Wednesday, 25 March 2015

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Sophy Willmott


FORMER teacher Sophy Willmott set up Education & Employment Mentoring Services South West at the beginning of 2014, providing a professional student mentoring service to individuals experiencing barriers towards their learning and engagement, which includes behavioural problems, mental health illness and special educational needs. The business is based in East Devon but Sophy hopes to expand further into West Dorset over the coming year. She is originally from Taunton and spent the first half of her childhood living in Somerset before her family moved to Devon. Apart from going to university, she has always lived in the South West and and currently resides in Axminster. 

WHY did you set up EEMS South West?
I am passionate to help young people find a direction and purpose within their lives and student mentoring provides this. I set up Education & Employment Mentoring Services at the beginning of 2014 and wanted to create a service which supports individuals who face barriers to their learning  and are at risk of becoming  a NEET (not in education, employment or training) learner.  

WHAT did you do before this?
I worked as a secondary teacher for five years eventually leading as a head of subject. I then took the opportunity to work within the further education sector and gain further experience working with NEET learners and as a student mentor across East Devon.  

WHAT services does EEMS South West offer? 
Student mentoring provides individuals with an opportunity to resolve the barriers they are currently experiencing towards their education. This is achieved by discussion, guidance and target setting,  working with the individual to find a purposeful career pathway.  Student mentoring also reaches those in secondary schools who need guidance, planning and tuition for their gcse exams.

WHAT do you enjoy about the job?
I thoroughly enjoy working with and helping young people. It is extremely rewarding watching individuals utilise their full potential and realise their abilities. 

DO you hope to expand the business in the future? 
Yes definitely, I would like many more students to have access to mentoring because it is so effective and the results can be life changing for many young people. Currently the service is accessed via secondary schools, care services and on a private basis and continues to attract different services, which is fantastic. 

WHAT are your personal interests?
I train weekly at a local swim club and spend any free time I have cycling and running with friends. I am aiming to complete a triathlon at some point this year, so excited about that. 

WHAT do you like about the local area?
I cannot imagine not living by the coastline especially in the summer time, as I spend a lot of time sea swimming. I also enjoy having access to local markets and produce, as I am always looking to eat and live as healthily as I can. 

WHAT do you think it’s missing?
I would very much like the youth service system to continue for young people locally. I think this is such a valuable service and further activity based services would enhance development for young people across the area. 

For further information about Education & Employment Mentoring Services South West, visit the website www.eemssouthwest.co.uk


Racing towards the grim reaper

YOU’VE all heard of the expression about someone having a ‘death wish’, but you don’t expect almost to shake hands with them at 100mph.

The Ridgeway between Weymouth and Dorchester is notorious for having its own micro-climate and conditions were pretty bad as I returned from Dorset County Hospital.

As I began to climb the hill to the Ridgeway itself I found fog or mist just getting denser and denser with visibility down first to 200m and then, swiftly, to barely 100m.

My lights were on and I’d reduced speed to about 45mph, but it just got gloomier so, when visibility dropped to 75m and then 50m, I reduced speed again until I crested the Ridgeway doing about 30mph.

As vehicles began to drop down into Weymouth conditions were so dense it was impossible to see oncoming traffic until their lights were almost right on you and that’s when a string of maniacs made their appearance.

Foot to the floor, they flashed up the overtaking lane doing at least 60-70mph with complete disregard for the conditions.

Now the Highway Code says that a typical stopping distance at 70mph involves 21m of thinking distance and 75m of braking distance for an overall figure of 96m, yet every driver there couldn’t see further than 40-50m if that.

Even if they were only doing 60mph then the overall stopping distance of 73m was still nearly twice as far as these lunatics could see.

They seemed to be putting their trust in nothing happening. After all, “everyone knows I’m a safe driver”.

Maybe, but what if an accident had happened ahead of them that they couldn’t see? They’d have just ploughed straight into it. It could have been absolute carnage.

I know other motorists were shocked by these death wish speedsters because later that day I met a couple of them who couldn’t believe how fast some drivers had been going in the fog. 

So slow down, if not for your nerves then for ours.


Giving gulls the bird

I’VE lost count of the number of complaints people have made about seagulls in Weymouth and Portland, so I was quite amused to hear of a complaint made by seagulls against people.

Apparently those bolshy birds frequenting the rooftops at the King’s Statue end of St Mary Street were well hacked off by the recent antics of a man seated outside a cafĂ© and they lost no time in making a raucous and prolonged objection.

Was it the fact that the man was eating all his chips and not leaving any for them? Perhaps the seagulls were complaining that he was too hard a target to hit with their droppings but, no, it was neither of those reasons.

The furious seagulls were up in arms not so much at the behaviour of the man but at his companion... a rather splendid looking kestrel.

The seagulls didn’t care a tinker’s damn about how striking the kestrel’s plumage looked.

All they cared about was that here was a bird of prey right on their doorstep and they were very unhappy indeed about that.

It turned out the man regularly brings a bird of prey with him when he drops in for coffee so, if the seagulls don’t calm down until he’s gone, then that’s tough. I know which of the two – seagull or kestrel – I’d rather have around me.


Developers nipping in quickly

MORE than 1,000 new homes are currently being applied for, or are on the building books in Weymouth.

There will be those who say new homes are needed and there will be those who say that ripping up the ground is a desecration of this beautiful part of the country.

Then there are the views of cynics such as myself who take a more jaundiced view of the whole development picture.

That view centres on the Local Plan or the little pile of torn up pieces of paper which is all that’s left of it.

Local government can’t just switch from one Local Plan to a new one at the press of a button. There has to be a massive amount of consultation first.

Part of that consultation led to a planning inquiry inspector giving a strong hint that what was being proposed for the new Local Plan might hit problems if it was put forward with what was then the suggested housing provision.

So local councils took the hint, delayed it for six months and are now hoping that increased housing provision will overcome any inquiry hurdles.

But developers don’t get to make millions of pounds by being stupid and they recognised a golden opportunity when they saw one.

With an out of date old Local Plan and a new Local Plan that was having to drag its heels there was really nothing there with teeth in it to stop them unleashing a veritable frenzy of housing development applications, some of them for hundreds of homes at a time.

Attempts to stem the tide suffered a bloody nose and I don’t believe the floodgates can be closed until the new Local Plan is on the books and open for business.

By that time we’ll probably have a new town – Weychester sounds like a good name – paving over all the green gap between Weymouth and Dorchester!

It may not be that bad but people had better get used to the constant sound of building for a good while yet.


The meeting no mayor wants to chair

THE day all mayors dread is fast approaching - Friday, April 10th when the annual town meeting will be held at the Woodmead Halls.

I don’t think Sally Holman will be relishing this year’s gathering of parishioners after the battering she took last year - but surely it won’t be so bad?

Down the years the annual town meeting, in which the electorate get the chance to question their councillors, has been a bit of a damp squib with only a dozen or so attending.

Last year was a different matter.  It was standing room only and the council took a real bashing.

It was the reaction from the floor to a year which had been peppered by poor behaviour in the council chamber and which prompted town clerk John Wright to recently observe that the reputation of the council had been greatly harmed.

From the reports presented by the committee chairmen, however, you would have thought that the council was in line for a local government Oscar.

But who will ever forget the emotional and impassioned speech by Royal British Legion chairman David Manners before storming out,  and I have to admit I also came extremely close to losing it in an exchange with Mark Gage that did neither of us any favours.

It will not happen again because I will not be present at this year’s meeting but no doubt the View From will come in for more stinging criticism over our so-called sensational reporting. 

This past year has not been anywhere near as controversial so I don’t think Sally need worry too much, although she was overheard saying at her civic night on Friday: “I could have done without this past year.”

With the council standing down a month after the annual town meeting in readiness for the election on May 7th,  there’s little point in having an inquest on councillors’ performance these past 12 months.

It will, however,  give the outgoing council the chance to draw attention to their achievements over the past four years - and there have been many which this newspaper readily accepts - and we should also recognise that not all councillors have behaved poorly and all of them have put in many hours of voluntary service on our behalf.

With closing date for election nominations April 9th, at least the meeting will know who is standing again.

I have had the privilege of sitting both sides of the press bench and know from personal experience that it is not an easy job. 

Someone asked me if we intended to be so aggressive towards the new council. I drew their intention to our coverage of the pre-2010 council with whom we had an excellent relationship, especially with the staff.

Hopefully the new council will not be so clicky which will improve debate... but we will have to wait and see.


It may well have been a different story had it not been an election year

SO there was never any intention to move Lyme Regis Bowling Club to the Strawberry Field after all. Really?

It was just press speculation.

Town councillors last week said all they are doing is looking at their options for the development of Monmouth Beach and the bowling club can rest assured that when their lease expires in 2019 they will not be shunted up to the top of Charmouth Road.

Had the council chamber not been packed out by bowling club members, and had there not been an election in a few weeks time,  I suggest there might well have been a very different outcome.  

Packing out the chamber always works and has resulted in councillors down the years changing their minds for fear of upsetting the electorate. So good on the bowling club for rallying their troops. Moving the bowling club off Monmouth Beach, of course, is nothing new. When the former borough council set up the Lyme Regis Sports Centre Trust to oversee the creation of combined sporting facilities at the Davey Fort  (home of Lyme Regis Football Club) provision was made for a bowling green and, would you believe, a rifle shooting range. 

The creeping cliffs of Lyme put paid to those proposals and Lyme Regis FC was left with a minimum sized pitch which has cost tens of thousands of pounds to make  playable and has stunted the club’s ability to play at a higher standard ever since.

I’m all for the redevelopment of Monmouth Beach but I hope that can be achieved without lessening the recreational facilities. In my view the bowling club, in particular, is a great asset to the town. In coming up with a report to improve revenues,  town clerk John Wright estimated that, had it been the intention to move the bowling club, it would have cost £1.5 million to re-site it on the Strawberry Field.  That in itself probably meant it would never happen. 

What the new council needs to be doing is to thoroughly investigate a promise made many years ago - to replace the Woodmead Halls tennis courts. That too could be an expensive exercise.

I agree with Mark Gage (yes, you read that correctly). It’s not just about providing facilities for more cars down at the Cobb, which is already grossly overcrowded during the peak weeks. 

It’s about improving leisure and recreation facilities as well.



Should we be celebrating?

FUTURE development plans will turn Axminster from a market town into a medium sizedtown with more employment opportunities. 

Is  this a cause for celebration - or commiseration? It has long been known that Axminster has been earmarked for hundreds of new homes as East Devon District Council strives to achieve government targets for meeting the housing need.

The latest plan for 400 new houses to be built between Sector Lane and Lyme Road has also gone before Axminster Town Council. The council has accepted that the development - to be divided into three separate planning applications - will go ahead in the years to come.

Those of us who can remember Axminster in its heyday as a market time mourn the loss of the special atmosphere that the farming community generated when they came to town once a week. 

But those days will never return and Axminster has to look to the future and accept change is inevitable or the town will decline into a backwater. Axminster has a lot going for it.  A main line station with a better service in the offing, excellent education facilities, a fine public hall, a swimming pool and good sporting facilities and an enviable community spirit.  

The big fear Axminster people have expressed, at the recent annual town meeting, is whether the town’s existing infrastructure will cope with such an explosion in population.
Whilst the plans include a relief road running through the development, there are real concerns about Weycroft Bridge taking even more traffic.

Plans by the developers Persimmon Homes allow for an additional primary school and community centre, which will ease some concerns, but there is still a long way to go to convince many that such expansion is good for Axminster in the long term.

The town council recommended refusal of the outline application due to insufficient detail and Persimmon will present their plans at a public meeting in May.

www.viewfromonline.co.uk

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Roz Copson


ROZ Copson moved to Dorset in 1980 and has lived in West Bay for seven years. She continuously campaigns for a better mental health service in the area and helps and those living with a mental health illness through two support groups – Moving On and Harmony Drop-in. Roz previously worked as a radar operator in the Women’s Royal Army Corps and the assistant to the head of security in the Intelligence Corps before working as a prison officer at the a borstal for women. She was also recently named as runner-up in Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s South West Mental Health Hero awards.

COULD you tell us a bit more about what Moving On and the Harmony Drop-in centre offer?
They both offer a much needed place to go to meet others, find support and friendship, and get in touch with activities, groups, courses or community events or advice and signposting.  Moving On, as a registered charity, has also provided facilitators for activities such as swimming, many craft activities and outings. Harmony has only been open for a few weeks, but members have started cooking, art, craft and music activities. The two groups complement each other.

HOW did you work with the centres come about?
I suffer from OCD, a very debilitating psychiatric disorder. I found working incredibly difficult and each time I was offered promotion, I found the responsibility became too much. However, I do need to fill my time and I also want to help fellow sufferers from mental illness as much as I can. A lot of service users don't want to speak out about the hardships and, often, injustice they suffer, and I made up my mind that I would always speak out on their behalf. I was a volunteer at the Dorset Mental Health Forum, which led to founding the forum's Oak Tree social club – something which everyone at the time thought was impossible to achieve.  Since then, I've volunteered at the Moving On group in Bridport, and last year was one of three founders of the new Harmony drop-in centre in Downes Street.

YOU have also campaigned a lot about cuts to mental health services, could you tell us more about this and what you have done?
Mental health has never been funded equally with physical health in Dorset.  The present cuts bear more heavily on the mental health services as beds have been cut and in-patients might be in hospital many, many miles away. The home treatment strategy is under severe pressure because of lack of staff. I joined the HUGS campaign against the bed closures at the Hughes Unit at Bridport Hospital and I brought a judicial review of Dorset Healthcare Trust's lack of proper consultation over the changes. It was hard, and we didn't win, though some strong criticisms of the process were made, but I feel the campaign has really highlighted service users' rights to be consulted. I speak up for this whenever I can, and I've been interviewed on radio, TV and in the press. I must pay tribute to the work done by HUGS leader Simon Williams and so many other service users and carers to get the service they deserve.

WHAT is next to come for the Harmony Drop-in centre? What do you hope it achieves?
We're growing fast! We have more members, meaning we're reaching more people who would otherwise be struggling alone. Hearing members say that they're gaining strength from attending and helping each other, as they do, is part of what we hope for. We want to end the stigma still surrounding mental illness in some people's minds, by showing just what we can achieve.

DO you think the Harmony Drop-in centre and Moving On group have been helpful in the local area?
Definitely yes! For some people it is truly a lifeline. You would never believe how much members and volunteers have taken it to their hearts. For people to be able to help themselves to get on a sound footing, whether with their friends, families, work or learning, must be helpful to everyone in the community. There is such an atmosphere of friendship and optimism. 

WHICH three people would you invite to your dream dinner party? 
The Duchess of Cambridge, because she seems so friendly and unaffected, I'd love to talk to her, the manager of my football team, Spurs, and Judith, who is the owner of Paddy, the Berkshire Search and Rescue dog I sponsor - as long as Paddy comes too.


Luke’s first step to stage stardom

I HAVE commented many times in this column how lucky we are in the Lyme area to have so many talented amateur stage performers.

The quality of shows put on by the local operatic (now Lyme Regis Musical Theatre), Lyme Regis Dramatic Society and the Lyme Regis Pantomime Society,  not to mention those over the Devon border, seem to get better every year. The bar is currently at a very high level - can it go higher?

In years past my favourite performers included Elaine Kendrick (nee Broom) and Elizabeth Broome (nee Searle).  Today I have many favourites, among them the multi-talented Nicky Sweetland, now working for me very successfully as my theatre critic for our London papers, Kelly Apps (nee Street) and the incomparable Brian Rattenbury.

In the panto society Brian’s daughter, Gemma Hatton, always makes me laugh and this year’s principal girl, Melissa Denslow, is going to be another rare find.

So it was brilliant to hear this week that another Street - Luke, son of former town crier Phil and wife Dawn - is about to take his first tentative steps towards stardom - not on the local stage but in the West End.

As reported on our front page, it has just been confirmed that Luke is to appear in the West End revival of Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre, playing alongside three-times Olivier award-winner Imelda Staunton and former Dr Who Peter Davison.

The Streets are a rare breed when it comes to theatrical talent. Luke’s granddad is Billy Street, president of the Pantomime Society and for many years Lyme’s panto dame, a role also taken by his father Phil, and mum Dawn also has an excellent singing voice. It seems that the theatre is in their blood and Phil actually proposed to Dawn on the Marine stage.

The couple now live in France where Phil, much missed in Lyme, works in the aviation industry.

And it doesn’t end there. Luke’s sister, Amy, is hoping to follow in her brother’s footsteps and is currently studying at the Performance Preparation Academy in Guildford where Luke honed his acting and singing skills. What odds on talented Amy also making it to the West End?

I first realised Luke’s talent when he was a finalist in Lyme’s Got Talent which I organised in 2011 and he also demonstrated his all-round ability by starring in a number of productions at the Woodroffe School.

Gypsy opens at the Savoy Theatre on London's Strand on the April 15th for a strictly limited run.  

Nicky Sweetland will be reviewing that show for us - and I have no doubt that there will be more than a sprinkling of Streets in the audience to witness Luke’s tentative steps to theatre stardom.


INTEREST is growing over who - or who will not - be seeking election when the town goes to the poll to choose a new council in May. I know of at least four new candidates who say they intend to seek election,  the names of whom we will publish in due course.

But what people really want to know is which of the existing 14 councillors will stand again. Next week we will try to find out by contacting each councillor asking if they intend to seek re-election.   

It’s doubtful they will all respond... but that’s their prerogative. 


It’s just a bit of fun - oh, yes it is!

THERE’S been some talk about town over the fairness of town councillors being ridiculed at local pantomime performances. Oh, yes there is!

Last week Councillor Mark Gage was the subject of a fairly inoffensive jibe at the Lyme Regis Pantomime’s production of Aladdin.

I don’t know what Mark thought about it (we are not exactly on speaking terms, as you can imagine), but as a seasoned councillor I doubt that he was much troubled. 

But,  as I know full well, having made myself fairly unpopular in certain circles in the town, through this column, over the years, it is often the family of those in public positions that suffer the most. I’m sure Mrs Evans will agree.

This is not a new phenomenom.  Over the years I have been on the receiving end of a number of remarks at pantos I have been covering. 

I’ve always taken it as a bit of fun,  being of the opinion if you dish it out you have to be prepared to take it.  I can also remember getting in deep water some years ago when I was compering the town band’s Christmas concert and said the town council wanted to put on their own Nativity but could not find three wise men.  It went down well with the audience but, oh boy, the councillors were not amused.

I remember one specific occasion when I was given my comeuppance. I was foolish enough to mention in my column that my great pal John Stamp was appearing in the Charmouth panto and went on to comment on his potential acting skills.

When I arrived to cover the panto Jackie and I were ushered into the front row. Jackie immediately smelt a rat, saying ”‘You’re going to be stitched up here”.

She was right. I was dragged up onto the stage and dressed and made up as a woman, much to the delight of the audience, especially when John Stamp poked his head around the curtain and said: “Every dog has his day!”

Since that time I always make sure I sit towards the back of every panto I attend so I can make a quick exit when they are looking for gullible souls to be embarrassed up on stage.

But as I say, if you dish it out...

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Out for the count...

I RECENTLY flagged up the rise of phonetic spelling, but it seems that everyone in Weymouth and Portland would do better concentrating on mathematics.

And the best aid to help children with their sums isn’t a calculator and it isn’t an abacus... it’s chocolate.

You can batter maths into youngsters until they are sick of the sight of it, yet many times it doesn’t stick. Substitute chocolate and young calculating minds become as sharp as razors.

This is probably just as well because I recently saw some chocolate being sold by an outlet which either couldn’t do maths to save its life or was banking on its customers being too backward to make the right choice.

I’ll try you all out now and see how you do.

Which would you rather buy? Two chocolate bars of 200gms for £3 or two bars of 400gms for £7.20?

Worked it out yet? Well if you haven’t then just stand a child in front of the two sets of chocolate bars and get them to choose. Chances are they’ll get it right... and eat the chocolate.

The sobering thought is that this scenario isn’t taking place as a game and it isn’t taking place in a classroom. It’s taking place in real life, right now, out on the High Street.

The answer to my question is that you get more for your money buying two 200gm bars for £3 than you do buying two 400gm bars for £7.20, yet the shop in question either hasn’t noticed, doesn’t care or is raking in enough money from customers who can’t count not to worry about those who can.

So here’s the real question: if I’ve found this example of a ‘bargain’, how many more have I missed? 

So be wary, brush up your maths and keep your wits about you before going shopping in Dorset.


Don’t let carnival fade to a sepia postcard memory

REMEMBER when Weymouth Carnival had more than a hundred motorised floats and seemed to stretch for miles?

Well, those days are gone, and carnival itself may be gone soon too unless there is a substantial community reaction to help save it.

The harsh modern reality is that organisers have swapped wondering how they can fit everything in to having nightmares about being sued for compensation over breaching organisation or safety rules.

The focus seems to have gone away from the joy of the event and switched more to its red tape no matter how necessary some of it may be.

For instance, you might think cheering crowds are a big plus but they are also a big headache in these days of litigation because organisers must now ensure not just that crowd stewards are provided but that they have been properly trained as well.

As I said, modern demands seem to have sucked a bit of life from carnival through no fault of the organisers who now have to fight on so many different fronts to put on such an event that it is no wonder they have warned that carnival may soon be consigned to history.

It only just broke even in 2014 and needs £10,000 pretty much now and at least another £25,000 on top of that actually to stage the 2015 event or carnival just won’t happen.

Some have said that there is always a carnival crisis somewhere along the line and that it takes such a cry for help to coax the community into action, but I think it is a bit more than that this year.

There is an old saying: ‘Use it or lose it’, and I genuinely think that, without major community input plus substantial organisation and funding changes, Weymouth’s giant snake of floats may be consigned to old postcards and yellowing newspaper reports.


Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should

FANCY your taxi or bus to Weymouth town centre collecting you without a driver?

Or how about your pub pint being served you via an intercom with a tap or the prospect of being measured for that new suit by an electronic eye with nary a human being in sight?

Well that scenario is not as far-fetched as it might seem because business leaders are predicting that half of all jobs will be taken over by machines by the year 2035.

I’ll be in what is laughingly called my “twilight years” by then and I certainly don’t fancy the prospect of my bedpan being changed by a robot nurse called Vernon.

More worryingly is that, if there is a grain of truth in this machines prediction then you have to ask where a constantly growing population is going to find work with more people and fewer jobs.

Yeah, but it just won’t happen, I hear you say... but think on this.

Barely a century ago we were still only just getting to grips with flight. It is only 46 years since man first stepped on the moon and it is only 34 years since the first laptop computer appeared weighing 23.6lbs (10.7kg).

So I wouldn’t be too dismissive about what mechanical advances might have appeared in Weymouth and Portland in 20 years time.