NCS: Teaching the next generation some skills

Born from David Cameron’s strong statement in his 2010 manifesto: “there is a tragic waste of potential that shames the
nation”, NCS was introduced.

As part of the cabinet’s ‘Big Society’ project to bring together communities, National Citizen Service, was established under the Coalition government in 2010 to inspire 15-17 year olds to challenge themselves by taking on out of the ordinary activities and learn some new skills in the process.

Cameron set out in his manifesto to create a “programme which encourages young people and gives them a sense of purpose, optimism and belonging.” The ethos is set out with six main objectives aimed to encourage teamwork, communication, and independence in a social and challenging environment; and “above all, is going to help a generation of young people appreciate what they achieve, for themselves, and by themselves.”

NCS inspires young people to challenge themselves both physically and mentally through a variety of outdoor activities such as expeditions, wild camping, kayaking, and high rope activities. It allows them to increase their responsibility and independence through tasks such as budgeting, planning and organising, and cooking for a whole team; in addition to mixing with other team members, and socialising with new people in a new environment.

One of the main parts of NCS is to give something back to the community. Participants must undertake a social action project which encourages community engagement through volunteering, raising awareness or fundraising; all while reflecting on the experience to take their new honed skills into their future.

During the planning phase for the programme, Cameron anticipated something like National Service but without the military regime (hence the name), as “too many young people seem lost. Their lives lack shape or any kind of direction, so they take their frustrations out on the world around them.” But what the government did not anticipate while creating the programme is that the young people who take part are in fact already incredibly talented and intelligent people.

Young people get a lot of bad press, stereo-typically for being lazy, unenthusiastic and wasting opportunities offered to them. This stereotype continues into their early twenties as students. However, it is the young people of this country who are passionate and idealistic, they are talented and skilled, and NCS allows them to unlock their potential and enable them to demonstrate those skills, as well as learn new ones in the process.

The programme is truly remarkable to see the difference in participants from the beginning to the end, and to see them persevere with challenges no matter how big or small they may be. Participants are from all kinds of backgrounds regardless of medical issues and disabilities, poor or affluent, as well as different ethnic minorities. It challenges everyone in a different way; whether it is reaching the summit of a mountain on the expedition and wild camping in a remote place, conquering a fear of water, or even staying away from home for the first time. One of the main parts of NCS is social mixing which is about coming together as a team. Beginning on day one with a group of 11 other strangers, undertake physical outdoor challenges together, cook together, eat together, live together and by the end of three weeks, be carrying out a community project together.

Government funding for the programme is mandatory to “sow the seeds of the Big Society, and see them thrive in years to come” according to Cameron. The Big Society project has been welcomed across parties in the government, and by youth organisations to have a secure investment into the future of society. NCS is starting to take shape to transform a generation into the new society, with hope of setting the bar for engagement with teenagers and young people for generations to come.

However, with every government led scheme comes a host of problems.

In 2016, 93,000 people around the country took part which is an encouraging amount of people who have graduated with employability and life skills. The growth rate is a steady a 23 percent, with the aim of 360,000 participants by 2021 – which is a staggering number of young people to get through a programme each year.

This means the current larger waves of 72 people, broken down into teams of 12 with one member of staff will become teams of 20-30 people with hundreds of participants in any one place at a time.

But as teachers know very well, for every self-sufficient young person, is one who needs some extra support, and when the participant rate is growing so quickly, there are only so many 16 year olds one member of staff can handle for 24 hours a day before problems start arising. One of those problems is spreading their time to thinly across each member of the group, and the people who need the most support slip through the net.

The government has invested £1.26 billion of funding from 2016-2021, however, there is also a target to reduce the cost per person by 29 percent to meet these funding requirements.

In my experience of working on NCS as a team leader, it is a very intense yet rewarding job. The intensity comes from two weeks of residentials in which one takes part in most of the activities to ensure each person fulfils the ethos, in addition to the responsibility for the pastoral care of each person. If the group was any bigger than 12, this role would be extremely difficult to manage, not to mention the social dynamic within the group would alter as groups tend to divide with more people.

 

At the end of the programme, I left with the desire to become a youth worker and be able to work with young people 1:1, as for some people there was so much more potential they could tap into with NCS just being the start of their future – with some extra support this could be achieved for certain people. I was not the only member of staff who felt this way at the end of the programme, and it felt almost like a waste of skills and resources for a young person to be so close to reaching their potential when the programme ends. Just like the feeling of having worked hard to master a particular skill, yet not knowing what to do with it afterwards.

The job satisfaction comes through the presentations towards the end of the programme to see these young people socialising with their new friends, discussing the things they achieved, and presenting their experience to the other NCS participants.

For most members of staff, it brings a tear to their eye to see the impact they have made on 12 young lives through the NCS programme. To see the instant development these young people have made: from starting the programme shy and reserved, and leaving joyful, taking away new skills and the confidence to be able to interact with people they meet for the first time in the future.

However, there isn’t the facility to work with these young people afterwards, unless one happens to be a youth worker in their school, sixth form or college. And, for some of these youngsters, they slip through the net and don’t receive the guidance they need. Which brings me to my conclusion that the government’s targets of having 360,000 participants per year by 2021 is an impractical and overstretched aim. Shepherding as many people to get through the programme as possible is the goal, but there are more favourable ways of doing so without compromising on the quality of the programme and the time spent between staff and young people.

Unfortunately, government schemes are a numbers game and more funding allocation includes the aim of more participants. However, as it is the case on many occasions, quality of over quantity should be considered, particularly on the basis on the education and success of the next generation.

In the same way that university degrees have become the norm, the idea is the skills and personal development learned on NCS should be the standard for generations to come. We should be teaching our youth to be confident, to be able to socially interact with one another, to be able to give something back to the local community, and to be independent and take responsibility for their own lives.

We want to set our standard for British youth to be high achievers which is a bold vision to have for the future, but one which is achievable through the right means and one which we should have already had in place.

However, the target of 360,000 participants by 2021 in this standard can be dangerous if not managed in the right way. Firstly, it not only sets the bar, but raises it in making it more difficult to stand out, and difficult for people to succeed through the programme with so many people taking part.

Secondly, to reach over 300,000 people by 2021 there needs to be a 40 percent increase in numbers. Currently, not every place on the course is being filled – of the 93,000 who took part last year, there were 124,000 places available. Although, there is a steady drop-out rate before the course has started, which is a disappointing waste of money.

And finally, for those numbers to be achieved, there still needs to be a 23 percent reduction in programme costs bringing the average number down to £1,319 per person. There needs to be a significant increase in staff to be able to coordinate such a programme, and more opportunities to secure the future for those few who fall through the net, and never quite reach their potential.

After implementation, our youth may not appear so “lost” as if their “lives lack shape or any sense of direction” according to Cameron, but he has hope:

“The young of this country are as passionate and idealistic as any generation before. Perhaps more passionate. They march against poverty, they set up online campaigns, they push their parents to recycle and they care deeply about climate change.”

I have been lucky enough to work with some young people who are inspired and motivated to do good in the world and take every opportunity given. After my time as an NCS team leader, I celebrate the achievement, and have high aspirations for the successes of these young people to come, and the standard they set for the next generation.

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Back to basics in the anti-cycling war

The country has gone mad on taking a side in the cycling vs drivers war. Since the death of Kim Briggs, the pedestrian who was tragically killed by the cyclist Charlie Alliston last year.

In 2016, there were 400 pedestrians killed in traffic related accidents – one of which was due to a cyclist.

Alliston has been cleared of charges of manslaughter, and charged with “wanton or furious driving”. An offence which many people have never heard of. The archaic conviction was common in the nineteenth century with causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving of non-motorised vehicles such as carriages, and bicycles.

Vehicles of course, follow different rules. Bikes aren’t vehicles, and as cases of cyclists killing pedestrians are extremely rare, the law has never been updated to include cycling in the Road Traffic Act. That is a point to remember, that these cases are extremely rare, unfortunate and could have been prevented.

The tragic accident began with a collision which happens daily in London. Foolhardy cyclists senseless enough to weave in and out of moving traffic in a busy city, and pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phones. Yet, on this occasion the unsuccessful efforts of both parties to avert a collision, led to Mrs Briggs dying of a brain injury in hospital.

 

Both parties are at fault in this situation. However Alliston is undoubtedly more so, as even without the intention of causing an accident, he was knowingly: riding a fixed gear bike without a front brake on the roads in a busy city, endangering himself and others, and not obeying the highway code.

To do that on any road is a recipe for disaster, let alone in the busiest city in the country.

Fixed-gear bikes are becoming more popular on the road. However, they belong on the track and not in busy city centres where as long as the wheels are moving, so are the pedals and the legs attached to them. Which makes it extremely difficult to brake, without considering braking to prevent a collision.

In his campaign to introduce new legislation into the Road Traffic Act, the husband of Mrs Briggs’ says: “With the fixed-wheel bike without the front brake the only means of braking is reverse pedalling… That’s totally inadequate and we’ve seen that with my wife’s death.”

The problem with this story is how much media attention it has drawn and how many opinions it has attracted. The cyclist vs driver war has been fuelled by hateful comments towards cyclists as a result of this story. But why?

Mrs Briggs’ husband is campaigning for a change in the law so it is fair for everybody. Allowing for: cycling to be incorporated into the Road Traffic Act, death by dangerous cycling, and death by careless cycling to be included.  The simple fact the crown prosecution service have charged Alliston with an archaic offence shows there is a gap in what can be charged for these rare situations; and as Briggs’ says: “It’s not so much a new law as just bringing the current law up to date”.

I can confidently say that many cyclists would agree to this legislation to be introduced. As most of cyclists climb aboard their bikes with the intention of keeping themselves and others safe.

Briggs, a London cyclist himself said his campaign for a change in the law was not “witch-hunt against cyclists”, but dealing with the specific issue of “reckless cyclists and those people who choose to ride fixed-wheel bikes without the additional front brake” he added.

When I saw this video of a cycling courier in London, I was horrified that anybody could ride that dangerously. Not only endangering themselves but everybody else on the road with no second thought.

On the one hand, videos like this can be found all over the internet. With reckless cyclists happily riding dangerously, cutting up other road users, riding through red lights and on the wrong side of the road, simply without following any of the highway code.

On the other hand, so can videos with footage shaming drivers by passing too close, cutting up cyclists, overtaking on corners and double white lines. Yet, as I have written before, cyclists will never win the collision war because the only people defending cyclists, are cyclists.

The only media outlets I have seen offering a balanced argument is the cycling publications. The Sunday Times, mocked the government for investing money in cycling. Journalist Adam Boulton, led his column last Sunday with the headline: “At last the wheels are coming off our senseless worship of bicycles” and accused Cycling UK of “cherry picking their facts” in relation to statistics of cycling related injuries; despite claiming on Twitter he is a cyclist himself.

 

 

The London Standard used the insensitive phrase of “Dangerous cyclist mowed down pedestrian”. The Guardian, accused of double standards, went with the unbalanced view that cyclists can get away with such an offence but a motorist would not. In other stories, the newspaper led with ‘cyclist accused of killing woman shouted at her after collision’.

While Cycling Weekly attempted to neutralise the debate and explain to the anti-cyclist media, that no cyclist is applauding or condoning what happened. There are cyclists who are just as horrified at the videos like the one above; and who immediately said Alliston was in the wrong for riding a fixie without brakes – the facts remain the same.

Lets go back to basics here.  Statistics by the Department for Transport show that over 3,000 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in the year up to June 2016.

How many were reported on the same level as the Alliston case by the national media?

In regards to these reported cases involving drivers at fault: how many drivers have sided with the dead or injured cyclist?

In situations more locally, how many drivers have apologised to a cyclist for passing too close, overtaking in unsafe places, or pulling out of/ pulling into junctions without consideration for anyone on the road?

The irritation throughout this case comes from the anti-cycling supporters firing up the flame balls ready to toss at the cyclists, after one accident. It says a lot about the attitudes of road users in the UK and the reforms which need to be made.

 

Why would you ever want to leave Europe? 

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A memorial in Denmark to remember those who fought and went to war. “One moment, one person, one place.”

Here’s a question for a British citizen:

“When was the last time you visited another European country on the continent?”

Because I can hedge my bets on if the answer is: “in the last year or so” one may have been more likely to have voted “remain” in the EU referendum.

As a pro-European, I sit here in a European country surrounded by people I have met from all over Europe to read an article on the progress of Brexit so far, and I still cannot understand why just over half of the voting population would vote to leave Europe, and nor can they.

Our location in the UK, coupled with our British values make us actually quite far removed from Europe already. We have our own currency, we predominantly govern ourselves, and we make our own laws; yet we are part of something bigger.

Think of the company Virgin. The parent conglomerate is Virgin, and the branches are Virgin Media, Virgin Airlines, Virgin Trains and so on. Each is almost an independent company which sets it own rules, and is each directed by a different person, but it it is overseen by the vision of the founders of Virgin.

So the UK is its own company, and we look after ourselves like we are our own company. But ultimately we are a branch of Europe.

When Virgin Airlines was in decline, Branson sold Virgin Records to invest the money back in the Airline. When Britain was in recession in 2008, we were bailed out by our fellow branches from the same tree (as well as other non-EU countries). And when Greece suffered financial problems throughout the last few years, they were bailed out by other European Union members.

We have European laws. However, the vast majority of our laws did not change whenever we joined the euro zone in 1973. European laws do not have to be implemented in every country. If a country decides it does not want to comply with a law, it doesn’t have to, but it has to show that it has something put in place instead. Just like in the UK when a bill is passed through the Parliament: it has to be voted on in the cabinet in the commons and in the House of Lords, if it is not then it is  passed backwards and forwards until it is.

This is why in the UK we drive on the other side of the road and the other side of the car to other European countries–and the rest of the world for that matter.

It is unclear what the percentage of EU laws are implemented in the UK, as there is no distinct definition of what is an EU law. However, in research conducted by the BBC in the referendum campaign: of “945 acts of parliament implemented between 1993-2014, 231 implemented were of EU obligation.” And of over 33,000 statutory instruments implemented in the same period, 4,283 were of EU obligations.

But why is it important to show the number of EU laws the UK has opposed? The EU are the not the enemy, and the whole point of an EU law is so countries in the union can operate on the same level.

To apply for EU membership is difficult, and the country in question has to show that it respects the common values of the member states. Article two of the Lisbon Treaty outlines these values as: “Respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights”.

For example, Turkey is geographically in Europe, yet it has never been recognised as European by its neighbours. To quote the Author Tim Marshall: “Istanbul was European City of Culture 2010, it competes in the Eurovision Song Contest and the UEFA European Championship”; but it is not part of the European Union despite applying for membership in the 1970’s, it has been continually rejected. Factors include its record on human rights, its economy, and the disparity of living conditions.

Here in the EU there are so many opportunities for people of different nationalities within Europe to have free movement, to live, work and retire in a different country while still receiving all of the benefits of their country like pensions.

Being in the EU has given us cheaper and safer holidays without having visas, as so much security is invested in EU airports and online for things like buying a ticket abroad. We have European health insurance, free trade deals, access to the single market, and access to one of the biggest economies in the world.

We pay a hefty membership to be part of this member state, as one does for a club. But just like in your local athletics, darts, or Harry Potter club you receive something in return: a cape, a club house, weekly training sessions, equipment, subsidised entry fees, insurance, and membership to the worldwide Harry Potter alliance.

EU money pays for our roads in areas like Cornwall as part of the regeneration scheme, bridges and infrastructure in some British cities, investment to the NHS, renewable energy infracstrure, and some government schemes are partially funded by the EU. Wales is the biggest benefitter of EU funding (in terms of UK countries) as it goes through regeneration.

Why wouldn’t a tiny island in the sea want to be part of that?

The EU was set up after the Second World War as a peace organisation between member states. In the 1970’s the UK became a member of the ECC (now the EU) and a few years later had a referendum vote. The British public voted to stay in the EU, so what has happened since?

The nonesense debate about taking control of our borders has been going on since the 1960’s and it will continue to go on forever more. But if we have free movement to places like Spain, Germany, France and Portugal, why should those citizens not have free movement to the UK?

Let’s not forget our country is surrounded by the sea. There are exceptions to the rule on how people enter illegally, (such as the immigration crisis in Calais last year) but that happens in every country, and yes changes need to be made to prevent this but the numbers are minuscule in terms of the bigger picture. For anyone to get in, unless they arrive by swimming they have to go through a border.

To obtain a UK visa for non-EU citizens is now extremely difficult. First of all it is not a simple as just getting a visa, there are so many different types. Which cost different amounts and the individual receives different benefits, such as receiving NHS care the same as a UK tax payer.

In Germany I met an Australian girl who applied for a visa, it her cost $1,000 AUS dollars, (the price has recently gone up) and she has to sit a test. This is not a girl who is coming in the country to “take our jobs” she has a profession and is looking for a place in Europe to settle in, and to simply pass through the UK to visit some friends in Edinburgh, she still has to go through this process.

An EU source told the BBC: Everyone in EU parliament think “the Brits have lost it.”

Back to Brexit, the leave campaign did make some good points, and there are so many things that need to be improved in the EU, such as all of the problems surrounded by the migrant crisis last year, trade deals, and so on. But look at the way the referendum ended…

The Leave campaign was taken to court over “knowingly misleading” voters over the figure of £350bn paid to Europe every week, which was found to be purely mythical. In addition to this, take a look at the politicians who were heading the campaign: one is the former and current, and former and current leader of the UK Independence Party. Another is a former cabinet minister who was sacked after the by-election. And the final is Boris Johnson: a once good Mayor of London who stood for two terms, but since failed on his dream to become Prime Minister. Instead settled for a role too far out of his depth as foreign secretary, as a result the international reaction was “overwhelmingly negative”. After the news of Johnson as foreign secretary, an EU source told the BBC: Everyone in EU parliament think “the Brits have lost it.”

This is not to say the referendum was a waste of time (and money–whose money?). The Brexit campaign posed some good arguments and the EU is by no means a model union. If it were, the UK would have implemented a lot more of EU laws, right? And we might drive on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car.

The Switzerland model works well for the EU and Switzerland. But Switzerland have products and an industry to trade. Much of the British industry has been sold off to foreign companies either in Europe or the rest of the world such as the French energy company EDF who own many UK power stations. The outstanding Chinese trade deal for nuclear power stations, the steel works in the North East is now owned outside of the UK. We have our British farming industry to trade because the produce we consume in this country is imported, yet farmers subsidiaries come from the EU. Where will it end?

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A quote from a prisoner at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Berlin.

On my travels in Europe, I have so far met people from Germany, Portugal, Denmark, France, and Brazil, and I have been in three cities for less than a week overall. We learn by meeting people from all over the world, seeing how different counties operate, and how people communicate. A cosmopolitan Europe is a good thing, but in the UK we seem to be scared of growth, and regeneration. Of Brits under 24, 75 percent voted to remain in the EU. That means a variety of things, that people under 24 want a diverse Britain, they want access to other European countries, because that means more opportunities.

In Copenhagen I made friends with a Portuguese guy, I asked why he settled in Denmark and he said because the wages are much higher and the living conditions are much better. In a medium scale job (not a manager or a supervisor) in one day he earns a the equivalent of a week’s wage in Portugal.

One day I would hope to do the same, to move to a different country for a while, work in a different industry and experience life in a different country. Being part of the EU makes that much easier.

As I discuss the brexit situation with these people from all over Europe, I feel embarrassed to say that nearly 52 percent of the UK voters voted to leave the EU.

 

Concrete means investment

The Bay Gateway: the new road connecting Heysham port and power station to the M6, as well as links to the city centre and surrounding areas.

Opening in October 2016, the road took over 72 weeks to build. Acquiring land, and applying for licenses to remove animal habitats was the hardest part of the project to plough through the Lancastrian countryside to create better connections to the city centre, the port, and industrial sites.

Not only has it turned out to be a huge convenience to the local people, it has become an opportunity for more investment in the area. For Heysham port, it means a shorter journey time to the M6, ultimately appealing to businesses and creating improved connections to Belfast, Dublin, and The Isle of Man. Also increased freight traffic through to the M6, could make the small province of Heysham a bigger and better haulage hotspot for the North-West.

The plan for the road has been in the pipeline since 1948. Over the years progressions were made to the get the project started. Heysham bypass was built over moss-land in 1994 to increase transport links to Lancaster, and in 2009 the project was initially approved funding of £111m by the Department for Transport; in 2014, the construction process began.

 

 

 

As Lancaster is situated on the main line of the railway network between Scotland, London and Manchester, and with the M6 running parallel, it is the perfect historic commuting city to the bigger business districts of the North; with an hours journey to Manchester, slightly longer to Liverpool, and only two-and-a-half hours to London.

Lancaster has the perfect balance of a small market town atmosphere coupled with areas of outstanding natural beauty in the local countryside, and beautiful views across Morecambe Bay.

Now with the new road, it takes about nine minutes to get from Heysham to the M6, instead of the 40-50 minutes it could take being stuck in traffic to get to the city centre and the M6.

Five years between the government approving the funding and the construction beginning was a long time to iron out the issues it came across. At the beginning there were initially three proposed routes for the road, all of which came with their individual problems with biodiversity, European laws and a licence from DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) to remove animal habitats (in this case bats and great crested newts) and acquisition of the land.

At the same time, it became clear to the Department for Transport the road was only predicted to be between 0-10 percent successful, which meant a huge gamble of £111m of tax payers money.

However, the government had to the spend the money (the budget eventually rose to £140m) on either building a M6 link road, or improving air quality in congested areas, and transport links in the city centre.

For local people it means almost no time being stuck in traffic going to, and leaving Lancaster in everyday’s rush hour. Not to mention, the improved air quality in the city centre and Carnforth, by taking more vehicles out of the more densely populated areas.

For businesses it means improved access to industrial and development sites, regeneration for the region, (construction of the road alone employed 3,000 people), and a park and ride scheme meaning better access to the city centre, in addition to the walking, and cycle paths on the road.

With these points considered, ploughing through the countryside with concrete has its positives. Improving air quality in congested areas, and encouraging investment to boost the local economy. According to a study by Lancashire County Council, for every £1.00 invested in the road, the community will get £4.00 back in long-term investment.

What makes our greatest athletes?

Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr
Chris Froome became the first person to ride through the channel tunnel. Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr

Where does the grit come from at the very beginning of an athletes career? The grit which is the very reason they have won a gold medal at the Olympics, became a world champion, and won the yellow jersey.

The same grit, that shoehorned them into the sport, to put their focus into something positive. Channel the energy into something constructive; causes blood, sweat, tears and shows where they have come from, and where they are going.

Teams at the Olympics are handpicked. With a vast amount of reasons for competing in their chosen sport. Many, because they were told they would never be good enough, they don’t have the mental capacity, their body is not the body of an Olympian, or they fear the very sport they compete in.

Continue reading “What makes our greatest athletes?”

The Olympics has lost it’s spark

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The build up to Rio 2016 has been like no other in the history of the Olympics. London 2012 was the start of the ancient sporting event steadily going downhill. With questionable funding statements, confusing and ugly artwork surrounding the Olympic park, and an sporting legacy left in tatters after little longer than six positive months post-Olympics, which didn’t last in the UK, nor did we have the funding for.

Rio 2016 has been surrounded by far too many drugs tests, and missed drugs tests in the press. A country being eliminated from competing, then allowed back into compete. Along with the stadium barely being finished, water unsafe to swim in and a body washing up. Athletes kit going missing, an athlete being held on sexual assault, protests, and the athletes village being half built: it will certainly be an Olympics to remember–but not for the right reasons.

Continue reading “The Olympics has lost it’s spark”

First step to dealing with depression: understanding it

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem over the course of a year, with mixed anxiety and depression the most common mental disorder in Britain.
Statistics from the charity Mind show that British men are three times more likely to die by suicide than British women. In addition to this, self-harm statistics for the UK show one of the highest rates in Europe (400 per 100,000 population).

Depression is misunderstood by many people and as it affects a quarter of the population in the UK, it is a topic we need to talk about more. Depression can mean feeling low in spirits, having major mood swings and extreme behaviour, and clinical depression can be life-threatening. Continue reading “First step to dealing with depression: understanding it”

How the North West flooding saga unfolded…

Ducks enjoying the vast amount of water flowing down the River Lune.
Ducks enjoying the vast amount of water flowing down the River Lune.

It was Saturday afternoon and the rain was pouring down as it has been for at least the last month or so almost non-stop. Some colleagues at work living in rural areas in the Lune Valley could not come in due to being “flooded in”. You can’t believe it until you see it.

Continue reading “How the North West flooding saga unfolded…”

Blackout: Thousands of homes left without power in Lancaster and Cumbria as rivers burst their banks

High water level in Lancaster city centre the day after the flooding. All three bridges closed in Lancaster, and the west coast mainline closed due to flooding on the tracks.
High water level in Lancaster city centre the day after the flooding.
All three bridges closed in Lancaster, and the west coast mainline closed due to flooding on the tracks.

Over 60,000 homes are left without power in Lancaster, Morecambe and parts of Cumbria as a record amount of rain flooded the areas. Carlisle and Kendal are the worst affected areas for flooding as the army, police, and lifeboats sailed around the streets evacuating people from their homes.

Continue reading “Blackout: Thousands of homes left without power in Lancaster and Cumbria as rivers burst their banks”

Green, but not green enough?

As one of the largest areas of outstanding natural beauty in the country, the Lake District is green, but is it green enough? The Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) work with local businesses to invest in the sustainability of the National Park, with the aim to reduce carbon emissions, and prevent the effects of climate change harming the environment.

Continue reading “Green, but not green enough?”

Labour’s tuition fee plan could work

*Based on The Guardian’s story on tuition fees this morning: Labour’s plan to cut tuition fees is populist and pointless, says Vince Cable

Labour’s plan to cut tuition fees would work if implemented properly.

Continue reading “Labour’s tuition fee plan could work”

Downgrading arts and humanities isn’t the key to education

Nicky Morgan, education secretary
Nicky Morgan, education secretary

Last night, education Secretary Nicky Morgan said that teenagers should avoid arts and humanities when making subject choices in schools.

Previously students choose science and maths based subjects to follow a specific career path such as medicine, engineering and science professions, but Ms Morgan said that now it “couldn’t be further from the truth”. It’s seen that students choose the arts and humanities with subjects such as English literature, design, textiles, religious education and history, as topics that may keep their options open to different careers.

Ms Morgan says the key to “[keeping] young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths),”

Ms Morgan wants to encourage young people avoid arts and humanities otherwise known as “soft” subjects because they don’t have as good job prospects.

Christine Blower, from the National Union of Teachers, said: “Downgrading the arts is the wrong message.”

The vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts London, Nigel Carrington, said: “this absurd discrimination between ‘hard’ STEM and ‘soft’ arts subjects will damage the next generation of entrepreneurs. The Government needs to recognise that creativity is vital to the economy and should be taught.”

If students choose to only study STEM subjects, their prospects are only in science and technology based jobs, therefore their future doesn’t lie in any other career path.

Ms Morgan’s point is that students may be harming their future if they don’t choose the right subjects. But surely to allow the student to make the choice is the most important thing. Bridges can be built later in life when they have decided their career path. Mature students at university and adult colleges, are in place to allow this to happen.

It didn’t stop Louise Minchin who studied a degree in Spanish and is now a journalist and news presenter.

David Cameron studied history of art, history, politics and economics at A level. (Source: The Independent)

Gordon Brown studied a degree in history, and prior to becoming Prime Minister worked as a TV journalist. (Source: BBC)

Students should be encouraged to pursue the subjects they have an interest and excel in. Not all students are academic, and therefore don’t have an interest in STEM subjects and will find a career in an alternative subject.

As an employer of an engineering firm, you have two candidates both with the same qualifications and experience, but one has a skill, and an interest in something other than engineering, perhaps can play an instrument, or is creative and competent in product design…

Which one would you choose?

Not only that, but beyond education, intelligence doesn’t lie with good exam results. Non-academic people have valuable skills needed in industries which this country wouldn’t survive without. Having terrible exam results doesn’t mean people are unintelligent. Intelligence applied, coupled with skills and creativity conceives a good environment, and a balanced society.

For example in the profession of journalism, both English language and literature is a humanity and an art subject, without these there would be no journalists, nor people who could write, or construct a sentence.

What about the professionals in beauty and hairdressing? Granted they perhaps need some knowledge of chemicals, but an A level in maths, technology or engineering need not apply.

What about in the design sector? When a surgeon, somebody who has studied science, and medicine for a number of years, decides to buy a painting, or refurbish their home, they go into a gallery, or a show room where they expect the artist or designer to have studied or at least have a vast amount of knowledge of art and design and the products there. And they want to see how creative the person is to apply something different to their wall.

When you go into a book shop, you expect the writer of your chosen title to know how to string a sentence together, and to have some creativity in constructing a story. You don’t learn creativity from studying STEM subjects.

If the message keeps continuing into the next generation after generation… they will eventually all have qualifications in the “hard” subjects, surely there will be nobody fit to work in the art or humanities industry. Then, consequently, the science, technology, engineering, and maths sectors will be overrun, and too competitive because everybody has the same qualifications.

There are thousands of jobs in both arts and humanities, and more and more are created everyday, more of which require knowledge and a form of qualification in the subject. STEM subjects are important for the professionals who need the exact qualifications such as doctors, nurses, and scientists, but not everybody should be swayed to these professions.

Not everyone has an interest, or a capability of studying “hard” subjects, students should be free to make their own subject choices. Not guided by the people who cannot fix the education system as it is.

 

 

(Photo: Wikipedia)

If Le Tour De Yorkshire was a success, what does this mean for cycling in Britain?

Cycling in Britain appears in the news more than it should. There is always a new story about a cyclist being killed on the road, stories from cyclists about being shouted abuse at, many even wear helmet cameras just in case of an incident! Road cyclists aren’t a favourite of motorists in cities like London and Manchester, and even smaller and more rural places like Lancaster.

I started writing this post about how successful the first two stages of Le Tour De France was in Yorkshire, and whether attitudes would change upon cycling in the UK.

I saved it as a draft and went out on my bike, and now I’ve deleted it and changed the focus of the post because nothing has changed what-so-ever.

During the short loop of 22 miles I did, included being beeped at and shouted at more than once and, being called an “[effing] moron” just for cycling…

The first incident was coming over the bridge at the beginning of Lancaster’s one way system. There were two of us riding single file and sticking to our left side of the road so cars could pass. Can picture it? Think of your stereotypical taxi driver, constantly drives over the speed limit, pulls out on cyclists and other drivers whenever he feels like it, and thinks he owns the road. Beeps at us and shouts out of the window at us to “move out of the way”. Move to where? We were already as far into the left side of the road as was possible.

To my delight, about 100yds ahead, the traffic lights turned to red and he stopped. So I did the obvious thing and acted like a first class prick: stopped about two metres in front of him and waited for the lights to turn to green. When they finally did, I rode very slowly in front of the car at about 13mph until he angrily sped off into the left lane.

We carried on going up through town, and about half a mile from where the incident with the taxi driver occurred, we were called “f***ing morons” as we cycled up the one-way system, bearing in mind it has two lanes, nobody was in the other lane and we were again, riding single file and on the left side of the road. This one infuriated me even more because I couldn’t get revenge. However, it did fuel me with anger to pedal up the Lancaster Royal Grammar School hill pretty quick. I am still Queen of the Mountain on that category four climb.

With over two and half million people lining the streets of Yorkshire over the weekend to watch Le Grande Départ,  it was said that it was one of the best departs of Le Tour De France, and is likely that it will return to the UK in the coming years.

The race director Christan Prudhomme said:

“I can see the Tour in their hearts, and in their eyes. For that, I say thank you to everyone in Yorkshire who has made this Grand Depart so very, very special.”

It was also noted that it wasn’t just local people that turned up to watch the professionals whizz past, people from all over the country came to watch. The peloton even had to stop part-way up Buttertubs pass due to the volume of people and lack of road space. After the success of London 2012, more people started cycling and realised the benefits of schemes like Ride2Work and used it as an incentive to cycle:

Mark Brown, Head of Ride2Work at Evans Cycles, said: “The big stat we had was of that from July to August we saw 150% increase in people joining from the same period in 2011.” (Cycling Weekly 2013)

Over the weekend, more people certainly got out on their bikes in Yorkshire, as roads closed to cars at 6am on the morning of the stages and the only way to get around was on foot or by pedalling. As I cycled up Buttertubs at 9:30, the peloton was not due to be passing until 2pm, and people were already getting themselves a spot on the hill. 10488135_10203846251053897_1856081899815137271_n

The success of the Tour in Yorkshire was a celebration of cycling, and many turned up on their best bikes in their best club and team kit.

10518662_10203846099490108_7981864125507733782_nMore and more people support cycling, if not do it themselves. London 2012 sparked enthusiasm and inspiration in many to take up sport, whether it was doing their first triathlon, or going to play football. London 2012 was a success due to the smooth running of the events, and also the support and interest of so many proud British people, proud to support Team GB and proud to have the Olympic and Paralympic Games in their country.

If well respected events like the Olympic and Paralympics, Le Tour De France and so many others can’t change peoples attitudes towards cyclists, what will?

My question is, with so many people from across the UK turning up to watch and support the Tour, as well as more and more of the UK’s population beginning to cycle themselves, why are cyclists still hated on the roads in Britain?

Salford is Salford… Not Manchester.

First of all let me get this straight. Salford is a city situated on the edge of Manchester. So close that as soon as you walk five minutes away from Deansgate in Manchester you see this sign:

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After the BBC posted an article last week discussing whether Salford should just scrap its name and become part of Manchester “to boost the area’s international reputation” it irritated me quite a lot. Salford is a place of its own, Manchester is also a place of its own, they just happen to be next to each other and in the same county.

Salford used to be a part of Lancashire hence why Old Trafford Cricket Ground is called “Lancashire Cricket Ground”. Trafford is also a place of its own: “The Borough of Trafford” and also used to be part of Lancashire.

Since Greater Manchester took over the entire surrounding areas of Manchester, it now covers quite a vast area. So if Salford should scrap its name you might as well call Bolton, Manchester, or Bury, Manchester, or Stockport, Manchester.

Salford is Salford. Granted it is a small city, which has miniature areas like Eccles, Pendleton, Swinton, Adelphi and so on. Yes it doesn’t really have a centre and yes it does have a bad reputation or could be argued HAD a bad reputation. Salford is industrial, just like Stoke-on-Trent it is a place made up of other little places.

But why should Salford scrap its name? We have a city council, we are famous for quite a few things, albeit some may be bad things, but people still know where Salford is, and what is here so why should we be removed from the map?

Imagine a slice of bacon. Manchester is the meat with Salford being the fat around the edge. The meat is the entirety of the slice, yet the slice still contains fat. A lot of people don’t like the fat (Salford’s bad reputation) and cut the fat off the bacon (“I live in Manchester. Not Salford”). But then there are the people who still like the fat and eat it.

But what about the little piece of fat that is always situated in the middle of the bacon towards the bottom. This is Moss Side, one of the roughest estates in Manchester, and not just Moss Side, but metaphorically stands for all the fat that Manchester has too.

So what about streaky bacon? A lot of people like that, and it has more fat than normal bacon. Salford and Manchester act more like streaky bacon by working with each other instead of working like Hadrian’s wall and cutting the fat off the edge of the bacon. It’ll be the same if Scotland have independence. On the one hand from this government’s point of view, there will be a big black cross on the map beyond Hadrian’s wall. On the hand if Scotland decide to stay in the UK they might as well just change their name to England…???

All types of meat (cities) has fat. Some types more than others. But this isn’t to say you need to get rid of the fat. You need the fat to cook the meat, (support and make up a society) and you need the fat and the juices to make a good gravy to go alongside the meat.

In the last 10 years or so Salford has changed and re-developed for the better. This is obvious from years ago when my father and I would venture into Salford to watch Manchester United play at Old Trafford. Now that I live here, there has been so much investment that we should be proud of. We have a university that has positively changed and is investing more money into more facilities and is now making its way up the league tables. It is also the only university at MediaCityUK.

MediaCityUK would not exist if Peel Holdings did not decide to re-develop Salford Quays. At the time so many people laughed at Peel Holdings for wanting to do so as it was left to decay for so long with the Manchester Ship Canal being so polluted beyond any hope of positive change. Peel Holdings did it. And now look at them.

The BBC moved five departments up north, and lets be honest they did it because they were criticised for being too commercialised in the centre of London. They had to realise that there was something beyond London and a vast majority of their audience are actually outside of the capital in the rest of the UK.

“The objectives for the relocation to Salford were better to serve audiences in the north of England, improve quality of content for all audiences, improve efficiency and provide economic and other benefits to the region.” 

They have been there for about five years and certainly in the last five years things have changed. We have Salford Quays which brings many events to the area every year from watersports to shows at the Lowry. We have the famous Salford lads club that is mainly used for people to come and have a photo taken outside of it.

The rest of the reasons can be read here.

Salford is quirky and that’s why we love it. If Salford became Manchester, the University of Salford would then be “the University of Manchester”, and that might oppose some copyright issues. Salford Quays would then be Manchester Quays, and that just does not sound as good. What would happen to Salford City Council? Would that leave room for some more job cuts? Salford’s bad reputation would just be passed onto Manchester – that does not solve the problem or “boost the area’s international reputation”, it just completely avoids the problem. Salford is slowly shedding its historical skin which left it as an undesirable place to be. Now look at it. So to the people at the BBC that ran the article, and to the people that say “ooooh you don’t want to go there, it’s rough is Salford”, this is me sticking two fingers up at you and saying why don’t you live here and find out what it is really like.