Monthly Archives: September 2011


microsoft donations

Rory, who is leading a national campaign for rural broadband, has applauded donations of software by industry giant Microsoft to charities in the region. The local MP said, “what matters is that in addition to installing broadband, we get the best possible use from it. Local charities can derive huge benefits from technology. Microsoft committed in a meeting I held with them in parliament two months ago to do more for Cumbria. I hope this is just the beginning.”

Rory said: “Charities – particularly smaller, local ones, for whom every single penny counts – need all the help they can get. This is a brilliant initiative that is simple, practical and effective. Particularly now, with the prospect of superfast broadband for all becoming a reality, we need to ensure that our strong voluntary sector is not left behind. However small your charity might be, do please take advantage of this great package of support.”

Working alongside the Charity Technology Trust (Registered Charity No.1073954) through their Charity Technology Exchange service, Microsoft is one of a growing number of technology companies who make donations of their products to the voluntary sector. It currently offers eligible organisations up to ten titles, including our most popular software packages such as Microsoft Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010 for example. Organisations can receive up to 50 licences of each title every two year period. Donations include free upgrades for two years and access to a range of e-learning resources.  Not all charities are eligible, but the majority are, and there are no limits on the number of organisations who can receive a donation.  Grantees pay a nominal administrative fee to the Charity Technology Exchange, which supports the running of the services.

Since the launch of this programme in 2006, Microsoft have supported over 6700 UK charities, donating software with a retail value of more than £50 million. In Penrith and the Border, beneficiaries have included Eden Mind Limited, Eden Carers, Eden Mencap Society, East Cumbria Family Support Association, Eden Youth Work Partnership, Eden Community Outdoors Ltd, Appleby Heritage Centre, Prism Arts, Chrysalis (Cumbria) Ltd and the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society. In addition to software donations, Microsoft also supports initiatives to provide affordable computer hardware, free IT skills training resources, access to skilled IT volunteers and general advice and guidance on technology for charities.

If you would like more information about these programmes or have charities in your constituency you would like to recommend, please visit here.


cumbrian charities

Rory convened and chaired a meeting on Friday 16th last week to champion the interests of smaller Cumbrian Charities. He brought together a cross-section of local charity representatives, third-sector umbrella organisations, and County Council representatives to discuss the challenges being faced by smaller charitable and voluntary organisations in tendering and bidding for council services. The objective was to make it easier for small charities to compete with large well-funded national charities, who often in the MP’s words “win by having too many professional grant and proposal writers in their head offices.” Local charities “may be less practiced at proposal writing but they have all the local knowledge and relationships and commitment, which are so essential.”

Attendees at the event, which was kindly hosted by Eden Mencap in Penrith’s Little Dockray, included County Councillor Oliver Pearson, Cabinet Member for Communities; Alan Ratcliffe, Assistant Director of Organisational Development at Cumbria County Council; Andy Beeforth of Cumbria Community Foundation; Jacqui Taylor of Eden Mencap; Mike Muir of Impact Housing; Pam Hutton of East Cumbria Family Support; Sheila Thompson of Hospice at Home; and Chris Mitchell of Eden Carers.

Rory, who wrote recently on the need for recognition of the incredible value that local organisations bring to their communities (read here), said that the meeting had been a success and a major step forward in thinking more flexibly around how small charities can be “engaged in the tendering process, rather than defeated by it”.

He said: “Giant ‘third-sector organisations’ are competing against our own home-grown organisations, such as Eden Mencap, East Cumbria Family Support and Chrysalis. These big national charities have strengths (professional management, economies of scale, skills and good track records) but this is not why they consistently win contracts: they generally win because they are richer and more powerful.  Instead, we need to be rewarding local knowledge and experience, rather than hyper-polished proposals. Following this extremely useful meeting we will form a small but – hopefully – effective informal steering group to take the needs of Cumbria’s network of small charities to Whitehall, and to urge Ministers to foster a sense of flexibility around procurement, look at practical measures that we can take to protect local charities, and the commitments we need that we will not lose our local providers.”

Rory will form an informal think-tank to lobby Ministers and encourage practical solutions from Whitehall.


olympic ‘school games’

Rory is calling on all schools in Penrith and the Border to sign up to the School Games programme, which aims to boost the existing network of school sports to create a year-round calendar of competition for pupils of all abilities in the lead up to next year’s Olympic Games. The inaugural national finals will take place in the Olympic Park in May 2012.

Many schools in the north-west have already signed up to the programme, meaning that talented athletes from Penrith and the Border’s schools can set their sights on being amongst the first to compete in the main 2012 venues next year. Schools that have already signed up to the programme include Thomlinson Junior School in Wigton, Warcop CoE Primary School, Lazonby CoE School, Samuel King’s in Alston, Castle Carrock School, Kirkby Stephen Grammar School and William Howard School in Brampton.

Rory said: “We want as many schools as possible to be taking part. The Olympics are a milestone for all of Britain, and not just for London: the Games are a symbol of competition, but also – as the Prime Minister said – provide an opportunity for Britain to show the world what we can offer in terms of sport, culture and tourism. It’s really important that we all feel involved in the run up to next year’s event, which promises to be an outstanding once-in-a-lifetime moment for the UK. Please do get involved in the School Games by visiting here and the very best of luck to you all!”


the boundary commission

The Boundary Commission has placed its chisel into the High Street ridge, where the Roman Road falls to Troutbeck, and struck it with a hammer, shattering the county like a piece of Skiddaw slate.  One long crack now runs towards the coast, another North to Carlisle, another South to Arnside – making a rent in our soil fifty miles long, that splits Cumbria, its constituencies and its communities.

There are many more natural ways of dividing the county. The ridge-lines, the rivers and the watersheds separate the fellside from the Lakes, the coast from the inland, the hills from the plain. The ancient boundaries of Cumberland and Westmorland follow those lines: and so too have our constituencies for nearly a thousand years. The boundaries between the constituencies of Westmorland and Lonsdale, Barrow, and Copeland, for example, reflect the ancient edge of Cumberland and Lancashire. Penrith and the Border’s Northern line is the exact frontier of the “Wardens of the Western March” in the early Middle Ages. Its East is formed by the Pennines, its West by Helvellyn and Blencathra, the South by the Shap fells and the Howgills, and through the centre of it – like a red sandstone lining trimmed with limestone – runs the Eden. The geography is so complete that from Wild Boar Fell at Mallerstang, or Hartside pass above Alston, you can see the whole 1,200 square miles of the constituency and nothing else. There are ways of creating natural communities within the Boundary Commission rules (they want equal populations and five constituencies): you could group Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport; keep districts for Carlisle and Barrow, while still retaining two rural constituencies.

But this is not what has happened. In the hallucinatory scratchings of the Boundary Commission, Morecambe Bay, on the edge of Lancashire, is now combined with Nenthead, on the high Northumbrian border; and Windermere with Whitehaven, over the Hardknott pass. The central rent runs downwards, like a virtual Wall, cutting the western edge of Carlisle, Penrith and Kendal, dividing Central Cumbria’s communities from their neighbours, and linking them with places with which they have little in common: Carlisle racecourse is torn from Carlisle and attached to Workington; Rheged is ripped from Penrith, tied to Maryport. The Kendal by-pass is transferred from Kendal to Whitehaven.

Does this matter? Does this matter in a global ‘interconnected’ world which makes geography and cultural identity seem somehow irrelevant? Yes, because underlying the boundaries of Cumbria are human constituencies with separate needs. Demands can be the same from Barrow to Dufton, or indeed from Woking to Inverness. But in the debate on upland farming policy, or unemployment, the perspectives of Cumbrians are not the same. The needs of our communities can be unique, even in Cumbria. Penrith and the Border reads like an entry from the Guinness Book of Records – containing the most sparsely populated district in the most sparsely populated constituency in England, with more self-employed people than any other constituency in Britain: by very definition these are features which other constituencies cannot share. Consider also the interests of Sellafield and nuclear industry.

Such issues need to be represented in London, but they are issues which people in London rarely understand. The vast majority of Britain’s MPs serve constituencies in the South. Even those with farms also tend to have large towns and suburbs, and little incentive or opportunity to focus on the countryside. Little wonder that I have ended up as chair or officer of four All Party Parliamentary Groups: on Mountain Rescue, rural parishes, upland farming, and rural services; and that there are usually only a couple of other MPs at the meetings; or that it is the same small group of rural MPs who back other work on sparsely populated areas – such as rural broadband, or mobile coverage. It is not always easy to get things done if most MPs are indifferent and if you need to fight against government policy with all its mass and momentum and party whipping.

If, therefore, Cumbria’s few MPs have succeeded in defending Cumbria’s corner, it is generally because they have specialised not just in Cumbria but in their specific part of Cumbria. The West Cumberland hospital was saved by West Cumbrian MPs; Lakes and Fellside Cumbrian MPs fought for the uplands, for the community hospitals of Penrith and Alston, and for farmers in the face of foot and mouth. It will dissipate that focus if a colleague – whose experience, vocation, voters and inclination has led him to fight against urban poverty in Whitehaven – now finds himself responsible also for the shops of Ambleside. And in the new proposed Workington constituency, the needs of the different communities, jammed into one, are so radically different that the life expectancy is twenty years longer in the East at Greystoke, than it is in the West in Maryport.

Politics derives its energy from the demands of very specific communities. It is not policy-papers but farm-visits which show MPs the problems of under-stocking on fells: it is a neighbour with Parkinsons, not a You-Tube presentation, which convinces an MP to fight for broadband video-links between rural hospitals. And the reason why we have a voting system which relies on constituencies defined by local areas (rather than proportional representation) is precisely to amplify the spirit of place and to allow local areas their own influence in parliament.

MPs work well when constituencies work; and constituencies work when communities act together. The Boundary Commission’s severed stumps, sown together with coarse thread, create doubly divided monsters: lumping separate communities, and separating unified communities.  We now have an opportunity to appeal.  Let us hope we can convince the Boundary Commission to reconsider because there will still be many occasions when, in our different ways, on different issues, Cumbrian valleys need to echo with a strong, clear voice.



Video-link between penrith and alston community hospitals

Rory will switch on the new video-link between Penrith and Alston community hospitals this Friday at Penrith Hospital. These state-of-the-art video-conferencing facilities will transform the way in which local patients obtain diagnoses and interact with their GP.

Rory will join Dr Chris Hallewell, Medical Director for Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (responsible for all community hospitals in Cumbria) Dr Craig Melrose, Medical Director for Cumbria Health on Call (CHOC), and members of Alston’s Cybermoor, who have been instrumental delivering the project. Representatives from Cybermoor and CHOC will demonstrate how the video link works with a video diagnosis between CHOC and Alston Hospital.

Rory said: “This video-link is the beginning of a revolution. It’s a brilliant example of why superfast broadband is so important to our rural communities. The video link will drastically reduce the time that patients and doctors spend travelling, giving patients and their families a much better quality of life and helping doctors to cut costs and improve care at the same time. I’m really excited to be involved but this wouldn’t have happened without Daniel Herry of Alston Healthcare and I would like to pay a special tribute to him.”

Meanwhile, Virgin Media Business announced that fifteen stroke specialist doctors across the North West will begin using video conferencing technology to assess out-of-hours patients directly from their homes. In addition to huge patient benefits, the project is expected to save the NHS over £8 million a year.

Rory said: “Over 4,000 people suffer a stroke in Cumbria and Lancashire each year. The Virgin Media Business network will give stroke victims even quicker access to the very best specialists at all times of day and night. Superfast broadband is revolutionising the delivery of healthcare and I’m really keen to see Cumbria make the most of these technologies.”

rose castle

In just under 2 weeks the Church Commissioners’ Assets Committee who are responsible for the finances of the Church of England, are meeting to discuss the future of Rose Castle which they own. This very beautiful house set in the rolling English countryside south of Carlisle was decommissioned as a Bishops Palace, but it represents 800 years of Cumbrian heritage.

In order to help preserve this House and garden please sign the online petition here.

wigton youth

Rory has met with some of the organisers of Wigton’s ‘Something for the Summer’ event, a music and arts festival organised by and for local young people at the Wigton Market Hall.

‘Something for the Summer’, which takes place on September 17th, will be a day-long event including local bands, entertainment and a community-run barbecue. It has developed from the Your Square Mile event that was held in Wigton earlier this year, at which young people identified a need to be more involved in community events. A steering group of ten young people emerged to organise the event. They have since liaised with the local police regarding safety issues, obtained
sponsorship from local businesses, including Innovia, and national schemes such as O2 ‘Think Big’, presented to school assemblies, and arranged all the event’s logistics.

Rory, pictured with Harley Young and Sam Massey, both youth and community workers from the Wigton Youth Station, and Abbie Rear, a local young resident of Wigton who is involved in the steering group, said: “Young people should always have a say in the shaping of their communities. This year has seen some important milestones in youth work, including of course the launch of National Citizen Service, with its strong emphasis on community involvement and social action. It’s wonderful to know that the youth of Wigton have really taken the initiative to create this important event, which will draw together young people, their families, local businesses, and voluntary organisations. It’s a real pleasure to support Something for the Summer, and I’m enormously impressed at how brilliantly they have organised this. I hope it’s an event in Wigton that is here to stay.”



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less is more: libya

Tripoli has fallen since the last issue of the Herald. And an ‘intervention’, which was never quite an intervention, is ending. It was never popular outside Libya: many felt it was a distraction and a waste of money. Few predicted that Tripoli would fall so easily. And the aftermath seemed doomed to chaos. But instead, it has worked.  Britain and its allies played a decisive role: their air-strikes made it possible to topple Gaddafi. But Britain was not sucked into putting troops on the ground, and no British lives were lost. Most Libyans seem, at the moment, delighted with the result. The supporters of the intervention feel justifiably vindicated.

Revolutions, however, are powerful and bewildering moments that call, violently, into question all that a people assume about their state, their culture and their national identity. Could anyone have predicted the course of the Libyan revolution? Would there not be anarchy after Gaddafi? Would commanders, who had fought alongside terrorist groups in Afghanistan, refuse orders from their secular superiors? Would militias appear outside hospitals, offering ‘security’, and then force out doctors, accusing them of being Gaddafi loyalists? Or would armed teenagers rob cars at road-blocks? Would tribes loyal to Gaddafi kill to save the land he had given them, or gangsters kill to take it from them? Could the newborn government of professors and exiles, lacking experience, ruthlessness or a popular mandate, cope? Would forty-two years of eccentric stability collapse into looting, enmity or civil war?  All this and worse happened in Iraq.

Instead, there are smiling faces among charred buildings. Families gather in the central square at one in the morning, to sing songs and eat popcorn. The shops and banks are opening. The teenagers at the road-blocks are scrupulously polite and are not robbing cars. There is very little looting. The Islamist commanders talk about tolerance and rejecting terrorism. There is surprisingly little bitterness so far about those who profited under Gaddafi, and little talk about revenge. People feel pleased at the moment to be Libyan and optimistic about their future.

Why? Many reasons are given for the difference from Iraq: that Libyans are simply more peaceful and laid-back; that it is a wealthier, more settled country; that Gaddafi’s regime was less bad than Saddam’s and did not inspire the same bitterness. Some credit the new government, or the mid-level bureaucracy. But if there had been looting and fighting, we would have heard the opposite. People would say that the Libyans were long considered the wildest tribe in the Roman Empire; that Gaddafi had not invested in education or most of the areas outside Tripoli; that he was a tyrant who had traumatised a nation; that the new government was completely out of touch; and that Gaddafi had deliberately destroyed the Libyan ‘state’.  In Britain too, we can easily find explanations in our national character, or our policies, or our living conditions, or our history – when people behave well (as after the July 7th bombings) or when (as more recently) people behave badly. Almost any human behavior can be explained away, but rarely in a satisfying way. I suspect even Libyans don’t fully understand why they reacted in the way that they did.

What matters now is that, for whatever reason, Libyans feel proud and elated: far more so than people seemed at a similar moment in the Balkans, or Iraq, or Afghanistan. They see the revolution as their achievement – not that of foreigners. They are conscious of the NATO support but they are not asking for teams of foreign advisers or assistance. The support they are most grateful for at the moment – particularly financial support – comes from other Middle Eastern countries, not from the West. Britain and its allies would now do well to keep their distance. This may be difficult.

Libya is still very fragile. If there is peace, it is not because of the new government, it is because the criminals and spoilers are staying at home. Policing is largely coming from ‘local committees': groups of armed men from neighbourhoods, from very young to very old, some connected to mosques, many not. Committees may not disarm, there may be fights between tribes. Islamists may become more powerful. There will be incompetence and corruption and human rights abuses. And a powerful international lobby will urge the West to ‘solve these problems’: to send thousands of consultants under the slogans of ‘state-building’ and ‘capacity-building’, or even to send our troops for ‘stabilisation’.  That we must resist. There is a real limit to how much the West knows about Libya, still less to how much we can do to fix fundamental structural problems if they emerge. Meanwhile, Libya is not a threat to its people or its neighbours. Too many Western ‘advisers’ risk making things worse: making the government appear like a foreign puppet; stirring Islamist resentment; raising expectations we cannot meet. We would soon be trapped by our guilt at lost lives, and deter Libyans from taking responsibility for their own future – to their detriment and ours. In Libya, as in much of the world, when it comes to foreign involvement: less is more.

kirkby stephen flower festival

Rory spent Saturday morning of the August bank Holiday in Kirkby Stephen, visiting the Flower Festival at Kirkby Stephen parish church, the Upper Eden Arts and Crafts Exhibition showcasing local talent at 18/20 Market Street, and the Stainmore 150 event, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Stainmore railway line. Guided by Ann Sandell, publicity officer of Kirkby Stephen town forum and active local member of the community, and Joan Johnstone, Chairman of Kirkby Stephen Town Council, Rory met and chatted with locals as he visited the town’s various events. At Kirkby Stephen East Heritage Centre Rory chatted with local residents and met the Chairman of Stainmore Railway Company Ltd, Mike Thompson, and took photographs of the steam trains departing from the newly refurbished station before circulating them on Twitter with a plea to ‘Visit Kirkby Stephen‘.

Rory said: “As ever, Kirkby Stephen’s residents have come together to organise the most wonderful weekend of events, bringing together the community in the best possible way. I’ve been incredibly impressed by the variety of displays in the church, and the wonderful lunch marquee organised by parishioners, friends and family. The Stainmore 150 celebrations have showcased the most extraordinary project; a community group that took over the derelict shell of Kirkby Stephen East’s station almost fifteen years ago, and who have since worked incredibly hard to develop this amazing heritage railway project that will be another major tourist draw for Kirkby Stephen. Many congratulations to all who have been involved and have worked so hard to make this weekend such a resounding success.”

Ann Sandell commented: “Kirkby Stephen were delighted to welcome Rory to the town as they took pride in celebrating 150 years since the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway was built and Kirkby Stephen East Heritage Centre returned to running steam trains for the first time in fifty years. The Parish Church celebrated the occasion with flowers, highlighting all the activities past and present that have so greatly influenced the lives and sustainability of Kirkby Stephen residents and visitors. Rory also experienced the wealth of local artistic talent on display at the Upper Eden Arts and Crafts Exhibition. This has been a whole weekend of events at various locations around the town organised and executed by an almost inexhaustible mass of volunteers.”

your square mile – wigton

Your Square Mile is a new national intiative aimed at reconnecting people with their communities and neighbourhoods.

Wigton was chosen as one of their 16 national pilot workshops and you can see the great progress that the project is making by clicking here.

For further information about the Your Square Mile Projects click here.