Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on September 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Feeling one’s age…

There’s nothing like celebrating a century to make one feel old. I’ve been putting this column together ever since the first issue of the Clarion emerged blinking into that Tory twilight, back in 1996. John Major was sort of hanging on to power; whilst Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson were busy redefining the Labour Party, to ensure that we’d never have cause to sing the “Red Flag” ever again. The new message was “Middle England, arise!” And a new dawn with New Labour was promised.

It seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it? For most of us here on the Clarion it’s been a case of maintaining the faith – whilst at the same time trying to keep our powder dry.

The issues we debated and the campaigns we’ve faced are dealt with elsewhere in this 100th issue. I’m sure that there will be plenty more Clarions to come – and unless I get too decrepit I’ll still be here to comment on them

Swamped in supermarkets:

Folk living in Lydney must feel that they’re soon about to be swamped in supermarkets. “Spoilt for choice” might be a phrase that springs to mind – except for the fact that the notion of choice in this case is all an illusion.

So far Lydney has three supermarkets, which one might think is quite enough for a town its size. We’ve got the Co-op (the oldest player in town), Harry Tuffins – and of course the dreaded Tesco. But now both Sainsbury’s and Asda are vying to build an out of town store.

Sainsbury’s have promised a new supermarket down below the Lydney bypass. Not only would they be willing to provide a spanking new store, but also build a new market square, with shops and that sort of thing alongside it. The mind boggles. If all the hype is to be believed, it would effectively pose as an alternative focal point for the town, when our existing shopping centre is already suffering from lean times.

Asda, on the other hand, are promising massive investment running into millions of quid, just to sweeten the pill. Though its pitch is much more modest, it may well be that only one of these bids would get the go-ahead. But even if just one of them was successful it would be a step too far.

As I’m sure I’ve said before, more supermarkets do not provide more choice. They simply give us more of the same. It’s the smaller shops that provide us with that choice, and always have done. And with the inexorable rise of the big retail chains, they have suffered.

Lydney no longer has a baker, or indeed a greengrocer. And even the farmers’ market has faded away. We still have a butcher in town, but when it comes to more specialist outlets, there’s been a long list of casualties over the past ten years. Let’s not deliberately make it worse!

Going places?

Remember Chris Woodhead? Anyone? Well, just to refresh your memory, he was the first head of the dreaded Ofsted, set up under a previous Tory regime to bully and coerce schools and teachers who were seen as failing to perform adequately. He went on to express his pithy views on such failings in the columns of the Daily Telegraph, if my memory serves me correctly.

Now it seems he’s “Sir” Chris Woodhead, and is chairman of the board at Cognita, one of the largest providers of independent schools in the UK, Spain and in South East Asia.

Not bad for someone who was once a humble geography teacher at Newent School in the Forest of Dean!

“Academy status” for Whitecroft?

I see that Whitecross School in Lydney is in danger of being the latest to have “academy status” foisted upon it.

Plans are to put it under the control of a body called “Prospect” – an outfit with an “unproven track record”, to quote. So far, it seems, they have one school under their charge Naturally, parents and other local folk aren’t very happy. They feel that they’ve been kept in the dark. But now a petition is doing the rounds which has so far attracted over 500 signatures.

At the very least protesters are asking for a degree of “transparency”. Better still, many would like the plans scrapped completely.

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