Thursday, 4 December 2014

Mayor: Christmas Message 2014

I was asked - in my capacity as Mayor - to write a Christmas message to go in "Inside Morpeth" magazine(Dec 14 #31) which has just been published - and I thought I'd post it here too:

I wish Morpeth and all its residents a happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2015, and hope that the Christmas festivities give you the hope and energy you need to see you through the dark days of the rest of winter, but if not:

If you are stressed by a family Christmas or by money worries or lonely because you are spending the holidays alone for the first time, you aren’t the only one. The Samaritans – my mayoral charity – are at their busiest at this time of year providing someone to talk to 24/7. They deserve our support

If you aren’t really into a commercial Christmas, charities like Crisis and Wansbeck Food Bank can really use volunteers now and throughout the year. Why not get in touch? They deserve our support.

If the cost of Christmas is going to leave you skint with credit card bills looming you aren’t alone. The CAB debt advisors and the credit unions are going to be very busy and they deserve our support.

Are you did doing your Christmas shopping locally? Many retailers depend on the run-up to Christmas for 25% and more of their annual turnover. If we want to keep the independent shops that give the town so much of its special character, we need to support them. Shop local!

So maybe a few ideas for New Year’s Resolutions there… but above all, whatever 2015 has to offer, we need to work together, support each other and feel able to rely on each other - because it doesn’t look as though we are going to be able to rely on the Government or the County Council for much - whoever gets elected in May.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Mayor: Commemoration of the First World War

I was invited as Mayor to say a 'few words' to open the St James Flower Festival marking the outbreak of the First World War:

A hundred years ago this weekend – the European Powers, including Britain, were stumbling into the Great War – dragging the rest of the world with them. This was supposed to be the ‘War to end war’ - but it wasn’t – if anything, it was the first ‘modern war’.

Every community, every family in Britain – every community & family in Europe – was directly affected by the loss of a whole generation of young men.

The Morpeth War Memorial recognises 233 soldiers from this town who died in the Great War – but beyond these are:
  • those who died later of injuries – physical and mental - sustained in the war
  • those who did not die, but lived the torment of their wartime experiences for the rest of their lives
  • the families who lost their sons and brothers
  • the children who lost their fathers
  • the young women left behind who lost the chance to raise a family
Most Morpethians will be able to put a name and memory from their own family tree to some or all of these.
Countries on all sides of the war now praise those who died for their courage and self-sacrifice – and quite rightly, but we should recognise that the sacrifice was not just made by those who died.

This is the centenary of the start of the Great War: but it continued for four years and three months - so I hope that this commemoration will not just be a one-off, but over the next few years, we’ll be remembering the events of that War – for example (not in any particular order):
  • The Somme, First Ypres, Second Ypres, Paschendael, Gallipoli
  • The first wholesale use of automatic weapons
  • The first use of chemical warfare
  • The first use of aircraft in war
  • The first tanks
  • and the Christmas Truce – which I hope we will be remembering in four months time.

So, let us remember, this weekend, the Great War, those who died in it and those who did not die but whose lives were shattered by it.

And – let us remember the atmosphere in the country and in Morpeth at the start of that war – a hundred years ago this month:
  • the messages about duty and self-sacrifice coming from the government and in the press
  • the social, community and family pressure on young men to volunteer wholesale
  • and the total lack of awareness of the horrors that the war would unleash

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Mayor: Woodhorn Matters

Was invited to open the Woodhorn Matters 21st Anniversary Exhibition in Chantry Bagpipe Museum

I may be Morpeth’s first ‘Green’ Mayor but Woodhorn Matters and the generations of people who have been making proggy mats are the real recyclers – making useful and beautiful things out of scrap material and wool.

Woodhorn Matters was set up to help revive a craft which has been part of northern culture for centuries. Dating from times when people couldn’t afford to waste anything with thrift and recycling essential not just trendy virtues, proggy and hooky mats became oldfashioned and unpopular through the 1950’s and ’60’s and have only in the last couple of decades come back into style again.

Now modern designs and fabric colours mean that humble proggy mats can be superb works of art.

They prefer to use wool rather than cotton or synthetic fabrics – and they are always   The group started off based in Woodhorn Museum and although they now meet in Morpeth Methodist Church, they’ve kept the original name. They are always happy to welcome new members – and because they prefer to use wool rather than cotton or synthetic material – there’s always a demand for old fabric and yarn.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Mayor: Suffer the Children?

Each year, through Chernobyl’s Children Lifeline, children living within the continuing radioactive zone created by the Chernobyl nuclear accident come across to Northumberland for a few weeks to enjoy our clean air and safe food and so boost their immune systems for a couple of years.

Last year, Mayor Joan Tebbutt entertained the visiting children at the Curiously Wicked cafĂ©, this year – they came along to the Mayor’s Parlour. And as I explained to them, the Mayor’s Parlour is the Mayor’s private room in the Town Hall and only special guests get invited there.

So – we had about a dozen children aged 9-10 years old along with their interpreter, their host families and Lilian Nelson who set up Chernobyl’s Children Lifeline. The children came from three remote rural villages in Belarus just over the border from Chernobyl – they’d never seen the sea before, they’d never seen mountains and even an aeroplane flying overhead was something to get excited about. I think Northumberland was something totally different!

They were also quite in awe of the mayor and all the civic regalia. Apparently civic authorities in Belarus can be quite forbidding and remote. It maybe something I need to work on.

These children are staying on till the end of June, but Chernobyl’s Children Lifeline is already starting to raise funds to bring another set of children across next year – but Lilian was telling me that what they really need are more host families willing to take in a couple of children. This year, apparently, they were so short of families in Morpeth that several of the children are staying with families in Wideopen.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Mayor: Heritage, History & Traditions

Fair Day weekend and my first busy weekend as mayor. Morpeth is clearly a special place, but what makes it so special?

Obviously there’s an awful lot of history – so much that there seems to be a special anniversary on every year. So, as well as being the 100th anniversary of World War I, and the 30th anniversary of Morpeth Town Council – it is also the 300th anniversary of the original Town Hall, designed by Vanbrugh. The Town Hall anniversary was the focus of the Morpeth Antiquarian Society exhibition over the two days of the weekend: it was also featured at the Morpeth Gathering – and will be celebrated at the Picnic in the Park in July and the Heritage Open Days in September. The Antiquarian Society are guardians of the town’s history but have to keep their collections in storerooms at the back of Newbiggin Library. We really should have a proper town museum or heritage centre. Our history shapes us, as Bob Marley sang: “If you knew your history, then you’ll know where you are coming from”

The garden fete on Saturday (7th) was a great showcase for the Millennium Green, which if you don’t know (shame on you!) is off Old Bakehouse Yard on the west side of Newgate St. It was set up in 2001 and has been expanded and developed almost continuously since winning several awards in the process – much to the credit of the hardworking committee. Although relatively recent, it is clearly part of Morpeth’s heritage of greenery, woodland and water in the centre of the town (inter silvas at flumina habitans?). Look out for ‘Music on the Green’ in August and ‘Carols on the Green’ in December – or just pop in there at any time in daylight hours for a spot of peace and quiet.

Fair Day may not be part of the town’s history or heritage yet – but it is definitely a town tradition and part of generations of childhood memories. Despite the absence of the parade, motorbikes and classic cars for a second year due to the flood works on the High Stanners (they’ll be back next year) – the Fair was a success again this year, at least as far as videos posted on Morpeth News TV and elsewhere suggest, with the rides being particularly popular. Of course the weather helped, including the downpour at 5pm which led to the quickest clearing up process on record.

The Chamber of Trade deserve tremendous credit for organising Fair Day year after year – and arguably Alderman John Beynon, the austere and dignified master of ceremonies at every Fair Day is shaping up well to succeed Alex Swailes as the Morpeth Gadgey.

And finally – here’s an idea: Fair Day is always on the 2nd Sunday in June (what do you mean you hadn’t noticed?) so it will always fall in the week following the feast day (7th June) of Morpeth’s very own saint - St Robert of Newminster – so why not rename it “St Robert’s Fair”?

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Mayor: The Bells Ring Out!

So - as from 21st May, I am now Mayor of Morpeth. I'm supposed to be getting a "Mayor's Blog" on the Town Council website and I've started writing some pieces for it, but it hasn't materialised yet - so I'll post them here and get them on the "Mayor's Blog" later...

And I'll try to backdate the postings so they come out in the right timescale

The Bells Ring Out!

Morpeth Bellringers rang out the Mayor’s Peal on 31st May – seven ringers completed the “London Surprise Major” with 5024 changes in 2hr 40min. Fortunately I had two professional mathematicians – Roger Dye and Lucy Manning – to explain how the peal worked through all the permutations of seven bells. I hadn’t realised that bellringing was such a curious mix of maths, music, recordkeeping, concentration and hard physical exercise – the bellringers were both jubilant and totally exhausted when they successfully finished the peal!

The fact that it was all to honour the new mayor really brought home to me the significance of the office. As a councillor, I’ve become used to people complaining about actual and perceived failings of the council and having to try to explain the reasons behind council decisions, But as mayor – and admittedly I’m only a couple of weeks in office – people are treating me with a level of respect and warmth which I can only explain by realising that the mayoralty is an embodiment of the town. People love and are loyal to Morpeth and their respect for the mayor is a reflection of that.

The bellringers are keen to recruit new members – both youngsters and older people – and from the interest showed on Fair Day when the Clock Tower was open to the public should mean they’ll soon be getting some.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Letter to Voters in the Scottish Referendum

[Oh dear - a long gap, and then the best I can manage is a straight lift from another blogger - but this from Paul Salvesen seemed worth duplicating....]

I have been asked by my Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, to write to you to say how important our historic link with Scotland is. As an obedient citizen, I must comply with his request and ask you to consider a number of points before casting your vote in the independence referendum on September 14th.  Scotland has always been a dynamic and progressive force within the UK, producing not only some outstanding politicians (Keir Hardie, John Wheatley and, let’s be fair, Gordon Brown) but writers such as Burns, Scott and Stevenson, painters including ‘The Glasgow boys’ and any number of hugely talented engineers. As far as railways go, you gave us the Forth Bridge, the ‘Cardean’ class of locomotive, and the great locomotive builders of Springburn. And, let’s not forget Scotland’s greatest gift to the world, whisky.

So why leave? Staying within the UK will allow you to enjoy the continuing benefits of London government and its continued attachment to neo-liberal politics. Instead of being left undefended by a reckless nationalist government in Edinburgh, you will have a new generation of Trident submarines to keep you safe. On your occasional visits to London you will have an outstanding transport system to enjoy, as a result of the disproportionate investment going into the capital’s infrastructure. All subjects of the Empire will benefit from this, however infrequently you may chance to visit - and HS2 will allow you get to London far more quickly. The many tunnels will avoid any unpleasant views of derelict industry and decaying housing in the north of England, that may blight your view en route.

By voting for independence you will hasten the demise of ‘Great Britain’ as we know it. An independent Scotland would be free to go its own way and instigate the sort of policies which have resulted in places like Norway, Sweden and Denmark becoming bywords for profligacy, welfare spending and egalitarianism. Public spending has been diverted away from defence into building new railways and improving schools and hospitals. Everyone is forced to cycle. Is this the sort of world you want your children to grow up in? And think about the effect of Scottish independence on the rest of our United Kingdom. Wales will be next, wanting to go its own way ‘within Europe’. Here in the North of England, the 15 million subjects of the crown may get increasingly restless and want their own government. A scenario could open up of a ‘federal’ Britain with the power of London considerably reduced. Is this really what you want? If you prefer things to carry on pretty much as they are, please support our Prime Minister and vote 'No'.