Printed in the Bristol Evening Post on April 30, 2011.
Liverpool Echo – Merseyside schoolboy becomes youngest rower for Great Britain Dragon Boat racing team in World championships
Printed in the Liverpool Echo on April 28, 2011.
A Merseyside schoolboy is the youngest to be picked to represent his country in a dragon boat racing team.
Alex Wood was asked to join the Great Britain Dragon Boat Racing under-18 team as a drummer after impressing organisers with his dedication to local team Waterloo Crusaders.
The 12-year-old, who attends Chesterfield High School, will join teammates from around the country at the Dragon Boat World championships in Tampa Bay, Florida in August.
Alex said: “I was very proud to hear I had been selected for the team and I can not wait for the championships.
“My friends were very impressed when they heard.”
His dad James, a taxi company manager, added: “Alex has put so much hard work into it – he trains four nights a week, often until half nine at night.”
“Most of the lads in the team will be twice his size and strength, but he has proved he is one of the fastest in the country.”
Alex started rowing with the Crusaders around a year ago after seeing them train on a Sunday morning at Crosby Lakeside Adventure Centre.
He was picked to join the national squad after impressing the coach and team manager at trials held in April.
Team manager Peter Richardson said: “We thought the best opportunity for him was to trial as a drummer and he put a lot of time learning what his responsibilities would be.
“He will be the youngest in the team as 12 is the youngest you can be to participate internationally.”
Alex’s role will involve beating a constant pulse and passing instructions to the rest of the crew. The sport involves teams of up to 20 paddlers in a brightly-coloured 40-foot boat featuring a dragon’s head at the front and tail at the back.
Teams compete against each other over a 200 to 2,000-metre course.
Alex said his training regime would get tougher before heading to Tampa with the rest of the team in July.
He added: “I would definitely like to row for Great Britain’s adult team when I am older.” Anyone interested in sponsoring Alex can contact Carla Wood on 0787 929 4576.
Liverpool Echo – Group plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for skin syndrome charity Caring Matters Now
Printed in the Liverpool Echo on April 27, 2011.
Friends and family of a Merseyside woman with a rare skin condition are climbing a mountain to raise money for her charity.
Jodi Unsworth, who was born with Congenital Melanocytic Naevi (CMN), will be joined by her dad, sister and a school friend on Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
The expedition will raise money for the charity Caring Matters Now, which was set up by Jodi to support families with children suffering from the syndrome.
Jodi, of Rutland Avenue, Halewood, was born with large, dark-brown birthmarks covering 80% of her body and had more than 30 operations as a child while doctors tried to treat the potentially-cancerous marks.
The 30-year-old set up a support group for other sufferers when she was 16 after finding out she was not alone in having the condition.
Jodi, who also works as a fund-raising manager for Christian aid-relief charity Blythswood Care, said: “I saw the celebrity Kilimanjaro climb for Comic Relief on TV and thought ‘if Chris Moyles can do it, so can I!’.”
“I feel very blessed that I have family and friends around me who have supported me all my life, particularly by agreeing to climb the mountain.”
The group of 19 climbers, including parents of children with CMN, will start their eight-day-trek on October 2 and aim to reach the top of the 19,341-foot summit.
They hope to raise more than £2,000 each to help the charity in its work with Dr Veronica Kinsler, a CMN researcher at the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Among them is dad Joe, sister Mia and friend Jenny Wilson, who has enlisted personal trainer Ben Tranter to help her prepare for the challenge.
The 26-year-old customer services assistant, who has known Jodi for 15 years, said: “ “I am most nervous about altitude sickness!”
Jenny, of Garston, trains at least four times a week by running and weight-training at Lifestyles Garston leisure centre.
She has already raised more than £2,000 for the charity, and hopes to reach £2,430.
Printed in the Liverpool Daily Post on April 18, 2011.
More than 500 Merseyside call centre staff working for Jobcentre Plus were striking today over working conditions and customer service.
Picket lines were being set up outside centres in Old Hall Street, Liverpool city centre, St Mary’s Road, Garston, and Linacre House, Bootle, as part of a national one- day action.
Workers were protesting about about what they claim is a “target-driven culture” at JCP, an agency of the Department of Work and Pensions, which they said forces them to limit calls from the public to five minutes or face disciplinary action.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union regional secretary Peter Middleman said: “It is the same issues in Merseyside call centres which apply across the region – battery-farmed working practices.
“Things have got cumulatively worse, as there are fewer staff and more benefit claimants than there were two or three years ago.
“A new benefit claim can last no more than five minutes, and calls for crisis loans from people with no food to eat have to be dealt with within 17 minutes – you could not get a car insurance quote within that time. These targets have nothing to do with providing a decent service to customers, and in practice have precisely the opposite effect.”
The PCS said employers have an obsession with performance-related pay, and workers who go over the time limit could ultimately be dismissed.
“There is no pragmatism – we are looking for flexibility from the employer,” added Mr Middleman.
He expects protests to be held outside each of the call centres, and said staff trying to enter would be peacefully persuaded not to cross the picket line.
The union claims 70% of 7,000 JCP members in 37 call centres across the country voted for strike action although the DWP said three-quarters of staff across the centres did not vote to strike.
A DWP spokesperson said: “The contact centre staff at DWP have good terms of employment including generous holidays, and have a good amount of flexibility.
“But we have to ensure that our service is available when our customers, who include some of the most vulnerable people in the country, need us.
“We use performance measures to ensure that performance and productivity are high, and we deliver value for money for the taxpayer.”
The strike will be followed by a “no overtime” policy.
Liverpool Echo – Merseyside veteran will attend final reunion of World War II operation in Southport
Printed in the Liverpool Echo on April 18, 2011.
War veterans from around the country will gather on Merseyside for a final reunion.
Among them will be Ken McKernan, 86, who served with the Royal Scots Fusiliers during the World War II allied forces mission famously depicted in the film A Bridge Too Far.
His wife Ann has arranged the get together in Southport for 150 former British and Dutch servicemen who fought in operation Market Garden.
The operation which began on September 17, 1944, was an attempt by the Allies to take control of several bridges in the German-occupied Netherlands.
This would have allowed forces to enter the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland, and could have won the war for the Allies almost a year earlier than it officially ended.
Mr McKernan, of Huyton, said: “The reunions are a chance to get together and talk about the war.
“I met someone I had not seen for 50 years who had been wounded during D-Day. He said he recognised me by my laugh.
“This will be the last one because we are all getting too old now – I am 86 and am one of the youngest!”
“It will be sad, but Ann is determined to make this the best one we have had in 22 years.”
Mr McKernan lived in Coniston Street, Everton, when he was called for service in 1942.
He was 19 when he helped to capture the Nijmegen bridge, in the Netherlands, but the allied operation failed when airborne troops were unable to defeat the Germans at the Battle of Arnhem.
Mrs McKernan, 67, who has been on the Market Garden Veterans’ Association North West branch committee for 23 years, said: “We are trying to make this a really special reunion, and we hope to make it a free weekend for the veterans.”
The four-day long event will bring together the seven regional branches of the Market Garden Veterans’ Association, and will be held in The Prince of Wales Hotel, Southport, from June 17.
The committee hope to raise £30,000 to cover the cost of the weekend.
Anyone wishing to contribute can contact Mrs McKernan on 0151 289 0099.
Liverpool Echo – Canadian warship Athabaskan arrives at Liverpool waterfront for memorial to WWII sacrifices
Printed in the Liverpool Echo on April 16, 2011.
A warship arrived in Liverpool for a weekend memorial to Canadians killed during World War Two.
The crew of destroyer HMCS Athabaskan and Canadian Embassy officials were holding a service today to pay tribute to those who died during the Battle of the Atlantic.
Commander Mike Davie, the ship’s captain, said: “Canada has always had good ties with Liverpool.
“I have a personal interest in the ceremony.
“My father was the Naval advisor at the Canadian High Commission, and it was his vision to have a memorial to the Canadian sacrifices in the Battle of the Atlantic here in Liverpool.”
Liverpool was a major port for Allied forces during the war, and Canadian troops gave their lives to protect supplies coming into the city from enemy fire.
The ship moored near Liverpool cruise liner terminal yesterday after being stationed near Stornoway, west Scotland, for a two-week allied military exercise called Joint Warrior.
It was asked to come to Liverpool after the HMCS Charlottetown, which was previously scheduled for the event, was called to Libya.
The 309-crew ship was built in 1972 and is equipped with torpedos and a special sonar system, designed to detect Russian submarines during the Cold War.
The weekend event was due to be attended by James Wright, Canada’s High Commissioner to the UK; Captain Harry Harsch, Naval Adviser to the High Commission of Canada; and Liverpool’s Lord Mayor, Cllr Hazel Williams.
A service will be held for the first HMCS Athabaskan, which was destroyed by the Germans near France in 1944, and is commemorated with a plaque on Liverpool’s waterfront.
Merseyside war veterans will be given a tour of the vessel over the weekend.
The ship will also be open to visitors on Saturday and Sunday, from 1pm to 4pm.
Printed in the Nottingham Post on May 5, 2011.
Opinions in Notts are divided over today’s referendum on voting reform.
While many residents agree that there are problems with first-past-the-post voting, the possible complications and costs of the alternative vote remain a worry.
Under AV, voters can list candidates in order of preference.
If no candidate gains more than 50 per cent of the vote initially, the candidate with the smallest share of the vote is eliminated, and his or her supporters’ second choice votes are added to the others.
This continues until one candidate has more than 50 per cent of the vote.
But conflicting claims about the system, which has never been used for general elections in the UK, have worried some.
Claire Hamerton, 47, an administration assistant from New Basford, said: “It is hard to make your mind up as there are so many points of view and dirty games being played, so I am probably going to say no.
“The cost is definitely a factor, especially given the cuts. If AV is anywhere near the amount people are saying, it is a waste of money.
“I am not against some kind of change in the future, but I am not prepared to risk a party like the BNP getting in.”
Krzys Kozlowski, 51, a supply teacher and poet from Sherwood, said: “I shall be voting against because I think it is a total waste of time. There has got to be a complete change of the political system.”
Some objected to the cost of the £91m referendum itself, feeling it had been a “botched” coalition compromise.
John Greensmith, 56, unemployed, from Sherwood, said: “They are spending money on a stupid referendum while they are cutting money to hospitals – it is needed there.”
Dr Donald Henry, 79, retired, from Sherwood, said: “They wanted it politically, and the Prime Minister had to please the Lib Dems, but I don’t see any point in doing it.”
But others look more positively on the issue.
Arthur Miller, 77, retired, from Sherwood, said: “We have had first-past-the-post for a long time, and I think we have to give AV a go. If you have got four candidates and three are on the same level but the fourth wins by ten votes, it does not make sense.”
Claims that AV is too complicated for voters to understand also proved contentious.
Mr Miller said: “I am just an ordinary chap and I understand AV – it is a cheek to say people won’t understand it.”
A poll by ComRes for the Independent newspaper this week put the No vote on 66 per cent, 32 points ahead.
Under the present system, critics say votes for non-winning candidates are “wasted”, as it would make no difference if they were to lose by one or 10,000 votes. Additionally, smaller parties tend to do worse.
In last year’s general election, the Liberal Democrats gained 23 per cent of the vote but only eight per cent of the total seats.
Some believe AV will update the old two-party system and remove the ideas of safe seats and tactical voting. But others criticise it for being more expensive and believe it will make hung parliaments more likely.