Local News 30 April to 7 May 2020

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, Hungerford’s first, Lambourn’s rain, East Garston’s dredging, Newbury’s heroes, Greenham’s car parks, Thatcham’s mayor, Marlborough’s memories, Cold Ash’s bulletin, Ramsbury’s teachers, Wantage’s lorries, Steventon’s bridge, Swindon’s childcare, contact tracing, unquestioning support, critical decisions, best advice, false models, uncertain immunity, testing estimates, leaflet delivery, Victorian sewers, the virus of scams, an atrocious school, lockdown in Cantab, underwriting the loans, VE Day brought to life, swans, bluebells, Furlough Merlot and a certain girl.

Click on any highlighted and underlined text for more information on the subject. Some will link to other pages on this site, others to pages elsewhere.

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)

• I, and many others, have come across the following statement on social media. I’ve seen it on many different posts, on each occasion copied and pasted verbatim from the original. I’ve done the same:

A message to all our Negative UK Press – including Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC, Robert Peston of ITV, Beth Rigby of Sky, Piers Morgan of ITV, BBC News in general and all the other negative UK press.

Journalism is missing the “mood” in this great country of ours – the United Kingdom. We do not want or need blame. We do not want constant criticism of our Government who are doing their very best in a very difficult and unprecedented global emergency.

We want and need a constructive contribution to the national effort to help us out of this crisis. We need hope, optimism and faith, with less negativity and more positive support from these journalists. It is time you all changed your negative and political rhetoric for the health of this nation and start supporting our Government.

I don’t know much about the man who wrote this and which so many others have aped as if the sentiments were their own. The comments I’ve seen, both for and against, have been numerous and robust. These are mine.

There’s a basic confusion which assumes anyone criticising or even questioning the government’s decisions is also in some way a poor citizen. Only, the document says or implies, by agreeing with what we are told will salvation be found. However, the government, in this and other countries, has made a number of decisions which seem flawed. Some are too late to remedy, others are not. I cannot think of anything more dangerous than to accept that what’s been done has been perfect. 

Regarding ‘criticism’ and ‘negativity’ as interchangeable is even more dangerous and lazy. So too is the implication that to be ‘constructive’ one must accept some assumption, rather than question it. His argument also denies the role played by organisations ranging from scientific bodies to local volunteer groups, all of which have accomplished a great deal. Their views are frequently not in accordance with the government’s. So, they’re being negative too, are they?

The journalists and organisations referred to are doing their job, which is not to fawn over the government and to conceal its (rarely admitted) mistakes but to hold it to account. If the conclusions that are drawn are uncomplimentary, so be it. I’m surprised he didn’t include the Telegraph, which despite its normal stance has recently published a number of articles of the kind the writer so disparages.

There’s also a reference to politics. We’ve had the same party in government, solo or in coalition, for a decade so anything decided (or, as importantly, not) in this time could be classed as ‘political’. The phrase ‘political rhetoric’ is a meaningless cliché. It’s generally used to describe something with which the writer disagrees. The phrase ‘national mood’ is equally fatuous. None the less, the writer feels he has a clear sense of this and is telling us all what it is. Everything that follows assumes you accept his definition. I don’t. I would say that the various views of the people in the country currently encompass fear, anger, hope, optimism, responsibility, irresponsibility, co-operation, resourcefulness, faith, despair, isolation, frustration, courage, denial, self-denial, self-sacrifice, grief, resignation, patriotism, uncertainty and resolve. 

The writer has a vision of what the country ought to be like and how we ought to behave. I’m very glad that it isn’t and that we don’t.

• If you’re looking for newspapers that produce the kind of fawning journalism that the above-mentioned writer would like to see rolled out across the land, the Daily Mail is normally a good place to start. Not in these shifting times, however. This article takes a swipe at the government’s handling of the Covid crisis in care homes and at the way the statistics have been presented. Meanwhile, The Guardian quotes a GP with 1,000 care-home patients on her books as saying that, despite warnings, ‘no definitive and timely action was taken across the health and social care system’ to prepare for the crisis. According to some estimates, the number of deaths in care homes now exceeds those in hospitals and it’s feared that the worst is yet to come. The extent of this is recent news, although the problem in the care homes itself is not. Is this something we should also be applauding?

• If uncritical support serves no useful purpose, nor does un-constructive criticism. Both are equally biased. However, we do need to understand what is going on about these rather important matters. This in turn demands a bit of reflection about how it reaches decisions in times of crisis.

• The government has been urged to seek and to follow ‘the best scientific advice.‘ It regularly claims it’s doing this but it’s not clear exactly what this is. Science rarely speaks with one voice. Taking advice involves following opinion rather than another. Whether it’s the best will only be proved by the outcomes (and perhaps not even then). Moreover, the advice that scientists provide through its advisory group SAGE or elsewhere is, as this article in The Guardian explains, largely a product of which questions are asked by ministers. These often need to have a broad scope. Ministers will be thinking not only of infection or mortality rates but also of the difficulties of imposing a particular strategy, the immediate financial cost, the longer-terms economic effects, their party’s reputation, their own reputation and the opinion polls. (In the UK’s case, Brexit considerations play their part too. The decisions in March not to join a European scheme for sourcing ventilators and in April for the NHS to develop its own contract-tracing app were surely influenced by this.) Then there’s the human factor. We all tend to favour information or advice opinions which match our own views.  This article written on 6 March, as the balloon was about to go up, by the Institute for Government describes some of the competing pressures.

The attractively laissez-faire idea of herd immunity – whereby a high percentage of the population develops resistance through infection or vaccination, so killing the pandemic – was, despite subsequent denials, at one time government policy, Sir Patrick Vallance, the CSO, using the phrase on 13 March. It was soon clear that this could only be achieved by an unacceptable death rate: indeed, as not enough was known about immunity and mutation (and still isn’t – see above) and as there was no vaccine in sight, herd immunity might not be achieved at all. Other government policies which were based on ‘the best scientific advice’ included the decision to allow Cheltenham Festival and the Liverpool v Atletico Champions League fixtures to go ahead (see last week’s column) which many now feel was imprudent. The current lockdown is likewise ‘science-based.’ It appears to be working but there is, of course, no control experiment to measure this. 

• One of the problems, as is becoming increasingly clear, is the CV-19 is a new beast and therefore that any models may prove utterly wrong. The most recent Private Eye quotes, on p17, a senior civil servant as saying that ‘all models are wrong…we don’t have enough data for meaningful modelling, because this is a new pathogen…and because of the lack of testing.’ This is a sobering thought. The article also refers to Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the government’s SAGE advisory group, who was involved in the Foot and Mouth (FMD) modelling in 2001. This, the article asserts, overstated the new infections by a factor of 50 resulting in policies which were misguided. This was with a well-known disease: what chance, you might wonder, does modelling therefore have with something new? 

Experts have little to lose by providing models which paint a horrendous outcome if no action is taken. As the reality should always be better than what has been predicted, all the credit can be given to them for having recommended the measures and to the government for having implemented them.  

• The next decision may well be what to do about dealing with the above-mentioned problem of care-home deaths, which seem to be a second pandemic running about a month behind the national one. The social and economic pressure to ease the lockdown is intense. However, scientific and medical advice would probably say that to do so would be to make the care-home situation worse by exposing the workers. The counter-argument might be that care homes are already fairly isolated, and could be made more so, and that the overwhelming benefit for the country as a whole would be for some easing to keep businesses going. This would move the expert advice into the arena of economists, where there are probably even more divergent opinions than in science or medicine. What is ‘the best economic advice’ in this situation?

All in all, the phrase ‘best advice’ could be translated as the advice that is most consistent with the other factors that the government needs to take into account at that particular time (all of which might change).

• The competing pressures on governments are without doubt considerable. They are composed of fallible humans, just like any other group. There are, however, general levels of preparedness which can address issues which will crop up regardless of the precise nature of the emergency. I referred last week to Operation Cygnus, the war-game exercise in 2016 for a pandemic the lessons from which were, it seems, not acted upon. There were some basic precautions that could have been taken regarding, for example, the procurement of PPE and the general investment in acute hospital facilities, that would have mitigated this and any remotely similar catastrophe. Some of these failings, such as not ordering testing kits from companies based in this country and failing to reply to procurement emails, were still ongoing a couple of months ago The statistical confusions have only been admitted this week. These are the reasons why we still need to be prepared to challenge what we are told and ensure that we are better prepared next time. The decision-making process for the immediate issues will, as discussed, always be imperfect. What need not be are the general precautions and preparedness.

• In the 1860s, Joseph Bazalgette was charged with building a sewer system for London, the Thames and many of the streets having turned into sewers themselves. He reported back that he had calculated from the available data the largest diameter of pipes that would be needed in the immediate future – and then doubled it. As a result, the pipes are still functional to this day. This was long-term thinking of a special kind. He could not have anticipated developments such as the tower block which put such a strain on a sewage system but he recognised that unforeseen developments would make unforeseen demands. Cygnus provided just such an opportunity and it appears it was missed. This is the kind of thing we need to be making sure is not missed in the future.

• As well as testing (and more testing) and vaccine development, contact-tracing apps are seen as a vital weapon in the war against CV-19. The NHS has decided to develop its own one, distinct from the Google/Apple system being used in Europe. Ireland launched its version on 30 April. This will not, it seems, interwork with the NHS one which presumably will be being used in Northern Ireland. There’s no evidence that the virus respects political frontiers so this seems like a bit of an oversight. Two countries on the one island of Ireland with two systems that need to be both distinct but integrated – now, where have we seen that problem come up before?

• And as regards testing, today, 30 April, is D-day for the government’s target of 100,000 tests a day. Depending on which person you listen to it appears that this won’t be hit, or will be hit, or might be hit, or will be hit in the next few days, or is a complete red herring because the figure is arbitrary and the goal should always have been for mass testing. NHS Providers was quoted on the BBC website as saying that the English health and care system had ‘started from a poor position'” and struggled to demonstrate a ‘clear, effective and well-communicated strategy’ on testing.

• While writing about viruses – which seems to be the norm right now – it’s worth pointing out the appalling number of scams, even more than usual, which have come to light in our area over the last few weeks. You can see our post on the subject here. These, like a virus, depend on two things: a host with no immunity or a weakened constitution; and a rapid mutation. These scams fulfil both conditions. Life is increasingly being lived online at present. Some people are from necessity going online for the first time and therefore have no immunity at all to even the most basic scams, such as from mortally ill Nigerian heiresses. Others are finding that they’re forced to conduct life more frequently in this unfamiliar way, for instance with banks and utility companies, and are akin to people who’ve got insufficient antibodies from a previous low viral dose. Even those who feel themselves to be seasoned digital citizens are perhaps overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the communications. Many trade on the ‘act now to avoid xxx’ message. This is like being overwhelmed by a variation of a virus to which one would, in normal circumstances, have immunity.

Above all, the scams mutate: today’s BT rip-off by phone is tomorrow’s HSBC con by email. As well as all the other problems we have to contend with, we need to be constantly on the alert for this. You only have to slip up once. There are a number of conspiracy theories that suggest CV-19 was man-made. If they’re taking about the virus of scams, then I agree with them.

Positive news is, however, all around us, as I suggested last week. To this I can add a couple of other stories, both from the appropriately named Positive News. The first reports that the UK has just had its longest period without any energy generated from coal (more than 18 days)  The second is that China has banned ‘the hunting, trade, transportation and consumption of all terrestrial wild animals whether captive-bred or wild caught, where the end purpose is to eat.’ Both of these can, like the return of the virus itself, be easily reversed by a return to previous behaviours (China banned the wild-animal markets after SARS but they crept back again) but they are encouraging. Whatever the new normal is going to be, we have to make sure that it is some improvement on the old one. If not, we shall get increasingly frequent reminders.

• If there is at some point to be a further wave of infections, perhaps when social-distancing measures are eased, one of the questions is about immunity. This article on the BBC website suggests that to the questions ‘can I get it twice?’, ‘how do I become immune?’ and ‘how long does immunity last?’, the answers are currently all ‘no one knows.’

• The last month has seen a flurry of refinements to the government’s help for businesses, which slowly seem to be working through. One affects the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. This at first had banks liable for 20% of any defaults, the government picking up the remainder. The banks were accused of being slow to release funds but, on talking to Tim Cundy at Monty Accounting (which has been providing a rolling commentary on the various relief measures), this might not be all their fault. ‘It’s true that they have not been good at getting money out,’ he told me, ‘but the rules of the scheme were wrong which left them in a pretty impossible situation. Banks had to assess all loans in a traditional way, which meant getting a number of eyes on the applications. They were never going to be able to match the volume coming through as they just do not have enough people. To leave 20% risk with the bank (whilst they also need to pass stress tests and not lend irresponsibly under government rules) was always going to lead to a high level of rejections and a slower process.’ On 27 April, the government realised that the best thing was to underwrite all the loan and this has, it seems, already helped loosen the purse-strings. Speaking to the BBC on 29 April, the Barclays CEO Jess Staley accepted that his bank made ‘mistakes’ in its handling of a government loan scheme for businesses affected by the lockdown but that the scheme was ‘starting to work.’  

• Jess Staley also suggested that the days of thousands of bank workers in huge and expensive city offices may be a thing of the past. A number of companies which exist to service these, from champagne bars to one-hour dry cleaners, will be hoping he’s wrong. It’s at the moment unclear what the overall experience of home-working has been. For every person who’s felt liberated there’s someone else who’s felt lost. Some people thrive on working in a large and visible team; others loathe it. Some people have homes that provide enough space and broadband access; others do not. It seems certain that there’ll be a lot more flexibility about this in future. This will also have a knock-on effect on employment contracts as people may be compelled to have equipment and internet access at home in excess of what they would personally need. Who will pay for this? One thing the government might therefore do is cancel HS2 and use a fraction of the money saved to ensure that there is a top-class internet service in every part of the country. That will do much more to make us more resilient to future catastrophes than a train line that will enable a virus to be taken from London to Birmingham 25 minutes faster than it would have been able to do otherwise.

• One of the problems that many people have had is that of home schooling, a trial that most of us thought we had been spared. Between us Penny and I could have intellectually coped with every subject except German and science: emotionally and practically, though, I don’t think I could even have got to end of Willie Willie Harry Stee or the four times table. For parents who also happen to be Ofsted inspectors the bar is set particularly high. Andrew Jeffrey from Sussex is one such and after failing to engage his sons in the workload, he compiled a fake Ofsted report for his own home school, which he described as ‘atrocious.’ The head teacher’, he remarks, ‘though eminently qualified is regularly seen wearing nothing but a dressing gown and underpants.’ The team did not feel that ‘getting everyone showered and dressed by lunchtime was sufficiently aspirational.’ Absenteeism is ‘a daily occurrence, despite the school only having two pupils.’ It’s proof that self-deprecation is one of the most effective kinds of humour. Hats off to Mr Jeffrey. Hats round as well, perhaps, as this foray into levity will probably result in his getting sacked.

• Both France and Holland have cancelled their top-flight football seasons, which I thinks a bit premature. Liverpool FC will be very much hoping that doesn’t happen here. Aside form personally loving the sport to bits, it also provides a sense of normality. Playing matches behind closed doors would be odd but, with precautions, perfectly acceptable. If some are on free-to-air, so much the better. Sport is, after all, the opium of the masses and I’m one of them, as far as this and cricket are concerned at any rate. 

• I’ve just received this from an old uni fired of mine about how some students at our old alma mater (including Newton, Darwin and Byron) coped with lockdowns imposed as a result of the Great Plague and other misfortunes. We are, it seems, not the first to have to go through this: and we won’t be the last…

• Any organisation involved in health, well-being or social care has been issuing its own advice during the pandemic. One such is the Berkshire West Safeguarding Children partnership, whose #Coping advice can be seen here.

• Anyone who cannot leave home may be able to ask a trusted friend or volunteer to withdraw cash at any Post Office using a single-use voucher. The Post Office scheme is being extended and offered to all banks, building societies and credit unions. The Post Office has also redesigned its overnight travel money delivery service to get cash to the most vulnerable people in England.

West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have set up their own web pages relating to the outbreak. It seems pointless to summarise what advice each is giving or to provide more than the highest-level links, so click here depending on what area you’re in: West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.

• 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. Click here to visit the website. You can also call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. Much of the information may be available elsewhere: this service is helping to pull this together and provide a single point of contact. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins and click here to see the weekly updates. As of 24 April, the Hub was helping 89 community groups and parish councils, working with over 3,000 volunteers. Over half the calls to the Hub are from people seeking information (which involves their being directed to other organisations, such as community groups in their parish) while the remainder are from those who need help. If you need either of these things from them, get in touch.

• West Berkshire Council is to receive additional funding following an announcement by the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government.

• In addition, a large number of volunteer organisations, are springing up to address the particular needs. See this article on the Penny Post website which provides information about local volunteer groups. If you know of any others that should be added, please let us know.

• The National Association of Local Councils has published some case studies showing how local councils at all levels have responded to the crisis.

• We also 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. 

• And click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above,  if you are aware of any others, let us know.

Click here for information about refuse and recycling collections during CV-19 in West Berkshire.

• The Muslim Council of Britain has released advice and information on how to continue the traditions and community spirit of Ramadan without breaching the government regulations.

• 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.

• West Berkshire Council’s Executive will vote on the UK’s first Community Municipal Investment (CMI) on 30 April 2020. If approved, the council will be offering residents and community groups an opportunity to invest directly with them to help build a greener future for the district.

• West Berkshire Council has suspended parking charges ‘until further notice.’

• Also suspended are the services at the recycling centres at Newbury and Padworth (and doubtless those in many of there council areas). On 28 April, the government asked councils to reopen rubbish tips and recycling centres that closed due to coronavirus ‘in the coming weeks.’

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports a claim by West Berkshire Council that the CV guidance leaflets have been sent to ‘pretty much’ everyone, although the papers report that in some parts of Thatcham and Cold Ash this has not happened. It’s one thing to post a leaflet, another to have it noticed and being acted upon. There are probably a good number that have been binned along with junk mail and there’s not a lost the Council can do about that. In most parishes, leaflets with a similar message have also been delivered by local volunteer groups. West Berkshire has also contacted all shielded residents.  A survey conducted last autumn suggested that 18% of Britons did not use the internet (almost everyone under 50 did, with the usage then dropping by about 2% a year). It’s easy to see that a crisis like this has the effect of increasing the levels of isolation which already exist and to which non-usage of the internet may contribute.

• The animals of the week are the swans in Thatcham (see Thatcham section below) that some idiot or idiots unknot decided to take a shot at.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week covers the 2008 financial crash, probably the final word in the driving to exercise debate, Brexit, political integrity, positive thoughts, interest-free loans, Sammy Wasuma, Audrey Appelby, ambulance drivers and Lambourn’s sewers.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support. Yet again we’re not going to single anyone out – there are too many to name at present – but, once again, instead just give a general shout-out for all the volunteer groups in the area which have sprung up like the daffodils to provide assistance to those in most need of it. We’ve listed some of these here. This also seems like a good place to mention Greenham Trust which has set up a Coronavirus Emergency Fund for donations to local groups with full 1:1 match funding for all sums received.

Hungerford & district

• Latest news from Hungerford Town Council, Kintbury Parish Council, Shalbourne Parish Council and Inkpen Parish Council

• Monday 4 May will be a groundbreaking day for Hungerford Town Council: its first ever full council meeting held via Zoom. As ever, member of the press and public are welcome to ‘attend’ (except, as usual, for any confidential business discussed in part two). The agenda is here and this includes the link to be followed. If you dot wish or are not able to attend in this way, you can also submit a question by email by 2pm on the day of the meeting to townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk. The Clerk will consider if this is appropriate to be raised at the meeting: if it isn’t (for instance if it should be raised with an individual councillor, a committee or another organisation like West Berkshire Council), you will be contacted. The minutes of the meeting will appear in this section of the Council’s website in due course. As ever, this and other aspects of the Council’s activities will be summarised in the monthly Hungerford Town Council Updates on this website and publicised in the penny Post Hungerford e-newsletter which will be sent on Tuesday 5 May.

• Hungerford Town Council is gathering a list of people who would be willing to offer their services in any future emergency, whatever form it might take  If you live in or near the town and would like to put yourself forward as a volunteer in such a situation, please email please email townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk with your contact details and any information about any special skills, experience or equipment you have and any restrictions, such as circumstance in which you would not be willing to help. Your details will, with all due security, be kept on file and you’ll be contacted as necessary. Hopefully your services will not be called upon but, if they are needed, CV-19 has proved that a well co-ordinated local response is vital. The better prepared a community its, the faster this can happen.

• Hungerford Town Council, and doubtless other councils, are encouraging everyone to undertake the ‘Nation’s Toast to the Heroes of WW2‘ at 3pm on Friday 8 May, from the safety of their own home, by standing up and raise a glass of refreshment of their choice and undertake the following Toast – ‘To those who gave so much, we thank you.’ You could take part in celebrations safely from home by joining your BBC Local Radio station initiative in making your own VE Day Great British Bunting. Download everything you need from The BBC site here. The fact that this 75th VE Day co-incides with a national challenge unmatched since the war the VE Day ended is perhaps appropriate. All of us are currently experiencing curtailments of our freedoms; some things cannot be procured; we need to ask ourselves if our journey is really necessary; we are separated from our friends and family; people are suffering and dying. It’s often hard during an end-of-war anniversary to get anywhere close to imagining what life must have then been like. This year, less imagination will be required. 

• I was back as usual at the Wednesday market in Hungerford yesterday. Fruit, veg, bread, cakes, meat, cheese, olives and (until noon) fish are all available, the market being open from stupid o’clock until about 1pm. Be prepared for a short queue and please follow the one-way system that’s been set up. 

• There’s still time to apply for Newbury Building Society community grants in the society’s branch towns, which include Hungerford: the deadline is Sunday 3 May. Applications are welcome from charities andorganisations that may be helping vulnerable people who are self-isolating, supplying items for foodbanks, or alleviating the impact of children no longer receiving free school meals due to school closures – full details here

• As mentioned previously the cows are back on the Common. Please drive carefully and keep dogs on a lead.

• It’s well-known that retailers, in Hungerford and elsewhere, are going through some dark times at present. For those that stay in business in some form one major challenge has been maintaining their supply chains. The book trade, for instance, has long depended on the two big national wholesalers, Gardners and Bertrams. These provide a next-day delivery service to the retailers which has given independent shops a kind of parity with online firms. In recent weeks, this system had broken down with deliveries only arriving a couple of times a week. However, Alex from the Hungerford Bookshop told me today that Gardners at least (which they use) has rested the daily drop. This means that you can order a book on a Monday and it should be ready for collection from or delivery by the sup on the Tuesday. Contact the Bookshop for more information on this.

• On a similar theme, the Hungerford Chamber of Commerce has launched a support fund for local businesses during Coronavirus – more details here.

• Hungerford Town Council has announced that Hungerford in Bloom is open for (slightly different) business this year and hopes that more residents then ever will support this competition in the current circumstances. A children’s competition had also been added.

• If you in self-isolation as a result of being identified as ‘shielded’ then you may have received a food box from the government containing essential supplies. This might be very welcome and necessary; but if  you feel it would be better used by someone less fortunate than yourself in this crisis, call Geordie of the Hungerford Self-isolation Network on 07836 330815. You can also call this number if CV-19 has changed your circumstances and you’re in need of a weekly food delivery yourself. Note that the group currently has enough volunteers: but see above for the list Town Council is putting together.

• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Councilsee here for the official notice. However, these will probably not be filled until it’s possible to hold public meetings again.

• The next Penny Post Hungerford will be published on Tuesday 5 May – if there’s anything you want to see included, email penny@pennypost.org.uk.

Lambourn Valley

Latest news from Lambourn Parish CouncilEast Garston Parish CouncilWelford Parish Council and Great Shefford Parish Council.

• As mentioned last week, I’ve been curious as to whether the unauthorised dredging in the River Lambourn in East Garston about 18 months ago have been resolved. I’ve written to the Environment Agency and been promised a response.

• Meanwhile, the rain pelts down, doubtless further worsening the already serious sewage problems in the Lambourn Valley. The Thames Water tankers are everywhere here but, as discussed in this post (see also a letter in this week’s NWN) this only provides a temporary solution. The effect of this are still be felt in Wantage (see Wantage Area section below).

• A reminder that we’ve recently published, on behalf of the Parish Council, East Garston’s 2020 Annual Parish Newsletter which has information about all the village’s groups and societies. Copies have been delivered to every household in the village. You can also click here to see it.

• A  reminder that Lambourn Parish Council is seeking input from residents about its neighbourhood development plan. For more information on how you can participate in this once-in-a-generation exercise, please click here.

• This week’s NWN reports on p25 about plans to re-develop Linkslade Stables in Lambourn.

Click here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery

4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more

Newbury & district

Latest news from Newbury Town Council, Chieveley Parish Council and Hamstead Marshall Parish Council.

Click here for a recent statement from Newbury Town Council in light of the Secretary of State’s announcement that parks should remain open during the pandemic.

• On a related matter, the question of being able to drive to take exercise – which the NPCC has now accepted is permissible in certain circumstances – is still causing some confusion. The Pyle Hill car park at Greenham Common, for instance, remains closed. This is managed by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust BBOWT, whose website says that ‘due to reduced staffing levels and volunteer help it is not possible for us to keep the majority of our car parks open safely. As a result, where possible we have closed the car parks at our reserves.’ This seems a bit odd to me as I’m not aware that such car parks require staffing to make them safe. I tried to contact BBOWT today but, due to CV-19, wasn’t able to speak to anyone.

• One person who was able to get out to Greenham was NWN’s photographer Phil Cannings who took a number of beautiful photos of bluebells which adore p21 of this week’s paper. I can add that down our way in East Garston there are several stunning bluebell woods as well.

• There’s still time to apply for Newbury Building Society community grants in the society’s branch towns, which include Newbury: the deadline is Sunday 3 May. Applications are welcome from charities andorganisations that may be helping vulnerable people who are self-isolating, supplying items for foodbanks, or alleviating the impact of children no longer receiving free school meals due to school closures – full details here

• This week’s NWN reports, on p9, that economic development company Newbury West Berkshire’smomentum had not stopped‘ as a result of the pandemic.

• The virus has not prevented Newbury Town Council from announcing the winners of its Unsung Heroes awards – you can see the citations here.

• Meanwhile, tutors at Newbury College describe how they have converted many of their courses from physical to online ones.

Newbury Town Council has allocated £8,000 from its grant fund to assist projects and proposals helping the elderly, vulnerable and at-risk communities in Newbury in response to Covid-19.

• Newbury Building Society has made emergency donations of around £30,000 to support its many recipients.

•  A reminder that Newbury’s Mayor, Elizabeth O’Keefe, is making herself available to chat to local residents who are self-isolating. Click here for more information.

• The Newbury in Bloom 2020 campaign has been cancelled due to Covid-19.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the villag (including recently-updated information about the village’s new volunteer group). It also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net

• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.

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.

Hampstead Norreys Community Shop – voted the best of its kind in the country last year – is taking orders for cakes and sausage rolls to help celebrate VE Day – see the website for more information.

• Among the the many casualties of Covid-19 one will find the words ‘cancelled’ next to the event listings for VE Day parties on 8 May. Many villages, including Compton, will be holding ‘stay at home’ parties or similar instead. It’s hoped that restrictions might be lifted to enable some celebrations of VJ Day in august to take place.

• A similar approach is being taken in Brightwaltonclick here for more.

Click here to see the April Chaddleworth News. It was published a few weeks ago but I draw your attention to the useful information on the first page about volunteer groups in and around the village.

Thatcham and district

Latest news from Thatcham Town Council, Cold Ash Parish Council, Bucklebury Parish Council, Brimpton Parish Council and Woolhampton Parish Council.

• I don’t know why anyone would want to shoot a swan (or anything else, for that matter, but I’m getting off the point), particularly as I think they have special royal protection and so the crime probably carries a sentence of death by hanging or transportation to Mars. None the less, this has happened more than once in Thatcham recently, as the NWN reports on p13. if you know who’s doing it, report them. If you’re doing it, please stop.

• There’s still time to apply for Newbury Building Society community grants in the society’s branch towns, which include Thatcham: the deadline is Sunday 3 May. Applications are welcome from charities andorganisations that may be helping vulnerable people who are self-isolating, supplying items for foodbanks, or alleviating the impact of children no longer receiving free school meals due to school closures – full details here

• In common with many other councils, including Hungerford, Thatcham Town Council has decided to extend the Mayor’s and Deputy Mayor’s terms of office by a year: this is no time to be taking over a new job.

• 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.

The Friends of Thatcham Parish Hall, which had to cancel a fundraising quiz last month, have organised a replacement version which can be done remotely. For details, email epanting2006@yahoo.co.uk. The quiz closes on 30 April (ie today).

• One Thatcham family’s display of support and positivity during CV-19 has spread to other communities in the town – see more here.

• The Newbury Weekly News reports on p17 that Cold Ash’s parish councillors are preparing to oppose fresh plans for 75 new homes at Coley Farm. The article explains that the original outline planning permission only just ‘scraped through’ approval by West Berkshire Council in 2017 after a deciding vote cast by the Chair of the Dostrict Planning Committee by Hilary Cole, one of Cold Ash’s ward councillors.

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin.

Marlborough & district

Latest news from Marlborough Town CouncilAldbourne Parish Council and Great Bedwyn Parish Council.

• An article on p26 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News quotes parents as praising the ‘fantastic response’ of teachers at Ramsbury Primary School for coming up with innovative activities and lesson plans during the school’s closure. The Gazette & Herald also covers this here.

• None of us knows what the new normal is going to be but Marlborough News has already identified a few words and phrases which the current circumstances demand. So, for more on Le Creuset wrist, Foulough Merlot, the elephant in the Zoom and Coronacoaster, click here

• The same website reports that the Friends of the Marlborough/Gunjur Link and the Marlborough Brandt Group have teamed up to support the poorest families in Gunjur in The Gambia.

• The Gazette reports that the Post Office in Marlborough has shut ‘indefinitely…due to unforeseen circumstances.’

• With the VE Day celebrations planning from Friday 8 May on hold, here’s a chance to look back at how Marlborough celebrated the real thing back in ’45.

• Click here for a statement from Wiltshire Council about financial grant support for small businesses as a result of Coronavirus.

• Cadley-based firm Dobie Wyatt, which in normal times makes protective tarpaulins, has shifted ins production to the more immediate need for PPE masks. Marlborough News takes up the story.

• A reminder that Marlborough LitFest’s Love Books Competition has now been extended to July 17. Click here for details.

• A reminder also that from 2 to 4 October 2 to October 4, all being well, Marlborough will be hosting its first festival of arts and science dedicated to celebrating the night sky

Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council. 

Homestart Kennet is looking for volunteers to help with its projects in the area – click here for more information

Wantage & district

Latest news from Wantage Town Council, Grove Parish Council and Letcombe Regis Parish Council.

• The knock-on effect of the sewage problems in Lambourn (see Lambourn Area above) continues to affect Wantage, as it’s to there that tanker lorries are taking excess foul water from Lambourn to ease the pressure on the overloaded system in the Valley. It seems that the number of tankers (every 15 minutes at night) through Wantage is causing significant distress to residents who live close to Newbury Street and Ham Road and Thames Water has been asked by the Wantage & Grove Campaign Group (W&GCG) if  could consider alternative solutions to this problem at Lambourn, such as diverting the tankers to the Didcot Sewage treatment works which tankers can reach from Lambourn via the B4000, M4 and A34 without passing through many residential areas. 

• A reminder here (sent by the W&GCG last week) about a long-running battle with Network Rail. ‘Those of you with long memories will remember the fuss a couple of years ago when Network Rail wanted to demolish the railway bridge at Steventon. After a lot of fighting from Steventon residents the Vale refused permission in August 2018 and Network Rail launched an appeal. We heard today that the appeal has been withdrawn. They have agreed a new permanent speed limit set at 110mph for the railway through the village. This means that the B4107 bridge over the railway will not need to be removed and replaced as part of the Great Western Electrification Programme.’ There’s also an article on p3 of this week’s Herald.

• South Oxfordshire and the Vale Councils announced last week that they’d be resuming the collection of bulky household waste – and warned against fly-tipping. Also, the paid-for garden-waste service is now open to new customers.

• General information here from the Vale Council here about waste collection services in the area.

Click here for information about online entertainment available from Cornerstone and The Beacon. 

• Businesses across Oxfordshire (including those which already receive 100 per cent rate relief) that are yet to submit their details for grant support in response to CV-19 should do so as soon as possible.

The leaders of all six Oxfordshire councils have written a joint letter to government and the county’s MPs setting out the scale of the financial impact of the CV-19 situation across the local authorities.They put the cost in 2020-21 at about £100m.

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald looks at the new methods for accessing your GP’s services during the lockdown.

• Al letter in the same paper returns to the pointless and divisive debate about a whether an MP should have originally come from the area which they represent, Layla Moran and David Johnston both being cited. This would come pretty low on my list of priorities for choosing a candidate, integrity, effectiveness, accessibility and a lack of pomposity all being vastly more important. In any case, under our electoral system you are effectively casting a vote for or against a government. Unless they rise yto hold ministerial office, the average MP’s influence of your life will be less important than that of the leader of your district council.

• A further reminder that Wantage and Grove Campaign Group’s public meeting with David Johnston MP, Yvonne Constance, and Emily Smith which was planned for 22 May has been cancelled: however, the group has added a discussion forum to its website so that it can discuss the issuesand then send our questions to these people. Anyone registered to receive the W&GCG’s emails should be able to join in – click here to sign up for these.

• All charges are suspended in the District Council car parks at The Beacon and on Limborough Road until 1 June and during this time you do not have to display a ticket. Any outstanding car park permits, recently expired or due to expire, will also be honoured until that date – permit holders therefore do not need to take any action before then. 

Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group

• 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.

• Swindon Borough Council has written to more than 5,000 residents who have been identified by the NHS as being at high risk from coronavirus.

• Swindon Museum and Art Gallery has launched a new digital project to bring its collection of modern art to people’s living rooms.

• Key workers leading the fight against coronavirus were able to take advantage of free childcare provided by Swindon Borough Council over the Easter holidays.

• Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet approved the Town Centre Movement Strategy (TCMS) at its virtual meeting on 22 April.

• The Council is urging local businesses and organisations which might be eligible for government grants to apply if they are yet to do so.

• In common with our councils and fire services, Swindon Council and the Wiltshire and Dorset Fire Service are urging residents not to light bonfires during the pandemic.

Click here for information from Swindon Council about how Coronavirus is affecting its services as well as other useful information. 

• Swindon Borough Council will prioritise certain waste collections over the coming months amid the continuing Coronavirus crisis.

• Bus-pass restrictions have been lifted for older and disabled people in Swindon.

• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.

The song and the quiz

• The Song of the Week doesn’t get much better than this: Alan Toussaint, Elvis Costello, Steve Naive, Richard Thompson, Levon Helm and Nick Lowe – a superband if ever there was one – playing Toussaint’s A Certain Girl on Elvis’ Spectacle TV show (from 39′ 25″, but the whole thing is fab, including their version of The Band’s The Weight which closes the show shortly afterwards. You really must listen to this…

• And so we come to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: Roughly how long did it take Europe’s population level to recover from the Black Death in the late 1340s? Last week’s question was: What unexpected goal-scoring record does Leicester City’s Ashley Barnes hold (and is likely to hold for at least another two or three weeks)? He was the last player to score a Premier League goal, in Leicester’s 4-0 defeat of Aston Villa on 9 March. Liverpool fans will be hoping otherwise but it’s looking increasingly likely that that this will also be the last goal the season. If the season is cancelled then, I imagine, this and other records will be expunged in which case his two goals in this match won’t have happened (though they did). If that comes to pass, the invisible virus will have re-written history in a way that even Big Brother would have envied.

Brian Quinn

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One Response

  1. A very good article [Hungerford] well done.
    I have replied to the Town Clerk as follows, [but dont hesitate to ask if there is anything you would like me to comment upon].

    “”””””””””If I am needed in any capacity, please let me know. I am here and happy to help insofar as I can.

    I expect you have most of my details [as a past Mayor of Hungerford 2010-11] but any update you may need will be provided.

    Address: The Cygnet House, 30 Park Street, Hungerford RG17 0EA. Tel 01488 6819333. mobile 0768516090
    Age: 74 years
    Careeer: Ex International Investment Banker and |Director, Councillor of Hungerford Town Council, Trustee of The Town & Manor of Hungerford, Chairman of The Newbury Corn Exchange Trust; Member of Hungerford Chamber of Commerce, Experienced as Organiser. Driving licence.


    Anthony Buckwell

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale