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Issue:- 12 May 2011

Will the southport Weekender Return?
Photographs taken in Minehead by Patrick Trollope

WELL, it might not have been in Southport's Pontins complex at Ainsdale On Sands; in fact not even in a Pontins at all, rather it was in the rival Butlins in Minehead, Somerset! Sadly, it looks like Southport has lost forever this amazing event... The UK's leisure industry in this section, has failed to keep pace with people's expectations, in the main, and Pontins in Southport has suffered from a lack of investment and direction.

The site at Ainsdale was described by one of the Weekender punters who has been to over 20 of them, when speaking to us in Minehead:- "The facilities in Southport had become a joke. It was shocking and we had seen damage remain un-repaired for years. This new location has its downsides and it is not the same social event as it was in Southport, but the qualities of the facilities are far better." Oddly, both Butlins and Pontins had been derived from former army bases, in fact Fred Pontin, in 1946, when beginning, built his first camp on the site of a former US army base! Sadly for Pontins, this look has remained and it will now take a lot more than a lick of paint to win the punters back to Southport. But also in the background is the fear that Alex Langsam, who also owns the Britannia Hotel Group, now wants to develop the 5 parks as themed seaside destinations, including Disney-style cartoon costumes and attractions, so again the fear that Southport Weekender will never return is even higher. Butlins has seen massively increased profits after investing heavily in its resorts and is also now targeting events like the Southport Weekender strongly, as they can see the massive potential for these events; something was for a long time, and quite possibly will be in the future, overlooked by Pontins. Many of the punters we spoke to still want the event to return to its home in Southport, as they say it is more of a social event in Southport than it was in Minehead due to the layout of the rooms and accommodation, but all agreed that whereas Pontins might have that going for it, it had very little else to offer at this point in time. Many suggested doing alternate years, rotating between the two venues, but most said that this should only be considered if the facilities in Southport are vastly improved. But we, as visitors to Minehead and ambassadors for Southport, also fell for the area. The people are far friendlier and the resort is just so clean and tidy, it was amazing to see. Even cars stopped and waved you across the roads. Prices might have been higher, but we found ourselves being captivated by the area.

Oddly, the locals did not know what was going on, as Butlins is very self contained, with the Tourist Information telling us all they knew was that it was an "Adult Weekend", putting a smile on our faces. Ok, here in Southport the general public might not have realised just how important the event was or quite what it was, but they knew an event was on. But, unlike at Pontins, Southport, the proximity of the massive range of facilities, from shops, bars and even sporting areas, in Butlins, Minehead, mean that they can handle far more people and without any adverse impact on the local area.

In fact very few of the punters ventured into the local area, again that might change in future years, but it was interesting to see, just how satisfied people were with what was on offer within the complex. Back in Southport, the shock has only just started to be felt by local businesses, as many hotels, bars and restaurants had become used to the event, expecting the trade to continue each year.

Many are now asking where the custom has gone, for example, one local independent off -licence in Southport's Town Centre commented:- "I have noticed a huge drop in takings. It is quite a shock as I never knew it had that much an impact on my business." Among the bars, again the loss has been felt the greatest in places such as the Sands Hotel, who had off site parties each year on the back of it. So Pontins re-gaining events like the Southport Weekender would be of huge benefit to the local economy. But, if all is onsite at Butlins and for the adventurous the area around is friendly and open, unlike in recent years in Southport; as punters, where would you want to go? 

We feel that this is a massive kick to our area, which has been sitting back and, just as Pontins itself, has let itself fall behind due to lack of vision, investment and most importantly, just as a lot of the tourist industry, it has have failed to keep pace with people's expectations and requirements. The event was in decline and in a rut; so both Dave and Alex have done an amazing job reinventing it, despite a few teething problems as it was a first year of running, I am now convinced that the Southport Weekender is better at Minehead than in Southport and I am shocked to find myself saying that!  I am truly looking forward to next year’s event and to see what happens next.

Many thanks to them for allowing us to experience a new and refreshing Weekender! If we are to win it back to Southport, we only have a year to get things back on track. Already the event is booked into Minehead for 2012 and this is favourably anticipated by many Weekender regulars. So to get it back after the major anniversary, things must change drastically in sunny Sefton, or we will see the night will fall on a tradition that has put the area on the international events map for years.

Do you feel that events like the Weekender should be lost to the history books for our area or not? Do you think it does have a huge influence on the town or not? Please do email your ideas of what we can do and if you agree or disagree with our views to:-  Click here to hear our interview with Dave recorded just after the announcement about he move.

Student midwife scoops top award

A midwifery student from Edge Hill University has won a prestigious grant to travel to the USA to investigate their birthing practices.   Michelle Beacock has been awarded almost £1,000 by the Iolanthe Midwifery Trust, which helps hundred of midwives and others through bursaries, fellowships and special awards.

The mother of two from Ormskirk, who is currently in her 2nd year on the Midwifery programme, is the first Edge Hill student to receive this award and will be using it to fund her placement in Oregon to learn more about maternity care in the United States.

She said:- “To win such a prestigious award means a lot to me and the kudos it brings with it is fantastic, both for myself and the University. This will really help me financially and will allow me to follow my heart with the placement I have chosen.”

Michelle, who was a social worker for 10 years before deciding to change career paths to midwifery, can’t wait for her placement, which she will start in October.

Explaining why she chose the USA, she said:- “Over here, midwifery is seen from a medicalised point of view and so I want to learn about more holistic approaches and going back to basics. I’m a member of the Association of Radical Midwives and when I explained what I’d like to learn during my placement, they gave me a £300 grant and put me in touch with a midwife in Oregon, who runs a Birth Centre and carries out a lot of home births. Her grandmother was a midwife in the mountains in Mexico and she has used her wisdom in her own practices. She believes in births that need little intervention and uses more of a physiological approach when dealing with pregnant women. It sounds fascinating and is quite a radical approach, and I think it will be a great opportunity to work with a midwife who isn’t part of the NHS in order for me to understand how we can integrate alternative practices into the UK’s healthcare system.”

Jane Morgan, Head of Midwifery at Edge Hill, said:- “It is quite extraordinary what Michelle has done in achieving this award. She is such an exceptional student, a great ambassador for midwifery and the University, and I’m sure she will learn so much on her travels. The placement she has chosen will be extremely useful in enhancing her student experience and developing an awareness of issues in international maternity care, which I’m sure she will feed back to the rest of her cohort. The experience will also be of benefit for when she qualifies as a midwife and can bring her leadership skills to the profession. I’m very proud that she will be able to follow her dreams and wish her every success.”

The BSc (Hons) Midwifery course enables applicants to develop into competent and accountable midwives, with professional, leadership, management and project skills, eligible to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council and able to respond to the expressed needs of mothers, babies, their families and the midwifery profession.  For more information about the course, visit our website.


CONTACT the Elderly, the charity solely dedicated to tackling loneliness and isolation among older people, is urgently appealing for volunteers living in Southport to spare just a few hours each month to help out at, or drive older members to, a local tea party - and enjoy a cuppa and a cake themselves!

Contact the Elderly aims to relieve the acute loneliness and isolation of very elderly people who live alone by organising monthly Sunday tea parties for small groups of older people and volunteers within their community, offering a regular and vital friendship link every month.

Each elderly member is collected from their home by a volunteer driver, and is taken to a volunteer host’s home, where they join a small group for tea, talk and companionship. The charity’s group in Southport is currently struggling to recruit volunteers who are able to help out at, drive and accompany older members to and from the gathering each month, or welcome the group into their home for tea just once or twice a year.

Contact the Elderly’s Regional Development Officer for Southport, Kathleen Sheridan said:- “The charity is committed to offering a lifeline of friendship to the oldest and loneliest people, but our hopes of extending this lifeline to older people in Southport are currently fading due to a real shortage of volunteers in the area. Anyone who can spare a couple of hours one Sunday a month, has a driving licence, a car, and/or just a capacity for drinking tea, is eligible! And for those interested in becoming a host, it would just involve a couple of hours once or twice a year. It’s not a big commitment, and our volunteers genuinely get as much out of the experience as our older members, so I’m calling for anyone who is interested in giving something back to their community to please get in touch with me as soon as possible.”

Walter, a member of one of Contact the Elderly’s friendship groups said:- “My wife has died now, and I’ve been on my own for five years. I was very active until recently, when I had a stroke. Now it’s frustrating, and I don’t hear well, which is a nuisance. Being able to join the Contact the Elderly group is wonderful. It makes such a change, being picked up and brought out for tea. Better than seeing the same four walls all the time.”


IT takes a lot for girls and boys to be impressed by their teacher. But when ‘Sir’ has battled in 35 degrees of steamy heat to cycle 136km across mountain tracks, run 58km on rugged trails, canoed 29km - and with a bit of abseiling and ziplining thrown in for good measure - it’s hard not to be full of admiration.

The Sir in question is Birkenhead School teacher Tim Higginbottom who has just returned from one of the world’s most gruelling adventure races. The 3 day event in Baise County, South West China, is a key date in the Chinese sporting calendar. It attracts thousands of spectators and more than 200 million viewers on one of the main national TV stations.

Tim, who lives between Mold and Ruthin, was one of a team of three men and one woman to represent the UK in the 250 km race. Only the top adventure racers take part and it was the first time a UK team had been invited to participate in the international event. Tim’s team finished in a highly creditable seventh place out of more than 30 teams.

“It was a totally amazing experience and we were all completely shattered at the end as we’d pushed ourselves to the absolute limit. It was so hot, it was like running in an airless oven and unlike some of the other teams who finished ahead of us, we hadn’t had any time to acclimatise. But I’m so grateful to have been selected to take part. It’s a massive event over there with spectacular opening and closing ceremonies and hundreds of spectators lining each part of the route, cheering teams on their way.”
said the 38 year old father of a 21 month old son, who acted as team navigator.

Tim started adventure racing about seven years ago. It’s a fairly new sport in the UK and appeals to only the fittest men and women.

For Tim, it has been an extension to his other sporting abilities. He has been a fell runner for Wales since 2002 and is a former Welsh Orienteering champion. He is one of the best in the world at two-day Mountain Marathons and recently won the Anglesey Ultra Marathon.

Wife Jenny understands his passion as she is a keen orienteer and fell runner herself and still regularly competes.

Pupils at the Oxton-based independent school where Tim teaches Design and Technology are aware their teacher is something of a super star in the adventure racing world. Some of them have already seen him on Channel 4 TV during coverage of a 4 day race in the Lake District.

“I do sometimes take groups of our boys and girls walking, climbing and mountain biking and give talks on adventure racing. There’s been quite a bit of interest and a couple of the girls seem keen to get involved themselves.”
added Tim.


INDUSTRIAL action in the NHS moved a step closer today, with a survey of more than 2,000 UNISON nurses and midwives showing that 73% would take industrial action to protect their pensions.  Despite a recent overhaul and the fact that half the women in the NHS retire on a pension of less than £3,500 a year, the pension scheme is again under attack in the Hutton Review. The review recommendations included increasing the retirement age and member contributions, as well as moving to a career average, instead of a final salary scheme.

Christina McAnea, UNISON Head of Health, said:- “It is not often that nurses and midwives even talk about industrial action, let alone say that they are prepared to take it. Pensions are a hot issue in the NHS at the moment and feelings are running high about the proposed changes. This survey shows that opposition is building. The current scheme has only recently been updated, it is fair and affordable and nurses are prepared to fight for it. Asking workers to pay more into their pensions for less benefits, especially at a time when they are being hit by a pay freeze and inflation is a real kick in the teeth. The Government would do well to take note of this survey. Public sector workers are sick and tired about the myths of gold plated pensions. These nurses and midwives pay into the scheme their whole working lives and are entitled to some respect and dignity when they retire. A decent pension is surely not too much to ask after a lifetime of caring for others.”

The survey showed that 86% believed the Hutton Review proposals would hit their standard of living now, and more than half said it would affect their ability to stay in their job.  Key Facts about the NHS Pension Scheme:- 

When the NHS scheme was renegotiated, the pension promise of a retirement age of 60 for current members was retained. New members have a retirement age of 65. The NHS pension scheme was renegotiated in 2006 to make it sustainable and affordable. It is cash rich – last year, the NHS scheme received £2billion more in contributions than it paid out and this money went straight to theTreasury.  Despite the fact that it does not have a fund, it is still valued on the basis of cost providing the benefits in the future, and employee/employer contributions are calculated accordingly. 

Under cost share the employer contribution is limited to a maximum of 14% so there are no runaway costs. Over the last 10 years in England & Wales employees have contributed more than £16 billion to the NHS pension scheme.  Members of pay As you Go Scheme like the NHSPS far from being a burden on the Tax payer have actually kept taxes down as Successive Governments have spent the money they received in contributions on other things rather than putting it in a fund.  Pensioners are already being hit with the move from RPI to CPI to calculate annual inflation increases - this will reduce their value by 15%.

Email us your views on this topic and let our newsroom know what you think. Do you agree with UNISON or not?  Do let us know!

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