August 2010

Tue, 31 Aug

After a busy morning at my desk, I met Dorset's fire chief Darran Gunter. A thoroughly professional and efficient man, he was soon briefing me on the situation in Dorset.

I have to say it is not good, with the fire service now stretched as far as it can go. I think everyone accepts cuts are imminent and necessary, but Dorset has suffered badly from lack of central government funding these past 13 years.

Anyway, the briefing was information and illuminating and source for concern.

 

Sun, 29 Aug

Fortunately, I allowed myself a good hour to get to Swanage to attend today's Civic Service. And just as well, because one lane was closed in the middle of Corfe Castle, causing traffic chaos. 

I did manage to get to Swanage by 3.15pm and joined the parade outside the Mowlem Theatre. There the Mayor and Mayoress, Cllr Bill Trite and Cheryl Knight, lined up behind a very smart contingent from the Royal Signals, who set off to St Mary's Church at a cracking pace.

In fact, so fast that it wasn't long before the parade resembled the retreat from Moscow! We made it, though, and the service was sensitively taken by the delightful Rector, The Reverend John Wood.

Bill and his lovely partner will make a fine Mayor and Mayoress. Both know the resort and its needs well. We all  breathed a sigh of relief that the rain stopped just in time.

Fri, 27 Aug

A lot more correspondence and cases to follow up, before attending a fundraising lunch in Owermoigne.

Lunch was delicious and, despite the swarms of wasps which buzzed incessantly around the food, we managed to eat it all without being stung. 

A quick change and I headed to Smedmore to attend the Serenata Concert. Poor things ... the first day had been virtually washed out and numbers were down to watch the boy band Blake.

Today was Day Two and the sun did come out, which was just as well as opera star Katherine Jenkins was top of the bill. 

I had been asked by the organisers to introduce Andy Harris, whose wife Denise had set up the charity Afghan Heroes. 

Denise's young son, Corporal Lee Scott, of 2 RTR, was killed on operations a year ago. Since then, Denise and her husband have worked ceaselessly to raise money for bereaved families and service men and women out in Afghanistan. 

So, it was with great pride that I gave a brief introduction before handing over to Andy to explain to the audience the significance of their charity and that there'd be collection for it during the evening.

I also met a severely wounded officer from the Grenadier Guards, who was at the concert with his parents. We were all struck by the young man's courage and dignity. He told me he had not brought his artificial legs as the ground was too uneven and he feared falling over.

One of Katherine Jenkins' songs, called Angels, was dedicated to those serving in Afghanistan and my heart nearly broke as I turned to look at this young officer in his wheelchair, all his hopes and aspirations dashed by his appalling injuries.

Nevertheless, he never once showed any self pity, only an iron determination to get back on his feet - literally. A remarkable man and we must NEVER forget our service men and women.

It was a fabulous evening and Katherine Jenkins deserves all the accolades she receives.   

Thu, 26 Aug

I'd met Jenny Wilson recently at a special service for the Corfe Castle Charity. The charity owns a number of homes in the village which are rented out to local people. 

It also provides funds to help the less well off attend university and many other projects. Jenny took me to meet one young mum and her two children.

Their house was immaculate, cosy and warm. The mum explained how she'd never be able to live in her own village without the charity's help. This issue of affordable homes is a big one and certainly the charity appears to have a highly successful answer.

Jenny and I then dropped in on a coffee morning, where several residents had gathered to chat and enjoy each other's company. What a lovely team.

Next stop was Bovington army camp. I had organised a meeting with the new Brigadier Simon Levet and his Colonel David Swann, who I have met on several occasions in the past. 

The purpose of my visit was to gather evidence, if that's the right word, of the significance of the camp, bearing in mind the impending spending review and any threat to us that may result from cuts.

I intend to fight our corner, as I believe our armed services are already gnawing on the bone and I have stated my views very clearly on my blog.

In the evening, my wife and I hosted a dinner for our departing head forester.

Wed, 25 Aug

Another early start saw me back in Weymouth for a very illuminating business meeting. The subject is confidential, but I can say that if it comes off it will bring investment into the town, which is to be welcomed.  

Tue, 24 Aug

I rose early, grabbed a coffee and headed for Weymouth, hoping I'd avoid any congestion which has blighted the town over recent weeks. 

Typically, there was none and I was early for my appointment with Angie Barnes, a remarkable lady who helps to run a church charity called Soul Food. It caters for rough sleepers and has done so for some 15 years. Relying entirely on donations, keeping the charity afloat is a challenge in itself.

Angie had one or two issues she wanted advice with and I will do all can to help.

Then, it was on to Portland Port for an interesting briefing by CEO Stephen Davies. A shrewd and able man, Steve is looking to the future. Being a major employer in the region, the port's future prosperity is important.  

Mon 23, Aug  

An MP's life is never empty, neither is the in-tray! After working on it all morning, I travelled to Swanage to meet up with some of our councillors.

There are always issues bubbling away in and around the town and chatting them all through with councillors is extremely useful and informative.

And whatever people think of politicians, the majority really are trying to do their best for their communities.  

Wed, 11 Aug

 

Dropped in at K's cafe in Swanage to look at the exhibits displayed there by pupils from Purbeck View School, which specialises in autism.

The paintings and models were most impressive and show just what these remarkable youngsters are capable of.

The school's remarkable head, Susan Harvey, was there and she and her staff go on holiday tomorrow after an exhausting term. Due to the fact their pupils cannot cope with long holidays, the terms are long.

Afterwards, I popped in to see a local retailer who's been trying to sell his business for a while now. He told me business was not too bad this year.

And then I dropped in to chat to Nico, the editor of the excellent Gazette. How she copes with it all, especially after the buy out, I just don't know. A remarkable and talented lady.

Tue, 10 Aug

 

A proposed development on the outskirts of Swanage is causing many residents some concern. The plan is to build c100 homes on a site called Herston Fields, which lie adjacent to the middle school.

I met with a lead campaigner, Stephen Foote, and several of his supporters this morning. They'd done a lot of research and the table was covered in documents of one kind or another. After chatting the proposal over, we set off across the fields to get a feel for the site.

Clearly, the land is boggy, with the vegetation indicating underwater springs - and this after little rain. I was also shown a photograph, taken in 1994, of the field nearest the road under water. It does not bode well.

The district council is going through the consultation process and residents have time to support or object. Their views will be taken into account.

I shall go and speak to planning officers and of course to our local councillors. These proposals are always controversial. Everyone wants homes, but not near theirs, which is quite understandable. 

And of course building in the Green Belt is something we are all trying to avoid. Let's face it, it's our landscape which attracts so many visitors to Purbeck and we do not want to destroy that. 

Sat, 7 Aug

 

Typically, the rain began to fall as the ceremony began. I was in Verwood, attending the unveiling of a commemorative bench in memory of Rifleman Phil Allen, who was killed in Afghanistan a year ago today.

Phil's lovely mum, Karen, was there with her family, a clutch of friends and members of that fateful patrol a year ago, who'd taken time out of their leave to attend.

I chatted to them all - heroes, each one of them - and they were typically understated and humble about their incredible achievements in Afghanistan.

The bench itself is a masterpiece, with the regiment's cap badge forming the centre piece. It's unique and will serve as a poignant reminder for generations to those who pass by the bench or sit on it.

Karen was as ever dignified and courageous. The parade could not have been easy for her and the family, but they are so touched by the commemorative bench that sadness was overcome with a huge sense of pride.

For Phil's colleagues, who'd taken time off leave to attend, the parade proved a huge help to them and maybe laid to rest some ghosts from the past.

Every time I meet our servicemen and women, I never fail to feel humbled in their presence. We must never forget them.

Thu, 5 Aug

 

Today was very special. I attended the 150th anniversary of the cadet movement at Chickerell Camp. 

More than 350 youngsters from cadet branches throughout Dorset put on a show for parents and VIPs which no one will forget. 

Having been a soldier, I do know something about the profession, and I was impressed by what I saw today. 

The morning started with a march on and inspection by the Lord Lieutenant, who looked radiant. Val Pitt-Rivers is the most remarkable lady and really does bring a touch of royalty to every event she attends. 

The stand was packed with parents and friends, who then watched the cadets participate in a competitive team building challenge, before we saw some 'injured' cadets being removed from the field in a battlefield scenario.

We were then invited to wander around a number of stands, which included camoflage, signals, adventure training and weapons.

A well organised lunch - which equated to the feeding of the five thousand - followed. We were treated to an enormous lunch, washed down with a glass of wine. The cooks had done a wonderful job and must have quaked in their boots when they were given the challenge of feeding us all.  

I visited more stands after lunch before the grand finale, the gun race. Although a much smaller gun than the one you see beefy soldiers hauling around the tournament in London, it was still a heavy piece of kit.

The cadets rose to the challenge, though, and we witnessed some exciting races which generating a lot of competition and cheering from the sidelines. 

The Lord Lieutenant then presented various trophies to a number of well deserving winners before we all headed home.

During the day, I spoke to many parents and cadets. The former were so proud of their of their sons and daughters, while the latter were quite clearly loving every minute of it.

We need much more of this and I would encourage all parents to push their children towards the cadets. it's a win, win for everyone.   

Wed, 4 Aug

Taking into account the summer traffic and the Sandbanks ferry, I resorted to my motorbike to get to a photo call for the classical boy band Blake on Knoll Beach in Studland Bay.

They're taking part in a number of events to publicise the Serenata Festival, Britain's first three-day classical music festival at the end of this month on the Smedmore Estate. 

The popular boy band will be the star performers on the festival's first night on the 26th. The beautiful and talented Katherine Jenkins is the top bill the following night. 

Interestingly, the group's founder Jules Knight has spent most summer holidays in Studland and even during his short visit today had met some people he knew at the nearby Knoll House Hotel.

Part of the festival's proceeds will be donated to two charities - Starlight and Afghan Heroes. The former makes wishes come true for terminally ill children, while the latter supports bereaved families from the war in Afghanistan.

So, put 26, 27 and 28 August in your diary and go and experience a classical delight on our stunning Jurassic coast.   

Tue, 3 Aug

A similar day to Monday, with news that work on Weymouth's white horse is imminent. If I recall the reason it went grey was because Anneka Rice in one of her challenges covered the horse in Portland stone, which of course turns grey over time. Think I'm right. 

Mon, 2 Aug

A brimming in-tray and several phone calls kept me at my desk for most of the day. Always the case when you've been away for a few days. 

 

Sun, 1 Aug

Back from a few days away with my family, I headed to Corfe Castle this morning to attend a service of celebration to commemorate 400 years of the Corfe Castle Charity and this year's flower show.

The charming Reverend Ian Jackson glued the service together, with a guest appearance by the newly appointed Bishop of Sherborne, the Right Reverend Dr Graham Kings. He have an excellent and amusing sermon, reminding us all of a crime novel where the murderer turned out to be the flower lady!

The flowers were stunning, I must say, and a full church savoured the smells and sights that surrounded us.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a glass of wine/elderflower served from a marquee erected in the church grounds. 

The charity has done and continues to do great work and I shall be visiting some beneficiaries at the end of this month.