Blog launched to defend Southwold High Street

Welcome to the new blog, Look After Southwold, which launched yesterday in the wake of Waveney District Council’s decision to grant planning permission for a Costa coffee shop in the High Street.

I fear that once one of the chains gets in others see that as their research done and follow. Look After Southwold will almost certainly be a busy blog.

The first day under new management at Suffolk’s smallest library

Customers noticed little difference today as control of Suffolk Libraries passed from the County Council to a new independent Industrial and Provident Society, a not-for-profit organisation with unpaid directors.

At Debenham, the smallest library in the county, it was a busy afternoon. A banner at the door signalled the transfer with its slogan, “expanding horizons”.

In a message to library users, Shona Bendix, chair of the IPS, said:

We have been created especially to run the library service.  We have exempt charity status and we are an industrial and provident society, run for the benefit of our membership.

Our membership will be drawn from community groups who want to have a voice in the running of their local library.  Perhaps you would like to join a group, or help to start one?  Talk to the local library staff if you’d like to know more.

There will be no change to the things which are important to you so you will still be able to

  • borrow books for free
  • reserve Suffolk books for free
  • browse on the internet for free for 2 hours a day
  • use any Suffolk library
  • get help with information

We are honoured and proud to run Suffolk’s library services and we are committed to ensuring that the services are customer friendly, meet local needs and keep up the high standards.  This includes keeping our expert and friendly paid staff.

We will not be closing any libraries and there are no plans to replace paid staff with volunteers.

In the future, we want to work with people in communities to improve, and extend your library service.  We’d like to hear from you about your ideas.  Again, talk to local library staff, or email us athelp@suffolklibraries.co.uk

The IPS is funded by Suffolk County Council which has reduced its expenditure. Debenham has set up a working group which will be working with the IPS to develop the library. Since it opened, after a local campaign, in 2003 Debenham library has been very successful, serving a population three or four times that of the village.

It is now has outgrown the premises, once a bank, and hopes to move, probably to the Primary School. A fortnight ago the working group was awarded £5,366 from a fund set up by the County council to help local groups pioneering new ways working with the IPS. The money will help make the plan to move the library possible.

Yesterday afternoon the library was packed with users of all ages. Loans and library visitors have increased year-by-year while national figures show a decrease

Would the Suffolk model for libraries in a time austerity work for others?

Public Libraries News marks the signing of the contract which will pass Suffolk libraries to an Industrial and Provident Society, writing it is “unsurprising that radical solutions are being sought”.

At a party to mark the agreement to transfer running of the libraries on August 1, we were reminded that it was “not the end, only the end of the beginning”. There is a lot to be done and everyone involved recognises there will be very difficult periods ahead.

The IPS approach has only been taken in Suffolk. It was brave of the County Council to enter into the unknown in this way. It is a tribute to the extremely hard work put in by unpaid directors and the compromises made by the council that it has got to this stage.

Especially that it has got to this stage with a high degree of optimism that even with their reduced budget libraries can continue to develop and improve.

I suspect that several things have not gone quite the way the council expected. The IPS has bargained hard and has gained wide support among library campaigners. All 44 libraries in the county remain open lending books from a centrally managed stock.

For small libraries, like Debenham where about half the loans are ordered from other libraries, fear of fragmentation was a big threat.

As James Hargrave points out the resignation last year of council leader Jeremy Pembroke, and chief executive Andrea Hill, was a pivotal moment. They were behind the New Strategic Direction which was intended to leave the council as an enabler that did not directly run services.

Mark Bee, the affable new leader, promised a different approach. It can be argues that while the tone has changed the libraries are still being outsourced. But the approach has been less rigid than it was in Suffolk and still is in other parts of the country.

Next year local libraries groups, or parish/town councils in some places, will become the owners of the IPS, selecting directors from among themselves. The idea is that eventually all 44 libraries will be members of the IPS.

This puts a lot of power and influence in the hands of people who are committed to libraries and ready to fight for them. There will be more volunteers and fund raising, but the front line paid staff will remain much the same as it is at the moment.

There is huge work to be done after the IPS takes over running libraries, still funded by the county council but on a much reduced budget. Having got so far the IPS model is promising, far better than boarded-up libraries, outsourcing to a commercial library company, or a community interest company run by a “social entrepreneur”.

It may be that others will want to look at the Suffolk Solution. I would be if I lived in Wakefield where the Yorkshire Post reported last week:

Almost half of Wakefield district’s 26 libraries look set to be axed unless community groups step in to take them over.

Council chiefs are seeking to save £800,000 a year by off-loading 12 libraries to voluntary organisations in the biggest shake-up of the service for 30 years.

That sounds very familiar to people in Suffolk who were faced with a similar situation 18 months ago.

(The author is chairman of Debenham Library Working Group, which will soon be adopting a constitution which will enable it to work with the IPS in running the village library.)

Ben Gummer remembers to follow party line

Ipswich MP, Ben Gummer, this morning showed the frustration we all feel too often when travelling to London and tweeted:

Then he seems to have remembered that he is a Government supporting MP and three minutes later added:

You might feel he should “think before tweeting” but I take it as a welcome sign that his concerns are ones we all share. It seems there had been a problem with overhead lines at Diss

Not sure whether his neighbouring MP Therese Coffee (Suffolk Coastal) was thinking about his travel problems or his need for a clarification when she tweeted:

She had reason to be frustrated too. A little earlier she tweeted she had been on Jamaica Road for an hour and asking if anyone knew why the Rotherhithe Tunnel appeared to be blocked.

Seckford’s plans for Free School chain shaken by rejection and low uptake

Seckford Foundations failure to get approval for a Stoke-by-Nayland Free School last week must be causing it to look very carefully at its ambitious plan for a chain of Free Schools.

Not only has it failed to to get the go ahead to open Stoke-by-Nayland next year but they are facing problems in recruiting sufficient pupils for the two schools — Beccles (but at Carlton Colville for two years) and Saxmundam — planned to open in September.

On Friday, faced with national coverage of low recruitment (only 37 pupils) for the Beccles school, they updated the figures and gave them to Archant’s regional papers. The headline was a a very positive “pupil numbers rise by 48%”.

But read the story, they have gone from 37 to 55, spread across three age-group years.

The Saxmundham school has enlisted fewer than 100 pupils and parents have been invited to a “consultation” on Thursday this week at the middle schools site which is being taken over. Looks very much like a recruitment session.

If the foundation has been concerned by bad publicity over the Beccles school they must be terrified about what could happen in September. I can pretty well write the headline now (just drop in the appropriate multi-thousand pound figure).

Gove Free School places cost £XX,XXX each pupil

Not much of a guess as the websites for the the schools (Beccles and Saxmundham) list 14 teachers for each school. Three of the teachers are shared. Presumably the contracts are signed and sealed as there are photos and biographies of all the teachers.

Since the thumbs-down for the Stoke-by-Nayland plan they clearly been too shocked to update the site.

The ambition of the foundation’s plans is clear from the certificate of incorporation of The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, registered at Companies House in May.

The rules of the company say: “There shall be a minimum of 2 Parent Directors for every 10 or fewer Academies.”

The chairman of each of the Academies will also be directors. But there is an added proviso: “If the number of Academies exceeds five, the chairmen of the Local Governing Bodies shall elect five persons from amongst the1r number to be the Academy Directors.”

These are not boilerplate company rules but have been written specifically for Seckford.  In addition to running Free Schools, the rules allow the company, which is limited by guarantee and for the public benefit, to “to carry out research into the development and application of new techniques 1n education…” and publish it, and to provide educational facilities and services to students of all ages.

James Hargrave who has campaigned against the Beccles Free School, but not all Free Schools, wrote on his blog yesterday:

By persisting in opening a school almost nobody wants or needs the Seckford Foundation have brought themselves and indeed the whole free school programme into disrepute.

Rob Cawley, principal of The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, told Archant newspapers:

The foundation remains confident that numbers will continue to rise for places at the Beccles Free School in the coming weeks as more and more people take up the freedom of choice in their child’s future education.

Councillor with Seckford Foundation link made complaint about internet lampoon

The complaint that led to blogger James Hargave removing a lampoon video from the internet was made by County Councillor Joanne Spicer, Ipswich Spy has revealed. As well as campaigning against a Free School in Beccles, Hargrave is chair of his village primary school governors.

The Ipswich blog also has a statement from the council saying:

We have not asked anyone to remove any online videos. We simply contacted the owner of the blog to seek a meeting to discuss whether, as a Suffolk school governor, it was appropriate.

Unfortunately this meeting was declined. We have no legal powers to force any action and nor would be want such powers. As far as we are concerned, the matter is closed.

Whilst it might make for an interesting blog post to suggest otherwise, we have absolutely not censored any online content.

The background is that Hargrave (education posts on his blog) last week received a letter from the Seckford Foundation, which is behind the Beccles Free School project, demanding removal of the video. He declined and on Tuesday had a call from the council. As a result he removed the video. For more see the Ipswich Spy’s thorough story and my two previous posts.

According to the Spy, Councillor Spicer, who represents the Blckbourn division, asked whether or not school governors had to sign a code of conduct in the way councillors do. Exactly what was said by whom will probably never be clear.

What is curious is that, in an email to Hargrave, Spicer says: “I am told it was drawn to county council’s attention by others but I am the only councillor to have done so.”

I would not have expected Endeavour House to be the first place people wanting to complain about an internet video would think of. So the identity of the other complainants is interesting.

What we do know is that Spicer has a connection with the Seckford Foundation which has joined with her and others in the area to develop proposals for a Free School in Ixworth (Bury Free Press).


Suffolk CC has questions to answer after demanding removal of lampoon video

As anyone with a basic understanding of the internet could anticipate, forcing the removal of a lampooning video from a Suffolk blog has resulted in many more people seeing it.

Of course, someone else has put the video on YouTube.

And James Hargrave, who removed it after pressure from Suffolk County Council, has reworked his Downfall meme lampooning himself in the role of Hitler. Here it is:

Downfall of the Downfall video… from James Hargrave on Vimeo.

Since my previous post, which gives some of the background, Hargrave has written about what happened yesterday. He describes it as: “Really quite chilling.”

Hargrave has been a robust critic of plans by the Seckford Foundation to open a Beccles Free School, which has not had a great level of support in the north east Suffolk area. There are only 37 applications for places. Many of his comments have been trenchant and his relationship with the Seckford Foundation, which runs a minor public school in Woodbridge, has not been cordial.

Last week the chairman of the foundation wrote to him demanding, among other things, that he removed the video, a Downfall meme* of which there are hundreds on the internet, lampooning many, many things.

He responded immediately refusing to remove it and explaining that that it was a meme. That was on Friday and yesterday he received a call from a Suffolk County Council official.

He was told the call was being made at the behest of Tim Ryder, the monitoring officer, the senior legal person at the council. Ryder had received a complaint from an unnamed councillor.

Hargrave was told that the matter had already been discussed with the head of Stradbroke primary school which is attended by his children and where he is chairman of the governors.

He declined to attend a meeting with council officials at the school but agreed to remove the video to, “keep my children’s school out of this debacle”.

Perhaps a meeting would have cleared up some of the obvious questions. Among them:

  • When was the complaint made? (it looks as if it was made after the response to the Seckford Foundation but it may have been earlier.)
  • Did Ryder consider the likely response to his action and that it might be seen as a form of censorship? (It was being tweeted all over the UK last night.)
  • Did he understand that it was a meme of a form of which hundreds of examples have been put on the internet in the past four years?
  • Did he consider whether the complaint itself was potentially defamatory?
  • Why was the matter discussed with the school before making a direct call to Hargrave?

* Downfall, also known as “Hitler Finds Out…” or “Hitler Reacts To…” is a series of parody-subtitled videos based on a pinnacle scene from Der Untergang (2004), a German WWII drama revisiting the last ten days of Adolf Hitler’s life and eventual suicide in his Berlin underground bunker. Due to the film’s international success and Bruno Ganz’ haunting portrayal of the Nazi dictator, numerous segments from the movie soon fell fodder to hilarious parodies on YouTube, spawning hundreds of anachronistically subtitled videos of Hitler getting upset over topical events and trivial gossip. (from Know your Meme)

County Council forces blogger to remove satirical video from internet

Suffolk County Council has forced a blogger, who has campaigned against a Free School which has been approved to open with only 37 application for places, to remove a video from the internet.

Just weeks after Argyll and Bute council, recognised the error of its ways in trying to stop a primary school girl photographing school meals for her blog, the Suffolk council told the chairman of a primary school’s governors what he could post.

James Hargrave, an IT specialist who blogs as Onlygeek (in the village), of Stradbroke, agreed to remove the video after an a call from the county council. He tweeted: “Trying to drag my children’s primary school into this is beyond the pale.”

It seems that an unnamed county councillor complained to Tim Ryder, the council’s monitoring officer. Hargrave received a call from a council official who made it clear he was speaking on behalf of Mr Ryder, but would not say who had made the complaint.

In another tweet Hargrave said: “According to an anonymous letter I am not fit to be a Governor and a bad example to children.”

Hargrave has been a robust campaigner against plans by the Seckford Foundation for a free school at Beccles. He is not alone and only 37 pupils have been enrolled for the school due to open this year (Guardian) funded by Michael Gove’s Education Department.

The video which has sparked this was a satire of the “Downfall” genre. They use a clip from a 2004 German film about Hitler’s demise with subtitles in the chosen language of the satirist. The New York Times wrote about them under the heading “The Hitler Meme” in 2008.

Last Thursday (July 5) Hargrave received a letter, in the language of a solicitor, from Roger Finbow, chairman of the Seckford Foundation calling on him to remove the video and another post. It demanded that he reply by 4pm the following day confirming that he had complied.

Hargrave’s immediate response was to publish the letter and make a comment including this:

The Seckford Foundation really do take themselves a bit too seriously. They run a minor public school few people have heard of out of Suffolk and have been quite content to make derogatory comments about other schools and those who do not agree with them. Seems it is OK for Watson to go on the Radio and suggest that campaigners are a “bad example to children” or to run down the reputation of Sir John Leman High School and its Headteacher Jeremy Rowe.

It seems to be this parody video that really has annoyed them. There are literally scores of these “Downfall” videos on YouTube for almost any subject you can think of. Here it is again in case you missed it.

The following day, Hargrave wrote to Finbow, including this paragraph:

I quite understand that you do not like what I have written and would rather I had not written it but that does not mean that my behaviour is harassment or that what I have written is defamatory. Indeed it is interesting that you do not give a single concrete example of any words used and why you allege they are defamatory just vague statements that whole Blog posts are “defamatory”.

He also wrote:

Your recent foray into free schools has placed you in public life spending public money. As such others and myself have a democratic and legal right to robustly criticise and this includes as the judge said a degree of “lampooning”.

It is impossible not to be suspicious that the complaint to the county council’s monitoring officer from the unnamed councillor is connected to the exchange of letters.

There is a very nasty smell of bullying about all this. It is surprising that the county council’s senior legal officer should have involved himself in this way.

Yesterday (July 9) the Guardian ran another story asking: “Has the government underestimated the power of community opposition to its free schools policy?” It starts”

There are around 10,600 empty school places in Suffolk. Or, to put it another way, if 10 average-sized secondary schools were closed down, there would still be a place for every child living in the county who needs one. Which made it somewhat surprising, therefore, when the Department for Education approved four free schools in the county, with a further two in the offing.

“The Suffolk free school scandal”, as local campaigners are calling it, has turned this rural county into an ideological battleground for the education secretary Michael Gove’s flagship policy. Millions of pounds are to be spent on setting up and kitting out new schools that are simply not needed, and in most cases not wanted, by local communities.

It looks as if as if the Free School protagonists are rattled and the battle is getting dirtier.

In praise of Suffolk cheeses

One of the nice things that has happened in East Anglia this century is the increasing number of really good cheese makers. I enjoy surprising visitors from other parts with a fine range of local cheeses.

Another good thing is that they are now much more widely available. Memorable Cheeses in Dial Lane, Ipswich is always a good source. And the Co-op has cheese counters, a goodly proportion locally sourced, (certainly at Debenham) that puts the big supermarket chains to shame.

Historically, Suffolk cheese did not have a good name. It was called Suffolk bang and the biggest customer was the Royal Navy in the days of sail. It was said it was so hard even the weevils could not get into it.

The trouble was they used milk that had already been skimmed to make butter, which had a very good reputation.

In the past decade or so there has been a cheese making renaissance. A food blog, With Knife and Fork, had nice things to say about it. (Norfolk has delicious cheeses too.)

I guess that if the secret really was out, demand would soon outstrip supply. But I wonder whether the farm shops and other rural outlets are doing all they could to promote the local produce. They often have nice cheeses, including some local ones, but the prices tend to be high.

One of the cheeses I frequently get is Shipcord, made from unpasturised milk at Rodwell Farm, Baylham, near Needham Market.

Last week I bought some from the Suffolk Food Hall, in the shadow of the Orwell Bridge, where I had gone to get some of the excellent lamb the butcher there sells. I bought some Shipcord from another of the sections.

At home, I noticed the label gave the price per kilo as £21.04. In the Debenham Co-op it is priced at £16.90 pence. That is a big difference and I walk to the Co-op.

Greater Anglia and the tweet offensive

This week I went to London on a Greater Anglia train for the first time. The logos on the coaches have been hurriedly replaced and the toilet was as dirty as ever. Not much change.

But I had heard they were very good at saying sorry and had found a user friendly tweeter.

Take a careful look. One is genuine and the other a spoof.

It had to happen!

If you don’t see two tweets above, click on the headline


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