Monday, 26 December 2016

A Mayoral Christmas part one

A merry Christmas to everyone. My Christmas card is based on a photo taken at the Formby Nativity Play 2016 by the Formby Bubble and reproduced with their permission. The Nativity reenactment is one of the highlights of the calendar in Formby and hundreds of people attend. The main street is closed to traffic and apart from the human members of the cast we had a donkey, goats, and sheep and an eagle. It was, as always, well done.

There were lost of carols, I read a lesson at Holy Trinity's nine lessons and carols. I am always impressed about how many people say their Christmas truly starts when they hear a boy treble sing the first verse of Once in Royal David's City. Live performances have far mor impact and at Holy Trinity we an excellent service, the music was of a very high standard and the boy chorister was brilliant. The service was well attended but I can't help thinking that there are lots more people in the town who would really have appreciated the event.

More carols came from the Amadeus Chamber Choir at the Ince Blundell Chapel (see picture above). It is a spectacular setting for this annual event. I am constantly surprised how few people know of its existence. The quality of the music matched the surroundings and the concert was sold out.
You can read about my visit to the Southport Mosque where £400 was raised for the Southport Samaritans. It was the first official civic visit and was arranged by my chaplain Rod Garner and the Iman  Soyful Alam. The picture shows us handing over the cheque to Christina Morgan along with Soyful and Rev Jane Morgan.

Christmas Day saw me at the Southport Christmas Shelter. It was good to met all the volunteers who were giving up part of their Christmas to make and serve up food. There was a real variety of volunteers;  Mums and  daughters, married couples whose children had left home a good representation of church folk and people just dropping in with home made goodies.

some of the Christmas Shelter Volunteers

tables all set and ready to go

The Southport Christmas Shelter is a separate charity which opens its doors for five days over Christmas on the Crisis at Christmas model. The volunteers all turn up for training before the event.

The Christmas parade, organised by Birkdale's Adam, brought Christmas presents to the children who use the centre in Ainsdale, Well done Adam.

Then there was the Elderberries Christmas party where I handed out certificates for their tomato and chilli festival

One carol concert that was not what I expected was held at the Temperance Institute and Martin Connard was my host. We were treated to an inter-galactic tour of planets, cultures and faiths to explore the spirit of Christmas. It was a great community event with plenty of audience participation which was enthusiastically entered into by the crowded hall.
 After the concert we came across something else unexpected dating back to 1898 and which had been stored in the Institutes loft, but more of that in the New Year.

I heard lots of school children sing carols. My good friend Antony Hill and his friends organised a coffee morning for the Mayor's charity at  CHET and the pupils of St Mary's village school came and sang for us all.

There was more music of a high standard from the Bach Choir at the Christmas Concert.

Finally on this round up there was the Mayor's Christmas Toy Appeal launched in Southport Town Hall with the support od the local branch of ASDA. 400 children identified by the Children's Trust  will get toys this Christmas thanks to everyone's generosity.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Tales of mince pies and Christmas dinners only tell part of the story Visiter column

Tales of mince pies and Christmas dinners could easily fill up the Mayor’s diary this week but instead I want to start by telling you about some of the really inspiring meetings I have had with young people.
Picture by Conrad Ainslie

I have attended two presentations from students who have completed the Prince’s Trusts Team programme. The first was at Hugh Baird College in Bootle and the second was sponsored by the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service. The 12 week scheme offers work experience, challenging community projects and an adventurous five-day team building residential trip. It was clear from both groups of students that the programme had a positive impact on their self-confidence. It was great to meet young people determined to make the best of their opportunities.

I have also handed out certificates at the Sefton Shining Stars Awards for young people who have been nominated for their exceptional achievements. I was particularly impressed by the stories of young people who have taken on caring responsibilities or who had overcome many difficulties to reach their goals.

I had the pleasure of welcoming Redgate Primary School from Formby to the Town Hall. We have devised a special quiz for school groups that visit and these young folk enthusiastically joined in. They were a great credit to their families and school.

I have also heard the pupils from St Mary’s Little Crosby sing carols and Christmas songs at a Coffee Morning held at Crosby Hall to raise money for the Mayor’s Charity Appeal. They were brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed their performance.

There was more Christmas music from the Southport Bach Choir at Holy Trinity and an amazing Inter-galactic carol concert at the Temperance Institute-you’ll have to read the Mayoral Blog if you want to know more. Danielle Thomas sang at the ‘Light Up a Life’ Service at St Joseph’s Hospice and on Saturday I attended the Formby Village Nativity Play which is undoubtedly one of our borough’s great community events.

Over the Christmas period I shall be helping to celebrate a 100th Birthday in Formby, attending the Amadeus Chamber Choirs Concert and on 25th December visiting the Southport Christmas Shelter- which provides food, warmth and companionship for those in need.

A final word about those Christmas meals and mince pies; as I write The Elderberries, the friendly gardening club, gets my vote for the best, but there are still ten days left till Christmas.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

St Joseph Hospice visit

On Sunday I attended a service at the Hospice called  'Light up a Life' . Danielle Thomas sang and there were carols and readings. That morning we had heard the terrible news of the bombing of the Coptic church in Egypt. Bishop Tom told us that he had met the murdered Bishop. At the end of the service candles were lit in memory of loved ones who had died and had been cared for at the hospice

My Visiter column this week

I have launched a Christmas Toy appeal for the children most in need in our borough. You can make sure the children wake up on Christmas Day with a present under the tree and a memory to treasure forever. All you have to do is donate brand new, unwrapped presents by 20 December at the following locations: Bootle Town Hall; Southport Town Hall; all Sefton Council libraries and leisure centres and Asda in Southport. Donations of gift cards and toiletries are also welcome for older children and teenagers.

If you want to know more about the appeal I have recruited an army of Christmas Elves who you can reach on my special Appeal hotline: 0151 934 3359 or visit:  

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear but very cold. I was booked to be at Aintree (which is in Sefton rather than Liverpool) to open the Jockey Club's new Aintree Community Hub a duty I performed with Sir ‘AP’ McCoy

The Aintree Community Programme has five themes – Health & Wellbeing; Mental Wellbeing; Community Engagement; Disability; Riding in the Community. All programmes have been designed to ensure we focus on the important issues in our community whilst being aligned to racing and Jockey Club roots. Most recently, the Aintree Community Programme received funding from the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Trust to build a Community Hub at the Racecourse in order to focus and support the key themes of the programme.
I was particularly pleased to see that 'Mental Welbeing' was one of their chosen themes.

Sunday afternoon I joined the Christmas parade organised by Adam Brown which took Christmas presents to the young people at Springbrook Children’s Home in Ainsdale. The parade arrived at its destination the Scout Hut in Pinfold Lane where I met many of the families who were receiving gifts. Well done to Adam for putting on the event.

Tale of Two graduations Prince's Trust Team 32 MFRS and University of Liverpool

Prince's Trust event at Fire Service H.Q.

The Team was Bootle & Netherton Prince's Trust Team 32.

Professor Phil Scraton
In one afternoon I attended two graduations; one for the University of Liverpool and the other with the Prince's Trust. I have to admit I found the Prince's Trust awards the most moving. These were young people who had finished their formal education and still were facing significant challenges. Everyone who attended the presentation that the young people put on to mark the end of the 12 week course was impressed.
The University graduation was significant because Professor Phil Scraton was awarded an honorary  degree chiefly because of his work on the Hillsborough miscarriage of justice.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

CHET and the Crosby Mayor's Charity Committee

Huge thanks to the Mayor's Charity Committee in Crosby-ably chaired by Anthony Hill- for organising a fundraising coffee morning at CHET in Little Crosby. We were grandly entertained by the pupils of St Mary's Primary school from the village. They sang beautifully.

There were lots of stalls from local groups including Crosby and Waterloo in Bloom, the Soroptimists, CHET and the Charity Committee.

This is the Crosby Committees second fundraising event in recent weeks. Two of the Committee,Carol and Catherine,  organised a dinner at  'This is Livin' Bar and Grill, 4a Carnegie Ave., Crosby for 63 people on behalf of the Crosby Branch of the 'Mayors Charity' it was a huge success.

The proprietors Steve and Marie were so generous with their support and suggestions.

The food and staff were excellent and more to the point everyone enjoyed it. With a great many recommendations arising from it.

The Committee made a grand total of £718 profit, which was amazing.

Regrettably I was unable to attend because of a long standing engagement but I shall be visiting soon.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The inspirational Prince's Trust Team 4 graduate at Hugh Baird

Photograph by Conrad Ainsley
I was delighted to be back at Hugh Baird College this week. I had been invited to the graduation ceremony for those members of Team 4 who had completed the Prince's Trust scheme.

The Prince's Trust Team programme is a 12-week course, run in partnership with Hugh Baird College, that offers work experience, challenging community projects and an adventurous five-day, team building residential trip.

We had a review of the scheme presented by the young people and then individual contributions from the students who had taken part. This was inspirational stuff. The programme had clearly made an impact on the participants who had visibly grown in confidence through the programme. The testimonials from the hosts of the community projects-including St Oswald's- confirmed that these young people had done a great job and were brilliant ambassadors for young people. Nobody could help but be moved by the commitment these young people had shown nor of the value of their contribution.  There can be no doubt that any employer looking at an application from these students would recognise that they had demonstrated that they would be worth seriously considering for a job.

Judging from the video presentation as well as the individual speeches that the students made the residential trip to Denbigh had been the turning point. Their team work skills and enjoyment were obvious.

The whole team should be proud of their achievement. I sincerely wish that some of the 'moaners' in our society who have a negative opinion of young people could have been present. It was a great evening.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

My column in this week's Visiter

I have had a busy and varied week honouring people who served in WW2, handing out prizes to students and launching the Mayor’s Toy Appeal.

Captain Johnny Walker was not always the ‘top brass’s’ favourite man. He broke with received naval wisdom to develop new ways of tackling the U-Boat menace in WW2 and protected the convoys that brought a besieged Britain essential supplies in the darkest days of the war. From the Gladstone Dock in Bootle he set out to hunt down and destroy the enemy’s submarines and he was the most of successful naval commander. Bootle Town Hall received from Captain Walker many of the most important artefacts from the Battle of the Atlantic. Every year the Mayor hosts a service to honour his memory. In the evening the University Royal Navy Unit (URNU) abandons tradition and does not hold a Trafalgar Night celebration but instead holds a mess dinner to honour the memory of Captain Johnny Walker. I was privileged to attend that event and to hear the students tell the story of Walker’s heroic efforts.

The second war hero I had the opportunity to honouring was Waterloo resident John Shankland to whom the French Government wanted to give their highest medal the Legion d’Honneur for his part in the liberation of Europe.

Waterloo lost one of its great characters and indefatigable campaigners with the death of local historian Brenda Murray. It was her dream to erect a monument to the four time Prime Minister William Gladstone in Seaforth where he had lived. She achieved that objective and turned her attention to new projects to preserve the history of her home town. Days before her death she was lobbying me to track down important items relating to Waterloo’s past. She will be greatly missed.

Brenda was the oldest ‘old girl’ of what is today Sacred Heart College and I was there on Monday as their guest at their presentation evening. This is one of our most successful schools not just because of its excellent academic achievements but also because of the breadth of the opportunities it offers its students. It lives up to its motto of ‘caring and achieving excellence in a Christian community’.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Opening the Aintree Community Hub with A P McCoy

Sir 'AP' McCoy, Aintree Chair Rose Paterson and IBB

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear but very cold. I was booked to be at Aintree (which is in Sefton rather than Liverpool) to open the Jockey Club's new Aintree Community Hub.

The Aintree Community Programme has five themes – Health & Wellbeing; Mental Wellbeing; Community Engagement; Disability; Riding in the Community. All programmes have been designed to ensure we focus on the important issues in our community whilst being aligned to racing and Jockey Club roots. Most recently, the Aintree Community Programme received funding from the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Trust to build a Community Hub at the Racecourse in order to focus and support the key themes of the programme.

You can read more about the event here. It was good to meet many of the people involved in successfully launching this programme. I was particularly pleased to see that 'Mental Welbeing' was one of their chosen themes.

I also got the opportunity to meet some of the folk who use the centre who had been invited to the opening. One young man invited by Everton in the Community, an excellent programme organised by the Goodison Club, was going to take part in the guard of honour at Everton's Sunday match aginst Man United.

I also met the wife and daughter of the sculptor who produced the bust of Peter O'Sullevan and which now is an impressive focal point of the new hub. If you get to visit make sure you ask to hear the audio of Rory Bremner 'doing' Peter O'Sillevan, it is brilliant.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sacred Heart Presentation Evening

I was delighted to be back at Sacred Heart College. I was their guest speaker at their Presentation Evening. I was very impressed on my first visit. You can tell a lot about a school by the things they put on their walls. It was really good to see a visual presentation of the breadth of the schools endeavours. The real temptation is to narrow down the curriculum to the few subjects that Ofsted or league tables concentrate on. Here I saw art, excellent music, sports and community service finding its proper place alongside high academic achievement. All this has been achieved at a state comprehensive school. As its name implies Sacred Heart is a RC school and its demonstrates that best that tradition as to offer. The school lives up to its motto 'caring and achieving excellence within a Christian Community'

During the evening we had two musical interludes one each from the choir and the string ensemble and the College tweeted part of the performance .

In addition they had two students who achieved 10 A* Grades at GCSE and nine further who got 10 A* or A Grades.

Sadly on the night of my visit news began filtering through of Sacred Heart's 'oldest old girl' Brenda Murray. Brenda had a wealth of local historical knowledge which I know she was determined to pass on to future generations

Waterloo man presented with Legion d'Honneur

Presenting John Shankland with the Legion d'Honneur

It was a genuine pleasure to meet John Shankland, who lives in Waterloo, and present him with the Legion d'Honneur on behalf of the French Government in grateful recognition for his part in the Liberation of Europe.

John was a regular soldier and before the war was stationed in India. He was at Dunkirk and finished the war with the British detachment at Beslen. I met his Grandson who had accompanied him a recent visit back the the battlefields of WW2.

At the end of the war John came to work fro Crosby Council and became the Mayor's chauffeur a post which he held up until 1984. I was a member of the council back thaen and recall that all the Mayoral staff were real 'characters'

I have presented one of the medals to a Southport man Ernest Jones and on that occasion I read out the citation from the letter that accompanied the medal. I did so again:

 As we contemplated this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you, who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to your dedication, because you were ready to risk your life.'

Two events to commemorate Captain Johnny Walker UK's leading wartime submariner

The memory of Captain Johnny Walker is cherished in these parts. He was a real war leader whose innovative approach to hunting down U-boats in the Battle of The Atlantic made a real difference to saving allied lives and providing a much safer passage for the all important arctic convoys.

The day began with a service in Bootle Town Hall. Capt Walker was based in Bootle's Gladstone dock and when he laid up the flags from his boats including HMS Wildgoose, Starling and Stork along with other items he chose to do so in Bootle Town Hall. Generations of local school children have learned about his exploits. His grandson Patrick was among the naval personnel past and present who attended the service which was led by the naval chaplain Fether David Gamble.
Father Gamble, IBB, Patrick Walker an the RM Officer commanding HMS Eaglet

Most prized of all the memorabilia is the General Chase Flag. We tell those undertaking the tour of the Town Hall that it has only been flown three times in history, once by Sir Francis Drake, when he chased the Spanish Armada from the Channel in 1588, and again by Nelson when he defeated Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. In our version of history, the third time ever that the flag was flown was On 30 July 1943,when Walker's  2nd Support Group encountered a group of three U-boats on the surface while in the Bay of Biscay. Captain Walker signalled "General Chase" to his group and fired at the U-boats, causing damage that prevented them from diving. Two of the U-boats were then sunk by the Support Group and the third by an Australian flying boat. “General Chase” is signalled to release ships from a line of battle, or other formation, in order to pursue a retreating or beaten foe.  I have subsequently discovered that is not strictly true because, at the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914, Sturdee hoisted General Chase at the beginning of the action. I have to say as the day went on and I attended the Captain Walker Dinner on HMS Eaglet I discovered that quite a few of the 'facts' we impart on these tours are not strictly true.

The commemoration of  Captain Walker moved on to a mess dinner in the evening. Instead of celebrating Trafalgar Day the University Royal Navy Unit (URNU) Liverpool holds a Johnny Walker Dinner. The senior student this year who presided over the meal was Chris Vroom. Between each courses, he called on one of his colleagues to tell the story of Captain Walker's exploits. In many ways it felt like a scene out of Beowulf. You could easily imagine sitting around the fire in the Mead Hall in Heorot listening to how Beowulf defeated the monster Grendel.

First up Chris Vroom set the scene

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Liverpool University Royal Naval Unit’s Captain Johnnie Walker Night Dinner. This evening we will share with you the story of the Battle of the Atlantics most successful anti-submarine warfare commander.

Convoy HG76 sailed from Gibraltar on December 14th 1941, 7 days after the attack on Pearl Harbour. Its 32 ships were arranged in the standard column formation, with the 36th Escort Group providing protection through HMS Stork, HMS Depthford and 7 flower class corvettes, with the then Commander F J Walker in command. Three destroyers and escort carrier HMS Audacity would join this force later. Against established routine, Walker arranged his ships in two screens, one close to the convoy and one much further out. This meant that for the first time, U boats would encounter the escorting warships before being able to close and attack the convoy. It was risky, but Walker was confident.

After the first course we moved on to the second installment of the story-which is where I discovered we were handing out 'duff' information to the visitors to Bootle Town Hall.This part was retold by Chris C

At 0900 hrs on the 17th December, an aircraft reported the U-131, 22 miles astern of HG76 and forced it to dive. The U-Boat was seen on the Stork's radar and Walker decided to test his so far unproven theory of offensive escorts. Taking HMS Stork and his 3 additional destroyers, he raced back along the convoy track towards U-131. Faulty hydrophones failed to inform the submarine of the approaching danger and the destroyers damaged the U-Boat with depth charges, but it remained submerged. 

Walker then formed a search line and began to hunt. About two hours later, the submarine surfaced and was immediately spotted. Walker ordered the attack. Sub Lt Fletcher in his Martlet aircraft dived on the U-Boat but was shot down and killed. His body was later recovered by Walker. After 20 minutes of shellfire U-131 abandoned ship. After collecting survivors, Walker had his first kill. That same afternoon a second submarine was sunk by the outer screen. Two U-Boats sunk and thus far, no losses.

Before part three I should pause to say that the food was excellent and the wine plentiful-but I was holding myself for the port.. Aoife Richardson told us of the night he sank four U-boats.

At 0400 hrs on December 19th; U-574 spotted and torpedoed HMS Stanley. Walker ordered his team to use a pre-arranged plan known as "Buttercup". As one they turned away from the convoy firing starshell, forcing the U-Boat to dive, hence allowing HMS Stork to pinpoint her on ASDIC and launch a combined ramming and depth charge attack, crippling the submarine.

That night HMS Audacity took up her night position away from the convoy and was torpedoed by U-751. Despite a desperate search the U-Boat was not found. However, HMS Deptford sighted a U-Boat on the surface and together with HMS Stork successfully attacked it with depth charges. A second submarine was also damaged.

By now the escorts were running low on ammunition and damage was mounting. HQ Western Approaches sent two destroyers and coordinated air cover to finally see the convoy home. In London the Admiralty was delighted; 4 U-Boats sunk and one badly damaged for the loss of 2 merchantmen, an escort carrier and a destroyer. 

Thanks to Walker's tactics, they now admitted a major rethink was needed in the Atlantic.

We now move to the more escoteric naval customs. A glass of port was poured and placed on the table next to the painting and bust of Johnny Walker. We then had the l

oyal toast-in these parts 'the Queen, the Duke of Lancaster.

No 1
Things then got very strange. Chris Vroom stood and declared: 'Can all those who have created vessels in honour of this evening please parade. Ladies and gents can you all please make note of the one you believe would be the biggest adversary to the U-Boats'
No 2
No 3

We were then asked the cheer for the vessel we favoured. It will come as no surprise to those who remember Boaty Macboatface that the small chaocolate swiss roll representing a torpedo (I presume) won.