Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s chains, Newbury’s football, Inkpen’s pause, Coombe’s bulletin, East Garston’s resignation, Great Shefford’s bat, Lambourn’s relocation, Thatcham’s Orcas, Marlborough’s support, Bedwyn’s vacancy, Wantage’s water, Grove’s triangle, Swindon’s busses, Challow’s nursery, Theale’s refusal, Cold Ash’s re-wilding, Grazeley’s concerns, council initiatives, recording the re-opening, BLM, early intervention, painting a plane, football kicks off, the lost art of apologising, bickering with the bank, wonder drugs, food imports, Cygnus, incremental planning, flexible furloughs, more birds, Marcus Rashford, Stephen Fry, Snowball, Gandalf, facetious vowels, disorganised ducks, VE75+1, 16 pints of lager and a touch of grey.
Police, transport and council contacts
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Across the area (and further afield)
• It seems that a new ‘wonder drug‘ (an epithet that’s all to easy to apply as it sells a lot of newspapers) has been identified – not the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, nor bleach, both of which the US president endorsed, but dexamethasone, a steroid that has the massive advantages of being cheap and easy to manufacture. This isn’t a preventative but does improve recovery rates amongst the most seriously ill. A number of countries have been looking at it but the UK had the biggest trial and was the first to get the findings rushed out as a treatment for CV-19. The approval from NICE has jumped the gun on the formal announcement of the results but this is the new norm for serious illnesses: other countries may well have done the same thing or will be about to do so. (Much the same happened with Ebola when two vaccines were approved before trials had been completed, the logic being that the outcomes with no treatment were so poor.) This is one time in the pandemic (the support packages offered to businesses being perhaps another) where the UK – at least its scientists – can claim to have led the world.
• Man of the week would seem to Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford who, armed with a huge number of Twitter followers and fairly recent memories of a childhood in poverty, managed to get the government to change its policy about free school meals over the summer. He’s obviously a principled and thoughtful young man who’s used his popular image to great effect and (despite the club he plays for) I salute him. However, the question arises as to whether aspects of our spending should be determined in this way. We elect governments to make decisions based on a number of factors, including social justice and popular opinion. The government employs an obscene number of management consultants and other communication experts. It seems odd that the original policy wasn’t spotted as a potential elephant trap. It seems to be further evidence that there is a real and worrying disconnect between the rulers and the ruled, which the exigencies of the pandemic have perhaps exacerbated. Meanwhile, poor Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, managed to get the man’s name wrong when he thanked him, calling him Daniel Rashford.
As Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s Political Editor put it, anyone can change their minds. The problem for a government comes when to do this is seen as weakness. recent Conservative leaders may feel overshadowed by Churchill and Thatcher, both of whom stuck to their guns (whether either was a good Prime Minister is a separate debate). Politicians of any colour tend to see an apology as the very worst and weakest thing they can do: this despite the fact that it’s often the best and the strongest; and that screwing up, pretty much on a daily basis, is part of the human condition. To see people so obviously making mistakes so rarely admitting to them creates yet another gulf between us and them. It’s also incredibly disarming. If someone apologises to me, my first reaction is often to say ‘no, no, it was my fault really.’ However, as the same writer points out, with each U-turn (with or without an apology) ‘you can hear a little piece of a government’s credibility being chipped away.’ To change too rarely or too often are both as risky. The trick, of course, is to get the right decision in the first place. I come back again to the army of advisors the government employs. This story could suggest two things: positive people power; or a government completely blindsided by a 22-year-old footballer.
• As for public apologies, the football season kicked off on Wednesday, after a 100-day break, with a Premier League match between Sheffield United (chasing a European place) and Aston Villa (battling relegation). The match finished 0-0 but Sheffield United had a goal ruled out even though it crossed the line, for which Hawkeye, the company responsible for the goal-line technology, immediately issued an apology. It perhaps has nothing to do with free school meals except, perhaps, financially. This article in Schools Week suggested that the cost of these meals could be £120m (though I’ve seen the lower figure of £89m). This article from Sky News suggests that the cost of relegation from the Premier League is at least £50m. Leaving aside what these suggest about our national priorities, the sums of money involved (which is what so many things come down to) are comparable. Hawkeye’s apology was also far braver as it has but a single victim which might use this as a grounds for legal proceedings. An apology for a national error, even one involving deaths, is easier to deal with as the results are spread across thousands or millions of people: also, an apology generally needs to the problem being fixed, which is all most people in most cases expect. So, let’s see the politicians (at every level) try it. Once a month – let’s take it one step at a time – have a day when you’re going to apologise for something that you’ve done or which you’ve been associated with. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, OK, if you’re a minister you’ll probably get sacked (though it you’re a special advisor you probably won’t). But, if you survive, might people not trust you a bit more?
• The plane used by the PM and members of the Royal Family is to be re-painted, according to BBC: not in itself a major story, perhaps. However, the timing of the announcement, just after the school meals U-turn and the news about dexamethasone, both of which now need to be bought in large numbers, was a little odd. The government’s presentational skills and political sense seem to have collapsed in recent weeks so perhaps it’s not that odd. I must say, I never knew it cost £900,000 to paint a plane. However, it isn’t just painting. The BBC article refers to the dreaded word ‘re-branding’ which means that design consultants have got involved. The aspect of the story that’s most peculiar, however, is the statement that the exercise will ‘better represent’ the UK abroad. I find the idea rather sweet that it’s felt that the whole tone of diplomatic or state visits will shift in our favour as a result of a flashy fuselage. I thought it was what the people who got out of the plane said that was important?
• The Black Lives Matter protests continue. I’m confused as to why the murder of George Floyd should, among all the countless racially-motivated crimes in the USA and, to a lesser extent, in the UK, have caused such an explosion of sentiment. This article in the New York Times highlights the dramatic increase in support for the movement, though does little to explain it beyond referring to ‘the longstanding tendency for voters to drift toward the views of the party out of power on various issues.’ For whatever reasons, deep-seated unease was unleashed by the events in Minneapolis last month. Perhaps the enforced idleness and increased social-media engagements resulting from Covid were partly responsible.
Not all people agree with BLM’s approach. Candace Owens, a prominent conservative commentator and herself of Caribbean heritage, has described the movement of doing a disservice to black people. Its strongly left-wing stance on a number of issues has been criticised. So too has its willingness to organise protests during a lockdown. Though many, such as the recent one in Newbury, were peaceful, others have not been. George Floyd himself is perhaps not an ideal role model. None the less, the issue if racism is back on the front pages. What will change? Probably very little, unless every side is prepared to be honest about what it has done wrong. In the USA and the UK, slavery is the dark backdrop. This has been part of human history since records began and so is clearly a part of of our make-up. It still exists today.
However deep the generational psychological scars might be, it’s also important what each person has themselves done in the time they’ve spent in this world. We can’t rewrite or erase the past, as some have tried to do, and we’d be unwise to forget it. We can and should re-evaluate it, accept that we are a product of it and that by understanding it we can change the future. How well we do this largely depends on what lessons we learn in our schools and from our families. If either are deficient, the children who endure them became, at best, survivors. Society can’t micro-manage families; but it can provide an education system that from a very early age recognises the frailties and accidents of family life and does its best to improve the chances of the next generation. Look at it selfishly for a moment: those screaming two-year-olds next door or in the supermarket or outside the crèche will, before we know it, be ruling the world when we’re in our dotage and most in need of help. Don’t we want them to be as functional, compassionate and effective as they can be?
There seems nothing better a society can do than to spend money on looking after its children. A wealth of evidence suggests that the effects of matters such as absentee parents, poverty and deprivation can be mitigated by intervention (which doesn’t need to be intrusive, patronising or didactic) in the first few years of life. Many countries – including, it would seem, the UK and the USA – could improve on this. Maintained nursery schools, day centres, grants to play groups and the like are seen as soft targets when budget cuts come around. Both countries, particularly the USA, have a distaste for state intervention. If a fraction of each country’s national expenditure were diverted to improving circumstances for children in the first three or four years, much state intervention thereafter would be unnecessary. This would positively affect a number of ingrained fault lines, racial issues among them. No, of course it wouldn’t cure them: but if we can instil some qualities of tolerance, curiosity, empathy and respect at an early age then so many later problems will be avoided, for people from every ethnic, cultural and religious grouping.
If you think this sounds like a watered-down version of Brave New World then I apologise. We are social creatures and our interactions, for good or for ill, affect society as a whole, and have the capacity to rock the boat. This leads to the question of whether we can trust our teachers. Well, we have to make sure we can. Without that, everything else collapses. That seems to me to be the great challenge. If the government really wants to roll back the state it has to ensure that all our young citizens arrive at reception class with as much parity as possible. Those who are left behind at that stage may never catch up and the state may need to support them for the rest of their lives (which it can no longer afford to do). Anything that can be done to address this will help equalise every level of disadvantage and discrimination we face. There doesn’t seem to be any more important thing we can spend money on.
• On that subject, it would seem that the government’s plans for dealing with the financial impact of Covid on businesses have been a good deal more effective than some of their other policies. The support for the economy seems to have been pretty well received. We’ve not had to grapple with this ourselves as, despite a big fall in revenue, we’ve been working as hard as ever so for one of us to furlough was impossible. Other organisations and individuals have fallen through the net without being able to choose but it seems to have caught most people, at least until now. The problems are likely to start with the recent lockdown-lite (which may swiftly be followed by lockdown 2, the sequel none of us wants to see), which have exposed some ambiguities of whether you’re working or not working. Penny Post readers will have benefitted from the regular updates provided by Monty Accounting in Hungerford which have picked through the various schemes and provided useful links. The most recent update from them describes the guidance on the new flexible furlough as ‘very complicated’ and likely to provide ‘a miserable time for payroll departments.’ However, Monty Accounting goes on to say that ‘it is still a great scheme for businesses and employees. Bring your employees back as you need them – in all cases, employees will be better off financially for working than not working under this scheme.’
• Talking about money, my spending has never been more regular or predictable. For the last three months, I do most of our shopping in Hungerford on Wednesdays as that’s the day of the weekly market. Visits to the various stalls there, the Co-op, Christian Alba’s Butchers shop, Ratnams in Charnham Street and sometimes one of the garages provide the majority of our needs. Most of these are paid by card: so you might imagine that Barclays Bank’s algorithms would recognise that these were not fraudulent. Not a bit of it. On Wednesday, to my great inconvenience and humiliation, it decided to cancel my card. Two and a half hours on the phone (pre-Covid it would been about 30 seconds waiting) revealed that the suspicious transaction had been to the Co-op in Hungerford for £31. I said that I had paid by card there regularly for about 20 years, and never more regularly than in the last three months. The system, I was told, had regarded this as suspicious as it tended to when people made purchases from a number of outlets in a fairly short space of time. That, I said, is what people do when they go shopping. If it couldn’t spot that I do this at the same places every Wednesday the system was obviously flawed. He said that this was the way it worked. So the conversation raged on, both of us becoming more and more irritated with each other, neither of us altering our position by an inch. I made an official complaint but am not expecting anything to change. So, next Wednesday, my first action will be to go to a hole in the wall and then pay everyone in cash. This is exactly what they don’t want and what we’ve told we should avoid: but what choice do I have? Anyone else had anything like this happen? Post a comment below and tell me I’m not alone.
• Meanwhile, back on planet Covid, attention continues to focus on the effectiveness of each step of our government’s response. It’s impossible to pretend that this has been that great, in terms of protecting our lives or our economy. As I’ve mentioned before, the most damning criticism is the lack of preparedness for Something Like This, which was predicted by the Cygnus exercise in 2016 and not acted upon. There are a couple of other points worth mentioning. The UK is in some ways fortunate in that it’s an island state and frontiers are therefore easy to shut off. We didn’t, thought: and RNA sequencing suggests that perhaps as many as 1,300 cases were introduced from abroad. Greece, by contrast, has not only four land frontiers but also thousands of islands: a nightmare for any international lockdown. The UK is vastly richer and has an NHS service which is one of the word’s largest employers. Surely our performance would have been better than Greece’s? Wrong. In Greece, the mortality rate from Covid-19 has so far been one person per 57,300: in the UK it’s one per 1,580. That is about 36 times worse. International comparisons are tricky as reporting criteria differ: but even allowing for this, a pretty big gulf remains. What did Greece do that were should have done? This might be worth finding out for when Covid-20 arrives.
The latest Private Eye has something to say on the subject too, as you might expect. The MD column has been superb throughout and this week points out that there were two main failings. The first was a lack of PPE and of a test, trace and isolate system (which we still haven’t got right): many countries that did have a comprehensive system, the article suggests, avoided lockdown altogether. As mentioned before, this is despite the Cygnus exercise in 2016 which war-gamed a very similar scenario. The second point MD makes is that, as a result of the lack of TTI, lockdown became inevitable. If something is increasing exponentially, as Covid-19 was in March, you have to act very, very quickly to put the breaks on. This did not happen, with the result that ‘the deaths mount up and we delay coming out.’
• Newbury MP Laura Farris, writing in this week’s Newbury Weekly News, said that when she stood for election in December it didn’t cross her mind that she’d be supporting her constituents through the worst pandemic in a century. Indeed not: I’d also bet she didn’t expect to have the front page of the NWN bearing a photo of her kneeling at a BLM protest, either. She is, she points out, a former employment lawyer and so takes the opportunity to have a pop at companies (BA being one she singles out) who might think that the general disruption and the government’s furlough scheme is an opportunity ‘to undertake a long-planned corporate restructure and halve staff pay.’ BA’s behaviour in this regard has been branded ‘a national disgrace’ by the House of Commons’ Transport Select Committee.
• Penny’s preferred method of post-work relaxation at the moment is listening to Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter books (which I made a brief attempt to read but couldn’t get on with). The first time it spooked me out as it wasn’t the only occasion I’ve heard his voice coming through a wall: we had rooms next to each other for a year at university and I can remember him reciting lines from plays that he was learning; he, perhaps, can still remember my learning guitar parts, or beating my head on the table while trying to write an essay on Anglo-Norman feudalism. A few years ago I heard an interview he did about reading Harry Potter. The first book had a phrase – ‘Harry pocketed it’ – which, try as he might, he just could not say (give it a go – it’s not easy). At the end of that day’s recording he called JK Rowling and asked if he could change it to something else. There was a short silence. “No,” she said, and hung up. In all the other books, he revealed, she made sure that the same phrase appeared, just to mess with his head (he had already signed a deal to record the rest). So, the only intelligent question I can ask Penny each time I come into the room is “has Harry pocketed it yet?” The joke is probably wearing a bit thin. She tells me that he’s said it perfectly each time. That just goes to show what you can do if you practise: or, I guess, if you’re paid enough. Countless people have come to reading through following the text in the books and listening to his rendition, which JK Rowling had insisted for this this reason be word-for-word. I’d also like to point out that, with Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry created some of the best TV sketches you could find. Here’s a link to one of my favourites. There are loads of others, intelligent escapism for these gloomy times…
• West Berkshire Council has been awarded £124,000 from the Department for Transport to help introduce pop-up and temporary interventions to create an environment that is safe for both walking and cycling.
• The same Council has announced that it will assist parents and carers during by offering the option to apply for a refund on fares paid for school transport for terms 5 and 6.
• Local businesses are being urged to carry out vital safety checks to avoid increasing the risk of Legionnaires’ disease.
• Click here for some useful information from West Berkshire Council about help available to businesses as a result of the re-opening of non-essential shops from 15 June. See also the Hungerford section below for a brief case history as to how one town council has been helping to make this happen as smoothly as possible.
• Both of West Berkshire’s recycling centres, at Newtown Road in Newbury and Padworth Lane near Aldermaston, now have a booking system is in place. You will not be able to simply turn up at the recycling centres. Click here for more information.
• Click here for advice from the government to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
• West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have set up their own web pages relating to the outbreak. Click here as follows for the high-level links for 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.
• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.
• 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.)
• 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.
• A correspondent in this week’s NWN letter’s page says how disgusted he was at someone having a pee in a shop doorway. Indeed, but if you want to see offences like this at Olympic level you need to to London. A man was recently fined for drinking 16 pints of lager, going to a right-wing protest and urinating on a memorial to murdered policeman Keith Palmer in Westminster. Doing these things must all have seemed to him to good ideas at the time.
• Another letter refers to Laura Farris’ recent decision to support legislation that would potentially permit (and certainly does nothing to prevent) lower standards of food imports (see last week’s column). The writer has dug out an interview with Michael Gove from 2018 in which he confirmed that there would be ‘absolutely…imports must be to our standards.’
• The animals of the week are (for the third week in a row) any of the fine selection of birds that the NWN’s Chief Photographer has snapped on his recent early-morning walks – see p18 of this week’s paper.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to above, praise for the recent BLM protests in Newbury, criticism of litter louts, thanks to a dog finder and a photo of a surreal looking vintage car (which looks like two cars bolted together) which the correspondent wants to have identified.
• 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
• Click here for the June edition of the Inkpen and Coombe Bulletin which has news about how the various community and voluntary groups have been faring and reports on some aspects of local life that are slowly getting back to normal. If you want to subscribe or contribute, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The most recent Penny Post Hungerford was published on Tuesday 2 June and you can read it here. The next edition will be published on Tuesday 7 July.
• Hungerford Town Council held an extra-ordinary Full Council Meeting on 9 June to confirm the many measures were had or needed to put in place before the shops re-opened the following week. You can read the minutes here.
• The re-openings duly took place and Penny was on hand with her camera. The stars of the show were, of course, the shopkeepers who have finally managed to re-open: there was also a strong supporting cast in the form of the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, the Constable of the Town and Manor and the Mayor of Hungerford, who between them had more chains than a London property transaction. You can see the video here.
• John O’Gaunt School has recently re-opened its doors as well. A letter here from the new Head Richard Hawthorne gives an insight into just how many things have to be thought of in these strange times.
• West Berkshire Council has requested more information about a long-running development in Inkpen which appears to involve the re-creation of a former estate through the acquisition of, first, a large house and about 50 acres of land and, subsequently, a number of neighbouring cottages. A fair number of applications and amendments have been lodged for a range of separate works, culminating in the proposal to submit a masterplan for the site. This suggests that an over-arching scheme had always existed but that it had been felt that to introduce each item incrementally would stand a greater chance of success. This tortuous and quite costly approach seems to have worked – until now. Prompted by media publicity and a number of objections from residents concerning a proposed access road, West Berkshire Council has put its foot down (not a technical term but it conveys the idea) and decided to take a proper look at what has been done and get the full picture of what is proposed. All this would have been avoided if this had been provided from the outset. Perhaps there should be some kind of prize or reward given to any developer in cases where what is initially proposed is the same as what is finally built.
• A similar situation is rumbling on in Hungerford where the developers at the 100-home Salisbury Road site have, as previously reported, applied to change the mix of housing types. The matter has, unsurprisingly, been called in. From the people I’ve spoken, opinion seems to be unanimous that this is a variation too far. It seems that West Berkshire Council will do everything it legally can to insist that something far closer to the original plan is constructed. As I’ve mentioned about 94 times before, if a council wishes to ensure that a certain number of affordable homes are built it needs to build them itself. It’s been a long time since West Berkshire Council (or many others) built a house but there may be signs that this is soon to change. Certainly, as episodes like this show, the private sector cannot be relied upon to provide them. It is not their role to implement government home-building policy. If the planning system permits this grandmother’s-footsteps approach to getting things done then developers would be foolish not to take advantage of it: which they do.
• 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 email@example.com with your contact details and any information about any special skills, experience or equipment you have.
• The Town and Manor’s Wednesday market in Hungerford this week was as healthy as ever and, so far as I could tell, not at all impacted by or impacting on the opening of the shops. As described in the Across the Area section about, I ran into a big problem at the end of my shopping trip: but that was the fault of Barclays Bank, not the T&M.
• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Council – see here for the official notice. However, these will not be filled until it’s possible to hold public meetings again.
• In case you missed it last week, an update on the foul-water problems in Lambourn. The groundwater beneath the Lambourn Valley is now dropping, which takes some of the immediate strain off the system. The main problem is that because the pipes run through the water table, when this is high the pressure forces water in through any cracks in the pipes. Lambourn Parish Council confirmed to Penny Post on 10 June 2020 that ‘the groundwater levels have dropped sufficiently for the ATAC (sewage filter) outside the Fire station to be removed. There is now no sewage escaping the sewage system.’ It was also stressed that there is now a sort time window for Thames Water (TW) to examine further groundwater infiltration before the water table drops below the sewer pipes. TW is keen to receive any information about any area where flooding occurs in the parish as this could suggest a problem. Please send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Obviously, the main responsibility rests with TW as only their robotic cameras can detect where water is infiltrating (and only when the water table is above the level of the pipes). There are about 50km of sewers in the Lambourn Valley, of which TW is responsible for about 25km. About 8km of these have been re-lined.
• If you heard screams in Great Shefford at about 1.30am on the morning of 16 June, that would have been because a bat had flown into through an open bedroom window and briefly toppled the residents into a Hammer Horror Dracula moment. Full story on the Great Shefford Facebook page.
• At the May meeting of East Garston Parish Council, long-time Chairman Jonathan Rabbitts stepped down as Chairman (though remained as a Councillor). David Ruse has stepped forward to succeeded him. A vote of thanks was passed noting ‘Jonathan’s commitment to preserving, developing and caring for’ the village, ‘his genuine concern for individual residents’ and ‘his down-to-earth approach to the bureaucracy the Parish Council has to endure.’ We second that: he’s been an energetic and pragmatic Chairman and the village is lucky to have had the benefit of his services. Certainly the position is not one which is well-adapted to those who don’t care for forms and paperwork, whether printed or digital. It reminds me of Squealer’s description in Animal Farm of the ‘enormous labours the pigs had to expend every day upon mysterious things called ‘files’, ‘reports’, ‘minutes’, and ‘memoranda.’ These were large sheets of paper which had to be closely covered with writing, and as soon as they were so covered, were burnt in the furnace.’
• And still in East Garston, look out for a couple of families of ducks which have, perhaps due to population pressure, taken up living on the opposite side of Front Street from the river and so need to cross the road, in a rather disorganised way.
• As reported in Lambourn.org website last week Lambourn Junction (a voluntary group which has set up a formality-free food bank for people in need as a result of the pandemic) has been obliged to vacate its base in the Memorial Hall. It has now moved to the Royal British Legion.
• As mentioned last week, there have been quite a few stories of tradespeople being called in to fix lockdown DIY disasters, the most spectacular being the guy who thought he’d install a new bathroom and started knocking down a wall without realising it contained pipes resulting in what remained on his house being flooded. There are other, less dramatic, ways that things can fail and in these disposable times both the skills to fix them and the expectation that they can be fixed at all leads to a lot of needless waste. Repair cafés, where handy people turn up at a village hall with their gear to fix anything from a curtain to a lawnmower, have recently sprung up to address this. East Garston hosted its first in early March and obviously there hasn’t been one since. Organiser Ed James is keen to get this moving again as soon as possible with the aim of its being a regular quarterly event. If you would like to offer your services, please contact him on EdJames@sportingagenda.co.uk.
• The June East Garston News has just been published and you can click here to read it.
• 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
• Wednesday 24 June will see the second anniversary of the closure of the football ground in Faraday Road and it’s unlikely that the Newbury Community Football Group will allow the event to pass in silence. A recent statement from the group spoke of West Berkshire’s ‘ridiculous, wasteful and dogmatic approach’ to the plans for the London Road Industrial Estate (in which the football ground is situated) and points out that over £100,000 has recently been committed to two consultancy firms, one to provide a ‘development brief and masterplan’ for the LRIE and the other to carry out a feasibility study on alternative sites as a potential replacement for the Faraday Road Football Ground. These have both been put in place before the results of the Scrutiny Commission, which is looking into some past aspects of the scheme, has reported its findings. The saga of the LRIE has been running for nearly 20 years and, with nothing apart from the access toad from the A339 having yet been built, seems set to continue for some time yet.
• Last Saturday saw the Black Lives Matter protest in Newbury (see also the Across the Area section above). There’s a article and photos on pp8-9 of this week’sNWN: you can also click here to read a personal view from one the participants. At the foot in a link to a video Penny made of the event.
• Newbury Town Council has criticised the amount of littering which followed the combination of the easing of the lockdown and the continuing good weather earlier this month.
• In common with other towns, Newbury’s shops have gradually re-opened with strict social-distancing regulations in place. This week’s NWN has detailed coverage of this.
• The same paper also reports that a drive-through CV-19 testing centre has opened at the Newbury Showground. Appointments need to be booked via the NHS website or by calling 119.
• French and British fighter planes were flying in red, white and blue formations over parts of the area, including Newbury, on 18 June – more here.
• And still with a now slightly coffee-stained copy of the NWN on my desk, see p12 for a report on the re-opening of the Community Furniture Project’s store.
• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village (including recently-updated information about the village’s new volunteer group). It also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like to subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at email@example.com. The most recent one, which you can read here, was published earlier this month and is something of a bumper issue celebrating the many local groups which have made life a little more tolerable during lockdown.
• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.
Thatcham and district
• Thatcham Town Council is shortly to install orcas, black and white rubber blocks used to separate cycle lanes from other road traffic throughout the town. These will initially be on a trial basis (and need to implemented within two months if they’re to qualify for funding from West Berkshire) and if all goes well they’ll be made permanent.
• Scottish and Southern Electricty Networks (SSEN) has identified four areas, known as Constraint Managed Zones (CMZs), which will benefit from flexibility services to manage electricity demand during maintenance work or fault conditions. The locations are Havant, Chickerell, Rownhams and Thatcham. SSEN has identified zones in and around the above areas which will benefit from smarter and flexible ways of managing electricity demand during maintenance work or fault conditions. See the SSEN website for more.
• This week’s NWN reports on p24 that Thatcham plans to celebrate the 75th VE Day next year, 12 months late: they might call it VE76-1 or VE75+1, I suppose. The possibility of still holding some kind of event in August to co-incide with VJ Day was also discussed but lack of planning time and the uncertainty surrounding CV-19 will probably make anything but a small-scale event unlikely. More information as it’s available.
• On the same page, there’s a story about a Cold Ash resident who has re-wilded part of his garden.
• And on the next page, there’s an article about Thatcham businesses that have re-opened this week.
• Please click here for the latest newsletter from the Hermitage Community Volunteers.
• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which includes some thoughts from Gandalf and a link to the Parish Council’s new website.
Theale and district
• The meeting of West Berkshire Council’s Eastern Area Planning Committee on 3 June voted unanimously to oppose the proposed flats at the Theale Motors site in Church Street (19/02879/FULD), largely on grounds of the lack of amenity space.
• This week’s NWN report, on p27, about criticisms voiced about the Grazeley development on the eastern edge of the area, partly due to concerns about whether funding for the various public-transport aspects of the project – always seen as a key aspect – could be secured.
• The Burghfield and Mortimer Neighbourhood Action Group’s remote meeting scheduled for 1 June could not proceed as it was in quorate: matters progressed with those able to attend as a discussion. The AGM has been put back to later in the year.
• The bottle bank is to be removed from Theale Station car park. West Berkshire Council says that the main reason for this is that the contractor which empties the bottle banks is withdrawing from the contract because low volumes make it unprofitable.
Marlborough & district
• Information here from Aldbourne Parish Council about what to do in case of flooding.
• The main programme for this year’s LitFest has been cancelled due to CV-19, though it’s hoped a number of community outreach events can take place online.
• And the same website looks at the similar re-awakening of St John’s Academy.
• As mentioned last week, this year’s Open Gardens will be a virtual event.
• Plans have been announced to turn the former St Peter’s School building on The Parade into a hotel with a restaurant, a ‘modestly sized gym’ and eight new homes. On 16 June, The Planning Committee of Marlborough Town Council gave his approval and support to the plans, as Marlborough News reports here.
• If you fancy becoming a parish councillor in Great Bedwyn, now’s your chance as there’s a vacancy.
• This article in the Gazette reports on a number of pubs in the area which have been recently put up for sale.
• Click here for a statement from Wiltshire Council about financial grant support for small businesses as a result of Coronavirus.
• 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
• There have been reports of no water or low pressure in OX11 and 12 on Thursday 18 June. Thames Water has issued a statement which starts with saying that ‘we’re pleased to say that we’re now finalising repairs following a burst pipe.’
• The Herald reports this week on p3 that the triangle of land in Grove – which until a few weeks ago was thought to belong to the Parish Council but which in fact did not – and which is the site of a memorial bench for a local mother was sold at auction to an anonymous buyer for £36,000. The Parish Council bid £30,000, half of which was pledged by villagers (its total precept is £275,000) but to no avail. It remains to be seen who the buyer is or what plans they have for the site but it’s unlikely it’s been bought just to satisfy a passing desire to experience the thrill of an auction. By an irony, the Parish Clerk Graham Mundy had been in the process of doing an audit of all the pockets of land (47 in all) which the Parish Council owned, or thought it owned, when the matter of the sale was brought to his attention by a villager who saw it offered on Ebay. All the evidence pointed to it having been transferred to the Council some time ago, one of the sources being a detailed map provided by Oxfordshire Country Council in about 2005. If this detail on the map was wrong then so might the others be: the only solution is to check the deeds for every single one, which can be a laborious task. Some of these, Graham told me, are no bigger than a bathtub. Any of them, however, could be of crucial importance if it forms the missing piece of a jigsaw for a proposed development or access road. Any Clerk anywhere in the country who reads this may feel that a similar audit should be done in their own parish. This won’t just include land but assets such as street lights, war memorials and fences.
• It’s been back to school for pupils at the Vale Academy Trust’s several schools in the area: this article takes a quick look at some of the challenges that have had to be overcome before the doors can open again.
• And, speaking of schools, nursery places are available at the St Nicolas Primary School in Challow from September 2020.
• Another chance to read about the lockdown exercise regime of Eda Onay, a Wantage-based modern pentathlete and year 11 student at KA’s. She describes in this article how she’s kept going, with the help of bungee chords, paddling pools, the mental trophy cabinet and being able to whack her mother with a fencing foil.
• Thousands of residents in southern Oxfordshire have found their recycling bins unemptied each week because they have put the wrong things in them. This article explains about how the local recycling arrangements work.
• The latest government business grants scheme will not provide anywhere near enough cash to support the vast majority of businesses in southern Oxfordshire affected by the COVID-19 pandemic according to the Vale and South Oxfordshire Councils.
• 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.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald looks at the history of the plans to pedestrianise Wantage’s Market Square (‘which is currently used as a large roundabout, bus station and car park.’). Funding available as a result of post-Covid urban regeneration grants from Whitehall may enable a proposed scheme to be given a trial. A similar plan has recently been put in place in Newbury: Towns like Hungerford and Marlborough which whose high streets are also A roads will find this more difficult.
• 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.
• Villages in rural parts of Swindon could benefit from new flexible bus services, if Swindon Borough Council is successful with two government funding bids.
• Work to improve White Hart junction will step up a notch from Monday 22 June as the next stage of work begins.
• Swindon Link reports that Swindon Borough Council’s planning committee has given outline planning permission for up to 2,500 homes to be built at Lotmead Farm, one of the proposed New Eastern Villages (NEV) sites.
• Swindon Link reports that the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon has reaffirmed his commitment to protecting the public and frontline community policing in his final term.
• The Swindon Advertiser reports that a large new warehouse could bring up to 2,000 new jobs as part of a £400m investment in the town.
• In common with other towns, Swindon’s shops re-opened on 15 June. This article describes some of the measures the council has put in place.
• People in Swindon are being encouraged to get active, set their own challenges and donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Appeal.
• The team at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery has launched a new project aimed at capturing people’s memories during the coronavirus pandemic.
• Swindon Summer Music Festival is a new online music festival that will showcase the very best local talent on 4 and 5 July.
• Swindon Council is encouraging members of the pubic who have Covid-19 symptoms to register for a test following the expansion of the government’s National Coronavirus Testing Programme.
• Local projects could form part of a £25m government-funded investment plan for Swindon.
• 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.
• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.
The song and the quiz
• For the Song of the Week we, once again, winds back a few decades. I don’t know The Grateful Dead’s music as much as I ought to: it’s an odd situation when you find yourself being acquainted with the music of a band that started in the 60s by your two teenage sons. The good news is that, if you like them, there’s a lot to listen to as, if you include retrospective live albums, they released a staggering 200-odd LPs. I’ve chosen a catchy, thoughtful and, despite the gruesome video, uplifting song, Touch of Grey from 1987.
• And so move into the final paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is For how many days was premier league football suspended in England as a result of Covid-19? Last week’s question was: What is (I think) the only English word that has all six vowels in alphabetical order? The answer is facetiously. There may be other answers but that’s mine.
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