Monthly Archives: January 2014

Alston Community Ambulance: Success

Alston Ambulance Meeting


We have just had some fantastic news. The Alston Community Ambulance – the only one of its kind – which was threatened with abolition, has been saved. This marks the culmination of two and a half years of intensive meetings and negotiations. I am writing in a snowstorm on Alston Moor, which emphasises – with every snowflake on the road – why the Alston Ambulance is so necessary.

The real credit lies with Dr Malcolm Forster and his team in Alston, who have patiently put together a series of proposals on how to make the community ambulance work. They have been supported throughout however, by a fantastic level of energy and commitment from the local community, which culminated in tonight’s meeting at Samuel King’s School. There was a turn-out of over 350 people in the snow, out of a population of seven hundred, showing how important this is.

A huge thanks must also go to the Northwest Ambulance Service and NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, who between them, overcame some very difficult challenges, to support our unique Alston model.The Alston Community Ambulance serves the highest market town in England. It is one of the most isolated and sparsely populated areas in the country, and is frequently cut off by snow on the Hartside Pass, which climbs to a height of 1904 ft. As a result, Alston has always had to find specialised ways of coping; it has the smallest secondary school in England,  a community run snow plough, and its own innovative community broadband scheme.

The ambulance relies on volunteer drivers and volunteer medical responders, to respond to emergencies, meeting other medical services (e.g. the Air Ambulance), and in so doing dramatically reduces response times and saves lives. It has been a real challenge to sustain this model. New regulation, introduced for understandable reasons, has made it difficult to resolve this problem, and it has taken many months of negotiations to decide on how to continue the service. Today however, it has all paid off. NWAS and Cumbria CCG have confirmed they will continue to support the ambulance on Alston Moor and will provide support and training for twelve volunteers, to allow them to man the vehicle.

This is another great example of community action at its best: both in running the community ambulance, and in fighting passionately to keep it. It also shows – as we have found before – that if we make the right arguments and keep pushing, we can solve even the most knotty of problems.

Thank you again to everyone who has offered their help and support on this over the past two and a half years.


Rory has greeted today’s news that Cumbria County Council has abandoned its plans to remove fire appliances from stations across Cumbria, including Penrith, as a ‘community triumph’, and has paid tribute to the thousands of constituents who have supported the campaign to retain Penrith station’s second appliance. 
The news comes soon after Rory joined hundreds of local residents to march through Penrith’s town centre, led by retained fire fighter Dawn Coates. Local campaigners marched from Middlegate to the Corn Market bandstand, where volunteers were standing by to gather further signatures for their petition – already signed by thousands – and to inform local residents how to contact those councillors responsible for deciding the future of Cumbria’s Fire and Rescue Services. It seems that the community’s lobbying activities have paid off.
Rory Stewart MP speaking today said: “I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that following this morning’s Cabinet meeting, recommendations have been made to save all of Cumbria’s threatened fire appliances, and to make savings elsewhere. Thousands of Cumbrians have argued, lobbied and demonstrated for the retention of our appliances, and have worked hard to prove that savings can and should be made. The public support for our engines has been emphatic. Those members of the public who have really gone that extra mile to make their opinions known, and who joined me on the streets of Penrith to express their support, should be very proud that their voices have been heard. We have reinforced an important message: that where savings can be made, and where local knowledge and expertise can evidence such savings, we can all co-operate to find solutions for our communities. Today’s news is resounding proof of the importance of that message.”


Swindale – What future for our landscape?

Steve was repairing a dry stone wall. It was almost eight feet high. I suggested it was unnecessarily high. He agreed that a sheep did not need a wall so high, and did not offer a theory on why it was so high. But he implied that whoever built it must have had their reasons. He was a sheep-farmers’ son; his passion was walling.

As we talked, Steve worked through a large pile of stones, fallen from the wall. He would stop, stoop, hold a slab, bounce it in his hands, as though to test its weight and edges, and then advance on the wall. It was not quite a jigsaw puzzle. He did not reassemble them exactly as they had been; nor spend three minutes looking for the perfect place. A stone could go in a number of places, what mattered was the overall design and direction. He moved steadily, placing it seemed, about three stones a minute on the top of the wall. But equally, he was not taking everything. I offered what I thought was a plausible stone – a neat thin rectangle.

“That’s a bit too tall…Might go in. Will have to go in like that.” He placed it narrow side out, so that it stood on its edge, and stretched half way through the wall. “I don’t like doing that. It’s called a soldier that one, when they’re stood up straight.”

“And you don’t like them?

“Not really no.”

“What’s wrong with them?

“It doesn’t quite look right to me but anyway…” He laughed.

“How much can you build in a day?”

‘A good drystone waller can build four meters in a day. A bad waller can build six.”

In Swindale, the drystone walls were now little more than abstract sculptures. For there were no sheep to be seen. As early as 1580, there were eighty people in the valley, a church, and a school. It was a remote parish – there was once a famous disagreement when the church bells rang about whether it was Sunday, finally resolved by the vicar’s naked assertion of authority.

The valley was now owned by United Utilities, the water company, which was in turn, it seemed, owned by a hedge-fund in New York. The tenant was now the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I was shown the adjoining land by officers from UU and the RSPB. Both men were in neat hiking gear: fit, smiling – I might have taken them for canoe instructors.  They wanted to show me how they had managed the land, in a way that ‘increased biodiversity, decreased flooding, increased carbon capture.’

“We don’t believe,’ one said, ‘that there is any contradiction between good environmental practice and farming. We believe in including farmers, and retaining sheep.”

They led me into a side-valley: rushes grew deep and tall along the bottom, on the slopes were great fields of bracken, and beyond them scrub trees, and higher, heather. Pollen samples suggested that bronze age people had cleared this land, and kept livestock on it.  The new approach seemed to be restoring a landscape which had not existed almost since the first human settlement. I could not see any sheep. They told me, however, that they had kept about one sheep for every four or five hectares. They showed me a section of eight hundred hectares, which was being planted as forestry. ‘How many sheep have you kept in that area?” I asked.


‘Are there areas in your plans, or the plans of the Lake District National Park, which have been designated to be preserved for dense sheep grazing?”

“Not as such. But we have nothing in principle against sheep-farming.”

They employed a contractor, on a one year annual contract, to look after their sheep and land. I suggested that densely-cropped green lawns – alongside the wilder fells – had been for almost two thousand years one of the beauties of the Lake District. A man on a one-year contract was not the same as a small family sheep farm, with generations of occupation and security of tenure. Small family farms were links to the past: the last traces of our indigenous population. I argued that if the Lake District became a wilderness reserve occupied by professionals from elsewhere, we would have lost something very precious. And, rather than bringing professionals in from other parts of Britain, we should be running training courses for local farmers to do the same job.

We talked at cross-purposes.  They replied by talking again about bio-diversity, water management, sustainability, and carbon capture. Farming for them seemed to be about employment, incomes, subsidies, and environmental impact assessments. I sensed that behind this dry language they had strong views on what they thought was right, and beautiful. I guessed that they loved the idea of a much wilder landscape, more packed with wet bogs, and bird populations; that they felt that farming and dense sheep-stocking were often destructive. They were careful not to say these things. But they did not seem comfortable engaging in a discussion about the history of the valley, about the traditions of small farms, or about the beauty of farmed land.

Swindale has always felt like a hidden miracle – a tight-necked valley, opening into bright green fields by the river, a great tongue of land in the centre, neat and fierce as a fairy-castle, and the cold waterfalls coming down from pool to pool. In the bright sun, it might appear a corner of Jurassic Park. But, on the facing slope you can see the long-lines of dry-stone wall running almost vertically up the fellside – enclosing the mountain-face in irregular geometrical slices. Each stretch is perhaps the work of a different generation: brothers dividing their patrimony, and extending their grandfather’s work. In New Hampshire I have seen such walls only as broken hints, buried under a wilderness of scrub and forestry. What future are we planning for our landscape?


Rory, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Mountain Rescue, has organised a parliamentary campaign to convince ministers to repeat funding for Mountain Rescue.

Successful campaigning of the All Party Group in 2011 led to the government giving Mountain Rescue teams a VAT rebate of around £200,000 pounds each year. This agreement is due to expire this year and Rory Stewart MP along with other members of the APPG are pushing for the government to renew the agreement.

Rory said: “This has been the most great agreement between the Government and Mountain Rescue teams and has worked incredibly well. Mountain Rescuers are unpaid volunteers who give up hours and hours of their time to do an amazing job. This is a very small amount of money they are asking for from the government. I am thrilled by the broad and positive response from colleagues who represent constituencies throughout the country. But this really is crunch time, we are expecting a decision from ministers at the beginning of February and I am very much hoping that they will listen to the broad demand.”


Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart and local Eden District Councillor Adrian Todd on Saturday gathered one hundred local protesters at the proposed site of a 70-metre wind turbine at Raisgill Hall – Eden District Council application 13/0917 – which, if built, would be visible for miles around, damaging pristine views of Orton Fell, the Howgills, and the Tebay area that are some of the most beautiful in Eden. Local community activists joined Rory at Saturday’s rally to voice their strong opposition to the application on grounds of landscape and wildlife impact; the hugely detrimental effect on the tourism industry; noise and health issues; property values; and other negative impacts on local residents. The proposed industrial-scale structure would dominate the vast lakeland landscape, which in fact borders the Lake District National Park and is potentially to be incorporated into the National Park’s widened boundaries in the near future.

Speaking at the rally, Rory said: “This is a brilliant turnout for a cold, wet and windy Saturday afternoon, showing the enormous groundswell of public opposition to this application. People don’t visit Cumbria for the weather, or the food; they visit for our landscape. The main pillar of our economy is tourism, and the centre of our area is the Lake District National Park, and this absolutely beautiful area around Raisgill would be ruined by a large industrial structure seen by every single tourist approaching the Lake District as they travel north up the M6. The impact of a 70-metre high, industrial, white structure on the sound, the look, and the soul of the Howgills and Orton Fell would be immense, and immensely negative. It would be an incredibly poor short-term decision for our economy. Today we can clearly see how strongly local communities feel about protecting their local landscape, and not only for their own benefit: but for the benefit of all who visit Cumbria precisely to see and enjoy our beautiful countryside. The protestors we see here today come from all walks of life and ages; this is not something that attracts a narrow part of our society. Such wind farms affect us all, and I am proud to see so many people give up time on their Saturday to show how very concerned they are.”
Councillor Adrian Todd said: “Obviously this is going to be significantly detrimental to the immediate landscape of the upper Lune, and massively detrimental to the area at large and to our tourism industry in Cumbria. We need to look carefully at the economics of these turbines, which are causing serious local anguish. I’d also like to thank our MP Rory Stewart for his unstinting support for us, and indeed for all communities in his constituency fighting these applications.”
Rory Stewart has created the community website as a means of bringing community opposition groups together to share learning and resources to aid their campaigns, and the website has been instrumental in increasing communication between groups across the county. At Saturday’s rally local resident Kyle Blue of Orton Parish Council was nominated as the local leader of the community campaign, and anyone interested in joining the opposition against the Raisgill Hall application is encouraged to contact Kyle Blue or Councillor Adrian Todd for further information.


On Saturday Rory met with Eden Youth Councillors Chris Mells and Shannon Twiddy, Brathay Trust supporter Geoff Brand, and Kirkby Stephen County Councillor Libby Bateman to learn about the Cumbria Youth Parliament’s current survey into rural transport in the county. He has given the initiative his full backing, and is encouraging young people in Penrith and the Border to take part in the survey and help highlight how important rural transport is to the county’s young people. Running simultaneous to the current Cumbria County Council consultation into the future of the county’s bus routes, the Cumbria Youth Parliament’s survey aims to evidence the great importance of access to rural transport for young people, and to raise awareness amongst young people of the threat to existing bus services.
Speaking at Saturday’s meeting, Rory said: “I hope very much that the team behind the Cumbria Youth Parliament’s survey get a huge response. Chris and Shannon are doing a fantastic job helping to raise awareness of the survey, and I would like to add my voice and strongly encourage all schools in Penrith and the Border to engage in the survey and to let Cumbria County Council know why it is that we need more buses, better routes, and affordable ticketing for our young people. Our mission is to make Cumbria one of the best places to live in the UK, and to do that we need to keep our young people here; and, to keep our young people here, we need to do all we can to encourage them to be able to move around. Our economy has never been larger, and yet our bus services continue to decline – we desperately need them, and that is why I am expressing my concerns directly to Cumbria County Council, and encouraging everyone in Cumbria to take an interest in the future of our bus network.”
Chris Mells thanked Rory for his support, and said: “To stop people using buses is going to damage the economy. If I can’t get to Penrith or Kendal by bus, I won’t spend my money there. I hope as many people as possible will complete the survey.”
Rory congratulated Chris, a Kirkby Stephen Grammar School student, and Shannon, from Ullswater Community College, on their involvement in politics, and encouraged them to try to visit Parliament and to work with Rory to arrange more debating events for young constituents with an interest in politics.


Rory, who signed the petition calling for the Wigton Swimming pool to be saved, was “delighted” with the news that it will now re-open, and has committed to back the next stage in supporting the pool. As a result of a local campaign that gained almost 1700 signatures, Allerdale Borough Council have agreed to re-open the pool on a temporary basis, provided a Community Trust is established to look into taking over and running the amenity in the long-term. The new Community Trust hopes to identify alternative funding streams and support, in order to meet and reduce the pools current £100,000 per year running costs. One key objective is to build and expand upon the 5000 visits per year the pool currently receives, encouraging more of the local community to use the pool more regularly. Temporary chair for the Trust, Mr Alan Pitcher, has arranged to meet with Rory later this week, to further discuss the trust’s current options, and to establish ways in which the MP can offer further help.

Rory said:

“It is fantastic to see the ‘Save the Pool’ Campaign has been such a success, and a much loved community asset will now re-open as a result. Penrith and the Border has become very good at finding community-led solutions to local problems, be it affordable housing, broadband or the closure of a local pub. It comes as no surprise therefore that it is again the local community leading the way to save its swimming pool. I am only too happy to offer any additional help and assistance I can to the new trust in helping to ensure the pool’s long-term future.”


Greystoke Primary school has this year marked it’s 175th anniversary, and Rory was among those celebrating the historic milestone, alongside pupils, teachers, parents and school governors. The Penrith and the Border MP was invited to talk on his experiences walking across Afghanistan, before engaging in a discussion about the country’s uncertain future. To mark the anniversary, Rory also offered to help establish a pen-pal exchange between Greystoke school, and a primary school in Kabul, to help encourage a greater understanding between pupils in two very different countries and cultures.
Rory said: “When many of our small, rural schools remain uncertain of their long-term future, I feel it is important to recognise and celebrate these milestones. Some local schools, will sadly now never make it to their 175th anniversary, and every school that closes is a tragedy for the life and soul of a rural village. Greystoke fortunately is a great example of a local primary school doing very well. I was only too happy to join in celebrations marking this occasion, and I am confident the school will be here to celebrate many more milestones still to come.”


Rory was invited to open Brampton’s new Rural Growth Network Hub, set up by Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, as a focal point for local businesses looking for free support and advice. At a launch which also served as a networking opportunity for Brampton businesses, the Penrith and the Border MP welcomed the additional business support now available for the local community. The local hub is based at Brampton’s Irthing Centre and will provide businesses with free access to their facilities, including internet access and meeting rooms, as well as networking opportunities and free training and advice sessions. The Brampton hub is one of 13 hubs across Cumbria, operating under the wider Cumbria Business Growth Hub, with a £3.5million budget to support Cumbrian businesses.

Rory said:

“It is vital that we develop new initiatives and ideas that will help support local small businesses here in Cumbria. Perhaps the most important priority is to make it easier for small businesses to gain access to finance. It is great therefore to see the launch of business hubs across Cumbria, and I hope businesses in Brampton will now make the most of the free advice and support on offer.”


In a final attempt to save Penrith’s second fire engine, hundreds of local residents marched through Penrith’s town centre, led by retained fire fighter Dawn Coates, and Rory. Cumbria County Council have proposed the measure in an effort to save £50,000 from their budget, but Penrith firefighters and the local community have raised strong concerns that without a second appliance, the service will be unable to meet its statutory response times to emergencies, putting lives and property at unnecessary risk.
Local campaigners marched from Middlegate to the Corn Market bandstand, where volunteers were standing by to gather further signatures for their petition – already signed by thousands – and to inform local residents how to contact those councillors responsible for deciding the future of Cumbria’s Fire and Rescue Services.

Speaking at the bandstand, Rory said:

“What is most frustrating is that Penrith firefighters have already suggested sensible, alternative proposals for how to save this money. This is not the right cut, and there are real concerns about the safety implications of removing this engine. It is clear from the turnout today, and the thousands of names on the petition, that this service is deeply valued by Penrith and the local community. Please everyone get in touch with your local councillors and let them know just how much you disagree with proposition 28. “