Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Drowning in a sea of litter

Picnic detritus
I was walking to Furness Abbey yesterday-picture it-blue sky, green grass, blossom emerging and families taking advantage of the sun. I walked past a group of young people who were picnicking with their children. Laughter rang through the air, children played and ran freely and safely-a picturesque scene! As I neared the group of about a dozen people I shrank a little... foul language and expletives filled the air... unfortunate! However, I decided not to be judgmental and gritted my teeth hoping my 4 year old grandson didn't hear or repeat any of the words-after all it was lovely to see families enjoying the sun.

We continued on and enjoyed our trip to the abbey. On the way back-at about 4-30pm the amphitheatre had cleared and was quiet again. Imagine my horror when I approached the scene above. No family... but every item of picnic rubbish left exactly where they had dropped it. I was furious and at the same time incredulous! If you appreciate a place for its beauty and visit it, why would you leave such a horrible mess? Once again I despaired of my fellow townsfolk!

I posted on Facebook about this and the response was overwhelming. Everyone deplored it-everyone taught their children to pick up rubbish, a range of names was used to describe the culprits and generally suggestions for punishment ranged from the cane to tazering!

So what is happening to society? Surely everyone can appreciate a tidy clean environment? I cannot imagine how anyone can stand up and walk away from empty pop bottles, litter and other rubbish without shame, embarrassment or guilt! So where is it going wrong? What can we do to remediate this? Some suggest more education-schools are already overwhelmed. Others suggest penalties-fines and the like...but you have to catch people first. Then there is the litter pick idea-which we will have to resort to-but then that is devolving responsibility to others who are not to blame for the mess in the first place. Its quite sad that people cant see the value of caring for the countryside. SO next time you see someone littering-shout at them! I will!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Lets educate the embryos

Oh dear... just when I thought I could be positive and blog nicely- Mr Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw comes out of the woodwork and announces that pre-school education is failing the poorest children in the UK. He goes on to say that pre-schoolers are unprepared for school, have poor language and can't hold a pen properly...oh and they can't identify numbers!

Dreadful isn't it? Or is it? What exactly does this mean? The assumption that most poor children are badly served by pre school education is a little bit simplistic. We are assuming that the lack of preparedness is all down to the provision... of course lack of stimulation and support at home might have a teeny bit to do with it... or lack of opportunity from financial limits within the home... or parents who have never had adequate role models as children themselves-so perpetuating the issues above. Admittedly, these issues need addressing but its the parents who need the help as much as the children-and we did have something called Surestart for this didn't we?

Moving swiftly on-wouldn't want this to become political... are we wishing to eradicate childhood completely? We are seriously talking about formal education from two years are we? With testing and assessment no doubt? I feel that we are forgetting those children who are not ready-or are immature. I have varying views on pre school-mainly drawn from experience with my own children and grand children and from my teaching career. Certainly, there is a place for it and many parents have to rely upon early years provision because they work, but should we be forcing toddlers into formal learning? Whatever happened to experiential child centred learning? Oh I forgot...Mr Gove happened! My three children all nurtured in exactly the same way produced three very different responses to nursery and Reception education.

Number 1 son- was shy, quiet and lacking in confidence-not great at socialising. We lived in the East End of London and in a multi cultural multi ethnic environment. He began nursery at 3. He took to it like a duck to water. He enjoyed it, interacted, learned to be sociable, grew in confidence and when Son number 2 arrived two weeks after his 3rd birthday he relished the time away and never missed. He struggled in Reception but then fond his feet higher up the school and is now a communicator and journalist. So one point in favour of pre-school education.

Number 2 son-was outgoing, boisterous, inquisitive and demanding-we moved back north to a lovely local pre-school, rural setting not much diversity. I had to drag him kicking and screaming every single day. Socially he was fine, educationally a kinaesthetic learner, a bit of a disparity between verbal learning and written-but hated every moment of pre-school-indeed only really enjoyed school at Sixth Form level. He was found to have dyslexic tendencies at age 17-always seemed to under achieve-until University and then came out with a good 2:1-like his brother.

Daughter-late addition-went to pre-school at 2.5years. Loved everything, confident, quick, read at 3, counted added, subtracted by 4-a natural! Socialised well and enjoyed her time. Now at University in 2nd year Journalism degree.

I can't account for any of these reactions-we did the same things with each, they all had opportunities and child centred provision-but had either of the boys been channelled into a regime of formalised learning we would probably have lost them. Its all a matter of readiness individually and remember these children are very young-plus each cohort has a wide year age difference so why would we expect them to have the same bench marks and achievements? I realise my children had the advantages many are not lucky enough to have-but the variety of maturity and readiness is immense without the socio-economic problems many are beset by. Many have never eve learned to play and to experience things-they haven't been read to, or played with-Wilshaw is correct in this-but surely the problem must first lie with remediating the parents? Surely much of the input in early years must be their job not pre-schools and minders? Some of these parents are products of the exact same issues their children are experiencing and the pattern of inadequate parenting must be addressed by educating the parents-not formalising pre-school education.

I have grave doubts that Mr Wilshaw has even considered talking to the many excellent professionals who lead Early Years. Let them take the lead-I don't oppose nursery and pre-school education but please let it be child-centred rather than data driven and formal! I don't want my grandchildren processed like meat in a sausage factory-I want a safe, inspiring, interesting environment for them to play, experience , experiment and enjoy-let early years education have some of that old sparkle and magic-a little bit of awe and wonder. Or is that too much to ask? Perhaps we ought to hothouse babies as they leave the womb and get them working... and then there's the embryos....
                                          Creative and imaginative outdoor play Early Years

Sunday, 30 March 2014

I love it when a plan comes together

It has taken almost two years for the return of the Furness Abbey crosier and ring to be achieved. Now after a lot of work and collaboration we are basking in the success of the venture.

In 2010 a unique and internationally significant burial was found. The fully articulated skeleton was found with two rare artefacts-a crosier and a ring. From the first moment I knew of this (and I was rather lucky to hear of it-my son was an archaeologist at the abbey when the find was discovered) I knew it had to be important for the abbey. I and many others waited to hear what would happen to these amazing items and it sparked a conversation with the late Alice Leach. We met at a lecture on Jocelin of Furness and had discussed the seeming decline of the abbey and our concerns around that. Alice in her time had been very involved with Furness Abbey, had written books about it and was latterly studying the Coucher Books. We had a lot in common, both teachers, both writers and both with an abiding passion for the abbey.

We had conversations with English Heritage and pressed our issues about the lack lustre appearance of the abbey as a visitor attraction. The response initially was a little lukewarm but we came away with plans to set up a "friends" group to attempt some sort of partnership. Amazingly, the structure of English Heritage was changed almost immediately and there appeared to be a sea change in attitude and approachability. A Channel 4 News report (my other son was the producer on this piece) put the discovery of the crosier on the map and this gave us the focus we needed. We had our first meeting in March 2012 and set up the Furness Abbey Fellowship. Alice unfortunately, decided she would be unable to continue with FAF and wanted to concentrate on the Coucher books and the Civic Society of which she was Chairman. Sadly, she passed away in January this year.

From then on we forged a relationship with English Heritage and began working to raise funds and develop ideas to draw in more visitors to the abbey. We were concerned that the visitor numbers were low and one of the aims was to raise these and extend the publicity and reach of the Abbey, hopefully attracting people from outside the area and well increasing local traffic.

With the advent of the Medieval Fair last year we knew we had broken the back of the problem. The numbers who came to the fair and to see the crosier in situ encouraged us and we set off an appeal to raise funds for the special cabinet required to house the crosier permanently at the abbey.

However, none of us truly believed we would achieve this so quickly, but we have to thank the intervention of EH for this. They showed great belief in us and organised the creation of the box and the display to be ready in time for the new season.

It totally exceeds our expectations and we are delighted with the results. I believe the crosier has been found for a reason. Call it divine intervention, fate or whatever you like-but its discovery has come at just the right time. It can and will provide focus and attention to the abbey and will raise the profile. This can and must be capitalised upon. We will not rest upon our laurels now. In fact we will be regrouping and moving forward in our efforts to raise the level of the abbey, working in partnership with EH and the wider community. We do hope that everyone will continue to support us and even though it was an extravagant remark I made on Thursday- I actually DO believe we can become -if not a World Heritage site- a significant Heritage site which will attract visitors world wide!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Crosier's coming home!

Short and sweet this week-two items:

1. TV debut....BBC North West Tonight last Friday-30 seconds-re training John Woodcock as a Teaching Assistant to give him the necessary credentials to lead a fantastic 3 week summer school in Barrow in the holidays. Our company New Horizons Education Ltd is proud to support him and will do all we can to help him complete this weighty course in good time and as painlessly as possible! Well done John-can you now suggest that Mr Gove does the same? But unfortunately if he asks-I have NO places free for him! See...

2. The crosier is returning to Furness Abbey and will be on show from 1 April 2014! And this is NOT an April Fool! It really is coming home! The brand new bespoke cabinet is ready to be installed and to house the magnificent artefacts and it will be a huge draw to attract people to visit Furness Abbey. Furness Abbey Fellowship have worked very hard to raise the funds for this and are almost at the target of £6000. If you would like to donate please follow the link on the website below.


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Boudicca rides again!

There has not been much blogging going on over here recently. To say I have been busy is an understatement. It hasn't been all work either-no- I have added yet another campaign to my timetable. This one is even more consuming than the others and totally unexpected and unwanted. I had a premonition last year when the government decided in their wisdom to loosen the red tape on the planning regulations fro green field sites. It was not pleasant and I worried that some of our lovely local countryside would vanish under a sea of houses and concrete. However I did not imagine that this would be proposed so close to our beloved Furness Abbey.

I seem to be turning into a cross between Boudicca and Emmeline Pankhurst as I get older and I am not altogether pleased with the effect! I can't help myself -if I see injustice, suffering or liberty threatened I'm on my soapbox rallying the troops! Maybe it's an age thing-or maybe I realise now that if you are the silent majority you are unable to influence anything and it's no good moaning after the deed is done.
So what's the problem you might ask? Well a not so local developer called Story Homes of Carlisle has begun a speculative development in a field just a stone's throw from Furness Abbey. The plan is to build 50 houses on the field on Manor Road-the main approach to the abbey and within the conservation area. You might think-well in a conservation area they won't be able to do this...maybe once over-but not now with deregulation. You only have to look at the plight of Oswestry Hill Fort-an iron age fort-"Oswestry Hillfort is one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation." English Heritage"
Has this stopped the developers-not on your nelly! It matters not that this is a hugely important historic site-nor does it seem to matter to Shropshire Council who have granted planning permission on the foothills of the site. Can you imagine this happening in the USA? Or any other country with any sense?

Our plight is not dissimilar. Furness Abbey is a hugely significant historic site-in fact even Henry Vlll knew exactly how important it was-as he made it the first large abbey to be dissolved. So within 200 yards there is a field-agricultural land undisturbed and not of great note at first appraisal. But look closer and there is a Grade 1 listed precinct wall and the West Gate...rather too close for a modern housing estate to be built on it. Next we have a river-which overflows-often and flows into an underground channel beneath the road and into the abbey. Two years ago this stream broke its bank and flowed over the road creating a swimming pool in the cloister.

Mill Beck full to brimming 2012 (S Hillman)

                                           A flooded cloister-from Mill Beck 2012 (S Priss)

If the building is allowed to go ahead the idea the developer has put forward to offset any future flooding arising from the excess water from a built environment is to provide a 30 foot pond to act as a sump to drain the estate. The excess will then be diverted into Mill Beck. Now the above flood happened without 50 houses above the valley-so what can we expect if this goes ahead? A Cistercian Atlantis?

The plans a re ludicrous and one of the issues apart from flooding is the effect on the aesthetic approach to the abbey-which will damage the visitor experience massively. Then the placing of homes-and people so close to a delicate Grade 1 listed wall and arch is a disaster waiting to happen. The developer will not be able to guarantee the safety and preservation of either wall or environment once the houses are sold-and any damage done will be irreversible. We can only hope that the Barrow Borough Council Planning Department, English Heritage and the Environment Agency will see the folly in this and help to reverse it.

 Manor Road

Furness Abbey is the major visitor attraction in the area apart from the Dock Museum-and of course is more significant historically. With the work that the local Furness Abbey Fellowship have done alongside EH it would be foolhardy and destructive to allow this to happen-particularly as the prize of the century is returning soon to the abbey-the crosier and ring. These amazingly important artefacts will be the jewel in the crown of Barrow and Dalton's heritage and could with some more work be a boost to the local economy through visitors and tourism. 

If you want to support our efforts to stop this thoughtless and reckless idea please visit the website, twitter and Facebook below: and sign the petition

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Changes... and that Gove fella!

Happy 2014! Well not a terribly auspicious start to 2014 due to a range of issues I had no control over! Possibly this is a major defect in me-lack of control over everything? But I do like to be able to guide the car I am sitting in as I plunge over the precipice-call me old fashioned but I like things to be clear and positive and have a bit of a melt down when they're not!

That said, a number of close friends have had a dreadful start to the year with awfully sad losses of family members, some whose natural time to die had not arrived yet. So I took the time to list all the things which I am grateful for and gave myself a thump and got a grip. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Reinhold Niebuhr" That said it doesn't stop me from blowing a gasket about our friend Gove! Yes he has been at it again- spouting his unimaginative and reactionary drivel! This time its about World War 1 and Blackadder! He appears to believe that artistic interpretation is all wrong and gives people the wrong impression! So pardon me...did not millions die for no good reason? Was Blackadder goes forth not the most ironic and subtle version you have ever seen of going over the top? I think the rapid switch between the comedy and the pathos in the final scene is the most evocative I have seen and it illustrated in simple visual terms how awful and final it all was. I am afraid I did use Blackadder. But I also used "All quiet on the Western Front",the War poets (who were actually there) Pathe News, War diaries, Commonwealth Graves Commission and oral history...I believe you can glean a better view of history if you look at everyone's viewpoint-but that might be just me! As for it being a just war...well I don't think so- It was about imperialism and our response to it. And although the Alan Clarke statement about "lions led by donkeys" might not be the whole story-the generals did not show a massive understanding of modern warfare and technology and many men were lost unnecessarily and with very little thought. This man is so tunnel-visioned its scary! How he ever managed to inveigle his way into directing our children's education I don't know! But if he manages to present his twisted and perverted interpretation it will skew history completely. I can only pray that this government sacks him or he is hit by a bolt out of the blue before he does too much damage. I hope that his attitude is not allowed to taint the memory of my Granddad and his brothers who served in this atrocious war along with many others.  
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.


Monday, 9 December 2013

At the setting of the sun...

December has been a sad month-not least because it marked the passing of a giant of humanity-Nelson Mandela, but because of losses closer to home. It always seems more poignant when there is a loss at this time of year-because Christmas is significantly a time for family and reflection. We lost a very close and dear friend to the scourge that is cancer and we will miss him deeply. His family will have a huge mountain to climb until they can come to terms with his passing and I don't envy them that restlessness and frustration that accompanies grief. The outlet for that is often action and I have a number of friends who have throw themselves into physical activity for charity or set out on a massive campaign to help beat cancer/heart/disability. Its a positive reaction to loss, but care must be taken to grieve properly at the same time. I know only too well that racing around to avoid confronting your grief can be detrimental...and it will get you in the end-when you least expect it!

Life should be lived as though each day was your last-packing every minute with something worthwhile. My Dad used to say every day he woke up was a bonus and he wrung every drop of life out of each day, never regretted anything and had a positive approach to life...and death!