2014 PARISH NEWS    

DECEMBER

PRISONERS REPORTEDLY RUN RIOT AFTER FIRE AT HMP NORTHUMBERLAND


Prisoners at a North East jail reportedly ran riot after a fire broke out.

Seven inmates at HMP Northumberland in Acklington had to be evacuated to the exercise yard where trouble flared after the incident last week. However the inmates surrendered after extra officers were deployed. No prisoners or staff were injured.

It is the latest in a series of incidents at the jail which has raised concerns among staff as well as Lib Dem Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith.

In March there was an incident involving more than 50 inmates who took part in a stand off and refused to return to their cells as riot officers stood by at the category C jail where there has been a number of redundancies.

A spokesman for French company Sodexo Justice Services, which took over the jail in December 2013, said: “We can confirm there was an incident involving seven prisoners at HMP Northumberland on Thursday night on 27 November.

“Prison staff resolved the situation within a few hours.”
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

OCTOBER

SUSPECTED CLASS A DRUG HAUL FOUND IN HMP NORTHUMBERLAND

A police probe is underway after suspected class A drugs were seized at a jail where a riot broke out in March.

Officers at the 1,300-capacity HMP Northumberland jail, near Acklington, raised the alarm when a large package of powder was found during a routine search on Tuesday lunchtime.

Police say the haul includes other “illicit items” and a substantial amount of a substance which, if proven to be a class A drug, would be worth tens of thousands of pounds.

The firm which runs the jail - French company Sodexo - has just been announced as the winner of a contract to manage probation services Northumberland, Tyne and Wear. A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said: “We can confirm that as the result of routine security measures a substantial amount of illicit items including drugs were seized at HMP Northumberland on Tuesday.

“The police investigation into the incident is ongoing and we working with them to find those responsible.

“Safety and security of prisoners, staff and visitors is always a top priority for Sodexo Justice Services as this seizure demonstrates.”

The discovery follows a series of incidents at the 1,300-capacity Category C prison, including a riot in March which saw inmates take over a wing.

It has also been revealed how staff numbers at HMP Northumberland fell from 441 to 270 from 2010 to 2013 - a drop of 39% and prison officers have described the Category C jail as “a powder keg waiting to explode”.

Mike Quinn, for the Northumbria Branch of Napo, said the revelation is further evidence that the jail is in “chaos”.

He said: “The discovery of a substantial amount of drugs at HMP Northumberland will surely come as a massive blow to Sodexo, who just yesterday were announced as preferred bidders for the private probation contract in the Northumberand, Tyne and Wear.

“The toxic mix of staff cuts and the availability of such a quantity of drugs is highly likely to be contributing to the problems the prison is currently experiencing.

“Of course the public are protected from this chaos in a custodial environment, it’s our colleagues working in the prison who are out at risk by the decisions of the company.

“This is the danger the Government are talking by handing Sodexo a monopoly on punishment and rehabilitation in the area.”

A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said: “Police were called at 1.05pm on Tuesday and received information from HMP Northumberland that a quantity of what is suspected to be drugs had been found.

“A quantity of what is believed to be class A drugs has been seized and will now need to be tested. Inquiries are ongoing and we are working closely with the prison.”

Anyone with information should call 101 ext 69191 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


VILLAGE HOSTS QUIRKY DISPLAY


A quirky take on a world-renowned and prestigious accolade will form part of Acklington Art Group’s upcoming exhibition later this month.

In a comic twist, a series of interesting and thought-provoking art installations will go on show in a bid to win the Turnip Prize – a spoof of the Turner Prize.

The eye-catching creations will be included among other pieces of work in the exhibition, which will give people the chance to view the varied and interesting crafts produced by the group.

Sylvia McClure said: “As an added interest and for a bit of fun, we have decided to hold a spoof Turner Prize exhibition, calling it The Turnip Prize.

“Visitors will be asked to vote for their favourite and the winning artist will be presented with a golden turnip.

“We are hoping that The Turnip Prize exhibition will play a significant role in provoking debate about visual art in Acklington and will become recognised as the most prestigious art award in the village.

“We also make pretty good cakes so come along and make it a social occasion with your friends.”

The exhibition takes place at Acklington Village Hall, on Sunday, October 26, from 11am to 4.30pm.

Entry is free and there will also be a raffle and refreshments.

The Turner Prize, named after the painter JMW Turner, is an annual prize presented to a British visual artist under the age of 50.

Awarding the prize is organised by the Tate Gallery and staged at Tate Britain.

Since its beginnings in 1984 it has become the UK’s most-publicised art award.

It represents all media and notable artists to have exhibited work include Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. This year’s exhibition opened at the end of September.
______________________________________________________________________________________________

AUGUST


LIFEBOAT PAINTINGS PROVE A HIT FOR ACKLINGTON ARTIST


Acklington artist Charles Evans has touched a national nerve with his paintings of east coast lifeboats.

His sketch of the Hartlepool lifeboat heading for a stricken yacht led on to greater things, as journalist David Whetstone finds out.

If you work in an office or miles from the coast it is easy to forget that we are an island nation and plenty of our fellow citizens regularly find themselves in peril on the sea.

Charles Evans, who lives not far from the sea in Acklington, Northumberland, got a reminder of this with a watercolour painting of a lifeboat.

It appeared in the August edition of Culture magazine, published free every month with The Journal, and became a bit of a sensation on social media.

One painting led to another and another... and may yet lead to another as Charles responds to the widespread interest in his depictions of lifeboats and his mounting admiration for their crews of volunteers.

Beginning at the beginning, he recalls: “I was leading a painting group in Amble and the Humber and the Hartlepool lifeboats were both up on the chocks in the boatyard getting repaired.

Charles Evans with the lifeboat paintings that have caused a stirCharles Evans with the lifeboat paintings that have caused a stir
“It was quite an amazing sight. The first painting I did of the Hartlepool lifeboat was in the last Culture magazine and I found everyone was talking about it.

“On Twitter the picture got more than 500 retweets but people were also sending messages or coming up to talk about it.”

The response got Charles thinking that he would do something for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution).

“The thing is, we live in the North East and we’ve got sea all along one side of us.

“Many of us see it all the time and it’s easy to take it for granted. But these guys (the lifeboat crews) are out there all the time saving people’s lives... and they’re all volunteers.

“Even as I was painting the sea, I was thinking: My God, how pleased would you be, if you were in trouble, to see one of these things coming towards you?”

Charles, who spends much of his time hosting painting masterclasses around the country, says the first painting sparked plenty of comment among his masterclass pupils.

“It’s amazing how many people have come up to me and said they were rescued or picked up or towed in by the RNLI.”

Having enjoyed doing the watercolour of the lifeboat being repaired, Charles went back to do more sketches with a view to creating more dramatic paintings.

“The best thing I could do for the RNLI was to give them a painting which they can turn into a print or sell to raise money,” he says.

He has completed two paintings of the Hartlepool lifeboat in action and one showing the vessel approaching a stricken yacht is to be donated as a fund-raiser.

Charles says he has never really been a maritime painter although once, when filming a painting series for Tyne Tees, he was lowered over the North Sea on a winch by the crew of a Sea King helicopter from RAF Boulmer.

Charles, who used to be in the RAF, had a sketchbook strapped to one hand and a pencil tied to the other in a modern-day version of 19th Century landscape painter JMW Turner’s supposed exploit of being lashed to a mast at sea.

He says this wasn’t necessary for him to paint a stormy sea so convinvingly.

“You use your imagination, basically. As an artist you look at things differently. You know the sea and how it moves and you know the image you want to get. I can always see the picture I want in my head before I start painting.”

He is pretty pleased with the way the paintings have turned out. He might even do another to benefit the Amble lifeboat crew.

You can see another of Charles’s paintings in the September edition of Culture, free in The Journal on August 26. You can find more of his work online at www.charlesevansart.com


PROBATION OFFICERS FEAR VIOLENCE AT 'TINDERBOX' PRISON

A North East prison is like a "tinderbox" after the number of prison officers there was slashed, it has been claimed.

Probation workers fear visiting HMP Northumberland, near Acklington, after an officer was hospitalised by an inmate on August 9th.

NAPO Northumbria branch chairman Mike Quinn said staff cuts at the jail, run by private firm Sodexo, have led to a "violent culture"

He described the Category C jail as “like a tinderbox” and claims cash is being exchanged for prisoner assaults.

It has been revealed how staff numbers at HMP Northumberland fell from 441 to 270 from 2010 to 2013 - a drop of 39%.

Mr Quinn said: “We are becoming increasingly alarmed at reports about conditions at HMP Northumberland.

“Members report to me that the atmosphere within the prison is tense and are concerned that if an incident were to take place that there would simply not be the staff to deal with it.”

It comes as Eoin McLennan Murray, president of the Prison Governors Association, revealed Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s austerity drive is making it impossible to run a jail safely. He said this week: “We haven’t been able to recruit the numbers we need.”

Private firm Sodexo took over the running of the jail in December 2013, after HMP Acklington and HMP Castington merged two years before.

Mr Quinn added: “Worryingly, we’ve learnt that money may be changing hands between prisoners in order for assaults to be undertaken between prisoners. This will result in not only danger to prisoners, but also the staff employed at the prison.

“Prisoners are reporting to our members that they’re submitting applications to see healthcare professionals, to access education opportunities or to attend rehabilitative programmes, only to not hear back.”

The union boss accused Chris Grayling of “destroying any hopes of rehabilitation” with cuts.


SHE IS NOT BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE

A Northumberland woman who set up a home-from-home petcare service is in the running to win a national accolade.

Tina Young, from Guyzance, who launched the East and North Northumberland franchise of Barking Mad in 2005, has been shortlisted for the Micro-Business Award at the HSBC British Franchise Association Franchisee of the Year Awards, supported by Express Newspapers

The category showcases the excellent business practice carried out by the nation’s smaller franchises.

In total, there are 19 finalists across a range of categories. The winners will be announced during a black-tie ceremony in Birmingham Town Hall on Thursday, October 2.

The most outstanding franchisee will be crowned Franchisee of the Year at the awards, alongside the category winners.

The overall winner of the British Franchise Association HSBC Franchisee of the Year Award will win £10,000. Each category winner will receive £1,000, all courtesy of HSBC.

Earlier this year, Tina, proved she was top dog when she won the Barking Mad Franchisee of the Year Award.

With the help of her team – Carol Ann Grey, Colin Heathcote and new administrator Jenny Beaumont – she hopes to increase turnover in 2015 by 35 per cent.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

APRIL

WORK WITH WOLVES LEADS TO TEACHING DOGS TO BEHAVE

An animal behaviourist who previously worked extensively with wolves is helping dog owners in the North East to gain a better understanding of their pets.

Dr Isla Fishburn started Kachina Canine Communication to increase the understanding of both pets and wild animals.

A qualified zoologist with a PhD in conservation biology, Dr Fishburn returned to her native North East after spending time in the South of England researching and working with wolves.

Now she is holding behaviour and communication courses at Acklington Village Hall.

She said: “I researched how wolves interact, and offered wolf encounter courses where people could come and experience time with them.

“Many of the visitors had dogs and it was seeing people’s reactions to their own dogs, never mind the wolves, that convinced me that a lot of people need help in understanding how their dogs think and communicate with us and how they can work with them to overcome the problems that are all too common.”

Originally from Newton Hall in Durham, Dr Fishburn has based Kachina Canine Communication in Acklington.

She has worked with police and prison dog handlers and used her techniques to address a range of behavioural issues with rescue dogs.

She said: “As I work holistically, my focus is improving the individual wellbeing of each dog and its owner and creating mutual trust and respect.”


STAFF FEARS AFTER DISTURBANCE AT PRISON

Staff, politicians and union bosses have all expressed grave misgivings about staff levels at HMP Northumberland after Friday’s ‘stand-off’.

A disturbance took place when around 50 prisoners refused to return to their cells in one wing of the Acklington prison, which became just the second privatised facility in the country when Sodexo Justice Services took over in December.

It followed an announcement in October that up to 200 jobs could go after Sodexo took control.

One prison officer, who did not wish to be named, told the Gazette there have been a number of incidents recently, including rooftop protests and attempted escapes.

“The whole jail is a powder keg waiting for the spark. There will be more trouble, that’s for sure,” he said.

“It’s a disgrace; staff are kept in the dark, there is no communication between management and staff – we hear things from the inmates before it gets to us – and to top it off, there are another 37 staff leaving this month.

“I do not know how the jail will function or, even worse still, respond to alarm bells or help, as we are at breaking point now.”

One of his colleagues, who also wanted to remain anonymous, added: “The reason it happened was the staffing levels.

“I’m all up for change, I believe the prison service had to change. After the merger of the two prisons (Acklington and Castington), we had too many staff, but now we haven’t got enough.

“There’s two sides to a story and I’m open to change, but it rarely happened before. The last time there was a barricade was about 11 years ago.

“It’s getting dangerous. The convicts aren’t stupid and something will happen.”

The POA (formerly the Prison Officers’ Association) has praised its members for their ‘bravery during a serious disturbance’ with some staff apparently being inside the prison until 1.40am on Saturday, having started shifts at 7.30am on Friday.

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith has taken up the issue and has sent a series of ‘urgent and detailed questions’ to Sodexo and his Government’s Prisons Minister.

Sir Alan Beith MP

“I have asked what lessons have been learned from the incident and whether prison safety can be retained with such a large reduction in staffing,” he said yesterday, adding that he is also concerned about unsupervised or unescorted movement of prisoners and apparently increasing and organised efforts to get drugs into the prison over the fence.

The county council is also concerned and yesterday leader Grant Davey announced the creation of a working group to look at issues such as privatisation, staffing levels and training.

Coun Scott Dickinson, whose ward contains the prison, said: “Back in October, I raised concerns about staffing levels and Friday’s events suggest that maybe the reductions have been too fast.”

A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said: “We congratulate all the staff involved in the incident for the professional way in which they resolved the situation.

“There was minimal damage to the affected area and the prison returned to its normal regime by Saturday morning. We are now carrying out an investigation into the incident.”

“We review staffing levels at all our prisons on a regular basis and will continue to monitor them at HMP Northumberland, particularly at a time of change when we are introducing longer working days for prisoners.

“Safety and security of prisoners, staff and visitors is always a priority for Sodexo Justice Services, as independent reports in each of our prisons by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons demonstrate.

“Our other four UK prisons achieved distinctions in last year’s International Safety Awards, held by the British Safety Council, for our commitment to safety, which is so crucial to our business.”

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

MARCH

GUYZANCE TEEN SHARES TALE TO STOP STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS

A teenager has spoken about hitting ‘rock bottom’ after becoming addicted to taking ‘selfies’ as he tries to raise awareness of mental illness.

Danny Bowman, 19, tried to take an overdose after dropping out of school and becoming addicted to taking pictures of himself, or selfies, to find the perfect image.

“It started when I was 15,” said Danny, from Guyzance.

“I wanted to impress girls, as you do, and I just didn’t feel good enough, so I started taking selfies to try to get the perfect one.

“I would put them on Facebook and girls would see them. But then I got mixed reviews and I just kept taking more.

“I spent six months housebound, taking 200 selfies a day.”

He didn’t see his friends or family and lost two stone in weight in his bid to create the perfect image.

But Danny, who appeared on ITV’s Daybreak this week, said he hit rock bottom when his mum found him ‘piling in’ tablets in a bid to take an overdose.

“It was awful and really upsetting,” he said.

Danny was fortunate to be treated at London’s Maudsley Hospital, after he was diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, technology addiction and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Now he wants to raise awareness of mental illness.

He said: “By sharing my story I want to stop the stigma against mental illness and raise awareness of this awful illness and illnesses like it.”

Talking about technology, Danny added: “Selfies are such a new thing and we live in such a multimedia age that you can’t avoid it. Everynody wants to outdo each other and to show how good their life is or how good-looking they are. But it can get extremely addictive, it’s like a drug.”

He spent around four months being treated for his addiction as an inpatient and outpatient. “The treatment was amazing,” he said. “But it was very hard, and difficult at times, but it got me better.”

He added: “I really want mental health to be recognised as equal to physical health and for there to be more investment in services.”


AFFORDABLE HOUSING GETS THE GREEN LIGHT

Planners have voted unanimously to allow affordable homes in the corner of a field, despite unease about the risk of major growth of the village.

North planning committee members backed the application for four semi-detached houses at the western edge of Acklington on Thursday. The site, with views to Simonside, is to provide the affordable element of an 11-home barn conversion at Cavil Head Farm, less than a half-mile north of the village.

The four houses next to Acklington Village Hall will be rented to local people by a social landlord at up to 80 per cent of the market rate.  The barn conversions will be rented at market value.

Parish councillors and seven objectors had voiced concern that using the greenfield site could lead to much more building on that expanse of farmland.

Coun Robert Arckless told the meeting at Alnwick council chamber: “I think all of us have a degree of sympathy with that concern. It’s worth raising that point for reassurance that by accepting this, we are not creating a precedent.”

Coun Trevor Thorne asked if the four-home site was considered acceptable despite being outside the ‘village envelope’ only because the properties were affordable.

Principal planning officer Vivienne Robinson said it complied with policy because it satisfied a local need. Even if it were market-price housing, it could be considered if it met a local need.

Council solicitor Tom Graham said there was law on the requirement to look at non-greenfield sites first, but this was not such a case.

Coun Thorne moved approval because the social homes were in demand, but he was concerned about it being outside the envelope. That was seconded by Coun Gordon Castle, who shared the same concern. He suggested the village draw up a development plan, so it was in the driving seat rather than builders.

Acklington Parish Council chairman Coun Jeff Newton told the meeting that if the four houses on the farmland were allowed, it would not be long before other applications were made to build on more of the field.

The national planning framework said affordable housing should be allowed away from the main development site only if that could be robustly justified. The four houses would be better at Cavil Head, where there was a shop and a playground.

“As an absolute last resort, we would be prepared to see the development going ahead without any affordable housing provision.”

Agent for the two linked schemes, Richard Garland, told councillors: “We’ve been waiting to bring this site forward since 2004. We have now had a national change in planning policy with the aim of freeing-up sites such as this.”

The affordable housing was much needed in this community and the other part of the project would preserve the architectural heritage of the farm buildings. Those 11 barn conversion homes would go some way to meet demand for properties to rent in the area, he said.

Five people wrote in support of the affordable homes, saying they would attract young people to an ageing community.

The Cavil Head barn conversions were also approved.


NEW ERA LOOMS FOR SMALL VILLAGE SCHOOL

Application to accept three-year-olds has been approved

A small north Northumberland school is chalking up big changes by opening its doors to nursery-age children for the first time.

Staff, parents, governors and pupils at Acklington C of E First School are delighted to be welcoming three-year-olds from Easter.

The school, which is one of the smallest in the county, has only ever received youngsters aged four and over.

The change comes after an application to take nursery-age children, which was made by the school in December, was approved by Northumberland County Council.

School staff and governors believe it is a positive and beneficial step, with one representative describing it ‘like getting a private education for free’.

Headteacher Claire Jones said: “I am so happy that we are opening our doors to nursery-age children.
“We have a very well equipped Early Years Unit with great outdoor learning facilities and a popular forest school area.

“It makes perfect sense to offer children in our village and further afield a place in our school before they are of Reception age.”

The governor for Early Years, Tracey Clerkin-Shone, was also delighted at the news.
She added: ‘’I think it is great that children living in and around the village can get their children settled into their permanent school from age three.

“Because it is a small school with lots of staff, it is like getting a private education for free and children gain so much confidence because of the high levels of attention they receive.”

Parents and carers who are interested in enrolling their three-year-old should contact the school to make an appointment to have a look around and discuss your child’s needs with the headteacher. Contact 01670 760335.

The school in Acklington has a long history.
It was built in 1852 and opened in 1853, making it one of the oldest schools still in operation in the county.
The first pupil to register in 1853 was 10-year-old Ann Egdele.

Since that time, hundreds of pupils have enjoyed their early education at the village school.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

FEBRUARY

WEDDINGS DOWN THE YEARS

An exhibition of wedding dresses with stories behind them will take place in a north Northumberland village this weekend.

"Weddings of the past" takes place on Sunday in Acklington village Hall, with all proceeds from the £1 entry fee going towards a sound system for the community venue.

Billed as "Something old, something new, everything borrowed, come and view", all of the dresses on display have some kind of tale to tell and also span the decades, offering a look at changes of fashion and design.

Exhibits include an original 1921 dress and an original 1951 dress, which will be displayed with associated details including press cuttings of the wedding which took place at St John's Church in Chevington.

There will also be Georgian-style wedding outfits used by friends of the organisers at their wedding at Wordsworth House.

Handmade and loaned to the exhibitors by In Disguise from Choppington, they were featured on the ITV television series, Inside the National Trust.

There will also be a complete bride’s ensemble recovered from the roadside at Guyzance, which is believed to have been thrown from a stolen car.

There will be more spanning the decades, including coming right into the modern era with a gay wedding which took place last year.

And even the war years aren’t missed out, as someone has loaned a mock wedding cake used during wartime, which will appear alongside wedding photos from the 1800s onwards.

Sharon Thorpe, who is secretary of the village hall, explained that she happened upon the idea when looking for a fund-raiser after her friend Lorna found her old wedding dress.

“We realised that lots of people must have them stored away, but I thought it would be an ideal thing for a fund-raising event,” she said.

“It’s been such a lovely thing to do, because people are giving their dresses, but they also have stories to tell and pictures. It’s been fascinating.

“Dresses are still coming in and if we have room, I will put them in the exhibition.”


PUPILS SHARE THEIR SECRETS OF THE SAND

Pupils from Acklington Church of England First School in Northumberland have been busy sharing the secrets of the sand at Low Hauxley with their classmates this week.

The pupils had previously joined Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s massively successful 'Rescued from the Sea' archaeology project at Druridge Bay, last July, when hundreds of volunteers of all ages took part in a unique archaeological dig, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, to unearth an 8,000 year old Bronze Age burial mound and a Mesolithic settlement dating back to 6,100BC.

At the time, the pupils participated in the ‘Footprint Project’, which included scraping back the sand and making plaster casts of animal footprints including the now-extinct auroch which are ancestors of domestic cattle that inhabited Europe until the 1600s.

This week, the children re-visited the project, this time from the warmth of their classroom, making copies of Bronze Age beaker pots, which were then placed alongside a time line, next to genuine flints and tools recovered during the dig last summer.

As the session was run by Northumberland Wildlife Trust, it went without saying that Tracy Evans, People and Wildlife Officer with the charity, had the children thinking about the longevity of nature over the past 8,000 years - from the extinct auroch to the red deer which was alive then, and is still very much alive now, and how the tracks and trails they leave from muddy footprints on the classroom floor to dirty handprints on their desks are just the same as those left by animals in worlds gone by.

Tracy said: “The Rescued from the Sea project was really great as it fired up children’s enthusiasm and got them thinking about what happened on their own ‘doorstep’ thousands of years ago. The timeline approach was a great way of showing them how the time period they are living in now is tiny compared to all that has gone on generations before. Who knows, one day one of them may end up presenting Time Team on Channel 4… I wonder if they’ll remember me?!”

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

JANUARY

FACTORY BANK CLOSED FOR REPAIRS

Important repairs to the factory bank on the C102 (the road between Acklington and Guyzance) are being carried out as part of Northumberland County Council’s local transport plan’s landslip programme.

The repairs, on the north side of Factory Bridge, began on Monday 27th January and are expected to take about six weeks to complete - subject to weather conditions.

The costs involved in halting the slippage and repairing the road will be in the region of £175,000

This is a main route from Acklington to the A1 (and it is also the main road from Acklington to Guyzance) so it has major implications for local motorists.