Durham farm sweeps up national award

A WORKING farm which doubles as a visitor attraction has swept to success in a national agricultural award scheme.

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Broom House Farm, at Witton Gilbert, near Durham, won the accolade for the excellence of the educational opportunities and interactive experience it offers visitors.

The farm, run by Mark and Jane Gray, won the award for Best On-Farm Destination in the 2013 UK Farm Retail Awards.

Recognising farms which do more than sell local produce to customers, Broom House was commended for the way it helps visitors learn about food, farming and the countryside in a “hands-on” manner.

The judges also praised the Gray family for being, “passionate about their organic production and countryside stewardship, passing on their enthusiasm in fun and creative ways to visitors of all ages.”

Mrs Gray has run the farm with her husband since 2000, diversifying to first open it for public visits in 2004.

She said: “We were really surprised to win the award, but also really pleased because of the hard work we’ve done here.

“We try to give our visitors a practical experience of how a farm works whilst also giving them some exercise and lots of fresh air.”

She said that education is an exciting element of their business, with about 4,000 school children, from nursery age to sixth-formers, visiting the site each year.

“We make the visits related to their learning and what’s actually happening on the farm.

“Whether it’s A-Level biology or Key Stage 2 maths, what we show them is targeted at what they need to learn.

“We also try to reconnect people with where their food comes from.

“The kids enjoy seeing the full story of the journey of our produce from the field to our farm shop.”

Further details about visits to Broom House Farm are available via broomhousedurham.co.uk, or by ringing 0191-371 8382

Missing wooden cross on Waskerley Moor was cut down by council

A WOODEN cross which disappeared from a remote moor shortly before a traditional Easter service was cut down by the council.

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Organisers of the dawn service on Waskerley Moor, near Consett, initially thought thieves had taken the 10ft wooden cross, which was erected during Lent and discovered to be missing on the eve of the Easter Sunday service.

The service, attended by more than 30 worshippers, went ahead after Methodist minister the Reverend Les Nevin carved a replacement cross from freshly-fallen snow.

However, it has now emerged that Durham County Council chopped down and removed the cross because it had been built on a Site of Special Scientific Interest and breached strict guidelines set up to protect the local habitat.

Andy Niven, countryside service manager at Durham County Council, said the authority had no choice but to cut it down.

He said: “It was dug into the ground and concreted in without any warning and without consent or advice on the potential impact it might have on this very rare habitat.

“There was nothing on it to say who had put it there and neither the council, as landowner, or Natural England, which is responsible for SSSI areas, were asked for permission or advice.

“As a result we had no choice but to remove it.”

Local hospices celebrate funding boost

Two local hospices are celebrating receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds of extra government funding.

Staff and volunteers at St Cuthbert's hospice celebrate

St Cuthbert’s Hospice, based in Merryoaks, and Willow Burn Hospice, based in Lanchester, have each been granted around £300,000 by the Department of Health to improve their facilities for patients.

Paul Marriott, Chief Executive of St Cuthbert’s Hospice, says that they plan to use their allocation of £282,369 to refurbish in-patient rooms and improve patient travel to the hospice.

He said: “This grant is absolutely fantastic news in our 25th year, and will enable us to make great improvements which will benefit both patients and their families here at St Cuthbert’s.

“This grant means that the money we raise locally, which we rely on, can continue to go towards providing the services needed by our community.”

Willow Burn Hospice, which opened in 1989, is planning to use its allocation of £356,438 to start on building a more modern facility which will eventually replace the existing hospice.

The Minister for Care and Support, Norman Lamb, announced the grants as part of £60 million of funding for improving hospices across England. In total ten North East hospices will benefit from £3 million of funds.

Mr Lamb said: “These funds will help hospices across the North East provide dignified, compassionate, high quality care and support to people and their families at what is a difficult time in their lives.”

Thieves steal cross ahead of traditional dawn service

THIEVES stole a 10-foot cross built on a remote moor for a traditional service to celebrate Easter.

Methodist minister the Reverend Les Nevin, who has led the short communion service on the outskirts of Consett for the last seven years, had placed the wooden cross on Waskerley Moor during Lent in preparation for the service.

But only a few days later he discovered that the cross had disappeared, sawn from its concealed concrete base below soil level and taken away.

Reverend Nevin said: “I could hardly believe my eyes when I returned and there was no trace of the cross. It was almost like an empty tomb experience”.

Not to be deterred, Reverend Nevin spent several hours on the Saturday evening before the service carving a larger, replacement cross out of snow.

The service could go ahead as normal at dawn on Easter Day, although the snow cross has since melted away. Reverend Nevin also had a message for whoever had removed the cross, saying: “If you still have the cross I’d like to collect it and use it elsewhere.

“However if you are so short of wood that you need to take a cross I’d be pleased to give you the £26 it cost me to buy the wood so you can buy some more.”

Labour reveals shortlist for Euro elections

LABOUR has announced its shortlist of candidates to contest the European Parliament elections in the North-East next year.

Four candidates have been included on the shortlist to contest the three seats available in the region.

They include Coun Nick Wallis, who has been a Darlington Borough Councillor since 1991 and is currently the authority’s Cabinet Member for Leisure and Local Environment.

Jayne Shotton, from North Shields, has previously served as a Labour Councillor in North Tyneside for six years for the Camperdown ward.

Judith Kirton-Darling, who comes from Middlesborough, is the Confederal Secretary of the European TUC. She has worked within the trade union movement on European issues during the last ten years.

Paul Brannen is a former Councillor for the Westerhope Ward of Newcastle City Council and contested the Berwick-upon-Tweed seat for Labour in the 1997 General Election.

A ballot of local party members will be held to decide the ordering of the candidates on the party list, with a vote expected in June.

The North-East currently has three MEPs, one from each of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

However Labour’s incumbent MEP, Stephen Hughes, is standing down after 20 years in the position.

Labour reveals shortlist for South Shields by-election as UKIP names candidate

LABOUR will select its candidate to defend the upcoming South Shields by-election on Wednesday.

The party has announced a short-list of four candidates to fight the seat left vacant by the resignation of former Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

The candidates are Lewis Atkinson, an NHS worker from South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, a social worker and South Tyneside Councillor for Primrose Ward, Coun Mark Walsh, the member for Horsley Hill Ward, and Paul Williams, a doctor and GP Commissioner from Stockton.

Local party members will decide the final selection at a constituency meeting on Wednesday evening.

An official date for the by-election is yet to be announced although it could take place as early as May 2 to coincide with local government elections.

UKIP today announced their candidate for the upcoming by-election, selecting 62-year-old former primary school teacher Richard Elvin to contest the seat.

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Mr Elvin, from Hetton-le-Hole, said: “I am delighted to be selected. To have the chance to fight to represent the people of South Shields is an honour.

“Unlike previous politicians who were parachuted in to a safe seat in order to get into cabinet, my focus and drive is to serve the local area”.

The news came as Labour launched their local election campaign in the North East with Jack Dromey MP, Shadow Communities and Local Government Minister, visiting key target councils in North Tyneside and Northumberland.

Labour’s lost leader?

David Miliband is a great friend of mine. We go way back. So great in fact that we once had a good chat about his time as Foreign Secretary and his experiences of dealing with authoritarian regimes.

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It was therefore with great sadness that I heard of his recent resignation as the MP for South Shields and his decision to take up a high-flying job in New York as the head of the International Rescue Committee.

Not only has Labour lost one of its sharpest political minds, but David’s departure also marks the end of my dreams of becoming a snazzy special adviser in Whitehall to a great political chum in the Labour government of 2015.

Okay, maybe ‘great political chum’ is a bit of a porky. In truth, I once asked David Miliband a question at the end of the address he gave to students at the Durham Union Society back in October 2011.

Big deal, I hear you say, but in my eyes (humour me) it was a political scooppar excellence and the beginning of a great personal friendship with a big player in British politics.

Surprisingly David hasn’t been returning any of my calls, but I remain an admirer. Since the 2011 address, given at a time when his brother Ed was fresh to the Labour leadership and sceptics like me were worried that the wrong Miliband was in charge, I think it has become increasingly clear that Labour has lost the leader that had the best chance of beating David Cameron in 2015.

Ed Miliband has had the best part of 2 years now to prove himself but on the three key areas of policy, strategy and personality, I think he is falling short where his brother would be succeeding.

Start with personality. YouGov polls have consistently shown that many voters simply don’t see Ed Miliband as a Prime Minister. The latest figures put David Cameron at 9 points above Ed on the question ‘Who would make the best PM?’ Whatever it may be – perhaps the lack of the statesman-like swagger, charisma or easy charm of his older brother – Ed has so far failed to convince the people that he is fit to lead the nation.

Then there is the strategy of opposition. On the big question in British politics today – the economy – the two Eds are still struggling to convince voters that they can offer a reasonable alternative to Osborne’s programme of austerity.

More damagingly, the albatross of culpability for Britain’s dire economic position coming out of the financial crisis of 2007-8 still hangs heavily around Labour necks. We’re three years into the Parliament and yet still more people blame Labour than the Conservatives for the state of the economy and the public sector cuts that Osborne has imposed.

Choosing to blame Britain’s financial malaise on an international credit crisis brewed up in the USA, as the two Eds have done, is all well and good but it only tells half the story. They should also admit that it was wrong of Gordon Brown to have consistently run a budget deficit in the boom years leading up to 2008 and to have acquiesced in light-touch regulation of the banks. Until this form of owning up happens, British voters will worry that Labour is not serious about fiscal responsibility.

As it is, the combination of a lack of a compelling alternative and the albatross of culpability undermine Labour’s policy efforts in opposition. Ed Miliband has told us he opposes the pace of austerity, he opposes various initiatives of welfare reform and he opposes a smorgasbord of taxes (granny, pasty, bedroom, you name it).

But if these criticisms are to be credible there are certain underlying questions he fast needs to answer: ‘What would you tax instead? If you won’t cut welfare, what will you cut instead? Or would you raise taxes? Or borrow more money?’

We don’t need exact figures but without a clear idea of what Labour would be doing differently if in power Ed Miliband risks accusations of opposition for opposition’s sake. This leaves the question of Miliband the Elder. Would David be leading Labour any better? I like to think so, for many reasons, but one in particular.

Namely, David would have prioritised the crucial issue of Labour’s reputation for fiscal discipline. In the acceptance speech that never was, it is clear that a defining theme of his leadership would have been accepting the wrongs of the past and restoring trust on the economy.

This, combined with all of the other subtle nuances that made him the favourite of a majority of Labour MPs, would have made David a formidable opponent to Cameron. But alas no, instead Labour’s lost leader is on a transatlantic flight and the fate of the party lies with his younger brother. And still I wait for that phone call. I live in hope.

Published in Palatinate Online on 7 April 2013 – http://www.palatinate.org.uk/?p=38185