Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including a briefer than usual survey of the news around the towns and parishes, self-isolation, regulations, volunteering, business support from councils and the government, deliveries and take-aways, this sporting life, VCWB, DEPZ, NaOCl in action, the M4 out of action, a leisure centre cancelled, an expressway paused, events cancelled, binge watching, police and travel updates, online consultations, Samuel Pepys, a peek in the mailbag, a limerick, tree-planting, giraffes, dormice, newts, chickens, ducks and the Divine Comedy.
Police, transport and council contacts
Information on police, transport (including roadworks) and district councils can now be found on a separate page here.
Links to the websites for town and parish councils can still be found in the appropriate sections below.
Across the area (and further afield)
• There’s only one subject on everyone’s minds at present and so this will be a rather different summary from usual. There’s not a lot of levity to be found in the Coronavirus situation at the moment and even less certainty. We’ve written a number of posts on the subject (see below) which have been updated every few hours and will continue to be so. There are, however, other things that have happened unconnected to this and in a spirit of ‘life goes on’ these have been referred to.
• More than one view, now as ever, exists about the capacity and personality of our Prime Minister. He sees himself, and is seen by some others, as a latter-day Winston Churchill. This claim could be read two ways: Churchill’s pre-war career was characterised by failure, muddle and opportunism; posterity mainly sees only his record as having led the country through a global crisis. Both are also writers, though it seems unlikely Boris Johnston will match Churchill’s feat of being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. However, fine writing is not what the current situation demands. It may not even, fortunately for him, require fine principles. Being able to follow scientific advice is more important than either. So too – as the man is, after all, the country’s leader rather than a medical expert – is the right kind of oratorial style. BJ’s default is a mixture of self-deprecation, pathos, nationalism and erudition which has served him well so far in his career. Critics have claimed that he lacks a sufficient grasp of detail for a PM and that his remarks, striving for effect rather than substance, tend to flounder about rather than nail a point. It could, of course, be argued that this is what his scientific advisors provide. It’s really too early to tell whether he’s the man for the job. I’m also far from certain that any recent PM or candidate for the role would have fared any better. For two views on the man, see this article in The Daily Telegraph (or almost anything written about him in that paper) and this one in The Guardian. Take your pick. In any case, history, not journalists, will decide which was the more accurate.
• The parish and town councils are assuming an important role in fighting this war. Your district council is doing what it can and should, or so we all hope, but the parishes are of particular importance. A number of ad hoc and often informal volunteer organisations are being set up all across the country. In general, parish and town councils cannot run these but they can help co-ordinate activities and, although they have limited funds, can generally more quickly to address immediately local needs. The Councillors and the Clerks will also probably know more about what is going on in their area than any other group and may have contact details of people who either need help or are able to provide it. If you’re thinking of setting up a voluntary scheme for, for instance, arranging shopping deliveries or merely checking in on people, then I’d advise that your PC should be your first port of call. It’s unlikely it will want to take the scheme over but should be able to offer valuable support and advice. See also information about the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire below.
I’m afraid I’m less familiar about other such groups that exist in the Vale, Wiltshire or Swindon. For anyone in Wantage, however, I can suggest that the Ray Collins Charitable Trust may well fufil a similar role, certainly in terms of its knowledge of the local area and its needs.
• On 19 March West Berkshire Council set up a Community Support Hub. Like so many things in these times this is constantly evolving but its main aim at the moment is to provide support and information for people who need advice. The phone number, 01635 503 579, is staffed by the Building Communities Together team and the very helpful person I spoke to there on its first morning told me that she’s already received calls on a wide range of Covid-related questions. Much of the information may be available elsewhere but this service is helping to pull this together and provide a single point of contact.
• You can also click here to visit the new page on WBC’s site which aims to do the same thing with West Berkshire Council’s various online resource. This also has information about any changes to the council’s day-to-day services as a result of the virus.
• One of the reasons people have been contacting the Hub has been because they wish to offer their services as volunteers. West Berkshire is fortunate in that it already has an excellent and well-established organisation to co-ordinate this, the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire (VCWB) – click here to visit the VCWB website. One way that you can express your interest is to complete the VCWB’s online form.
• In addition, a large number of volunteer organisations, often fairly informal, are springing up to address the local needs. If these are in West Berkshire, there’s no obligation that they contact VCWB but we strongly advise that they do. This will not result in VCWB seeking to control or regulate its activities. If the VCWB is aware of your group’s existence it will, however, be able to point any volunteering offers it receives your way. Also, if your group needs any advice on matters such as insurance or data protection, the VCWB will be able to help provide this.
• It’s worth making the point now that, as with Brexit, a huge number of things have been or are being parked and will resurface again when normal life (or what new version of it) is resumed. These include climate change, proper funding for social care and local government, an equitable system for taxing local businesses and a better appreciation and respect for the role that volunteers (in which I include town and parish councillors) play in local life.
• One irony is that the Coronavirus crisis has already had a dramatic impact on pollution levels in China. The virus seems to have accomplished something that numerous treaties, pressure groups and government initiatives have so far been unable to.
• As a result of the epidemic, a number of regulations exist which are unenforceable (for instance, the requirement for parish councils to hold a public meeting between March and June every year and anything to do with the post-Brexit discussions) while a number of other ones may need to be introduced to provide for new powers and restrictions (I don’t want to think what some of these might involve). I have no idea how many of these might require legislation, nor whether parliament can safely (or legally) meet if there’s to be any kind of a lockdown. Even if it could meet, is there enough time to get legislation passed in an orderly way? Can the PM just start signing executive orders? Can the Queen do it? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions.
• A number of businesses, good and bad, will fail as a result of this. The main requirements for survival are large cash reserves, political influence, a dominant or monopolistic market position and ruthless relations with their suppliers. On these businesses we might depend in the coming months. Large supermarkets can, for instance, drastically alter their product range to make supply match demand, as has started happening. This country has, up until recently, had a reasonably healthy economic bio-diversity. I’m not urging you to support all the small businesses, which are in a tighter corner than even in 2008, for sentimental reasons but for pragmatic (and medium-term) ones.
We’ve been told that we’re fighting a war: fair enough. The aftermath of the two world wars of the 20th century produced some of the most dramatic social changes the country has experienced. Circumstances now are different. The largest companies are not only multi-national, and so beyond the direct control of most governments, but also bigger. Their robust supply chains, digital presence and delivery systems may well be what helps keep things functioning in the next few months. When the dust settles, though, a world where this predominance continues would be a disaster. Some adjustment in the appalling inequalities of rates and taxation would be a good result, though the latter depends on a level of international co-operation that even this health crisis is unlikely to engender.
• We have a post about the financial support available to businesses as a result of the virus, which is amended as necessary – click here to see it. Many thinks to Charlotte and Tim from Monty Accounting in Hungerford for helping to keep this up to date.
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News has an article on p2 headlined ‘Council offers support during virus outbreak‘. The assistance referred to includes with council tax, hardship funds and business rates. See also the above-mentioned post on the Penny Post website.
• For the moment, shops and restaurants remain open. Many of them are now offering take-away or delivery services. Click here to see our summary of these. If you know of any others, let us know.
• It goes without saying that a large number of events have been cancelled and a lot of organisations, including theatres and museums, have shut their doors altogether. This is only likely to get worse in the coming weeks. This week’s NWN has a list of just some of these on p5.
• One of the things that’s suffered has been the sporting calendar. I love football and cricket and the gap that the lack of these has left in my life has been appreciable. Above all, regular sporting fixtures, like live music and trips to the theatre or cinema, help to make life seem normal. Now that all these have been removed the sense of disquiet is that much deeper. For the world of football (a sport which half the world’s population claims to follow so I’ll run with this for a bit) the situation is immensely complicated. Similar issues are being faced by many other sectors.
The problem for football is how or if the league seasons, which in Europe have about 25% of the matches still to go, can be completed; what happens to the international club competitions (which are at about the same stage); what happens to the players’ contracts (which traditionally end on 30 June); and who’s going to sue whom if things are arranged in a way which one party doesn’t like. Vast amounts of money and emotion are involved. Few clubs will be watching developments more closely that Liverpool. It’s been obvious for some months that they were going to win the Premier League and now it seems that they may not. For cricket, the problem is starker but simpler: will the 2020 season in England take place at all?
The other point worth making is that although the clubs and players at the very top levels of football are absurdly wealthy, the ones at the lower end of the scale operate on a much more hand-to-mouth basis. Several clubs have gone out of business in the last few years as it is and it’s impossible to believe that there won’t be further casualties, just as there will be in the retail and hospitality sectors. Mostly, these failures won’t have anything to do with how well or badly they were managed but on how deep the pockets of the owners are.
• I visit the swimming pool at the Hungerford Leisure Centre as often as I can and will continue to do so for as long as it remains open (20 March 2020: that’s that hope knackered – Ed.). It’s probably about the safest place to be as the sodium hypochlorite that’s used to clean the water is probably pretty good at killing bugs and viruses of all kinds. Getting out after having swum for an hour the other day I was probably the cleanest man in Berkshire, for a while at least.
• With the threat of house arrest hanging over us all, attention turns to binge-watching options. In an email exchange with some friends a number of possibles were suggested, ranging from Breaking Bad to The Detectorists. One, however, suggested something different: ‘For wonderful descriptions of a series of political intrigues and corrupt behaviour told by an over-sexed man of power just after a major constitutional upheaval and in a time of plague, try Samuel Pepys’ Diaries.’ Certainly seems topical. Does the Hungerford Bookshop, the Madhatter Bookshop or the White Horse Bookshop have a copy?
• Thanks to Penny Stokes from the Hamstead Marshall Hornet (see Newbury Area below) who’s written to point out that this website publishes an entry Pepys’ Diary from the corresponding date (it’s currently at 19 March 1666).
• Away from Coronavirus, West Berkshire Council is consulting on its Housing Allocations Policy, which details how it will allocate social and affordable rental properties in its area. Click here to take part. Comments must be made by 3 May 2020.
• The M4 will be closed between J13 and J14 over the weekend of 27-29 March to carry out ‘significant repairs’. Further details here.
• The animals of the week are the husband-and-wife team of ducks who came into our garden from the river the other day, helped themselves to some of the chicken food with the husband very chivalrously standing aside to let madame eat first. The chickens weren’t best pleased about this.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as the ones referred to above, the suggestion that West Berkshire Council’s decision to plant trees (a well-proven way of combatting the global threat of climate change) is mere ‘virtue-ignalling’, whatever that means; criticism of recent government NHS cutbacks which have left the country less prepared than it could have been for Coronavirus; a criticism of the recent budget’s failure to tackle the climate emergency; and an observation about something or other which is for some reason written as a limerick.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently. In this strangest of weeks, however, I’d like to draw attention here to all the people who have stepped forward to volunteer their time to help support the elderly, the vulnerable and those in self-isolation. You know who you ar4e so give yourself a round of applause. We have a post here with links to those that we know about – if you think others should be added, please let us know.
Hungerford & district
• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Council – see here for the official notice.
• The March Penny Post Hungerford was published last week. If you didn’t get it, you can read it here.
• Click here for information on the Hungerford Self-isolation Network which has recently been set up in the town by local resident Geordie Taylor.
• Hocktide in Hungerford, a series of ceremonies unique to the town and which takes place after Easter, has been called off this year for this reason. Some of the events relating to it have (so far) survived. See this post for more information.
• Inkpen Parish Council has announced that there will be some road closures and diversions in and around the village until late March due to work on the local Gigaclear cabling.
• On Friday 13 March Lambourn Surgery announced that due to the Coronavirus outbreak, with immediate effect all appointments would be changed to telephone ones – please do not come into the surgery. You will instead be called by a GP or nurse at your allotted time and triaged over the telephone by a doctor. More information is available here. (It’s likely that other surgeries have or will be adopting similar measures.)
• The sewage problems in and around Lambourn continue. Last week I received some further information from Thames Water which has been added to this post in which we’ve pulled together a number of comments, opinions and suggestions from various organisations and individuals. We welcome further comments on this: please see the post for how to get in touch.
• East Garston Parish Council agreed at its January meeting that its precept for 2020-21 would remain unchanged at £9,000.
• Click here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery.
• Eastbury’s flood alleviation scheme seems to be doing its job – click here for further information.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on Friday have its 94th day of broadcasting – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• West Berkshire Council is looking to introduce a new Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) for Newbury town centre and a consultation has just been launched about this. Further information can be found here. You have until 6 April to contribute.
• Two of the letters in this week’s NWN refer to the long-running issue of the Newbury football ground on the ill-fated London Road Industrial Estate, both from representatives of the Newbury Community Football Group. This is doubtless one of many issues that will get parked for several months. Despite its being declared an Asset of Community Value, the ground was closed nearly two years ago and has since been allowed to decline, as one of the correspondents puts it, into ‘a shocking and woeful condition.’ Three photographs illustrate this point.
• As part of Newbury Town Council’s efforts to improve biodiversity and protect wildlife in the town, it has signed up to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s ‘Hedgehog Heroes‘ scheme. This means that stickers are displayed on our strimming equipment to remind us to check an area for hedgehogs before using them.
• Newbury Town Council is running a consultation on the Skyllings Playground: click here for details.
• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at firstname.lastname@example.org. The latest issue dropped into my inbox last week and you can click here to see it.
• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.
• Click here for the latest information from Growing Newbury Green.
Compton & Downlands
• Latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton parish Council, Ashampstead Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.
• The only thing that seems worth mentioning about the area in the current circumstances is the group in Chaddleworth which is putting into practice the #viralkindness scheme that emanated from Falmouth. We’ve devoted a brief post to it here, partly to publicise the group’s request for further volunteers and partly to describe how it works in case others elsewhere want to launch something of their own (we understand that several communities already have).
Thatcham and district
• If you want to nominate someone for the 2020 Thatcham Town Council Civic Awards, click here for more information. You have until 3 April to make your nomination.
• Thatcham Town Council is looking for ambassadors, aged 16 and above, to help in a number of ways, promoting events, assisting with welcoming artists, suppliers and audiences and assisting with stewarding. Click here for details.
• This week’s NWN reports on p22 on the calls for more action to combat the problem of dangerous parking in the town.
• Refill Thatcham is a free campaign to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the town. More details here.
• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin.
Theale and district
• In line with changes to legislation, the areas around the AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield Nuclear Licensed Sites, each known as a ‘Detailed Emergency Planning Zone’ (DEPZ), have been reviewed. As a result, the Aldermaston DEPZ is unchanged, but the Burghfield DEPZ has been expanded. West Berkshire’s statement on the matter stresses that the Burghfield increase ‘is not the result of any change in activity at the site, and there is no greater risk to the public’ than there was before. You can read more here. Graham Bridgman, one of District Councillors for the area, said that this ‘does, in my view, affect major planning applications and I personally think it throws the whole of the Grazeley project into doubt.’
• The District Councillor for Theale, Alan Macro, has referred to som local planning issue in his latest newsletter which you can read here.
• Click here for information about Burghfield’s plans to create a community hub.
Marlborough & district
• Information here from Aldbourne Parish Council about what to do in case of flooding.
• Click here for a statement from Wiltshire Council about financial grant support for small businesses as a result of Coronavirus.
• I never knew that there were creatures called hazel dormice which are almost exclusively arboreal, their tiny little feet hardly ever touching the ground. Well, it seems that there are. Marlborough News reports here on some recent work done by pupils at St Katherine’s Primary School to build a hedge in the Savernake Forest in order to give the mice a kind of motorway (but at a fraction of what a human motorway costs). I also never knew that ‘dormice’ had only one ‘o’ until about five seconds ago.
• Wiltshire Council is running a consultation on Green Infrastructure and Open Space. As part of this consultation it is asking all households to complete a short survey. The survey can be found by clicking on this link.
• At last month’s meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council, a member of the public asked about the lack of policing in the village. Currently approximately £160,000 is paid by the village to Wiltshire Police, yet of the 63 recorded crimes in the village in the previous 12 months, only one resulted in a prosecution. The Parish Council will contact Mr Angus Macpherson, Police & Crime Commissioner, and ask that a senior member of the local policing team attend a future meeting to answer questions about policing in the village.
• The Gazette and Herald reports that the stretch of the A346 between Marlborough and Ogbourne St George is regarded as particularly dangerous, as local residents will be aware. There have been four accidents there in as many weeks, the most recent involving a death. New signs are shortly to be installed but local campaigners are now arguing that further traffic-calming measures are needed.
• Congratulations once again to Packaging not Included, for celebrating its first birthday recently. This article in Marlborough News has an interview with founder and owner Hayley Lambert.
• Hayley’s partner Ed Puddick’s latest choral work, One Universal Shout, will be performed In St Mary’s Church on Saturday 4 April (Coronavirus permitting.)
• Swindon Link reports that the policing element of the local council tax in Wiltshire and in Swindon for 2020-21 will rise by £10 per year (£0.84p per month), for the average band D property, meaning the current contribution of £206 per year to local policing will increase to £216 per year.
• Homestart Kennet is looking for volunteers to help with its projects in the area – click here for more information.
• If you’re in Great Bedwyn, keep your eye on the Village Hall Facebook page here for details of what’s going on there.
• And in the same village, click here to keep up to date with what’s going on at the Youth Club.
Wantage & district
• As in West Berkshire, residents of the Vale have been volunteering their time to help support those who need help during the Coronavirus outbreak. Few organisations in the area provide better examples of this kind of attitude than the Ray Collins Charitable Trust which along with the Town Council and other groups is engaged in co-ordinating volunteering activities in and around the town.
• To the surprise of probably no one at all, the proposed new leisure centre for Wantage and Grove, which has been lingering at death’s door since doubts about raising the funds were raised by the previous administration in 2018, has been put out of its misery. Click here for an announcement from the Vale Council.
• Uncertainty still hands over a vastly larger, and more unpopular, project, the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, which has been paused. A campaigner against the road was quoted on p2 of this week’s Herald as reminding people that ‘a pause is not a cancellation…so we’ll keep campaigning.’
• The Vale Council is inviting people to make comments on a draft Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) on how it gathers feedback from the public, businesses and other organisations on its planning matters. The consultation will run until Thursday 9 April.
• The fire stations at Wantage and Farringdon are appealing for more recruits. Click here for more information.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald refers to the fact that the arrangements for making appointments at the surgeries in Church Street and Newbury Street have recently changed.
• Turn over a couple of pages to p12 and you can read an interview with Wantage’s new MP David Johnston.
• And the same paper has announced that Oxfordshire County Council has been awarded over £550,000by the government to help support rural bus services.
• The Wantage and Grove Campaign Group’s latest newsletter confirms that in total 7,700 homes are planned for OX12 on top of the 11,500 ones that currently exist, a planned increase of about 67%. This is without the real possibility of another 800 that may be proposed between Wantage and East Challow, which would push the increase up to closer to 75%. Has this been matched by infrastructure improvements? the article goes on to ask. It appears not. Wantage Hospital, the Eastern Link Road, the new leisure centre, new cycleways and Grove railway station are all cited as examples of projects which are either behind schedule or uncertain.
• Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group.
• The Grove Volunteer Litter-picking Group meets on the second Friday of every month.
• Click here for information the Didcot, Abingdon and Wantage Talking Newspaper (DAWN) for the blind and partially sighted. The organisers are currently appealing for help to keep the service going – click here for details.
• Click here for information on the location of defibrillators in and around Wantage.
Swindon & district
• Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.
• Click here for information from Swindon Council about how Coronavirus is affecting its services as well as other useful information.
• Swindon businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality industry which are eligible for the Government’s 12-month business-rate holiday will see it reflected in their bills from April 2020.
• The Health Hydro on Milton Road has benefited from a £1.5m investment from Swindon Council which will go towards building maintenance works as well as improved services and facilities for customers.
• Swindon-born archaeologist Craig Alexander currently lives and works in the Italian town of Brescia. For the past fortnight, he has been subject to the country-wide lockdown as the Italian authorities struggle to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. He has told He has told Swindon Link what life is like there now.
• The gate at the Goddard Avenue entrance to the Town Gardens were put back in place after being restored by South Swindon Parish Council.
• Swindon Council has received almost £100,000 from the Government to support victims and survivors of domestic violence.
• A food-waste recycling service has been extended in Swindon following a successful initial trial.
• Swindon Borough Council has teamed up with Natural England to launch an innovative and strategic approach to great crested newt (GCN) licensing.
• A package of measures has been put in place to support workers affected by the closure of Swindon’s Honda factory in July next year.
• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.
The song and the quiz
• The Song of the Week is from the brilliant, intelligent, funny and melodic Divine Comedy – Here Comes the Flood is a cheerily apocalyptic song which might, or might not, be to your taste at present.
• And so the Quiz Question of the Week draws matters to a close. This week’s is thanks to Susan Pitts who supplied this from the recent quiz held at the Acland Hall in Cold Ash in aid of the Cold Ash Tennis Club and is as follows: What colour does a banana appear under red or green light? last week’s question was also from the same source and was: Which animal has the highest blood pressure? The answer – and I suppose it’s obvious when you think about it – is the giraffe.
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