Wednesday, 17 September 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Serenna Davies & Alan Heeks

SERENNA Davies is a councillor and family therapist with a deep interest in wellbeing. Brought up in Weymouth, she left Dorset at 18 to train to be a nurse at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where she became a health visitor and child health specialist and later became a counsellor, Psychology of Vision Trainer and family Therapist. Alan Heeks was born in Bournemouth. He has worked in Business Management for 20 years and education and Sustainability since 1992. He has lived in Dorset since 2004 and works with ways people can live organically through workshops. The pair are working together on a one-day workshop on Personal Resilience, in Bridport next month.

SERENNA, what attracted you to come back to Dorset?
My parents live here and I love being back. I have lived in Winterbourne Steepleton for six years now and spend a lot of time in Bridport. I love going to events at the Electric Palace and the arts centre and I am also a member of the Bridport Film Society and always go to the film and literary festivals. I love the Saturday market and the many wonderful cafes and eating places.

ALAN I understand you led the creation of The Magdalen Project, an organic farm in Dorset, and you work in ways people can live organically, could you tell me more about that?
I like creating practical innovations, I saw the benefits of town kids coming to an organic farm to learn both ecology and life skills. I feel very blessed by the superb people who gathered to help make this dream an ongoing reality. When I see problems, I like to find systematic solutions. Many people are stressed and unhappy in modern life, and the principles of organic growth can really help people improve their wellbeing. I've learned to manage my own high stress levels, and learning from nature has been key to that.

ARE either of you a part of any local organisations or charities? 
SD: I work in many schools and also with The Dorset Child and Family Counselling Trust and West Dorset Family Therapy. I enjoy classical music and I am the nurse and health advisor in residency for the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. I have also trained in relationship healing and emotional intelligence with the world renowned Chuck Spezzano who created Psychology of Vision International (POV) and I promote POV workshops in Dorset.
AH: I am one of the main professional advisors to Bridport Cohousing. I am also part of the Men Beyond 50 network, which links to my second book, published in 2013, “Out of the Woods: A guide to life for Men Beyond 50”.

WHAT is the scariest or most exciting thing to happen to you?
SD: I am frightened of snakes. I visited Steve Urwin's, Australia Zoo, which is a teaching Zoo, and I made myself touch a snake, but only on the third attempt! Later on in India, I came back to my Kerala hut and found a big snake basking in the sun outside. I didn't freak out but later found out it was one of the most poisonous snakes in India.
AH: Being interviewed live on BBC Radio Two with an audience of six million people for the launch of my first book, “The Natural Advantage”.

WHAT would you do if you won the lottery?
SD: I have never bought a lottery ticket, but if I did and won, I would open a centre for children, young people and families to help them cope with difficult and traumatic situations. 
AH: I would fund a major campaign across the UK to teach people life skills for resilience and local co-operation.

WHAT are you currently working on now?
We are working on a one day workshop on Personal Resilience on October 20th from 2pm to 5pm at the Chapel in the Garden, Bridport, named “Staying Happy in Changeable Times”. This event is part of the national “One World Week” and will offer people practical skills to handle life’s changes, find the gifts in the problems and raise personal resilience. We are both interested in living sustainably, eating organically, and supporting our community in whatever way we can.

Is this postponing the inevitable?

THE sorry story over funding of our local hospitals was summed up by the Mayor of Axminster, Councillor Jeremy Walden when he said: “It’s a sad state of affairs when NHS services have to be paid for by a charity.”

He was referring, of course, to the decision of the League of Friends’ offer of £100,000 a year for three years to keep the wards at Axminster Hospital open after it was rumoured that the NHS planned to close the remaining ten beds.

The question everyone is asking is: “What happens after three years?”

The NHS has refused to respond to the offer from the League of Friends but a statement is expected tomorrow (Wednesday).

The real fear, of course is that if they accept the offer, will they be postponing the inevitable” - the ultimate closure of the hospital?

The Friends have already sunk millions into Axminster Hospital over the years and whilst £300,000 will not clear them out of funds, it will be a huge dent in their resources .  

Much of their cash comes from bequests from people who have received excellent care at their local hospital. These would certainly dry up if the wards are closed.

The medical professionals in the town are concerned that once the wards are shut they will never re-open and then other facilities at the hospital will decline to a point it is no longer viable to keep it open.

The more than generous offer by the League of Friends shows how strongly the people of Axminster feel about the retention of their hospital.

Funding the wards for the next three years will at least give the doctors and the League of Friends time to investigate other funding options.

These are worrying days for Axminster with the threat to the future of the town’s excellent and well patronised library and the closure of the county council-run youth club.  

Losing our hospital is not an option that the townsfolk want to contemplate and it is to be hoped that tomorrow’s expected statement will offer some clear intentions and not be clouded by the usual NHS-speak about working with the community, etc etc.

THIS week we had been hoping to welcome our readers to Axminster Guildhall for our Showcasing Axminster exhibition. Unfortunately, we had to pull the plug on it a couple of weeks ago due to lack of support.

The idea was to showcase all aspects of life in Axminster – in the workplace, social and sporting activities and community.

We received good support from local organisations and charities but very little from the trading community which rendered the idea financially unviable.

We are sorry that we were unable to deliver on this occasion but would like to thank the staff at Axminster Guildhall who did all they could to accommodate the event.

A bin for this and a bin for that

REMEMBER when your kitchen scraps, empty tins and old newspapers were all dumped outside in a dustbin? Well those days are long gone.

Now we’ve got wheelie bins for this, boxes for that and caddies for the other… well not exactly because householders will now have to go back to school to swat up on the latest recycling changes.

These include various bin switches with new ones coming in and old ones being given a new purpose. Some are being phased out altogether.

It can be a real source of worry for some people, frightened that they’ll miss a collection date or that they’ll put some rubbish item in the wrong receptacle and, if you’ll pardon the pun, get their collection refused!

And there’s no guarantee that bin changes might not happen again as the recycling service tries to refine itself even further. So what other changes might we look forward to?

Well there could be a special wheelie bin with a slit in the top. This will enable postmen delivering junk mail to simply put it straight in the bin, saving valuable time for householders.

It will also help people avoid those painful paper cuts caused by angrily ripping open legions of envelopes marked “Urgent!” only to find you’re being offered an annual subscription to Readers’ Digest for 52 easy payments of an arm and a leg or free life insurance which turns out to cost another arm and a leg.

Then there could be a wheelie bin specifically for use just during the month of April. This will be provided so householders have somewhere to put all the leaflets posted through letterboxes by local politicians trying to get elected to the council.

Finally there could be the dayglow orange caddy with special clips to fix it to your wall or gate.

This isn’t actually for you but for the people to use who view your front garden as an ideal dumping ground for their rubbish. Not sure whether this one will catch on.

Your money is no good here

FOR all of us familiar with the use of money, watch out when you go on a London bus because cash may be refused.

Apparently one Weymouth couple tried to pay for a bus ride in the capital with money and were given short shrift by the bus driver who said only Oyster cards were valid.

They tried to argue their case but to no avail with the bus driver standing firm, so the couple decided to strike a blow for sanity and they opted to walk to where they wanted to go instead.

And the reason behind the cash refusal? It seems that people using Oyster cards can be taken on board quicker than those who pay the fare with coins.

Sounds like “a good idea” that Boris Johnson might have had a hand in!

Sweet smelling drains

WEYMOUTH and Portland gardens have just won several awards for their beautiful green and floral displays… and their drains aren’t doing too badly either!

I was recently chatting near Town Bridge when I happened to look down and see the drain near where I was stood was absolutely packed with growth.

It was easy to identify a tiny buddleia shrub growing up from the depths in search of light, but with it were a form of cultivated daisy and a number of other floral offerings.

If Weymouth’s excellent parks department is now turning its attention to beautifying our drains then it can only be a matter of time before council gardeners win an RHS award… that’s Richly Habitated Sewers of course!

Crows like food on the go

FAST food containers are posing a problem for seafront pedestrians… because they’re landing on people’s heads!

The bombardment is being carried out by crows, recognised as one of the more intelligent members of the bird world.

They have worked out that they can’t batter their way through a mussel shell but, if they fly up and drop it from height on to a hard surface, they can then fly down and enjoy the tasty food inside the shattered shell.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when one shell landed near me the other day but I kept quiet, stayed still and a crow was soon alighting and pecking hungrily at the shell’s contents.

Over the next ten to 15 minutes I saw this action repeated at least half a dozen times with varied success, shells smacking down on the Esplanade but also on the roofs of shelters, cars and on one man’s head. His baseball cap spared him from injury but it certainly startled him!

It just shows how versatile these creatures are. They’ll forage for just about anything and if leftover seafront food isn’t on the menu then a shoreline snack will do just as well.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Dr David Cove has been in Dorchester since 1981 when he was appointed Consultant Physician to Dorset County Hospital. His specialities were general medicine, diabetes and endocrinology (hormones). He was medical director for four years and, among other things, was involved with developing clinical governance. He started his medical career at Birmingham University, qualified there and then undertook a number of  posts and research mainly in the West Midlands. He has just taken over as Chairman of the Dorchester and Sherborne Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

WHAT brought you to Dorset?
It was a combination of the post and the area - it’s a lovely part of the world to come to and at the time there was the prospect of a new hospital, although that didn’t come for some years. It was an exciting opportunity. When I first arrived we were admitting acute medicine to Dorset County and Weymouth and District hospitals and I also did clinics in Dorchester, Weymouth, Bridport, Blandford and Sherborne.

DID you know about area before you came?
No, I didn’t. I had to look it up on the map, but I found out about it pretty quickly. My first impressions were of a lovely county town with a delightful rural area and the sea close by as well, ideal in many ways.

ARE you attracted to the sea?
I like windsurfing and swimming and a bit of snorkelling. I’m not windsurfing at the moment; although I did until a couple of years ago…I might have another go.

YOU stayed, you didn’t move on?
At the time I was appointed consultants which meant you tended to stay in the same place. In training you would move from post to post but in a consultant post you were expected to be there for life. It’s a bit different now and people do move more now.

WHEN did you retire?
From the NHS in April 2013. I had been part-time for a few years and had been gradually reducing hours from the age of 60, but I properly retired at the age of 66. It would have been very difficult to suddenly stop.

DO YOU have any hobbies? 
I guess gardening is the main hobby, it takes up quite a lot of time; I also started doing a bit of sculpture in a very amateurish way about four years ago. I’m not very good, but I enjoy it.

YOUR retirement will now be partially taken over by your new role with the CAB. How did that come about?
I wanted to do something worthwhile and I had family who used to work for CAB years ago as well as many patients who benefitted from the CAB. The opportunity to take up the chair came up and I thought that would be a good thing to do and a real challenge. I’ve come to it cold so I’m on a steep learning curve, which I’m actually enjoying. Everyone has been most helpful in explaining CAB and my job, and the job that they do. I’ve also, with client’s permission, sat in on a number of sessions which I found very instructive. I’ve been terribly impressed by the staff at the CAB.

AND they deal with so many people?
Yes, we’re currently working out the figures for this year in the run up to the annual meeting on October 9th but for 2012-13 the bureau dealt with 5,590 clients who between them had 17,068 issues to be resolved. The numbers are quite staggering.

I WOULD imagine funding must be a problem even though many of the ‘staff’ are volunteers?
It’s a constant and continuing worry. The core of our funding comes from local government and their budgets are being cut. I know they are doing a review of their expenditure for 2016 onwards and although they are very supportive of CAB they do have their hands tied and this work is non-statutory. But the councils are aware of the issues. They know if they don’t have the CAB helping with people’s debt issues there is a risk they could become homeless and then the local authorities have to sort that out, at very much higher expense. We would argue that funding the CAB is money very well spent.

WERE you surprised about how much poverty and problems there are in this area, which on the face of it appears affluent?
I have been aware of it for a long time really, through medicine. Rural poverty is hidden away, it doesn’t hit you in the face like urban poverty. There are a lot of people who are making do and organising their lives as best they can on very little, particularly with house prices being high and the cost of transport locally.

DO YOU have favourite authors?
Orwell, Greene, Isabel Allende I like.

FAVOURITE films and music?
Classical music and a certain amount of jazz. We go to the Dorchester Film Society and enjoy that very much, there’s a whole variety of things there. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Angel’s Share’ which was along the lines of ‘Whisky Galore’. It was a wonderful film, very funny.

Stand by for bad news on the hospital

I STARTED my journalistic career in Honiton in a dingy room above Arthur Dimond’s shop in the High Street. That was 50 years ago this summer.

Even in those far-off days when reporters attended virtually every local event, it was clear that Honiton was in desperate need of a community hall. 

The Mackarness Hall, at the side of St Paul’s Church and opposite the office, was the only real meeting place in the centre of town in those days. And it continued that way until fairly recently when the magnificent Beehive Centre opened its doors amid much controversy.

I use the word “magnificent” somewhat gingerly because the building of the centre has been the cause of much falling out in the town.

I made a long-overdue visit to the Beehive last week after receiving an invitation from the group of volunteers who are working so hard to make the centre a success, led by former Honiton mayor Vernon Whitlock, who has been fighting for such a facility for 30 years.

The first thing that impressed me was the enthusiasm of the volunteers.  It’s turned out to be pretty much of a full-time job since the doors first opened in March and there’s been no let-up since. I was even more impressed when I was given a tour of the building, which also houses offices for Honiton Town Council. There are many other towns in Pulman’s Country who would give their eye-teeth for such a quality facility.

I was surprised that when a local poll was held to give the people of Honiton the chance to vote on whether they wanted the town council to proceed with the community centre project, the majority said “no”.  However, there was only a 13 per cent turn- out, hardly representative.

I hear another poll might be in the offing over the future governance of the centre.

It’s a very long time since I covered Honiton Town Council and I’m clearly not qualified to comment on the conflicting views. But what I do know is this: Honiton has a brilliant facility and it is clear by the programme of events that it is being well used by the community.

Becoming a charity seems an eminently sensible idea to me and I hope that it won’t be long before those responsible for running the facility, town councillors and volunteers, can resolve their differences and draw a line under the animosity that clearly exists.
The Beehive is a great asset to Honiton.

I AM writing this column on Monday afternoon, a few hours before there is going to be a momentous announcement over the future of Axminster Hospital.  It will not be good news.

This is such an important issue that we have decided to delay the printing of our Axminster edition so we can report on the announcement due to be made at Axminster Town Council this evening (Monday).

It looks like Axminster has lost the fight to retain NHS funded in-patient beds, the only community hospital in East Devon to do so.

Over the years Axminster Hospital League of Friends have pumped millions into the hospital and it looks as though if the town is to keep its in-patient beds the League will have to dig deep once again. They have the financial resources but without their backing the beds will almost certainly go.

Local doctors fear if the beds are closed it is unlikely they will ever be restored. If that is the case, what will happen to hospital long term? 

Although the NHS will never admit to it, it seems that closure is a very real possibility in the future. The NHS says there are no plans to close Axminster; not now but what about in three years?

The busy summer that Weymouth needed

WEYMOUTH has just had what it needs above anything else, a good summer season.

There was some confusion at the start when the sun came out and no-one knew what it was, but the town’s tourism industry was soon in full swing with hoteliers and guesthouses reporting brisk bookings and attractions doing a roaring trade.

Seafront businesses did particularly well, a vital fact of life for them since they, like grizzly bears, tend to hibernate during the winter and need summer fat to see them through.

But it is the little things that show how well Weymouth has done, those aspects of resort life that don’t catch the headlines.

Take car parks for instance. When you see the white signs and lines at entrance points starting to wear and blur then you know that the sheer volume of parking is responsible which means it has been a good season.

Then there is any normal walk down St Mary Street. 

If you can do that easily then it is worrying times for tourism, but it was impossible to do so in 2014 because the street was frequently choked with people and you had to dodge, duck and weave your way to make progress.

Some outlets said their business was up 20 percent, others that they were just clawing back what they had lost during the Oympics.

Anyhow, the town seems to have been given a summer shot in the arm and is more than ready for the next big rush. Have you seen how many shops are already selling Christmas stuff?

No wonder. Christmas Eve is just 15 weeks away today!

Why work twice as hard when you can get by?

A DAMNING indictment of modern society’s approach to encouraging people to work has emerged through a Weymouth man who is happily living off wages earned from just 16 hours work per week as a barman.

Out of that he is docked various things including rent and council tax while he has £14 a week – or a miserly £2 per day – for food.

Quite clearly he would welcome more money to make his life a little easier, but he has chosen to carry on with his current lifestyle because there is just no incentive to work harder.

He explained that he could easily get more work to increase his earning power up to 40 hours a week… but he said that if he did so he would actually be worse off!

He’d calculated that only by working 42 hours a week could he increase his income… by about £5 per week.

Apparently the reason behind this is that he could sharply increase his wage by working the extra hours but not as sharply as the drop off in the benefit money he receives.

He is not against working but neither is he stupid and he has no intention of swapping a frugal lifestyle gained by working 16 hours for a frugal lifestyle plus £5 for which he’d have to work 42 hours.

As he said: “I get £2 per day for food and that’s easy if you’re sensible. I buy a chicken and have the legs one day, the breasts another day and boil the carcass up for soup stock with the remaining meat on another day. I can effectively feed eight people on my money. Thank God the other seven don’t turn up!”

A climate of its own

A PORTLAND phenomena much like Table Mountain recently showed just how much its climate can differ from Weymouth.

It was a miserable day with a heavy drizzle as I drove over to the island, looking ahead to see the top of Portland sheared off by a flat bank of gloomy grey cloud which made for the comparisons with Table Mountain.

But incredibly, like someone shutting off a tap, when I got within 100 yards of Victoria Square all the drizzle stopped, the whole place brightened up and all the roads and pavements were dry!

In fact, by the time I got to where I was going the sun was coming out which was just as well really.

Conditions were still balmy with some soft sunshine when I came to make the return trip about an hour later, but the cloud slowly loomed over me and by the time I got home I could barely get inside before down came the rain again.

There are stickers saying “Keep Portland Weird”, but I’d rather be weird and dry on Portland than wet and normal in Weymouth!

Some need a map to navigate car park

RESEARCH shows that two out of five people don’t know how to navigate using a traditional map.

This comes as no surprise to the residents of Weymouth during the tourist season who regularly get stopped and asked for directions, but just recently tourists have been getting lost in the town’s multi-storey car park!

Britannia Parking has done its best with a simple circular system to go up or down through the structure, but three times in recent weeks I’ve been ascending an up-ramp only to meet a flustered driver coming down.

Comments have ranged from “Took the wrong turning!” to “Sorry, we’re on holiday here!” as if this afforded some sort of special dispensation.

So be warned. You appear to need your wits about you in a car park as much as you ever do on the open road.

Guitars raise the bar once again

THE conversation went a bit like this: “So your council has a full-time promotions manager and staff to put on all these events?”

I was talking to a visitor from one of the outer London boroughs, one of thousands who had rocked up (literally) on the beach with a guitar strapped to his back.

“Well, no,” I replied.  “All this is organised by volunteers.”

“You are kidding?”

“No. This town is no more than a village in the winter. Our council does not have those sort of resources.”

We are talking about Guitars On The Beach here, surely the most spectacularly enjoyable event staged in Lyme since, well, last year’s Guitars On The Beach. And, of course, it is the volunteers who make Lyme a very special place - the volunteers about whom my fellow columnist, Chris Boothroyd, has written so eloquently in recent weeks.

The town council benefits greatly throughout the summer months with increased car parking and excellent business for their various concessions. But to be fair to the council, they do support most events either financially or by allowing their outside staff to help out where possible. 

Operations manager Elliott Herbert is always willing and keen to lend a hand when asked.
And it was good to see Councillor Rikey Austin and town clerk John Wright joining in the Guitars On The Beach world record attempt and not boycotting the event as some of their colleagues were rumoured to be doing last year.

The event attracted 3,000 registered guitarists and probably a similar number of non-players on the beach - the biggest crowd I have seen since the Radio One roadshows (remember them?) visited Lyme in the late 1970s/80s, possibly bigger.

The brainchild of former rock PR Geoff Baker, GOTB is probably the most unique and exhilarating summertime event on the south coast. Hell, let’s make that in the UK.

Geoff’s unrivalled contacts in the rock business, his media nous and sheer determination to do some good for his home town are the cornerstones behind the success of this event. And you know what they say about behind every successful man... Geoff’s partner, Jill Newton, took on board a massive organisational task so important to the success of any large event.

They will be the first to admit that they received fantastic behind-the-scenes support from so many people - not to mention  the musicians and technicians that made up the house band, which was brilliant on the day.

What a thrill it must have been for those local musicians to share a stage with rock legend Ian Gillan, who has a home in Lyme. Not only did he pay for the erection of the stage but agreed to put in an appearance to sing Deep Purple’s most famous hit, “Smoke on the Water”.

And what a moment it was when suddenly he was joined on stage by his daughter, Grace, who was appearing later on the bill with popular local band, Papa La Gal, and then smoke really did rise from the water where a flotilla of local craft let off their flares.

Great spectacle, great theatre.

As a close colleague of Geoff and Jill, I know how much they personally put into this day, how much blood, sweat and (yes) tears. 

To those of us on the outside, the day ran like clockwork. As with any big event, I’m sure there was a hiccup or two but nobody noticed.

This was a day to let your hair down (difficult for me!), turn back the clock and believe that you were a rocker once one. 

The quality of the musical entertainment was outstanding - from seven-years-old Darci Street (how many tiny tots have played before such a big audience?) to the great man himself, Gillan; it was a day that rockers young and old will never forget.

  • A WORD of praise also for Mark Hix and his team for staging the Food Rocks festival to run alongside GOTB. The various cooking demonstrations and food and drink stands attracted many people to the town adding greatly to the overall atmosphere of the weekend. Lyme, you did it again!

TWO acquaintances of mine who have had cause to attend council meetings in Lyme Regis in the past - and were unimpressed by the standard of debate - went along to a recent meeting of Uplyme Parish Council.

What was their verdict? That officers and councillors from Lyme Regis should attend one of the village meetings to see how a proper council should be run.

Their words - not mine.

THE crass habit of certain town councillors in the Lyme Regis Town Council chamber chomping their way through meetings by tucking into bags of sweets laid before them continues.

This doesn’t happen at county hall, nor at West Dorset District Council. In fact, it does not happen at any other council this newspaper group covers. Why? Because it is not acceptable behavior and it’s time the mayor clamped down on it in the Guildhall.

When new member Cheryl Reynolds attended a recent training meeting she asked a question about the acceptability of eating sweets during council debates. She was told it was totally unacceptable.

When Cheryl questioned her fellow councillors about this, she was told: “We do things differently in Lyme.”

They certainly do.