Wednesday, 29 July 2015

How did I have time for a full-time job?

WHEN I walked in to Weymouth Pavilion Ocean Room to give a short speech at full council confirming my semi-retirement and thanking everyone for their help over the last 40 years I never expected to get such a welcome.

People came on foot, by taxi and by car, some of them travelling considerable distances. There were nearly 80 of us there and I’d like to think that some of those attending were due to me and not to the popularity of an agenda item on public complaints about dog poo!

Whatever the reason for people being there, it was nice to be able to thank so many different groups I have worked with down the years.

Inevitably I will have missed some people and organisations simply because of the volume of people who know me, but I meant no disrespect.

When I sat down I was given a standing ovation and I was also grateful and touched by the number of kind comments made about my coverage of the Weymouth and Portland area since I first moved down here in 1980.

The Mayor even presented me with a vintage bottle of wine and a special retirement card on behalf of the council, a nice and very unexpected touch which I really appreciated.

It was a true evening of nostalgia and I never realised just how many stories I’d written which had struck a chord with the community until the same members of that community reminded me of them when we met later in the Piano Bar or The Boot for a drink and a natter.

A particular thank-you must go to the council itself which, because of the circumstances, allowed me a little more licence time-wise than the normal three minutes given to public speakers. I hope I didn’t overrun that much!

Finally I’d like help answering a question that apparently a lot of other people have asked when they became semi-retired or retired. How the devil did I have the time to hold down a full-time job as well as all the things I seem to be doing now?!

A barbaric way to kill a fox however you change the details

PROPOSALS which would relax the ban on fox hunting have been hastily put on ice by the Government which feared getting a bloody nose.

The postponement came after the Scottish National Party said it would vote against the proposals meaning the reforms were unlikely to win a majority in a free House of Commons vote where three Dorset MPs said they would support the change.

The proposals would make it legal for foxes to be hunted with packs of dogs instead of just two, provided it was “appropriate” for the terrain and done “efficiently”.

One of the grounds for this change is to bring England and Wales in line with Scotland which already allows dog packs.

The first point to make is, why bring us in line with Scotland? Why not bring Scotland in line with us? And the answer is, because the hunting fraternity don’t want it done this way.

What they do want is a chance to widen their ability to hunt foxes in England and Wales.

This particular fox hunting gambit is a wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing with all sorts of reasonable arguments from the need to protect livestock to what is claimed to be a simple desire to level an inconsistency between English and Scottish law.

But the bottom line is killing foxes.

Three Dorset MPs back the proposed move, one of whom claims it is only a “technical” change. I suppose that depends on whether you are technically going to get savaged to death or not.

As with all these things, the Devil is in the detail because what is “efficiently”? And who decides what is “appropriate”?

The ban was brought in on a wave of public support because people felt that to hunt a fox with a pack of hounds followed by red-coated country cavalry was barbaric.

Nothing has changed. It is still barbaric. Hopefully the proposals will stay on ice.

Excluded from my own garden

IT comes to something when you are reduced to the role of skulking round your own garden.

I recently mentioned that a seagull chick’s initial flight from a neighbour’s roof saw it crash land in our garden. Well, it is still here.

So are the parents who make their displeasure known every time we go out into the garden by alarm cries, dive bombing us and releasing air-to-ground seagull poo and vomit missiles.

This is fraying nerves because we’ve never had this before and often forget we do now, ambling out forgetful of the situation to pick a few vegetables only to be scared out of our wits by a seagull strafing sortie.

All this without mentioning that the area closest to the house is starting to look like a midden or some artist’s “early ordure period” entry for the Turner Prize.

Bird experts assure me that the chick’s wing feathers are quite advanced and that it could take to the air soon. Not soon enough for me.

My only hope is that if the chick lives and if it survives to take flight that it doesn’t somehow develop fond memories of our property as home. Just go away and stay away!

The spirit of Alban Woodroffe is alive and well

THE well-equipped Woodmead Halls is a popular venue 
for events such as local historian Ken Gollop’s ‘Shady 
Tree’ series of talks

SEVERAL of these columns last year took an imaginary walk from Charmouth Road car park to the harbour, examining the varied work of volunteers along the way. 

Recently, I returned to this theme, without apology – for much of Lyme’s vitality is volunteer-based. Any weakening of that generosity would be a loss to the town.

Mill volunteers peopled June’s column as my walk turned along the river. The Town Mill Trust creates a mutually-supporting unity out of its several parts. This made me think, while continuing along the Lynch, of ‘The Three Ms’ – Mill, Museum and Marine Theatre, each distinct, yet also part of a whole: our key non-profit local attractions. They too can be ‘mutually-supporting’, if not so interwoven as, for example, the sites along the Ironbridge Gorge, which promote each other really well.

At Gosling Bridge I started up Hill Road to Woodmead Halls. The seat outside, welcome rest for a puffing pensioner, was a good spot to consider why this feels so professionally-run. I say ‘feels’ because Woodmead Halls depends almost wholly on voluntary labour, illustrating the truth that ‘voluntary’ need not imply ‘amateur’ in its sometimes-derogatory sense, but efficiency and pride.

Why ‘Halls’? In 1923 the town grammar school was founded here (part of the former Woodmead Farm) using redundant First World War army huts. The new school building in Uplyme Road replaced it in 1932, so the borough council adapted the huts, making a large hall with stage and a smaller hall, both with kitchens, plus separate huts for Scouts, Red Cross and, until 1963, the school’s woodwork room. With six tennis courts, here was the town’s social and leisure centre.

Local government reorganisation in 1974 made the town council encourage take-over by an independent committee, able to tap grants for building parish halls while removing management and running costs from the council. In 1981 the council leased the land to trustees; the new building, largely as we know it today, was constructed in 1982.

Woodmead Halls is a charitable trust on behalf of all the voluntary bodies in Lyme Regis, each entitled to elect a member to the halls’ management committee. So every organisation in the town has an interest in sustaining this public facility.

Anyone attending events there knows how smoothly it runs. With large hall exceptionally well-equipped, small hall adaptable and comfortable, spacious kitchen, friendly bar and spotless toilets, it’s no surprise that Woodmead Halls is heavily booked year-round. 

Fortunately its smart website includes a bookings calendar, making it easy to spot a gap. Apart from Michaela Ellis as part-time bookings secretary/caretaker, everything else that makes Woodmead Halls so professional is achieved through hard-working volunteers, led by a committee of 10 chaired by Stan Williams. 

Vice-chairman Nick Robertson and treasurer Susanne Whitemore will often also be found, with Stan, serving at the bar. Gilly Warr runs a slick administration, John Broom handles building development, Charlie Kapur led the £67,000 fundraising drive and managed the re-roofing and installation of 90 SolarPV panels that make Woodmead Halls a model of eco-friendliness (earning Charlie a West Dorset ‘environmental champion’ award in 2011.)

This committee in turn relies on other volunteers such as John Evans and Alan Stickler, the heart of a six-strong maintenance team working most Friday mornings, and more, to keep the place spick-and-span, including a major two-week redecoration last August; or Irene Croad regularly serving behind the bar over the last four years; or Mike Donno who keeps the sophisticated sound and lighting systems running.

What’s in it for them? Mike enjoys helping users make best use of the technology, drawing on his practical skills and sometimes his tact, for “a little knowledge isn’t always good!” To Alan, who retired to the town, volunteering was “a lifeline”, bringing friendships in his new home – “the sociability is so important”. John, born in Lyme, also found retirement demanded “new ways of being active and involved with people”. Irene, too, values the socialising and “meeting all my friends: I just love what I call ‘going to work’!” – she’s one of those precious volunteers whose mantra is “I never say no”.   

“Woodmead Halls wouldn’t be here without Stan,” says Michaela Ellis; his leadership has over many years created for the town an exceptional facility which, crucially, is financially self-sufficient. With such volunteer commitment, nearly all income – from hire fees, bar, weddings, energy generation, commercial grants, etc. – covers costs and investing in development.

The development plan is businesslike and strategic, aiming, Stan says, to “get Woodmead Halls in perfect order”, make it profitable, expand the range of activity, and employ staff in support. Details of this phased expansion, first extending the kitchen and enlarging the small hall, are shown in the halls’ entrance. When planning permission is obtained grant applications will begin, for which supporting letters from user organisations will be vital.

Meanwhile, Alan Stickler says: “I think I’m the youngest volunteer!” Recruiting younger volunteers is always a challenge but, with so many in Lyme enjoying the facilities, surely Woodmead Halls will find them?

In creating the town grammar school in its army huts, Alban Woodroffe showed chutzpah and self-belief – his dealings with county council and ministry officialdom yield good stories. He would surely be pleased that his ambitiously self-reliant spirit still thrives in the same spot.


SARAH Chick is a Beaminster resident and has been all her life. She attended the playgroup, St Mary’s Academy and Beaminster School. She now has three children and a passion for darts, which recently saw her in the semi-final of the English Open earlier this year.

HOW did you get into darts?
I got into darts from my mum when I was seven or eight, just playing at home. My nan Sadie Collett was called the “Queen of Darts” in Bridport and my mum and sisters also played. 

WAS there anything in particular that attracted you to darts?
The only thing that attracted me to darts was my family, I then started playing in local leagues and it escalated from there.

TELL us a bit about being in the English Open semi-final and what it meant to you...
The England Open is one of the biggest competitions around. Getting to the semi-finals was overwhelming as I knocked some top seeds out on the way.

WOULD you do it again and take part in similar competitions?
Yes, I am going back to Selsey, Sussex, in September for a competition.

WHAT other achievements have you gained and what other competitions have you taken part in?
I am always taking part in competitions nearby and around Dorset. I got to the Gold Cup finals at the beginning of this month, won southern counties and mixed pairs with Ben Ward in 2014, won ladies pairs at Hayling Island in 2012, won champions of champions twice. They are all my biggest achievements.

DO you have any other passions aside from darts?
I play darts three times a week so don't have much time to do anything else, with family too, they take up more time.

DO you have any words of wisdom for people wanting to start playing darts professionally? 
Practicing is always a good start - play as often as you can.

WHAT three people would you invite to your dream dinner party?
The people at my dinner party would be Jethro as I do like having a laugh, Kevin Painter as he was the first ever professional darts player I played against, and Whitney Houston for a good old sing along.

WHAT would be the first thing you do if you won the Lottery?
If I won the Lottery I would make sure my children were financially secure, buy a motorhome and travel.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

A change of direction to save the hospital

AS MERVYN Symes says in his statement (see below) about the inpatient beds debacle at Axminster,  the fight goes on... but it’s likely to take a different direction.

There comes a time in any long running dispute like this when you have to put up your hands and say “we’ve done all we can”. 

The Axminster Hospital Action Group, backed by the League of Friends, are at that point but in true Axminster spirit they are not giving up.

The CCG, highly miffed by the extreme criticism they have taken, are not going to change their minds. They were particularly upset by our coverage last week, claiming errors of fact in the statement by Steve Holt, who has been the public face of Axminster’s fight to save their holidays. 

One sentence particularly upset them: “ no time did the senior members of the CCG attend the meetings and showed no interest in the progress whatsoever”. The CCG Press department claims that it was “factually inaccurate” that CCG members did not attend meetings,

We offered the CCG space for another statement on this page this week to list all their grievances about our coverage and Mr Holt’s allegations but they declined.

It is significant that both MPs, Hugo Swire and Neil Parish, have come out strongly against the CCG decision but it would seem Axminster’s only hope is whether they can persuade Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to intervene. As it’s Government policy to encourage the NHS to treat more people in their homes, that’s a long shot for sure. 

The Axminster campaigners are also hoping that the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital Trust will take over the running of the community hospitals in East Devon later this year and there might then be some room for manoeuvre with regards to a possible return of the beds.

The emphasis now must surely be on ensuring that Axminster Hospital without its beds has a future in the provision of health care in East Devon. It is, of course, one of the best equipped small hospitals in the area, thanks to the generosity of the people of Axminster and district.

Millions of pounds have been pumped into Axminster Hospital over the years by the League of Friends and organisations like the Axminster Hospital Cup. This was, in the main,  for the benefit and comfort of Axminster patients. 

Can we be assured that all the equipment they have bought over the years remains in Axminster? I think we know the answer to that one, don’t you?          
  • May I thank the community for supporting us. We have not given up the fight to have our inpatient beds reinstated at some stage. The Axminster Hospital Action Group feel that they have taken things as far as they can at present. Neil Parish MP as stated that the RD&E would be a more suitable provider. I hope that his discussions with the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP are fruitful in taking steps towards achieving this goal. I also hope that Neil is able to instigate further discussions with the CCG, the League of Friends and the Medical Practice to be able to coordinate and take it to another level, as Axminster is a growing community with a number of housing projects rapidly increasing the town’s population, not the mention the surrounding villages. Please don’t think that this is the end of Axminster Hospital, the fight will continue.

Mervyn Symes

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Respect for the mayoralty still very strong

IT has been seven weeks since Christine and I were installed as Mayor and Mayoress and I would like to kick off this regular column by thanking the townspeople for the wonderful reception we have received.

It has been interesting to note that there has certainly been no decline in the respect the people of Lyme have for the position of Mayor since we last held office in 1999-2001. 

We have certainly had a busy time since taking office, an indication that the organisations of Lyme still put much store in having the Mayor present at their events. Long may that continue.

My first engagement was to attend, as president, the annual meeting of the Lyme Regis-St George’s Twinning Association at which it was agreed to proceed with the three-way twinning with Jamestown in Virginia.

Christine and I have visited St George’s on several occasions and we are looking forward to welcoming their representatives to Lyme this week for the annual Admiral Sir George Somers Commemoration Day.

Next it was the opening of Lyme Regis Art Society’s annual exhibition followed by attendance, also as president, of Lyme Regis Town Band, two much-respected organisations in Lyme.

I’ve always been a big football fan so it was a great pleasure to attend the annual dinner of the Lyme Regis Football Club. It’s one of the more raucous events but nevertheless very enjoyable and I am pleased to see that the spirit in the club is still so strong. They certainly know how to celebrate!

One of the highlights of our first month in office was the official opening of the new Church Cliff Walk. Being able to walk from the Cobb right along the seafront to the end of Church Beach must surely be Lyme’s  greatest asset and we must now ensure that we keep the new walk dog mess free. 

Other events attended in the last six weeks included the AGM of the Barfleur Twinning Association, the opening of the 58th annual Lyme Regis Bowling tournament, presenting medals to all those who completed the Candles On The Cobb cycle ride from Land’s End to “John The Bakers” and starting the West Country Motorcycle Club cost-to-coast run.

It’s been a very busy start and I am also very pleased with how our new councillors have settled in as we do our best to restore some confidence and pride in the running of our town.

WE are now well into the season of events and our major attractions are in full swing.
It was disappointing that the weather prevented the Red Arrows giving their spectacular display over the Bay on Monday, especially as so many people travelled into town to see them.

However, I am sure Lifeboat Week will be its usual fantastic success, to be followed by the Regatta & Carnival Week which is so popular with visitors.

Lyme is very fortunate to have so many volunteers who put on these events and this column gives me the opportunity to thank them on behalf of the town.

I THINK it is important that Lyme Regis has a presence at civic events throughout the area and I have represented the town at no less than five different occasions since taking office in May.

As Dorset’s only royal borough, Lyme commands much respect throughout the county and further afield and I am keen to perpetuate this.

And having served on West Dorset District Council for so long it has been nice to renew acquaintances at the civic days in Gillingham, Sherborne, Lytchet Minster, Chickerell and Yeovil.

At Gillingham The Rifles Regiment (formerly the Devon & Dorsets) exercised their right as holders of the Freedom of the Borough to march with fixed bayonets.

Lyme was the first town to give the Dorsets the Freedom of the Borough in 1944 and I hope it might be possible to bring their successors back to the town at some time in the not too distant future.

This is the first in a regular column by the Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Owen Lovell

Housing is the hot topic in town

THE hottest topic in town at the moment must be housing - or to be more accurate, housing that locals can afford.

It’s a problem which afflicts virtually every small town and village in the West Country. Such is the beauty of the area we live in, everyone wants a slice of our way of life. And that forces up the price of property with inflated values with the  consequence that many locals are unable to afford to live in the town in which they were born. We are constantly warned that unless we find a solution, Lyme will become a retirement dormitory. 

It’s not a new phenomenom; local councils have been wrestling with the problem for many years.

There’s a natural resistance from Lyme’s indigenous population to any development which is out of their reach.

But expensive houses have always been built in Lyme for people who want to retire to the town. They were always referred to in my younger days as “those who live on top of the hill”. The difference then, of course, was there was adequate social housing with council houses seemingly in plentiful supply.

Today, people aspire to own their own home but it’s so difficult to make that first step towards home ownership. They say the average price of a house in Lyme is in the region of £350,000 and a look in the estate agents’ windows will reveal there is very little on the market for under £200,000.

Many are of the opinion that there is no such thing as an affordable home in this town. The provision of social housing is the responsibility of West Dorset District Council but no one can accuse Lyme Regis Town Council of not doing all in its power to encourage more homes for the young, especially the former town council.

The new council are just as keen to make sure that the young people  of Lyme are able to stay in the town of their birth.

They recently recommended refusal of an application by Bloor Homes who want to turn the former St Alban’s house at Woodberry Down into six four-bedroom houses, to add to the 46 they are already building with prices as high as £630,000. They are also hoping to build a further 52 units of land that runs behind Talbot Road. 

The land on which St Alban’s stands is designated for light industrial use, the reason why the town council opposed the planning applications for more homes. The district council took the unusual step of rejecting the recommendation of their officers and turned down the application.

There are fears that Bloor Homes might appeal this decision and because the officers were recommending approval, they might well get it.

We have been trying all week to get a comment on this possibility from Bloor Homes but at the time of going to press they have not responded. Bloor Homes developed Woodberry Down in the firm knowledge that part of the land was designated for industrial purposes so they must have been prepared for a difficult ride. 

Whether it’s feasible to integrate industrial units on what is now a housing development,  I will leave to others to judge. 

I’m not opposed to housing development in the town. Every occupied new house helps to boost the town’s economy but there has to be a limit. The needs of the young cannot be ignored.

The next big fight over developing  on the outskirts of Lyme will be the application for 120 new homes on agricultural land that runs from Shire Lane to Gore Lane in Uplyme.

This site is currently outside the designated building line but with government pressure on local authorities to build more houses, many believe it is almost certain that this land will be developed at some time in the future.

None of this gives young couples much hope that they will be able to afford to buy property in their home town.

The Community Land Trust in Lyme, under the expert guidance of Denis Yell, is working away on their scheme for 15 low cost units near the golf club, all for rent, and their efforts are to be applauded.

But will it be enough?


THIS newspaper - and this column in particular - has been accused by the usual suspects  of being “too kind” to the new council.

Few will believe this, but we didn’t go out of our way to be “unkind” to the previous council. Their behaviour was such, however,  that it was difficult not to take a stance against them.
There is no doubt that the current councillors are lot more friendly and there is a distinctly more relaxed and respectful atmosphere in the chamber.

But there will be clashes, something which new Mayor Owen Lovell is clearly aware of. He’s very quick to stamp out any  sign of it and so far the councillors have respected his wishes and got on with it. 

One issue which irks me is the number of times councillors go into committee these days. I appreciate there has to be some meetings behind closed doors, especially with new councillors learning the ropes.

Lyme council has a number of working parties which are always held without the press and public present. At one of these recently they discussed what their priority projects should be going forward.

That surely is a discussion which should have been in open council. Councillors sometimes express a very different view when meeting behind closed doors.

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Ian Rosenblatt

IAN Rosenblatt is a lawyer and senior partner of corporate law firm Rosenblatt Solicitors in London. As a supporter of charitable causes, notably in the field of classical music, he launched the Branscombe Festival in 2013, which returns later this month.

WHERE did the inspiration for the Branscombe music festival come from?
I HAVE had a house in Branscombe for over 15 years. Around five years ago I put on a concert in the Village Hall and it was a resounding success, accruing a lot of local support. I then thought that a festival would be a good way to bring more people to the village, to visit the beautiful St Winifred’s church, the beach, the village hall and, of course, to patronise the local pubs, cafes and hotels.

THIS is the third Branscombe Music festival, how has it developed since you first started?
THE festival is going from strength to strength and has had a fantastic reaction from the local community. Over the last three years we’ve been spreading the word to ensure that as many people as possible – from Devonshire and beyond – can experience all that the 
festival has to offer.

WHO will be performing at the festival?
WE'VE got a wonderful programme this year and are welcoming an array of talent to Branscombe, from internationally acclaimed opera stars Susan Bullock CBE,  Francesco Meli and Angel Blue to Ronnie Scott’s regulars, dance band The Leo Green Experience and 
rising star soul singer Danny Toeman. There will also be two highly contrasting instrumental quartets performing this year: a classic string quartet, the Sacconi quartet and 4-MALITY, a percussion quartet, which is a rarity and much anticipated.

WHO are you most looking forward to seeing?
I’M HUGELY looking forward to each and every performance – each artist brings something unique to the festival – but I have to say that the procession through the village by the Band of the Royal Marines followed by a free concert on Branscombe Beach will be quite spectacular! 

WHAT should festivalgoers be looking out for?
THE Royal Marines procession is definitely not one to miss. Also over the weekend there will be a hog roast and a cream tea – both real treats. In terms of faces to look out for, our presenter Petroc Trelawny will be around and should make things quite lively, as will all of the performers, no doubt!

WHAT makes the Branscombe music festival unique?
IT HAS an idiosyncratic mission: to host world-class performers in Branscombe village’s intimate, unusual settings, from St Winifred’s Church to the idyllic Branscombe beach.  Also, given the number of people the festival brings to the village, it creates excellent opportunities to support local businesses.

DOES the festival raise money?
YES, fundraising is definitely an important part of the festival, and the causes we support are chosen with great care. Last year a proportion of ticket sales were donated to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – a life-saving charity with whom Branscombe has strong ties - and this year we will be donating to St Winifred’s Church fund.

WHAT'S the most important thing to remember about planning large events, such as the music festival?
THE devil is in the detail.

The Branscombe Festival takes place from Friday, July 24th to Sunday, July 26th. 

Artists performing include 4-Mality; The Sacconi Quartet; soprano Susan Bullock with pianist Richard Sisson; tenor Francesco Meli & soprano Angel Blue with pianist Matteo Pais; and The Leo Green Experience with Danny Toeman.

For more information, visit the web site

To book tickets, call 020 7955 1446 or email