Monthly Archives: August 2011

Rory appears on Charlie Rose Tomorrow

Rory appeared on the acclaimed ‘Charlie Rose Tomorrow’ programme, and in a one-on-one interview he described his encounters with the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan.


building a national citizen service raft with David Cameron

After introducing the Prime Minister to some of the key players of the Eden Valley’s Big Society vanguard on his visit to Cumbria, Rory then spent the afternoon helping David Cameron to build a raft on the shores of Ullswater alongside a group of Warwickshire teenagers taking part in the government’s pilot National Citizen Service scheme. Mr Cameron’s visit to the Outward Bound Trust centre at Howtown, Ullswater was aimed to demonstrate the success of his National Citizen Service scheme – which he says will be essential to mending ‘Broken Britain’.

The Prime Minister and Rory sat and chatted with 16-year-olds who were taking part in the residential segment of the pilot scheme, and discussed their experiences of the pilot before planning how they were going to build their raft. The politicians changed out of their suits in readiness of the challenge, chatting and joking with the youngsters as they made the short walk down towards the lakeside – locals and tourists stopping in their tracks at the rare sight of their Prime Minister in the heart of the Lake District. They then built the raft from wooden poles and barrels, before Rory and the Prime Minister jointly pushed the raft into the lake – the Prime Minister knee-deep in water.

The Prime Minister said: “This is one of the things we need to do – we need to give young people these opportunities, bring them together in new ways and give them the skills to become good citizens. The National Citizen Service scheme does all of those things.”


He told the young people that raising their aspirations and instilling in them a sense of community was one key elements of the scheme and also expressed his hopes that the pilot would grow to 30,000 participants next year, an increase on the 10,000 young people taking part this year.

Rory said: “It’s been an extraordinary day, and one in which the Prime Minister has shown his real passion for National Citizen Service – a scheme that has at its heart a sense of duty and pride in the community. It has also been fantastic to spend so much time with him on a project that is so central to the aims of this government, particularly having pushed so hard for Cumbria to be a national rural pilot. Many detractors say that this might be a waste of money, and that is par for the course with any new initiative: but these young people are obviously having a really exciting, fulfilling time. This is a wonderful project to have been involved in, and I’m very proud of it.”

Cumbria has been one of twelve areas chosen to pilot the NCS scheme, the broad aims of which are to teach young people about teamwork and leadership, values, and the importance of being part of a community. Teenagers from local towns and cities are grouped with others they have never met before for the course, spending a week on a residential course at an Outward Bound centre, a second week in their home area, and a third phase of 30 hours of social action volunteering in their communities.  During this final week they also plan and pitch a community project which they will implement themselves over subsequent weekends.

Since the scheme began in Cumbria at the beginning of summer, initiatives have ranged from running a club to relieve summer holiday boredom for younger children in Carlisle to organising a dance event in Workington town centre. In Eden, students have worked with the Kirkby Thore Doorstep Green at the village’s Sanderson’s Croft development, where they spent time planting, pruning and weeding in the project’s green area.

William Ripley, Director of Learning and Adventure at the Outward Bound Trust, explained that everything they do with the young people has a deeper motive behind it: “It teaches that actions have consequences. When you build a raft, if you don’t build it properly it will fall apart and you will get wet. The young people we work with may be from the same community or even the same school, but have never met each other before. We mix them together then link them back to that community to embrace a community project.”




cameron in cumbria

The last time David Cameron came to Penrith and the Border, it was 48 hours before the 2010 election. Just before eleven o’clock, I was outside the Border Cod in Longtown. And then, in an instant, young special advisers were spilling from hire cars; plain-clothes policeman materialised behind bus-stops, ear-pieces crackling; and a giant purple ‘battle bus’ hove into view. Cameron came out into an explosion of camera flashes, weaving between tripods and microphones. We managed three sentences before he had collected his cod and worked his way back through the press and onto the bus, leaving me, and the gathering Longtown crowd, gazing at the high dark windows of the coach. I tried to talk to a group that came out of the Graham Arms. “We don’t want to talk to you”, they said. “We want to talk to him.” Since then, I’ve been trying to get him back for longer.

Our problems in Cumbria are the problems of his constituency writ large. He has 400 square miles and 100 villages; we have 1200 square miles and 200 villages. His is the largest constituency in the South: ours, the largest in England. He has been campaigning to save his village’s pub, pushing for faster rural broadband, and – notoriously – to implement more ‘Big Society’ initiatives. All of which – I keep telling him in speeches, in formal requests, and what seem innumerable conversations over cheese straws from Liverpool to Number 10 – means that he needs to see Penrith and the Border.

Last week, I reminded his Chief of Staff that Crosby Ravensworth had laid the foundation of the new affordable houses, and that the refurbished Butchers Arms (which hundreds of us had banded together to buy) was about to be finished this Wednesday. But the PM was dealing with the riots, and he has 650 other constituencies to think about. So I was surprised this Monday (when I had taken the opportunity of parliamentary recess to make a short trip to Washington DC, for a meeting with the US government) to get an e-mail in which the PM wondered whether he might turn up in Crosby in two days’ time. He wanted to be there for the opening of the pub, hear about the affordable housing, visit the new National Citizen Service pilot at the Outward Bound centre at Howtown, see Carlisle and, if he could, stay overnight and fit in a swim in Ullswater. I cancelled my meetings, booked a new flight and picked up the phone to Crosby Ravensworth, and Catherine, in the office, worked through the night to arrange all the visits.

I was not allowed – for security reasons – to tell anyone that the Prime Minister was coming. When I suggested to Joan that ‘a senior visitor’ might stop by on Wednesday, I heard that everyone from Crosby was due to be at a race meet at Carlisle. And when I wondered if the senior visitor could open the pub, David said, “Absolutely not: it’s a community project, and will be opened by the community. I don’t give a monkey’s who the visitor is. I don’t care if it’s the Prime Minister.” I drove straight from my last New York meeting to the airport, flew through the night, raced to Euston, just made the train to Oxenholme, and arrived in Crosby, still in my crumpled suit, ten minutes before the PM. David and the others from Crosby – kind to me as always with another last minute request – had turned up, with a ploughman’s lunch made by the Crosby Ravensworth Food Alliance. While the PM focused on his plum pie – he said he had failed “disastrously” to make plum pie that weekend – Libby told him about digging broadband trenches in Mallerstang, David explained how the community had begun 22 affordable houses across the road, Tom described the new neighbourhood plan for Upper Eden, and Cameron and Kitty explained how we had put together almost £300,000 to buy the pub. Gordon Nicolson unveiled his new housing plans, and showed how Eden District council had cut its deficit.

I saw the visit as a way of thanking the Prime Minister. These projects had come about because he had backed our bids to be national pilots. We won support for neighbourhood planning, housing and the pub because he made us a Big Society vanguard. Then as “a broadband pilot”, we had received more money per head for broadband than almost any county in England; and finally we had been made the pilot for National Citizen Service – which is why he and I built and launched a raft with students on Ullswater later that afternoon. This was his chance to actually see what he had supported: to meet the people, to look at the foundation stones, smell the fresh paint, and grasp how much had been achieved in a year, and how.

I don’t think he’ll forget David’s short speech: “I just wanted to remind you: you’re not opening the pub but we’ll let you open the bar”; nor will he forget standing with me up to our knees in Ullswater, hoping that our ‘lorryman’s hitch’ was going to hold the raft together and stop the children falling into the lake. I won’t forget his focus on the detail of the projects, or his smile as he looked across at Hellvellyn in the afternoon light. And I’m confident that, next time I assail him over a cheese straw, he won’t forget Cumbria.



prime minister visits eden valley’s big society vanguard

Rory was “honoured and delighted” to welcome Prime Minister David Cameron to the Eden village of Crosby Ravensworth yesterday, in a visit that saw the Prime Minister meet and chat with members of the Big Society vanguard project over a ploughman’s lunch provided by the Crosby Ravensworth Food Alliance at the newly refurbished community-owned pub, the Butcher‘s Arms.


The Prime Minister sat down to lunch with pub landlord Keith Taylor, Lyvennet Community Pub board members David Graham, Joan Raine, Cameron and Kitty Smith, and Steve Holroyd, and Tom Woof and Libby Bateman of the Upper Eden Community Plan to hear about the successes of the Big Society vanguard projects. He learned at first hand from Cameron Smith how the Lyvennet Community Pub Ltd had successfully raised almost £300,000 for the community purchase and refurbishment of the pub; from David Graham about Lyvennet Community Trust’s local affordable housing scheme, whose foundation stone has just been laid; Libby Bateman, who was also representing East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum, updated him on the advances in community rural broadband projects; and Tom Woof, leading on Upper Eden’s Neighbourhood Development Plan, explained how the group is helping to shape government planning policy and is one of the country’s most advanced and innovative neighbourhood planning pilots.

The Prime Minister declared himself “enormously impressed” at the successes of the vanguard, and celebrated the successful pub buy-out by formally opening the bar, and being the first to sign the visitor’s book. He personally thanked members of the Crosby Ravensworth Food Alliance for their contribution, and chatted with them about the sustainability of local food production.


 Rory said: “It was an enormous honour to welcome the Prime Minister to Crosby Ravensworth and to introduce him to some of the key local community members, who have made such incredible progress in the Big Society vanguard right here in the Eden Valley. The Prime Minister was obviously impressed by what he saw and heard. It’s wonderful to have had the opportunity to show him the tangible results of strong community action, and what it can achieve. He has seen how Cumbria and its rural communities are the true model of volunteerism, and how community aspirations can succeed against the odds. I hope this will be the beginning of a close relationship between the Prime Minister and Cumbria.”

The Prime Minister and Rory went on to visit the residential National Citizen Service pilot at Howtown Outward Bound centre at Ullswater before attending a reception in the evening at the Shepherd’s Inn and Auctioneer at Carlisle.





my favourite painting

Country Life have, this week, published a brief description of my favourite Painting – The Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Asano by Simone Martini. Martini portrays the resistance of the Virgin, the angel Gabriel moves towards her like a hawk, his damask plaid alive like a third wing behind him. I remember a sheet of flat gold,  the filigree columns and the metal blaze of the gothic arches and the etiolated elegance of the olive and the lillies. But above all it is the Lady turning away, drawing her cloak across her as though rejecting an importunate suitor.  So much was lost with the Renaissance.







Funding for cumbrians working in international development

Rory has committed to bring funding from the new Government’s new Global Poverty Action FUND (GPAF) to support charitable organisations in Penrith and the Border. The new fund, launched by Secretary of State for International Development, The Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, is designed to help smaller charities access funding from DFID in order to “save lives and do great things in the developing world.” Rory sees it as “an ideal opportunity for Cumbria”. The new scheme will give Cumbrian charities the chance to get new ideas off the ground and expand existing projects that are already achieving real results. Local charities with an interest in the developing world can obtain funding from either the Innovation Fund – for smaller organisations – or the Impact Fund, for charities with bigger ambitions.


Rory’s push for this funding is the latest stage in his campaign to support and promote Cumbrians working on global poverty, an interest he has maintained since he founded and ran his own charity in Afghanistan, Turquoise Mountain Foundation. His work with Cumbrian schools has gone from joining Ullswater Community College in a canoe in support of their project in Tanzania, to intervening to ensure that a container of educational equipment sent by Penrith’s Queen Elizabeth Grammar School to its partner school in Uganda was released by the Ugandan tax authorities. He has given lectures and book-signings in Cumbria in support of Save the Children, Oxfam and the Fair Trade Alliance. In the last month he has written a story in aid of Oxfam and a book for Amnesty International. (The story was for the travel compendium “OxTravels“ and was picked as Radio 4’s Book of the Week; all royalities went to Oxfam, and the story was launched with a book signing at Oxfam in Penrith. His book for Amnesty “Can Intervention Work” was published this month.


Rory said: “Cumbria has an extraordinary tradition of generosity and support for poor people all over the world. So many in Penrith and the Border who are already engaged in the developing world, whether as individuals, as charities, or as schools. I am determined to make those links stronger – particularly for schools – since I think these are great opportunities not just to help but also to learn about other people and other cultures. I am delighted that the government has made money available for small charities and I think Cumbria will benefit greatly from this new opportunity. I would be delighted to support any worthy initiative.”


Andrew Mitchell said: “Thanks to the GPAF, charities across Britain are already bringing hope to many people. For example, a charity from Cardiff have designed an all-terrain bicycle ambulance that can get to nearly 30,000 women and children in remote rural areas of Uganda. I’m delighted that Rory is helping to encourage all organisations, charities and others working on a not-for-profit basis in Cumbria to help people out of poverty.”


For more information please visit

cumbrian digital heroes


Rory has nominated the East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum for the national TalkTalk Digital
Heroes awards of 2011. The annual awards are run by TalkTalk in association with Citizens Online and with the support of Martha Lane Fox’s Race Online 2012, will be given to twelve winners voted for by the public, who are “outstanding individuals using the power of the internet to implement bright ideas which bring about positive social change.” There is a top prize of £10,000, and runner-up prizes of £5,000 and free broadband access for 12 months.

Rory said: “This is a year in which we have spearheaded some incredible developments in community broadband. The nation is looking to Cumbria as the national rural pilot that will demonstrate, through incredible community enterprise, how we can bring super-fast broadband to our most remote communities. Community broadband groups right here in Penrith and the Border, such as Eden Valley Digital and Northern Fells Broadband, are leading the way in shaping government policy on rural broadband. They are some of the most passionate, energetic, and able groups that I have encountered. For this reason I am delighted to nominate their umbrella organisation, East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum, led by Libby Bateman, as a Digital Hero 2011. The Forum’s work in improving Cumbrians’ lives through better broadband is ground-breaking, and will benefit Cumbria for generations to come. Groups such as these are the real heroes of the rural broadband revolution that we are witnessing.”

More information about the TalkTalk Digital Heroes awards can be found at


national pub campaign ‘follows cumbrian lead’

Rory has voiced his enthusiastic support to a Government review that will boost the number of local pubs nationally. Rory welcomed the announcement last week that, as part of its commitment to the Great British pub, the Government has launched a review of restrictive covenants, a legal clause that can be used to prevent community pubs re-opening as public houses following a sale. In just 5 years under the previous Government – between 2004 and 2009 – some 572 pubs are said to have been permanently lost following a sale with a restrictive covenant, potentially depriving thousands of regulars of an important community asset. He has called it “a triumph for Cumbrian pubs, which are leading the way in showing that community ownership is a viable option.”

Since election, Rory has campaigned tirelessly for the survival of pubs in his constituency, supporting the George and Dragon in Garrigill, the Butcher’s Arms in Crosby Ravensworth, and the Strickland Arms in Great Strickland, as well as offering advice to numerous other constituents who have approached him about saving their local. He has spoken in Parliament on the vital role played by pubs in our rural communities, and recently hosted a visit to Hesket Newmarket by the Plunkett Foundation to celebrate co-operatives week and encourage communities to investigate community ownership models.

Rory said: “Pubs are hubs of community life. They are as important to the local social scene as they are to the local economy here in remote Cumbria in particular. I am a share-holder of both the Old Crown in Hesket Newmarket and the Butcher’s Arms in Crosby Ravensworth, and consider it one of the best investments you can make in your community. But time is being called at too many of our ‘locals’, depriving people of treasured places to get together in the community. We are putting the people back in charge, giving them the power to step in and save their much-loved community assets. By reviewing this restrictive red tape we will enable people to use their collective powers to ensure that their locals remain local and continue to thrive at the heart of every community. This is a really exciting breakthrough, and shows also that we are committed to busting bureaucracy that hampers rural communities like ours.”