique about the museum?
Dinosaurland Fossil Museum is a traditional museum with more than 10,000 specimens on permanent display now. This abundance of specimens certainly sets the museum apart. There are more fossils on display here than in all the other museums in south west England put together. It is important that my visitors can see a wide range of material. They can read my discussions of what is on display. But ultimately they can muse over it themselves and come to their own conclusions.

DO you have any particularly special items on display?
All the fossils on display are particularly special to me. They are all individuals with their own specific characteristics. I find the humblest belemnite just as interesting as the grandest Ichthyosaur. Different visitors pick their own special specimens. I suppose the greatest response comes for a collection of 460 million year old trilobites from Russia with an extraordinary display of spines. But there is the male and female Jeholosaur dinosaurs from the feathered dinosaur quarry of China. Or the Diving Ichthyosaur where a dying creature managed to bury itself in the mud nose first with the rest of the body crumpled up on top. My younger visitors tell me that the 73kg lump of dinosaur dung is the best.

CAN you tell us about the latest additions to your collection?
I was pleased to get a piece of the Chelyabinsk meteorite. This is the meteorite that struck Russia recently, injuring thousands of people but being caught for the first time on film.
I am just finalising a display about Fossil Lake in Wyoming. This is where the millions of fossil fish on sale around the world come from. The display aims to show why the lake was so prolific and illustrate the less popular fossils from the lake, like the Palm Flower I am holding in the photograph.

ARE there any plans to develop the museum and its collections in the future?
In the short term, I am putting the finishing touches to a wonderful new Ichthyosaur that has come from Germany. The Ichthyosaurs in the museum come from various locations around the Jurassic Sea. They are all telling a slightly different story about what life was like in that sea. Longer term I expect to spend as much time as possible out on the beaches this winter collecting the new exhibits. The wonderful thing is that I have no idea what is waiting out there to be discovered.

WHAT are your personal interests/hobbies?
My all consuming interests are the fossils. I find that the more I work with them, the more interesting they become. 

WHAT do you like about the local area?
If you like fossils like me, then Lyme Regis must be close to paradise on Earth. But I love the narrow alleyways and mysterious hidden gardens of the Old Town around the museum. And I love the diversity of the countryside around Lyme. There is such a contrast between say the Undercliffs and Golden Cap yet all within relatively easy walking distance.

WHAT do you think it's missing?
The ‘official’ website for the town tells you that there is one museum in Lyme Regis but it is not my museum. The tourist information centre refuses to display my advertising leaflet. I do not want any help for my museum but it would be nice to see some sort of acknowledgement that I actually exist.

EU rules make problems for Santa

TODAY there are just five weeks to go until Christmas Eve, so you’d better get those presents ordered now.

Worryingly this warning has nothing to do with Christmas getting closer and closer, and everything to do with those nice regulators in the EU.

They have somehow decided to decree that lorry drivers now require a Certificate of Professional Competence.

You only have to go on a reasonably lengthy drive to realise that those behind the wheel of lorries that you meet are usually in their 40s and 50s and they’ve had enough practice.

This latest piece of cutting edge EU legislation is proving to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back because it is seeing drivers leave their profession in droves.

Too many regulations, too much red tape, too much paperwork. It all adds up, so lorry drivers are retiring early or taking up other professions and all that is creating a shortage of drivers to haul Christmas goods.

This in turn has created a battery of warnings for consumers not to leave their orders to the last minute or even the last month because they may not get what they want delivered in time for the festering season.

Leaving an extra letter for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph won’t solve this particular problem and it will be interesting to see how the big shopping chains, transport firms and supermarkets react. You have been warned.

We’ll keep right on remembering

THIS year more than almost any before there was an upwelling of public memory and connection for Remembrance Sunday.

It came in a year which marked the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, but it was more than that.

The whole commemoration of everything just seemed to strike a chord with everyone. The weather was fine, there were big crowds of young and old alike and there were cheers and applause for the veterans taking part in the service and big parade.

No veteran of the First World War, also known as the Great War, is still alive today and if the same passage into history follows with those who fought in the Second World War then all those service people will be gone by Remembrance Sunday 2039.

But the tradition of “lest we forget” will continue on because conflicts since have included Korea, the Falklands and Iraq and remembrance respects will continue to be paid even if the world can somehow gather all its countries into peace.

Sleep trashed

COMPLAINTS rumble on about the new rubbish collection measures in Weymouth and Portland, so here is another.

In our road we previously could set our clocks on a Friday to just after 7am when the rubbish lorry used to come down the road.

The new regime has seen our collection date change from Friday to Thursday, but it is the change in collection time which is starting to be a bit annoying.

Sometime after 7am didn’t bother me too much because I’m a morning person, but I’m not that much of a morning person to somehow welcome the new collection time which has consistently been about 6:05am-6:10am.

Now that is early and when you add to that the sounds of glass, tin and plastic waste cascading into hoppers there is precious little chance of going back to sleep after ten minutes of that.

My question is this. If our rubbish could be happily collected at about 7am why the need to wake people up at 6am.

I’m not complaining too loudly because any new system needs time to bed in, but if this unwelcome “dawn chorus” still continues in say six weeks time then I’ll be asking questions with slightly more of an edge. I’ll keep you all posted on how I get on.

Charity takes the mickey

WE all know that you get what you pay for, but this may no longer be so.

If figures available for a forthcoming London charity event at a top hotel are accurate then some of those attending from Weymouth may need smelling salts.

Naturally the service will be “absolutely top drawer” and I’m sure the chef masterminding the meal will have more stars than the Milky Way, but you reach a point where the basics have to be considered.

Those basics include a scallop on a lettuce leaf for the starter, a piece of cod of between two and four ounces enhanced by five or six artistically placed chips, and a dessert.

Now you might be prepared to pay £14-£15 for a meal of that nature in Weymouth, but this is London where everything is much more expensive, so adding a 50 percent increase to bring the bill up to £22 probably won’t surprise you.

What may surprise and, I venture to say, probably shock you is that the actual bill being charged for this meal is an appetite-losing £220 each! Still hungry?

Charity begins at home and if I was facing that sort of bill for that sort of meal then that is where I’d stay, spending the £20 on a decent meal out in Weymouth or Portland and buying a week’s holiday abroad with the £200 I’d saved.

Bet most of you would too!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Laughter is the best medicine

OVER the years I have spent what seems like half a lifetime sitting in doctors’ surgeries and hospital outpatient departments.

During those interminable waits, usually with my nose sunk in a book, I have seen people angry, furious, asleep and in despair, but just recently I saw a hugely welcome funnier side to a scenario that must be so familiar to so many patients.

I was at Dorset County Hospital getting the fantastic news that my third post-cancer op blood test was negative when the whole corridor became aware that patients already packed into seating would have to wait even longer, some of them up to an hour.

There were a few groans but the overwhelming reaction turned to smiles and even laughter after a member of staff relayed an important piece of news.

Apparently one of the patients waiting to be seen had a list of local Premier Inns in case we really were there for a long time!

It was just the right comment to defuse the situation. The queues soon improved and will be forgotten but the comment will live on for a good while.

Trials and tribulations of triathlon tragedy!

'PROFESSIONAL' suggests someone who leaves nothing to chance in the pursuit of success.

But sometimes success – or failure – can depend on the smallest of mistakes as one professional found out in Weymouth.

It was the Challenge Weymouth triathlon, that Mecca for all round sportsmen and women involving a 3.8km swim and a crippling 180km bike ride all rounded off with a gruelling 42.2km run.

With so much heart-thumping effort involved no entrant was going to leave anything to chance including, the one we are focussing on who had made the giant investment of a £10,000 state of the art bike and the slightly smaller but no less important outlay of a top of the range helmet, power drinks and energy bars.

He even had specialist trainers already clipped on to pedals so he could come out of the water and get back on his bike with minimum delay. Nothing had been left to chance.

So it must have been a bit of bad luck that let him down, something stewards spotted but could neither change nor warn him about because of the rules.

We can only guess at what his face must have looked like when he strode from the water and jumped on his bike... only to find that his right trainer was clipped to the left pedal and his left trainer was clipped to the right pedal!

A mis-spent youth?

BATTEN down the hatches and check your ear muffs because November 5th is less than six days away.

Gunpowder, treason and plot is just boring stuff that many little hooligans couldn’t give a Fawkes about.

Oh no. They’re much more interested in the explosive side of things: how to blow up next door’s greenhouse rather than the Houses of Parliament even if the latter idea has more merit.

And what budding anarchist could resist an experiment using a rocket to fire Dad’s socks off the washing line into the sky? Well they might dry faster, Mum!

Excitement is just the scratch of a match away and it’s all made more daring because of that shiver created by the whiff of lawlessness.

My moment came nearly half a century ago when a friend invited me round to a firework party in his Dad’s orchard.

He was already a budding chemist and knew that weedkiller and sugar was the key, so he suggested using some to see if we could blow up a metal pipe hidden artfully away at the base of an apple tree.

The satisfying results went beyond our wildest dreams with the pipe blasted to smithereens in a thunderclap explosion and a howl of shrapnel.

We felt sure it hadn’t been that loud and thought we could pass it off as a bang from someone else’s party.

Just one flaw in our plan. A few minutes after our bomb went off the apple tree crashed to the ground. We weren’t allowed anywhere near so much as a sparkler for the rest of the night!

Road users’ remedy

A NEW advanced course for retarded drivers has been launched at Weymouth Railway Station.

The course offers those drivers already proficient in lunatic manoeuvres a chance to fine tune their talents, which regularly are witnessed at the King Street site.

Drivers will be taught how to pull out in front of fellow motorists without warning or even a signal, how to park in the most anti-social way possible, taking two spaces while parking at an angle.

Other tuition includes a sub-section for pedestrians on how to walk straight across to the middle of the car park and can stand aimlessly, blocking all drivers trying to leave.

Organisers are hoping that the PLOD course – Pathetic Losers On Display – will be of interest to the police for a few endorsements.

After all, we are all citizens of Lyme

ONE of the unfortunate fall-outs from the rumpus in Lyme Regis over the council’s ambivalence towards skateboarding and cycling in public areas has been the backlash of insults aimed at “incomers”. 

It was a reference to those members on the town council who voted in favour, when agreeing new local bylaws, to allow  skateboarding and cycling along Marine Parade and other public spaces, including the cemetery, the latter causing an absolute furore on the social networking websites.

One angry Facebook contributor even went as far to call them “grockles”,  a less than complimentary term for visitors.

The councillors who incurred the wrath of so many were the usual suspects - Mark Gage, Lucy Campbell, Terry O’Grady,  Chris Clipson, Rikey Austin and Lorna Jenkin.  It is true that, in the complete sense of the word, they are incomers, but some have lived in the town for many years, especially Lucy and Lorna.

Those who opposed it were councillors with stronger local ties, including Lyme-born Stan Williams, and Cheryl Reynolds.

We don’t want to get into that old chestnut about how long you have to live in Lyme to become a “local” but it is often said that if you kick one Lyme Regian or Lymite, or whatever anyone born in the town is called, we all limp. It’s the same in all small towns.

After launching the View From Lyme Regis, the town’s most successful paper ever, I spent five or more years attending virtually every event in town. Very often the only other familiar face their was Ken Gollop, another Lyme-boy, and we would often play “spot the local”. 

I rarely attend meetings in Lyme anymore; that pleasant duty has been passed to my daughter, Francesca, who today is named at the new View From Lyme Regis editor, a job she has been doing for several months. 

But don’t get too excited, I am not releasing the reins completely and will stay as group editor as well as managing the company.

The fact is that without “incomers” Lyme would be a much different, perhaps less vibrant,  town. I often hear the complaint: “They come here and want to change the town.” That’s rarely the case.

The most successful town councils down the years have been those where there is a good balance of locally-born members and those who have moved to Lyme. Perhaps that split has been too one sided in recent years. 

My fellow columnist Chris Boothroyd, himself an “incomer”, has waxed lyrical about the volunteers who contribute so much to the life of Lyme. 

The vast majority of these are those who have moved or retired to the town and have given freely of their expertise. Lyme has benefited greatly from this in recent years.

Among them I would include Chris, of course, who did so much to see the Jubilee Pavilion through to completion; Dennis Yell, who is leading the Community Land Trust;  David Gale, who supervises the property arm of Lyme Regis Development Trust;  Alan and Lynn Vian, whose contribution to the community life of Lyme Regis would fill every column in this newspaper; and Dave Edwards, a driving force at the Marine Theatre and Regatta and Carnival stalwart.

The issue of “incomers” being automatically associated with unpopular decision making was highlighted when I bumped into one such person last week.  He did not wish to be named or indeed get embroiled in the recent arguments by writing a letter defending his fellow incomers.

But he felt affronted by the term and that he had been labelled such when he works hard behind the scenes, without fuss or publicity, on various community projects.
“Lymeites” or “incomers” – is there a difference?  After all, we are all Citizens of Lyme.  

Helping the young to live in their home town . . .

HATS off to the small group of well-intentioned Lyme citizens who make up the Community Land Trust.

The CLT is a non-profit voluntary body committed to finding suitable sites to create affordable housing, much needed in Lyme Regis. 

The average price of a house in Lyme is £375,000 so what chance do the young people of this town have to get on the property ladder? None.

With limited social housing available, it’s an obvious but often stated view that unless a solution can be found to enable young people to remain in their hometown, Lyme will become a dormitory for the elderly. 

Led by Denis Yell, the CLT have been working hard behind the scenes for the last two years to find a suitable site for a development of affordable rented homes, not an easy task given Lyme’s geographical challenges and lack of town centre undeveloped land.

With the help of town councillor Lorna Jenkin (secretary and treasurer) and directors Keith Jenkin, Brian Rattenbury and Richard McLaughlin, they’ve kept well out of the way of local politics that often stymie such projects, and have come up with a site near the golf club which will provide 15 new homes and a commitment that these should be occupied by local people.

The site is a fair way out of town but near a bus stop and is a significant step towards the provision of housing for the young of Lyme.

The CLT team are to be congratulated and encouraged to continue their good work.  


STEPHEN Yates is a keen traveller and painter living and working in Beaminster after retiring from a career of over 40 years in teaching. He grew up in North Yorkshire and qualified as a teacher, graduating from Nottingham University in 1974, and became head of art and design at Colfox School. He now runs a small business venture called arti2 and is currently trekking across the Great Wall of China.

I UNDERSTAND you have taken part in Dorset Art Weeks and Sculptures By the Lake, how did you get into art?
At the age of about seven I became aware that I had a gift and was often chosen to do special work at school. My mother spent hours with me as a child and still encourages me.  As a full-time teacher one gets little time to explore one’s own work, so after retirement three years ago I began working much harder at my own work. The exposure to galleries and exhibitions has gradually increased and I was selected to take part in the first UK “Quick Draw” painting at Sculpture by The Lakes. I had to paint a large canvas in 90 minutes, which was auctioned that evening!

ARE you currently working towards any exhibitions in the near future?
Just local exhibitions but belonging to a project called “Interrogating Landscapes and Seascapes” is an exciting challenge with many other artists involved. It would be great if gallery owners spent as much time and effort as artists to look at emerging artists too.

COULD you tell us more about the “Interrogating Landscapes and Seascapes” project?
The basic principal is to get back to drawing and making marks to collect information in sketchbooks and to re use these images later to create artwork. Artists were offered a broad scope of themes adaptable to any media or artistic genre including craft, design, sound, writing, moving image, as well as historical or scientific interpretations. The main difference for me was the interaction with other artists, about fourteen artists from all over Dorset were involved and two exhibitions were produced at Bridport Arts Centre. There is more at the website

YOU are also embarking on a trek across the Great Wall of China, tell us a bit about that - how did it come about?
I have raised money for NSPCC for the past few years, running the London Marathon in 2012 and helping them develop their schools project too. Vulnerable children need to be able to use childline and access help. It will be a challenge and I get to see a different culture and terrain and the Terracotta Warriors!  You can still sponsor me at

SO you like to get out and about and take on a challenge?
Yes, since early childhood the Yorkshire Dales and the Moors were all in easy reach. I began camping and backpacking in my early teens. In my career as a teacher I was involved in outdoor pursuits, mountain leadership, sailing and the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and encouraged young people to explore the Northern Uplands. On my arrival in Dorset I established a group and Dartmoor was our fix for expeditions. I still enjoy the many local coastal walks and the West Dorset countryside and combine this with my love of painting landscapes and seascapes. We live on a beautiful planet, which we all need to get out more and enjoy.  

WHAT do you like to do in your spare time?
I volunteer lifeguard services at Bfit Beaminster and sail a wayfarer dingy from Castle Cove Sailing Club in Weymouth. I love to travel and my first grandson, Brynley, and son and daughter-in-law, Peter and Adrienne, live in Canada BC, so I get to ski in the winter too!

WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery?
Continue to enjoy every day as I do now and probably own a property, boat and studio in a much warmer climate. 

IF you could live your life again, what would you do?
Just live life to the full!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

It’s a straight fight between the two

IN the end it’s going to come down to what no one wants to admit. The retention of in-patient hospital beds for the Axe Valley is a straight fight between Axminster and Seaton hospitals.

No one wishes to pitch town against town for health services – but that’s the bottom line here as those running clinical services in East Devon grapple with an ever-increasing demand and £14 million overspend.

Both hospitals are rightly highly regarded. But any hopes that both could retain in-patient beds were well and truly sunk at last week’s public meeting organised as part of the consultation process by the NHS’s Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, known as the NEW CCG (they love acronyms in the NHS).

As expected, there was another full house in Axminster Guildhall, packed with people concerned about the future of their hospital. The big fear is that if the beds in Axminster go, it will only be a matter of time before the X-ray unit and other facilities disappear and the hospital will be closed.

Although this meeting was organised by the NEW CCG, it was the League of Friends of Axminster Hospital which made sure the maximum number of local people could hear the arguments for and against by relaying the proceedings via the wonders of technology to the nearby Minster Church where a further 80 people listened and watched the speakers in action, breaking out in polite applause from time to time.

Ah, if only so many turned up on a Sunday morning, church officials must have been thinking.

The NEW CCG panel handled two hours of intense questioning well but rarely wavered from their preference for the beds to be retained at Seaton. Ottery St Mary doctor Simon Kerr, I thought, was star of the show, honest and pragmatic at all times.

The more difficult questions fell to Sidmouth doctor Mike Slott, whose brusque manner irritated a few in the audience, but, in usual GP fashion, he did not mince his words, making it clear that “things had to change”. And so they will.

The finance bod, playing a purely supportive role, looked like a man who was struggling with a £14.6 million deficit in funding clinical services in East Devon.

In general the audience, to their credit, behaved. Mayor Jeremy Walden said he was convinced it was not a  “done deal” and town, district and county council Andrew Moulding made an impassioned plea for there to be 18 beds retained at both hospitals. That will not happen.

In the end it will come down to where the need is greater – Axminster or Seaton.  The NHS has plumped for Seaton.  Axminster argues that the NHS figures for Axminster are undercooked with no recognition of the town’s wider hinterland and planned expansion, not to mention the number of people from Lyme and Charmouth who use the hospital facilities. 

And there can be no denying that the general medical facilities at Axminster Hospital are far superior to those at Seaton.

The meeting was well chaired by Steve Holt, treasurer of the LoF (now I’m at it) who finished proceedings by presenting a well thought out rebuttal report counteracting the argument for Seaton.  The panel agreed to reconsider their figurework. We can only hope the mayor is right – that it is not “a done deal”.