Friday, 29 May 2009

Racing the train....

I am a regular user of the sleeper train between Camborne and London Paddington and, when I heard that Theresa Villiers, the Shadow Transport Secretary, was going to make a visit to Cornwall at short notice, I told the events team that the sleeper was the best possible way to get to Cornwall in the time she had.

The main line to Penzance goes right through the middle of Trevaskis Farm and so I grew up with trains regularly passing through. Today, Derek Thomas, the Conservative PPC for St Ives, and I had agreed to meet Theresa at Penzance station for the first visit at 8am. It is a twenty minute drive to Penzance but, just as I was finishing my coffee, I saw the Night Riviera go through Trevaskis soon after 7.30. She was running ahead of time. Better get my skates on.

I finally caught up with the sleeper on the approach to Penzance. Theresa had had a good night's sleep and commented that it was a relaxing way to travel. We went on to Manna's diner for breakfast - a local charity that employs people with disabilities before visiting Penzance Harbour, the campaign to improve the A30 and finally a visit to the Helston Railway Preservation Company which is based at Trevarno near Crowntown.

The old Helston branch line had closed long before my time but my father remembers it well. Gwinear Road Station, where it started, is just next door to Trevaskis Farm and you can still see many of the old bridges and tracks through which the line used to run and can make out the remnants of the platforms at Gwinear Road station.

The project aims to re-open a section of the line to passengers again - possibly starting before the end of this year. Twenty volunteers work - usually on Thursdays and Sundays - to clear the line, lay ballast, sleepers and track. They have even bought a shunter train and small passenger train ready for action.

One of the volunteers, Daniel Farr, is one of our most active leaflet deliverers too. So I heard a lot about the challenges encountered getting down the ballast (which surprisingly is the most difficult and time consuming part of the operation).

Today we were met by Richard Cox of Trevarno Estate together with Ken Wood and some of the volunteers on the project. They had some fantastic old photographs of Gwinear Road Station and told me that they had rescued the old station sign.

It was time to head for Redruth to get Theresa back on the train to London - but not before buying a book on the history of the line for my father...complete with pictures of the old station at Gwinear Road.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Cornwall's Fire Brigade show the way

Last week I attended the Camborne Town Council Annual meeting which included a fantastic awards ceremony for outstanding achievements from local residents during the year which proved that community spirit is alive and kicking in Camborne.

Among those honoured were Roy Kelynack who has served Camborne Town Band and the local Scouts for decades; Tom and Jackie Gray for their working with the local judo club; Debbie Stokes for her outstanding work with the girls at the T14ers dance group (and she received very audible support from the T14ers present at the meeting as she collected her award!) and Lani Anthoney, aged six, who had helped rescue a friend from a swimming pool.

After the awards we were given an inspiring presentation from Tim and Dillon from the Phoenix project being run by Cornwall Fire Brigade in conjunction with local schools. Phoenix is a fantastic project that aims to instill discipline, team work and confidence in boys from local schools.

Tim relayed a touching anecdote about a boy who was mute and had been sent on the course in the hope it might build his confidence and get him talking again. At the start of the week he would say nothing at all. By the end of the week, he was ready to give a small public speech to the parents gathered at the awards ceremony. What an achievement. I spoke to Tim aftwerwards and said I would love to come along to see their work.

I had been told to make sure I wasn't late. I remembered it was 2 O'clock today and so arrived at Redruth Fire Station 5 minutes early - but I must have got my timings wrong because most of the parents were already there. Tim was talking about how they were also running courses for parents and other people who would benefit from a bit of hose drill (he looked my way at this point - yes, I was defintely late after all!).

However, I was in good time for the main demonstration from the team at Camborne school. Tim takes no prisoners and expects parents to set a good example too - we were all told to get our hands out our pockets before the demonstration started. Quite right too.

It was really impressive. Today the exercise was to put out three fires: one in a car and to rescue a casualty from it, second to put out a fire in a building and thirdly, to rescue and provide first aid to another casualty inside the building (wearing respiratory gear).

The aim behind the project is simple: to offer routine, structure and discipline and, in the process, develop confidence and a sense of responsibility. The boys from Camborne school clearly benefited from it and were given awards at the end. So congratulations to Tommy, Darren, Liam, Jack, Jordan, Michael, Joseph, Jamie, Scott and Thomas.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Time for signs...

It is never easy finding the time to fit everything in. But I really wanted to make sure that we got up some signs in these local elections. I benefit from the fact that my father knows just about every farmer who owns any stretch of land along any road - and he has worked incredibly hard this week to phone around dozens of people and ask them to agree to help.

It was a stormy day yesterday. I arrived at Ernie Boden's late yesterday morning to pick up some of the equipment I would need. He had some really good self tapping screws which could be driven home with an electric drill. It made the execise much easier.

We made steady progress. About 40 signs up in total around Redruth, Hayle, Camborne and Helston. And some very good coverage in and around Wendron - an area where we are getting quite a lot of support.

But there is still much more to do in the weeks ahead.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Steep hills in Hayle North

I promised Jeremy Joslin I would give him a helping hand in Hayle North. Jeremy is the Chairman of Hayle Chamber of Commerce and is a great candidate to represent the people in this area.

He is a supporter of the Hayle harbour project but wants to stand up for local people to make sure that local concerns are heard by both the planners and developers and that we end up achieving the best possible outcome which could transform the future prospects of Hayle.

I first met Jeremy Joslin about 15 years ago when he used to do some design work for Trevaskis Farm. He has since become a leading figure in Hayle and has championed change. The sitting candidate, someone called Rob Lello, is widely seen by local people as having failed Hayle and only gets in by default. That is why he must be challenged properly.

In the morning we focus on Phillack - where there are a lot of steep hills. And in the afternoon we switch to the Copperhouse area and Ventonleague Road. There are a lot of hills in Hayle! But we were getting a good reception too.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Campaigning in Illogan

After David left, I headed back down to Illogan to lend a hand to our candidate there, Terry Wilkins.

Illogan is the type of place where we could do better than in the past and Terry is the right candidate for the job. Paul Holmes, the Liberal candidate, is not rated very highly by local people. There were lots of comments on the doorstep about how he has been there too long and become complacent and doesn't bother to help anyone locally.

I always remember Kevin Keen who lived at Illogan Churchtown. I used to work with him on the family farm and we spent many days working together weathering hail storms out in the cabbage fields during the winter or the dust in the summer on the cauliflower planter machine. I remember that he was a big Jaguar car enthusiast. When I was old enough to drive, I would sometimes drop him home but he would never let anyone near his Jaguar.

I was wondering whether he was still there when, as I came back down to a garden gate I caught him walking along the pavement. We had a good chat about the old times and I was able to update him on the whereabouts of Alan Cook and John Eddy - both also formerly part of the team at Trevaskis Farm and who I bumped into recently.

Terry Wilkins, our candidate, used to be a policeman and has a no nonsense approach. I first came across him as the row over centralised housing targets started to gather pace. Although retired, he decided to take a stand personally and mobilise oppostition to the crackpot targets that were being imposed by the Labour Government on Illogan. He is the sort of person who takes his responsibilities seriously and would be a real trooper for Illogan, but we have a lot of work to do.

UPDATE

I stand corrected.

A leading Labour Party activist in Camborne has been in touch to point out a mistake in my original post which might offend both the Liberal Party and the Lib Dem Party. To his credit it doesn't bother the Labour Party either way but in the interests of fairness he is right to raise it and so I have corrected it.

Paul Holmes is, of course, a Liberal Party candidate, not a Lib Dem. I should have remembered this because I once shared a platform with him in the late 90's during a euro debate.

For those who don't know the history, during the 80's there was the "SDP Liberal Alliance" which was a joint ticket of the Liberal Party under David Steel and the SDP under David Owen. After the 1987 General Election when the Alliance performed badly, they fractured into three separate pieces. Some merged under the cumbersome "Liberal Democrat" banner, some went off with David Owen and continued as the SDP for a few years - and in some cases went back to support New Labour after that. And the third faction kept the original Liberal Party going and decided against a merger with some of the old SDP people.

So while Paul Holmes might not have made much impression on the people of Illogan as a councillor, it does show some tenacity that the original Liberal Party is still going after all these years and they are fielding quite a few candidates in these elections against the other surviving faction of the old SDP Liberal Alliance, the "Lib Dems".

David Cameron visits Cornwall

David Cameron was in Cornwall today to make an announcement about geothermal energy and how we need to encourage its development. But, of course, the continuing row over MPs expenses was inevitably going to be the only thing people would be interested in.

Like everyone else, I have been shocked by the claims that some MPs have made and urgent action is needed to restore confidence. I think David Cameron was absolutely right earlier this week to grab the bull by the horns and set out some concrete steps he was taking - right now. These include requiring MPs who have made excessive claims to repay them, making clear that, in future, items like furniture and food should not be claimed for and setting up a new scrutiny process within the party to assess claims submitted.

There has been a sense of drift from the government. People don't want to hear any more that something was "within the rules" or that there is going to be some new comittee to "look" at how things are done. You need some firm leadership instead and it is good to see David Cameron rising to the meet the challenge and leading the way again.

But back to geothermal energy. This part of Cornwall was famous for the Hot Rocks project in the 80's which developed much of the international expertise in the field. I remember hearing about their work as a teenager. Although that project was discontinued, many of the scientists who worked on it are still around.

Richard Freeborn is one of them. He has developed a very successful business, Kensa Heat Pumps, at the site of the old mine in Mount Wellington near St Day to set up a new business which manufactures ground source heat pumps - essentially pumping water deep into the rocks below and bringing it back up at temperatures sufficient for heating properties.

Also about to set up at the site on Mount Wellington is a new venture to test model versions of wave power devices - which, if successful, could then go on to be tested on a commercial scale at the new Wave Hub facility in Hayle. Finally we had a revolutionary manufacturer of LED lighting technology who gave a presentation on their new energy saving light bulbs.

It is great that David Cameron decided to make another visit to Cornwall. I have argued from the start that technologies such as this, not only provide the answer to our energy needs, but can also lead to a prosperous future for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Jean's last fling

I finish the weekend at the charity bash being held by Jean Charman, the outgoing Mayor of Camborne.

I used to go to school with Jean's son. She has been a very energetic and committed Mayor. Last Thursday she was still working hard for the local community by holding a public meeting to air local concerns over the New Connection project in Bassett Street and also to deal with anti-social behaviour in Pengegon. I went along and learnt a lot.

Tonight she was raising money for local charities. We were treated to some fantastic Jazz by the John Austin Big Band. The event was held at the Corn Exchange in the centre of Camborne. The building that is now the Corn Exchange has always been a central feauture of the town. I remember going there roller skating in the late seventies. By the early eighties, roller skates were out and it was converted into an artificial ice skating rink. By the late eighties it had become a night club, the Berkeley centre, and I spent many a night there. And a few years ago it was revamnped into the Corn Exchange.

Unfortunately, I had to rush off at 9.30 in order to catch the sleeper train back to London for a meeting first thing tomorrow morning, just as the party was getting going. I hadn't booked a bed in advance and so must take pot luck. The sleeper service is by far the best way to travel between Cornwall and London - but only if you have a bed...last week I was out of luck - but I am in luck tonight.

An ice cream in Porthtowan

Have just got back from Porthtowan with Katy. The sun was out early this afternoon and a lot of people were heading down to the beach. We had delicious ice creams from the shop down by the sea front.

I used to have cousins who lived in Porthtowan and, when I was growing up, would sometimes visit and spend the day on the beach with one of those old polystyrene surf boards you used to see a lot of in those days. I remember it was a long walk back up Rose Hill at the end of the day with the surf boards in tow.

But our main task in Porthtowan today was delivering leaflets for the local election campaign. Yesterday we had our second campaign day. It is a busier time of year for most people and I had expected us to be down on the 63 who turned out at the end of February. But there were a lot of new faces this time and we had well over 70 people out in total. By the end of the day we had got out some 19,000 pieces of literature in many different parts of constituency including major progress in the three towns of Camborne, Redruth and Hayle but also significant inroads in other areas like Portreath, Stithians, Gwinear and Illogan.

We have a very strong set of candidates this time and we are the only party in Cornwall fielding candidates in every ward. We are picking up support from former independent councillors too, most notably Barbara Ellenbroek, the Mayor of Redruth and Mike Eddowes, the former Chairman of Kerrier District Council. Many independents feel that the formation of a large, centralised council covering the whole of Cornwall has changed things and that a strong Conservative group is essential to restore some accountability.

Morale is very high among the local team here and our candidates are getting a good reception on the doorstep. There is a feeling out there that the Lib Dems have just been in power in Cornwall for far too long and have become tired, complacent and out of touch.

But we have a lot of work to do in the weeks ahead.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Gwinear Show still going strong

Gwinear Show was an important date when I was growing up. We used to attend every year. My father was on the show committee and was President of the show for a few years.

The first one I remember was held in the field at the top of Station Road just outside Carnhell Green. That must have been in about 1979 or 1980. It was in the same field again yesterday.

In those days we had a pet donkey on the farm called Prince and I entered him in the donkey section that year. He won. The next year we were in a different field with a different judge who obviously had different views and poor old Prince, much to my disappointment, was relegated to fourth place.

When I got older I used to help my father and the many other local volunteers take everything down the Sunday after. Shows like this rely on local volunteers to make them happen and it is a great reminder that villages around here are close knit communities and know how to get things done.

This year there were concerns about the weather - particularly at Gwinear School who were demonstrating art work from the children. We had some rain on Friday so it was a little wet under foot. One or two cars got stuck. But the weather on Saturday was fine. Attendance was good and higher than previous years although the number of entrants in the gymkhana was down slightly.

It was good to catch up with so many old friends. Gwinear Farmers had a stand this year for the first time and inside was a section devoted to old photos from Praze Young Farmers Club - including one of me from 21 years ago selling the benefits of South Devon cattle during a marketing competition.

Gwinear Show is the first of the local shows. We have more to follow. Camborne Show had even been discussing the idea of doing a 'Question Time' style debate at the show for all the candidates in the Camborne and Redruth constituency. I thought it was a great idea and would have helped engage people in politics again. But the news came back today that Julia Goldsworthy has refused to take part.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Just because I say I don't want to dance....

Last night I had a clash. I had committed to going along to Camborne Rugby Club's end of season dinner at the Lowenac Hotel in Camborne, but also the next meeting of the Trelawney Alliance which was scheduled for the same day and time. Luckily the Trelawney Alliance were just down Basset Road road at the Town Council offices so I could do both - just.

Jean Charman, our energetic Town Mayor, and the committee at the Trelawney Alliance have made some fantastic progress over the last few months and managed to get a new cross party campaign up in the news and recognised. But they are not complacent. The next step is to improve coordination between other groups campaiging against the centralised government targets and they are working hard.

I had told Camborne RFC I would be there by 8.30 but a speech at the end of the meeting by our local MP went on a little longer than expected. Still, I made it there by 8.45 which was in time for the main course and speeches.

My father used to play rugby for Camborne and the family business at Trevaskis Farm sponsor the club today. As an amateur club, they are really able to develop talent and give younger players a chance to play in big matches where they learn fast. There is a strong team spirit because the players quickly progress through the Colts and into the Chiefs and get used to playing rugby together. They also have a really important commitment to junior and mini rugby teams.

I think amateur clubs like this have a crucial role to play in our society. I also think we could see a revival of amateur sport as the commerical clubs which rely on lucrative media contracts find that they have less clout than they once did.

My first memory of the Lowenac Hotel is attending a Young Farmers disco there in the late eighties. I have never been a great dancer but last night, as the disco was about to pack up, a couple of the Camborne team members decided to drag me and my brother, Giles, onto the dance floor to sit down in a line and 'row' away to "Oops up side your head" by The Gap Band. It could have been 1988 all over again.