RAF Lyneham

Round-up of news – no, it’s not about phone hacking!

So the hacking saga goes on with resignations and revelations galore – with all other news disappearing out of sight.
It’s a shame that everything hinges around this, even though it is important. It just feels like it completely obliterates other news.
Be aware you won’t get away from it tomorrow – Five Live is covering it all day as is BBC TV to name a few.


I’m interested but, let’s get some perspective. This story appears to be so London-centric – there’s a whole nation out there with things to say.

Here in Swindon, a young girl was buried, a girl who went off the rails through drug addiction, left her family home and years later her remains were found. A man is awaiting trial charged with her murder and that of another Swindon girl, Sian O’Callaghan. I doubt the phone-hacking means much to these two devastated families.
There’s also some good news about you know – in Wiltshire RAF Lyneham is going to be give a new lease of life. The little town of Lyneham was poised for devastation as that magnificent air base was due to close.


It’s a place with many great memories for me – I was lucky enough to be one of many journalists who covered the return of hostages Jacky Mann and Terry Waite to this airbase. I also went up in a Hercules once which circled over Bath, opening the doors so we could take fantastic pictures of the city from the air.


But I bear in mind that other areas on the UK have not been granted this type of reprieve and will see bases near them close. Often the effect of such closures is so overlooked – local economies can literally die overnight.


We’ve raised more than £20m as a nation for the crisis in Africa – astonishing given the economic climate but it shows that many people really do care.

But as for charities, a curious thing happened to me today.


I had a call from a lady representing a national charity, Sue Ryder, reminding me that I’d given a bag of clothes to their shop in Swindon. It was true, several months ago.


Why did I choose that shop? I gave the answer. A couple of other questions – the woman then entered this long spiel about what the charity does and would I consider giving £15 a month?


I said no, I didn’t like cold-calling, I would make my own choices about what charities to support and not to ring again.


I even said I was a journalist and didn’t appreciate being misled with the suggestion this was some sort of survey – when in fact it was a pushy sales call.
But this woman was not daunted, she said if I was strapped for cash, I could put off a donation for a couple of months and could give just £8 a month. I repeated my previous comments.


I told her I had been polite but was now going to end the call – whereupon she spoke really fast giving the name of the private company she worked for which would earn about £72,000 for doing these cold calls but the charity would raise hopefully around £190,000 from this sales push.



Times are tough for charities – but that one call alone put me off this charity – it plays on people’s sympathy and pins them down.

Don’t make me feel obliged, don’t cold call me and never continue the sales pitch

We've raised millions for needy in Africa so far....

when I’ve clearly said I’m not interested.

I do give, I will give and I have given but in my own time, at my own pace, when I feel I want to and can afford to.

A new charity shop has opened in Swindon raising money for children whose families need respite care. Guess where my next charity bag will be going?

Repatriation of lost soldiers – Wootton Bassett effect

lily in foreground

Should the repatriations go through Oxfordshire streets?

Last week on Facebook, I received a notice on my wall from a police officer (friend of a friend) that when the repatriations of lost soldiers moves from RAF Lyneham to nearby RAF Brize Norton – a conscious decision had been made to avoid public displays of support.


Here in Wiltshire, we’ve grown very proud of the many people who live in, or who visit Wootton Bassett and who give up their time and energy to line the route that the hearses take and pay their respects to soldiers who’ve died in overseas conflicts.


It’s a scene that’s very familiar now, almost on occasion, becoming so common it could, by some, be seen to be mundane. Try going along just once though and you’ll know that it’s incredibly moving.

But this message claimed that the relevant government minister announced that there had been a deliberate decision to avoid built-up areas so that the kind of scenes at Wootton Bassett couldn’t be repeated. I thought this could not be true, even though he cited a time and place where this sentiment was uttered.

After all, what is wrong with this practice?


It was a spontaneous act by people and must offer some solace to bereaved families. Having been recently bereaved myself, it’s so important to know that your loved one matters – that your loss is acknowledged, and honoured, even if it’s just for a few short moments before normal life goes on for everyone else.

People do want the opportunity to honour fallen soldiers. It’s not about whether or not any particular conflict is right or wrong. It’s about appreciating their sacrifice. If you’re in any doubt about that, look at the astonishing success of Help For Heroes – a charity which has purposely avoided any political connections for that very reason.


But of course this couldn’t be true could it? Tonight, the local news ran a little bit of a debate in the House of Commons, where an MP Paul Flynn raised the issue, disgusted that people in Oxfordshire were being denied the opportunity to pay their respects like those who live in and around Wootton Bassett.


To my astonishment Wiltshire MP James Gray stood up and said that it might not be a good idea for Oxfordshire to be subject to the ‘Wootton Bassett’ effect! What? How so? Surely that’s up to the people of Oxfordshire, not up to politicians?

I appreciate that we just saw a snapshot of that debate so I did not hear what he may have said to qualify his comments.

It may well be that people in Oxfordshire would not line the streets as hearses go through, maybe they would,  but to deny them any opportunity to do so – is that right?

Does this practice of honouring the dead represent some kind of threat? Is it costing extra money? Is it taking too long for each event? What is the bigger picture here that this practice is being gently, but apparently carefully, put to bed?

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