September 28, 2009
Last Friday was known affectionately in my office as Beverage Day. It started with a visit to the Little Stars Pre-School in Letchworth, where I and the manager, Janice Middleton, handed out cartons of milk to the toddlers. The milk was donated by Dairy Crest to encourage children and parents to drink more milk. They didn’t seem to need much encouragement and were soon asking for more.
Me at the Little Stars pre school
I then went on to 2 of the many coffee mornings taking place across North East Hertfordshire in aid of Macmillan Cancer care. The charity does wonderful work in supporting families having to cope with the illness and both of the events I went to were held by people with personal experience of Macmillan nurses. This is a major fundraiser and has become a well-established part of my diary. The photo shows me enjoying a mug of coffee with Muriel Anderson of Letchworth. The sunflower is the charity’s symbol.
September 28, 2009
Well, one of the oldest at least. Its home is St Mary’s church in Little Hormead, which at 900 years old, is also one of the oldest churches in the country and an unspoilt survivor from Norman times. I went to visit this church last week with the Churches Conservation Trust which cares for 2 redundant churches in North East Hertfordshire. Both have been classified as having “exceptional historic, architectural and archaeological significance, but are no longer required for regular worship”. It was a little sad to stand in a church which had obviously been at the centre of so many generations of families’ lives in the past yet today is almost unused.
Mr Cater, Miss Rees and me with a 900 yr old door under preservation
At St Mary’s, Rebecca Rees of the Trust and Mr Cater, the volunteer key holder showed me the door and explained the conservation work the Trust are carrying out to protect it. Afterwards we went to visit St Andrew’s church in Buckland, another beautiful medieval building deep in the heart of east Hertfordshire. Here I was met by more volunteers who were enthusiastic about the work of the Churches Conservation Trust which has enabled the church to be used by the local community for events and services, including a Christmas Carol concert. I was told that St Andrews has a nursery which meets there and that each church has about six services a year.
Me with local keyholder Karin Weston and local volunteers
September 24, 2009
When is a field not a field? When it is about to become part of Heartwood Forest, the largest new native forest ever to be created in England. The Woodland Trust charity has bought 850 acres of arable farmland at Sandridge, north of St Albans, and begins planting the first of 600,000 new trees in November. This will be a major boost for the Hertfordshire environment and put us at the forefront of nature conservation in the UK. I went for a walk around the site this week and was briefed on the work by the Senior Woodland Officer overseeing the project, Al Crosby, and Trust expert, Dr James Cooper.
We started in one of the 2 small areas of ancient woodland remaining on the land. It is shocking to hear that nearly 50% of ancient woodland (defined as being over 400 years old) that survived until the 1930s has disappeared since then. This small wood is mainly hornbeam which would previously have been coppiced for firewood. It is well-used these days by local scouts and schoolchildren taking part in Forest School sessions run by the Forestry Commission. This striking sculpture is a memento of a willow-weaving course run over the summer.
We walked on across the field where planting begins in a few weeks. The Trust hope that all of the new trees will be planted by volunteers, so that the local community will feel a sense of pride as the forest takes shape. Within 12 years, the area should be recognisable as woodland. We carried on to the second area of ancient woodland, which had a very different character. This was mainly ash and oak. Al has had an inspired idea. The adjoining wheat field was harvested last year and could have been included in the re-planting scheme. Instead, he has decided to leave a large part of it undisturbed to allow the wood to regenerate itself. Apparently ash trees produce plentiful seeds, which are easily carried on the wind. I was staggered to see that within the past 12 months, scores of seeds have taken root over a wide area of the field and have already produced shoots up to a foot high. There are also oaks growing from acorns carried by squirrels, but these are less abundant.
This photo shows Al, me and James admiring one of the ash plants. I shall look forward to going back next year to see how this natural extension of the ancient woodland has progressed.
The Heartwood Forest project is exciting, imaginative and of enormous benefit to the county.
September 21, 2009
What a treat it was today to meet the great Peter Shilton on the opening of the All Weather Pitch for Royston at Meridian School. It was also kind of him to keep the fixture on the same day as Sir Bobby Robson’s Memorial at Durham Cathedral. Peter played England football for 8 years under Sir Bobby, often as Captain, but he explained that he had played a testimonial at Newcastle 2 days before Sir Bobby’s death and felt he had said farewell with happy memories of a great manager.
Me with Peter Shilton
School Head Mike Firth explained the decade long battle to secure the funding for the Pitch and thanked Johnson Matthey Sports and Social Club and the PLC for all their help in getting the project going with substantial funding. It was noteworthy that JM’s busy CEO Neal Carson – of (let’s not forget) a major FTSE 100 Company – personally attended the launch today. In fact it was a real Royston occasion with many leading figures – councillors, including F John Smith, Council Leader and 50 years a Royston councillor and County Councillors Hunter and Hill, as well as Royston FC chief Alan Barlow.
The students are loving the new facilities and Peter Shilton spoke of the huge improvement in the quality of all weather surfaces, since the early days when as a goalie he had to dress up with Michelin Man-style padding in the early days. I asked him who should be the current England Keeper and he politely explained that he is still available for selection to add to his 120 caps. So, watch out David Beckham, you may face a moving target in trying to overtake Peter!
- Spot the ball competition
The money for the new Pitch came from the Football Foundation and the Brian Racher Trust as well as JMSSC. I think the Foundation do a great job in improving facilities and I know the late Brian Racher would be pleased too. The facilities in Royston have been transformed in recent years and our sport is now well catered for – long may it last. What’s next – perhaps a new football ground?
Peter Shilton with leading Royston figures
September 11, 2009
At Ardeley Fete earlier this year, Tim Waygood invited me to visit Church Farm to see how his “Agrarian Renaissance” is transforming the 175 acre farm into a new model for farming. I was intrigued by what he told me, so I took him up on his offer and not only that, I went armed with Conservative Shadow Agriculture Minister Jim Paice.
The farm is genuinely mixed with Berkshire and other pigs, cattle, sheep, many varieties of poultry picking away in new orchards, vegetables, grain – in fact, food of many sorts. The farm provides educational facilities and is a hub for other services from a vehicle mechanic to a vet. The recent opening of the shop means that Ardeley is one of few villages to have a new shop – the first shop there since the 1970s – and all meat home-grown on the farm. The coffee was excellent in the busy café too.
A caring side to the enterprise is shown by the “Rural Care” base, enabling disadvantaged people to work on the farm, learning skills and making friends.
Tim showed us round and we were both impressed. He hopes to build on his model and spread it round Britain. He has already lectured about it at an Oxford conference. I certainly wish him well. The photo shows us with the cattle: L to R – Tim, me, Jim.
Tim Waygood's Agrarian Renaissance
September 11, 2009
Royston is very close to Bassingbourn barracks and many of my constituents have close links to the battalion based there. There are two letters in today’s Telegraph from family members of servicemen in Afghanistan that complain that the soldiers’ welfare needs are not always being met. I was deeply concerned to read that their family members do not seem to be receiving proper food supplies or the even the letters being sent to them. After contacting the regimental welfare office one of the family members was told that they are “being swamped with similar complaints and when they took up the issue with the forward base they are told the problem is a severe shortage of transport.”
As one of the letters rightfully points out, “so much for this administration’s protestations that our service units in Afghanistan have all the equipment they need.” These letters tie in with reports I have had when talking with serving soldiers.
The first duty of a Government in war is to provide proper facilities to the men and women it expects to fight. One accepts that it won’t always be possible to get all the comforts to troops serving in forward operations, but the idea that our soldiers are being asked to fight without the equipment to do the job is abhorrent. It’s a breakdown in the military covenant. I think everyone agrees that if we are going to ask people to risk their lives for their country the least we can do is ensure they are receiving the correct food supplies and their families’ correspondence on a regular basis. I will be taking this up with Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth.
September 1, 2009
Bank Holidays are always busy for me and yesterday saw me at the Ashwell Show, Reed Festival and the Royston Town Cricket Tournament.
Ashwell Show is a firm favourite in many people’s Bank Holiday calendar and cars were queuing for some distance to get in. The Show hosts many businesses and charity stalls, who come back year after year. At the Show yesterday it was possible to scale a climbing wall, buy a saddle, admire the craftsmanship of a thatcher or buy a handbag. This is all in addition to the well-attended Horse Show and Dog Agility Competition. I was pleased to meet the Salvation Army with a display of the community work they do in our area; to talk to the local charity for the deaf about how their group has grown from small beginnings in Ashwell and to talk with the RNLI representative about the importance of their work, even in a land-locked County. I admired those tackling the climbing wall but decided I was not dressed for the occasion! Such is the success of the Ashwell Show that there is talk of spreading it over two days in the future. The photos show me with the RNLI representative at the Show and supporters of the Phoenix Group for Deaf Children.
The Reed Festival was on a far smaller scale but equally enjoyable. Again, the local charities had fundraising stalls, including Heathlands Animal Sanctuary and Dr Peter Gough’s Khandel Light Charity in India. The Royston Fire Station had sent a fire tender and visitors were offered a free fire safety check in their homes. This is excellent preventative work, which Royston Fire Station is pushing hard.
At 2 pm we gathered outside the impressive new extension to Reed Village Hall for the formal Opening by the Chairman of North Hertfordshire District Council, Cllr David Miller. The original Village Hall has lasted well but had no access for the disabled. The new front extension is wheelchair friendly and has been beautifully built by a local firm. The villagers thanked the Committee who had all worked so hard to bring about this wonderful new facility.
The photo shows me with Cllr Howard Marshall and Cllr David Miller after the Official Opening.
The Royston Town Cricket Tournament on the Heath was a far more relaxed affair. Eight teams had entered the Tournament which was being run for the first time. I am sure it will become a permanent fixture, as it was such an enjoyable occasion for the players and spectators alike.
Competition was fierce, but Babraham emerged triumphant from the final with Thriplow. Much of their success was due to the only female cricketer of the day, who bowled magnificently.
Royston Town Cricket Club was only set up recently by Dominic Adams and Steve Gwynne, with the express purpose of bringing Royston Cricket back to the Heath. It is a fantastic setting for the game and I felt greatly honoured that the Shield I presented was named “The Oliver Heald Trophy”.