Monday, 31 March 2014

Reportage: Probation officers strike over privatisation plans

Probation officers in Calderdale will out on strike for a second day today in a dispute over plans to restructure the probation service.

Napo, the Trade Union for Probation and Family Court staff, are in a formal dispute over government plans to privatise 70 per cent of the probation service.

Gavin Lee. senior probation officer at West Yorkshire Probation Trust and member of Napo, said: “I’m striking along with colleagues here at Halifax Probation Centre because I’m very concerned about the risky and unproven rehabilitation agenda the coalition has.

“We already have a working relationship with NHS, social care and children’s services across Calderdale, as well as with charities and private companies - it’s fair to say they’re all concerned about the risks these changes will bring.”

The West Yorkshire Probation Trust supports around 800 people at any one time - 80 per cent of those served live within the community.

Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: “It is very disappointing that Napo has chosen to strike when we are making positive progress towards the implementation of these vital reforms.”

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Music: Interview with Eagulls

Over the past few months Leeds-based post-punk band Eagulls have shot international attention with their captivating live performance on popular American late night talk show David Letterman.

The group consists of Mark Goldsworthy (guitar), Henry Ruddel (drums), Liam Matthews (guitar), Tom Kelly (bass), and George Mitchell (vocals), and will be performing on the first episode of the new series of Later with Jools Holland.

“We’ve had messages recently from San Diego, Indonesia and the Philippines – it’s crazy,” says Tom.

“It’s strange because we’ve not made a concerted effort to reach these places – but I think there’s been a lot of word of mouth online.”

The group recently had to make a leap of faith when singer George had to decided whether to give up his day job as a retail manager so the band could play a series of shows in New York – away from the familiarity of their receptive Leeds audience.

“You play the same songs, but wherever you go it’s a different experience,” says George.

“Leeds is always a good gig because it’s home and a lot of our friends always come down – people know who we are and it’s always a lot of fun.

“When we go somewhere like New York, the people are coming to see us because they’re curious about hearing the music – the first time you play anywhere there’s always that anxiety of everyone judging.”

The group has taken to life on the road with enthusiasm and have enjoyed the experience of travelling.

“Mexico was amazing,” says Liam. “We drove for nine hours from Austin, Texas, in a people carrier with 14 of us squeezed in.

“Just going from a huge city, to barren southern America, and then as soon as you hit Mexico it was like a shanty town – it’s a proper culture shock.

“It was crazy to see all that just to play at a gig for about 20 minutes.”

Mexico is not without its dangers, and the country has gained a reputation over the past few years for its high levels of crime.

“The week before we went about 20 musicians were kidnapped and found dead down a well – it was pretty scary,” says Tom.

“We were put in this hotel and we weren’t allowed to leave it. Outside there were police driving round on the backs of four by fours with roll cages and machine guns – it was absolutely mental.”

“The most telling thing for me was that there were a few prosthetic limb shop right near where we were staying – there must be a lot of people getting their legs shot off,” says George.

“All I thought when I saw it was how weird it was – the fact there were so many of them that could survive as a business.”

What has surprised the group about playing international gigs is just how poorly bands in the UK are treated by promoters and venues.

“The promoters treat your really well over in Europe – they’re a lot more respectful and appreciate that bands actually make them money,” says Liam.

“You feel like you’re the reason why they’re putting the gig on – we’ve done a lot of gigs where the bands are the last thing on the promoter’s mind.”

“If you turn up to a show in Europe there’s always food, drink, somewhere to stay,” says George. “A lot of promoters in this country treat you like they’re doing you a favour letting play, when really it’s the bands who make them money.

“England’s renowned for being one of the worst countries to play gigs.

“So many bands come over here and have such a bad experience playing in dives that they don’t want to come back after putting in so much effort.

“They’ll come over from Europe or America, the promoter’s not there and then the band wonders where their food and beer is and no one can help them.”

Eagulls have supported bands including Merchandise, Parquet Courts and Franz Ferdinand, and have been very careful about where they choose to play.

“We’ve been really lucky with all the bands we’ve been able to support,” says Henry. “When you’re at a festival it’s a bit out your hands, but we’ve been able to go on tour with bands we actually like.

“I think the worst gig we did was at this festival that was full of either druggie scumbags or families with kids.

“Druggies don’t want to listen to guitar music anymore and the families didn’t go for the music, they just like the festival scene, so we had about five people who actually wanted to watch us.”

“The worst places to play we’ve found are the city festivals – it just feels like people are too scared to have fun because they’re afraid of spilling their six pound beer,” says George.

Eagulls have gained a reputation for their rock and roll antics – a reputation the group see as unfair.

“We’re not rock and roll, it’s our mates that get us in trouble – people are always surprised how polite we are,” says Tom.

“Our mates kick up a fuss and we get the slack – they just think it’s hilarious.”

“I don’t think it’s anything to with being in a band – I think if we went on holiday as a group of lads we’d still be in the same position,” says Henry.

Eagulls support Franz Ferdinand at O2 Academy Leeds on March 26 and the Manic Street Preachers at the First Direct Arena, Leeds on March 28.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Reportage: Rail parking plans scrapped

Plans to implement car parking charges at rail stations throughout Calderdale have been ruled out by the Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin.

The original proposals were scrapped when they proved unpopular with rail passengers and residents living near the affected stations.

“The plans to bring in parking charges in some of the smaller stations proved incredibly unpopular and they realised that it wouldn’t have generated much money over the 18 remaining months of the franchise,” said chair of Metro James Lewis.

But Mr Lewis revealed that Northern Rail will be losing a proportion of its subsidy meaning fare increases are highly likely.

“Northern Rail is a heavily subsidised operation, and the company are trying to cut costs where they can,” said Mr Lewis.

“Instead of bringing in parking charges, they are looking at the way they charge for train tickets.

“We’re trying to seek clarification over what the plans are, but I suspect it won’t be as simple as an extra one per cent on everybody’s train ticket.

“There are the unregulated fares they could increase, they could also increase their peak hours in the morning and introduce evening peak charages.”

A spokeswoman from Northern Rail said: ““The details of the new franchise agreement are still being finalised and we cannot comment further until it is signed.”

Monday, 24 March 2014

Reportage: Liz Davies, Queen of the desert

A 24-year-old Halifax woman made a 155 mile trek across the Sahara desert to raise money for Overgate Hospice.

Liz Davies, assistant manager at Pure Gym, Halifax, made the trek over six days with her training partner Amjid Khan.

So far Liz raised over £2,000 for the hospice and hopes that the donations will keep pouring in.

Liz said: “They wanted us to have the traditional Bedouin experience - we had these traditional tents which were made out of goat hair and had loads of holes in them.

“On the first night, it absolutely belted it down raining - it was freezing.

“So we started our first day absolutely shattered.”

It wasn’t just the elements she had to overcome - wild animals were a real risk.

“I was on my own one night until about three in the morning - it was just me and a head torch trekking away,” said Liz.

“I had a few run-ins with wild dogs - that was scary.

“You have this moment when you’re by yourself and these dogs are coming up to you that you think you’re not going to make it through.”

As well as the sense of achievement gained by completing the challenge, the isolation of the experience has given Liz a new sense of perspective on life.

“The lifestyle was so different,” she said. “There was no internet, no phone, no contact with the outside world - all we had to focus on was getting food and water, finding shade and getting to our next location.

“To change my mindset like that was the highlight for me.”

This article was published in the Halifax Courier on March 21, 2014.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Reportage: Kirsty's up for Vet of the Year

A Halifax-based vet has been nominated for a Vet of the Year award at the Petplan Vetenary Awards.

Kirsty Baird of Hird and Partners vetenary practice was nominated by pet owners to receive the award.

Now in its 15th year, the national awards recognise members of the vet community who continually go above and beyond what is expected of them in their daily role.

Kirsty works with small animals such as dogs, cats and rabbits for four days a week at Hird and Partners’ brand in Waldsen, Todmorden, and one day a week at its Halifax branch.

With 23 years experience as a vet, Kirsty said the award came as a surprise.

She said: “You pluck away and think that nobody notices what you’re doing, so it’s nice to get recognition.

“It’s nice to know that clients appreciate your hard work.”

For Kirsty, her role as a vet is about more than just treating animals - it is about making clients feel relaxed during what can often be a difficult time.

She said: “I always go the extra mile for clients and it is important to me that I am not just seen as a veterinary surgeon, but as friend as well.”

She also works closely with local charities interested in animal welfare.

She said: “We work with a number of charities in the local area, particularly rehoming centres and greyhound rescue charities, which may also have contributed to the overwhelming support I have received this year.”

The winners will be announced at an awards cerembony in Birmingham on April 3.

This article was published by the on March 21, 2014.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Reportage: Lucky escape after car blaze

A driver in Halifax town centre made a lucky escape after being told by a passing lorry driver that his car was on fire.

“There was this lorry driver flashing at me and pointing to the flames and smoke coming out the front of my car - I couldn’t see them at first,” said driver Ahmed Hassan Chaudhry of Halifax.

“I was at the traffice lights and pedestrians were screaming at me that my car was on fire.”

Mr Chaudhry pulled his car onto the forecourt of National Tyres on Bull Green where the car’s engine burst into flames, frightening onlookers.

“I pulled the car off the road and it burst into flames and blew up - imagine if that happened on the motorway - I’m lucky to be here,” he said.

West Yorkshire Fire Service were called to the incident to put out the blaze.

Eye-witness Josh Richmond, who works at National Tyres, said “He drove the car in, jumped out and it burst into flames - it was crazy.”

Mr Chaudhry had bought the 2010 Vauxhall Insignia only three weeks prior from a private seller and was dismayed that his new car had set ablaze.

This article was orignally published in the Halifax Courier on March 7, 2014.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Reportage: Hallmark to lay off 300

Hallmark cards is set to lay off 300 printing staff from its Braford plant by the end of the year.

The American company will be outsourcing its printing operations to the US and Far East.

Distribution and design jobs look to be safe, with no layoffs planned at its Brighouse distribution centre.

Chris Daly, regional officer for UNITE union, said: “We want to know from the company what the business case is for the closure of printing in the UK to see if we can put alternatives forward to try and keep as many jobs in the area as we can.

“It’s frightening - it seems that they don’t want to produce this sort of stuff in the UK anymore.

“It’s bad for the country as well as for the individuals and families affected - we’ll be in a position where we’ll be importing something that we used to produce.”

Steve Wright, international CEO of Hallmark, said: “We fully recognise how hard this decision will be on those of our employees who are affected. We will make sure that we support our people throughout, working closely with them to look for every opportunity to minimise job losses and, where this is not possible, to support employees in finding new employment.

“The essence of our company is design and creativity. By outsourcing manufacturing, we are making a strategic decision to focus our UK business on what we do best, while at the same time reducing costs, ensuring that the business is best placed to grow and thrive.

“Having been based in Bradford for more than 30 years, we’re as committed to the city as ever. While this is an extremely tough decision, our intention is to build a business that can continue to contribute positively to Bradford’s economy and its people.”

This article was published by the Halifax Courier on March 7, 2014.

Theatre: Play explores the sentiments of a war that redefined the whole world

Northern Broadsides are set to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War with Deborah McAndrew’s moving new play An August Bank Holiday Lark.

Directed by Barrie Rutter, the new production will be staged at Viaduct Theatre, Halifax, from March 11 to 15 as part of national tour.

Taking its inspiration from a line in Philip Larkin’s poem MCMXIV, An August Bank Holiday Lark explores the impact of the First World War on a rural community in East Lancashire.

Set in the idyllic summer of 1914, everyone in the community is excited about Wakes week - a rest for field and mill workers, and a celebration of the Rushbearing Festival with singing, courting, drinking and dancing.

“It’s set in a place that has one foot in industry and the other in the hills above the mills - it’s a little bit more remote, a little bit more rural,” says Deborah.

“It’s not a place where people are hardened and urban in that way - they’re a little more innocent and rooted in a deeper past. It’s at the point in history where the First World War has just started, the recruiting vans are out and the first wave of people are signing up to fight.

“It never goes to the front-line - that’s been done so well so many times, why would you do it again?

“We wanted to find stories that haven’t been told before.

“It might seem odd, but the community is sort of indifferent to the war in the first instance - in the beginning a lot them don’t see what it has to do with them,” she says.

So far, the play has been well-received by audiences and critics alike, with one Sunday newspaper awarding the production five stars.

“The audience response has been overwhelming - it’s been very positive,” says Deborah.

“There’s a lot humour and a lot of humanity in the story, but ultimately it’s about the First World War, so there are moments of sadness and poignancy - you wouldn’t be honouring that experience of those people if you made it all a big joke.”

The issue of how to represent the First World War has become a contentious issue over the past month after Education Secretary Michael Gove lambasted writers who were critical of the war.

He especially criticised the acclaimed comedy Blackadder Goes Forth for its apparent ‘leftist agenda’, claiming that the comedy spread ‘myths’ about the First World War and should not be shown in schools.

“When I heard those comments, like everyone else I just thought ‘shut up Michael’,” says Deborah.

“It’s not a simple thing - what Michael Gove cannot deny is how shocking and tragic the war was for ordinary people.

“Men of all classes, ages and backgrounds lost their lives - it’s such a huge thing and to make such simplistic statements that we should all be celebrating their bravery and nothing more is just wrong.”

Northern Broadsides’ artistic director Barrie Rutter says that the tragedy of the First World War is not something that should be ignored or glossed over in the arts.

“Michael Gove really is a book burner - he’s just crass,” says Barrie.

“The First World War was absolutely gut-wrenching. There was so much hope and jollity going into it, but of course we know better now - it’s absolutely devastating.

“August 1914 was a hopeful time. People were looking to see the world and had their sights set on far horizons - they thought they’d be home by Christmas.”

Barrie says that Michael Gove’s comments are an example among many of the coalition government’s contempt for the arts.

“The current government are book burners par excellence,” says Barrie.

“For every pound the government spend on the arts, three or four pounds is returned to the treasury - so financially, there’s no argument to make all the cuts they have been.

“What they’re doing is attacking the imagination of the country.

“They’re washing their hands of the arts. They’re making a very slow Pontius Pilate attempt to rid itself of such a drop in the ocean, but one which creates such an imaginative leap in the nation.”

This article was published by the Halifax Courier on March 7, 2014.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Reportage: Rail parking charges anger

Passengers have reacted with disappointment to news that parking charges could soon be introduced at Brighouse, Hebden Bridge, Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden rail stations.

Proposals emerged earlier this week to make rail users pay at stations where parking is currently free as the Government negotiates an extension to the franchise held by Northern Rail, the company which runs local services throughout Calderdale.

David Hardy (Lib Dem, Elland), member of the Transport Working Party on Calderdale Council, said the plans will discourage drivers from using the trains.

“It was always the way that if you travelled with British Rail you could park for free.

“At the moment, we’re trying to reduce car parking costs in Calderdale, so I wouldn’t support this at all.

“Rail fares are dear enough. If people are commuting, which I know a lot of people do, it’s a lot of money.

“The size of these car parks isn’t that big, so they aren’t going to make a massive amount of money from them,” he said.

Nina Smith, of the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group, said it is a severely retrograde step which will have a number of detrimental consequences.

“An unknown number of travellers will decide to drive to their destination instead of using the train,” she said.

“The impact of this is more air pollution on a road that already has very high levels, and more carbon emissions, thus contributing further to climate change. It will also add to congestion on already congested routes. There will be an increasing amount of on-street parking. In the case of Hebden Bridge, both on and off-street parking is already at a premium. The cost of going to work will further increase at a time when rail fares are rising faster than inflation.”

It is still unclear when the parking charges would be introduced - it is possible that they could be brought in as early as April - or how much they would cost, but there are no plans to charge for parking at Halifax station.

Todmorden town councillor David Tattersall, a keen rail campaigner, said introduction of parking charges was, in effect, a fare rise.

“It’s not good for rail travellers,” he said.

Northern Rail has stressed the proposals emerged at the behest of the Government.

A Northern Rail spokeswoman said: “We continue to have constructive discussions with the Department for Transport and Rail North on what they want to happen in the new franchise agreement for Northern between April 2014 and February 2016.

“As part of those discussions we have been asked to provide proposals that would reduce the cost to the taxpayer of running the railway as well as providing better facilities and information for Northern customers. The details of the new franchise agreement are still being finalised and we cannot comment further until it is signed.”

In a letter seen by the Courier, chairman of Metro James Lewis urged Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to shelve the idea. He said: “We are not opposed to exploring efficiency options in the future, but believe that the adverse passenger impacts and impact on local highways and neighbourhoods (particularly of the proposed car park charges) have not been properly addressed in the proposals.”

This article was published in the Halifax Courier on February 28, 2014.