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Cumbrian

April 2012

Heroes

A one off supplement showcasing some of North and West Cumbria’s local heroes, past and present Including an interview with Cumbrian World Touring Car Championship driver Alex McDowall


Editors Contents note

Page 3 Susan Aglionby

Welcome to Cumbrian Heroes, a one off supplementary magazine celebrating the dedication and successes of local Cumbrian people. The acknowledgement of these people is hugely important as some of them have had little or none throughout their time. Communities here in Cumbria would not run so well and be so prosperous without the help of volunteers and people giving a lifetime of service. In this issue we take a look back at the West Cumbria floods in 2009 and two of the heroes of that event. We also look at a teacher who has taught at the same school in Cumbria for 37 years and is now retiring. Plus two women of very different specialities, one farming and one sporting who have provided the community with much to be proud of. Finally, there is an interview with Alex McDowall the 21-year old racing driver from Carlisle, currently competing in the World Touring Car Championship. His performances may well be inspiring others as young as him to take up the sport and forge a career. This piece has been created as part of my final year studies for a journalism degree at the University of Cumbria. As a Cumbrian local I wanted to champion the good work of the many hard-workers in our community.

Page 4 Liz Jackson

Page 6 Hilary Dandy

Page 7 PC Bill Barker

Page 8 John Herbert

Page 9 Claire Jones

Thanks for reading,

Jonathan Irving

Page 10 Alex McDowall


Chickens, lambs, cattle, grass and soil may be part of any normal farm in the country. But at very few farms will you see hundreds of visitors a month ranging all ages and backgrounds. Gosling Sike farm and its tenant Susan Aglionby don’t operate your average farm. Susan, originally from Oxfordshire moved to Cumbria in 1989 because her husband’s family were from the area. She operates Gosling Sike farm, at Houghton near Carlisle as an organic farm with several different groups of animals and grazing land. However, the farm opens its doors to some 3000 visitors a years for a variety of different reasons. One of the main groups of visitors are students who come to the farm for work experience. Currently there are two groups from William Howard School using the farm weekly helping their BTech Agriculture studies. Also there are many primary schools that use the farm to assist with education in a number of areas ranging from clay, felting, habitats, orienteering and mathematics. Susan said: “The majority of school visits are focussed on gather, prepare, cook and eat.” This is a process which takes children through where food comes from and how it ends up on our plates. Aside from educational visits the farm opens its doors to many other groups. One regular visit is organised through Impact Housing who send different groups of homeless people to experience life on a farm. Susan is fond of this group: “They’re a great group; some go off and get jobs or property which is always the aim. They learn to work together which is a big skill, even just sitting together and having lunch is important. “Food does not come from a plastic bag from supermarkets and more and more people are interested in that, being

Gosling Sike farm at Houghton

The hands on approach

Susan teaches a work experience visitor about new born lambs

Susan Aglionby of Houghton allows people of all backgrounds and circumstances to come and experience the joys of working on a farm. A farm that she has largely donated to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust to continue their good work. organic is a priority here.” Another group which Susan accommodates is a group called Opening Doors which deals with the long-term mentally ill. A group who live out in the community supported who have been in hospital for sustained periods. They are able to come to the farm and simply enjoy themselves. Farm visits started back in 1998 when they were commissioned by the Countryside Stewardship Scheme to take 6-20 groups of school children. It expanded to 50 groups and then to 100. Susan said: “It’s incredible how it’s developed; I think it’s because of the location. Last year we had 247 different groups visit the farm, over 3000 visitors. Susan, her team and the farm make no profit from these visits, with the bulk funded by Natural England and small contributions from schools. She added: “I get a lot from it, it’s great to receive positive feedback and I’m very happy with the team I’ve got. We ensure that those who visit the farm get quality visits.”

Without the help of Susan and her farmland many of these groups would never have the opportunity to gain the experience they do on the farm. Susan has also been extremely generous, by donating Gosling Sike farm to Cumbria Wildlife Trust; however, she will remain the tenant. She gave the gift because her children had no interest in using the farm, and she wanted the site to remain in its current use. Cumbria Wildlife Trust were obviously delighted with Susan’s gift: “We see Gosling Sike Farm as a wonderful opportunity to help even more wildlife in Cumbria. It also provides a chance to increase our knowledge of organic farming and enable us to engage more with the farming community. Susan is continuing her successful education programme, which has allowed around 2500 children and adults in the last year to have the chance to visit and learn from the farm.”


Saturday mornings at Wigton Squash Club have been the backbone of a very successful era of sport in the town. The club has been one of the towns’ most successful teams and produced many high quality players that have gone on to play all over the country. Every Saturday for over thirty years Liz Jackson has coached and supported over 400 youngsters Liz, 64 of Wigton has been the lead coach at Wigton Squash Club for over 30 years and also served as the Chairman of Cumbria Junior Squash for a number of years. Initially a player, who represented the clubs female teams as captain, got involved with coaching through her friend and long-time colleague Valda Crawford in 1986. “Valda initially started the coaching with her brother-in-law, when he dropped out she asked me to help out. Then we did a coaching course to obtain our level 2 qualification. I didn’t pass first time so I had to go down to Liverpool to complete the course.” From this course and initial setup the coaching offered at the club expanded into multiple sessions on Saturday mornings, after school sessions with local schools which still continue to this day. Liz over her involvement with Wigton Squash Club has not just been an integral part of the coaching setup she was also a successful player, team

Liz (left) with Valda (right) and some of the current juniors they coach

iser and continues to serve on the clubs committee. Whilst the main objective of Liz’s tenure has been to get young people playing squash, the club has enjoyed a multiple of success. “For having two courts we were the leading club for quite some time. We are the only club that have had the senior men’s’ and all the junior boys’ county titles as once.” This is a feat that has never been achieved since. Another big success was back in both the 1992 and 1993 seasons when a team of players from the Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton reached the finals of the Bath Cup, a national schools competition. The team was made up completely of juniors coached by Liz. Alongside this there have been countless players who have gone on to represent the county and the North West region. However, Liz values the importance of achievement in all areas, not just squash ability or competition: “When you take a little person who maybe isn’t a very good squash player and they learn to do a shot. It’s great to see people improve, in their life skills aswell, when kids that don’t communicate very well we try to get a laugh from them. You see them grow up with squash.” Liz’s coaching ethos of ‘treat everyone the same’ has allowed the club to become a great environment for juniors

to learn and play the sport. She said: “The ones that have the most ability at the start


A lifetime of dedication Liz Jackson of Wigton has been the lead coach at Wigton Squash Club for over 30 years and has exposed hundreds of young people to the game. She has done all this work completely voluntarily. may not end up being the best player in the long run, so you must treat everyone the same.” Wigton is not the only beneficiary of Liz’s dedication, junior squash in Cumbria would not be successful as it is today with her. Liz alongside Valda was one of the founding members

of the junior county committee. The committee oversaw a boom in squash with more and more county teams being assembled. Through her involvement with the junior committee she also assisted with the development of the Northern High Performance Centre. A centre of excellence for players in the counties of Cumbria, Durham and Northumbria once headed by the Malcolm Willstrop, the father and coach of current world number 2 James Willstrop. She then progressed to Chairman of the junior committee in 2003 until she retired in 2009. As said earlier, Liz has been greatly assisted in her success as a coach by long-time friend Valda Crawford. She gave a glowing reference to her partner: “We are like twins. It’s always been the two of us. It has spread out the load, you need to involve as many people as possible to be a successful club.” John Honeyman, Chairman of Wigton Squash Club acknowledged Liz’s contribution: “She has developed a highly successful junior squash programme, providing the organisation and leadership to introduce hundreds of children and young people to squash Grassroots sport is dependent on the experience and professionalism of volunteers. Every Saturday morning and frequently during the week, Liz can be found providing high quality coaching at the club – all as a volunteer. Our adult teams are dominated by players they have introduced to the game and there is no doubt that the club would not have had the success it has had without her selfless dedication, commitment and loyalty. After volunteering for so long what does the future hold for Liz? “I’m hoping younger ones will take over I’m getting old! But as long as I feel useful I’ll still do it. Sometimes people stay too long, you must always have new ideas and try new things. But there are no immediate plans for retirement.”

Liz receiving the Hazel Tait award in 2009 with Ray Tait and Cumbria Squash Chairman Tom Armstrong


West Cumbria Floods in 2009 Back in 2009 West Cumbria was devastated by vicious floods. The rivers Cocker and Derwent which meet in Cockermouth rose heavily and resulted in most of centre of the town being flooded. In its path the floods left huge amounts of destruction and heartache. The majority of the towns shops pubs were destroyed. The water that flowed through the streets reached 8 foot in some places. Floods were caused due to excessive rainfall over three days, with Cumbria receiving nearly the whole months average rainfall when the floods took place. Rainfall in the area was recorded at 12.5inches, which since records began more than 200 years ago was the greatest day of British rainfall. The flow of water did not stay within Cockermouth, it moved along the river Derwent where Workington was hit. The force of the water caused the Northside bridge and the Navvies foot bridge to collapse, leaving the Northside area of Workington cut off. The effects of the flood did not just affect property in Cockermouth or Workington; it left some 1,300 homes around West Cumbria without power and water. Plus the disaster caused severe travel disruptions as bridges were damaged or closed. Many temporary solutions were found, the army built a temporary footbridge and a temporary rail station was setup. Most roads and bridges are now open meaning traffic and congestion is kept to a minimum. Tragedy also struck when police officer Bill Barker died whilst trying to stop vehicles using an unsafe bridge in Workington.

The floods in West Cumbria caused substantial damage

Heroes of the floods

The 2009 floods had a hige impact on the lives of people in West Cumbria. Here we profile two of the heroes. A helicopter rescue and being trapped for 24-hours isn’t the usual working shift for a police clerk. Hilary Dandy, 58 probably won’t put in another shift quite like the one back in 2009 when Cockermouth was left devastated by the floods. The Brigham resident was left trapped in Cockermouth police station for a full 24-hours when water and other damages prevented people from leaving. Her hospitality and caring nature allowed the other trapped people to be safe and warm over that period. Hilary was not just content with helping with the emergency on the day; she also had an active role in setting up the temporary police station in the town, even working from a portable building herself. She was honoured for her work this January when she was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s honours. The award was celebrated alongside her 40th anniversary of working for Cumbria Constabulary, as she started working on January 3rd 1972. Initially she joined the constabulary as a clerk typist then changed to a Public Enquiry Clerk shortly after. Hilary’s usual duties consist of dealing with general enquiries, lost property, visitors and providing admin assistance for the

Hillary Dandy received her MBE in January 2012 (photo courtesy of the Times and Star)

Allerdale Rural Neighbourhood Police. Before starting work with Cumbria Police she worked in accounts with Norweb. Hilary was understandably delighted to be honoured for her services: “I enjoy all of my job, especially meeting members of the public and looking after the ‘troops’. Also giving back lost items to the public gives me some satisfaction. The variety aswell, you never know what you’re going to get from one day to the next. I was delighted to receive the award, it was highly unexpected.” Hilary celebrated the honour with her husband Jack, also from Cockermouth. Inspector Dennis Kelly from Cockermouth Police was full of praise for her service: “I’m very much delighted she’s received this award. She’s a very modest lady and nothing is too much trouble. Hilary is a hardworking individual and the award has gone to the right person.”


Bill Barker will be forever remembered as a hero. His acts of bravery and courage back in 2009 allowed many people to remain safe, when a bridge was about to fall. PC Barker started his police career back in 1984 when he was posted out to Whitehaven. He remained serving West Cumbria for his entire career; specifically patrolling the towns of Cleator Moor and Egremont until 1991. After this, Bill was trained to be in the Roads Policing Unit, or traffic police. He was also a family liaison officer, helping countless families through grief. Bills achievements have been evident for some time, not just in the aftermath of the floods. In 1997, he received a Chief Constable’s Commendation award. This was in recognition of his courage during a pursuit of a vehicle in the Keswick area. The vehicle had rammed the patrol car on two separate occasions, causing injury to Bill and his colleague. This did not deter them from continuing the chase. His role as a family liaison officer was also commended in 2008, with a Chief Officer’s Certificate of Merit in recognition of professionalism and dedication. It came as a consequence of several letters of appreciation from the families of those killed on the roads in Cumbria. They praised the support and compassion given to them by the Family Liaison Officers during extremely difficult times. Superintendent Gary Slater, a friend and colleague of Bill’s had many good words about his former workmate, spoken at his funeral he said: “It has been a privilege to serve alongside him throughout his career in Cumbria Constabulary. When Billy died, a week ago, he was doing the job that was his passion. He loved being a police

Bravery at its best

PC Bill Barker tragically died in the floods trying to stop traffic from using an unsafe bridge. His legacy lives on, personifying bravery and hard work.

PC Bill Barker received several awards throughout his Police career

officer and was dedicated to his role within the Roads Policing Unit. Finally, I would like to return to those principles that I referred to before. Billy Barker was a simple man who lived by simple principles. Family is everything. Friendship is a precious gift. Problems are issues to be resolved, with a laugh and a giggle if possible and Duty is an honour to fulfil. We have a lot to learn from our friend and colleague of whom we are so very proud.” Chief Constable Craig Mackey who was in charge of Cumbria Constabu-

lary until December 2011 also gave a glowing reference to Bill: “Cumbria Constabulary has lost a dedicated and committed officer, who spent 25 years of his life serving the communities of Cumbria. “Bill was clearly more than just a police officer, and the thoughts of everyone in the Constabulary are with Hazel, his four children and his family and friends at this difficult time.


Part of the furniture

John Herbert outside the new entrace to the school

John Herbert will retire this year from Nelson Thomlinson School, Wigton after breaking the record for the longest serving teacher of 37 years. John Herbert is a man who makes a decision and sticks with it. He has taught at the same school for 37 years, been married to the same woman and lived in the same house for 36 years and supported the same football team for over 40. Nelson Thomlinson School, Wigton gave John his first break in teaching, hiring him back in 1975. John wasn’t confident of landing the post in Wigton: “I didn’t think I had much chance of getting the job because there was an ex-pupil who had applied for it.” A sportsman throughout his childhood, John went to Keswick Grammar School from age 11 where he played both football and rugby. He hadn’t always wanted to become a teacher, in fact being a teacher was the last thing on a young John’s mind when he was at school: “I stumbled into teaching really. When I was at school I hated teachers, I got behind in my work and lost interest, teacher became the enemy.” It was in upper sixth when John was invited to help out with the rugby prac-

tice and his teacher casually asked him if he had considered a career as a PE teacher. The rest is history. He enrolled with Clifton College for teacher training in Nottingham and then went on to complete his BA in Education at Nottingham University. When John arrived Nelson Thomlinson was just making the transition from a grammar school to a comprehensive. With rugby top sport, football suffered, but with Johns drive and determination they slowly became a force to be reckoned with. “When I came in, football was a bit second class, rugby was the religion here. I asked the Head of PE if I could take over the football and he let me get on with it. The idea was to make us competitive in Allerdale, then the county and beyond.” Through John’s stewardship the school’s football teams have been very successful, with numerous county champions, district champions and so on. The finest hour came in 2004 when the U13 boys’ team reached the final of the Coca Cola Cup, the national schools tournament. The team got to play at

the Riverside Stadium, home to Middlesbrough and even Stamford Bridge home to Chelsea. Throughout his time, John has seen the school transform: “I look at the school now compared to when I first came in and there is no comparison really, in terms of behaviour of the kids, facilities, aspirations and exam results.” John is very thankful to the people who have worked alongside him throughout his tenure: “I’ve worked with a lot of fantastic people. Mr Jones who gave me my first break in teaching, and Mr Ireland who showed a lot of trust in me, I hope I repaid him.” Originally from Great Broughton, and later on Bootle in West Cumbria, John has had two children Dean and Steven and been married to wife Heather for 36 years. He is looking forward to a well-deserved retirement and has plenty of plans to keep him busy. He plans on writing a new version of the history of the school and plans to go travelling. He is going to Iceland on a cruise when school breaks up and wants to go to California and the Galapagos islands.


Championing the future Claire Jones has been key in educating future generations of young engineers in Cumbria

After her life was devastated in the 2009 Cockermouth Floods, Claire Jones has turned to inspiring others to build themselves a successful career. The floods destroyed Claire’s home in Cockermouth along with the hundreds of others in the town and it had a huge impact on her life. She said: “I had about 6-8 feet of water in my house, I was at work when it happened and couldn’t go home for three days. I lost everything in the house downstairs.” One special item was however, saved, her saxophone: “My saxophone was the only thing I thought was going to be affected, but neighbours managed to save that. It was always something I wanted to do as a child and it was special to me.” Her friends were very important during this time, helping her to recover from the sadness of being flooded. Claire Jones, 27 of Broughton Moor is a mechanical engineer at Sellafield in West Cumbria, and is using her expertise and experience during the floods to help others into engineering. She is part of the area committee of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers

(IMeche) which put on school days and events for local children. Claire has a particular passion for helping young girls into engineering; she does this through organising specific events for girls championing them into an engineering career. “I like to help the kids before they choose their GCSE’s or A-levels. Some careers advisors aren’t aware of what a career in engineering is; it’s not just being a car mechanic, it’s a professional job. Very well respected and you need a lot of brain power and creativity.” Currently, she is organising an event in which all the schools in Cumbria can attend which has a space engineering theme. Through her involvement with IMeche she is the Chairman of the Young Members board representing some 65,000 engineers. After the floods she has got more involved with delivering these projects: “At the time of the floods I wanted something to help keep busy, something positive to do. It’s really nice at the end of the day to see the kids have changed their minds, they appreciate what engineers really do.” By delivering these projects Claire has helped out and educated around 750 children and worked with 20 schools. At the events, children do a wide variety of events such as team building, scientific specific tasks and learning new skills. Plus there are question and answer sessions with engineering professionals. Claire has won several awards in the last few years including the Queens Guide award from Girl Guides, IMeche Young Engineer of the Year in 2010 and the UK Resource Council Wise award, for championing young women into engineering. Whilst Claire is continuing her work with local children, she is also expanding her scope. She has recently contributed to a government paper and is now setting up a mentoring scheme with young women engineers in the Middle East. “I met a team of engineers at a conference from the Gaza Strip who really inspired me.”

Claire at Parliament where she worked on a government paper


One for the future

Alex is one of the youngest drivers on the WTCC tour

Alex McDowall of Carlisle is making a name for himself in the world of racing. Currently racing in the World Touring Car Championship, sitting in 11th place. When asked what you want to be when you grow up, many young boys reply “I want to be a racing driver.” Carlisle-based Alex McDowall, 21 is currently living the dream, putting Cumbria on the map on the World Touring Car Championship. He is currently racing for a team called Bamboo Engineering, which supply Alex with a Chevrolet Cruze. Alex so far has achieved great success as he sits in 11th place in the driver’s championship and finished seventh in last year’s British Touring Car Championship. Time is a virtue to Alex who has a busy schedule, with competing and personal training, travelling the globe to different events plus working as a traffic administrator. Currently he races as a semiprofessional, but has already been to Morocco, Spain and Italy which adds a nice perk to the job. He is one of Cumbria’s few sporting starts competing internationally and hopes to be making an impact, plus has some advice for aspiring drivers: “If people thought of me as a role model I would be really thrilled. The population in Cumbria is quite low so to get more people

into racing would be great. I would say to anyone that it can be done you just need a bit of luck and never give up.” Alex got into racing through his dad who was an ex-driver himself: “I got into racing through my dad. He used to race himself and gave me the opportunity to start at a young age and progress through the ranks.” Starting at the age of just 14 he competed in a junior championship called T-Cars, and when he turned 16 received a full license which meant he could compete in higher levels. His first big competition success was in 2009 when he became the vice-champion of the ELF Renault Clio Cup, since then he moved onto the British Touring Car Championship and now onto the World championship. Alex loves the sport and his passion is turning out good performances: “The best part of being a racing driver is the adrenaline rush and the feeling of danger gives you a real buzz. Also travelling all over the world and the feeling of pushing a car to its limits is a great feeling.” Anyone wanting to follow in Alex’s footsteps is encouraged by him to start out karting at Rowrah and get involved in competitions. Alex’s Chevrolet Cruze


Cumbrian Heroes