Jobs blow as second firm hits problems December 15th 2006
original article The Northern Echo
A FACTORY only yards from Tony Blair’s home in County Durham has gone into administration. Volante Public Transportation Interior Systems Limited, which employs 70 people in Trimdon, said a number of loss-making contracts had caused it to go under. It is the second business in Trimdon to hit financial difficulties in the past week. The Northern Echo reported last Friday how canal boat maker Steelcraft, based on the Trimdon Grange Industrial Estate, had gone into liquidation, threatening 30 jobs. Last night, Graham Wood, regeneration manager of Sedgefield Borough Council, said: “This is another harsh blow for a small community, especially at this time of year.” The Newcastle office of professional services firm Deloitte has been appointed as administrator for Volante, which makes interior panels for buses and trains. Administrators Ian Brown and Neil Matthews, of Deloitte, said they are aiming to find a buyer to take it on as a going concern. Mr Brown said: “We have already had a number of expressions of interest in taking over Volante as a going concern, and would expect that more will follow in the next few days.
“Volante is essentially a structural strong business with a range of established customers, and offers good prospects for potential new owners.”
Volante, which continues to trade while a buyer is being sought, was forced into administration due to the “combined impact of a number of loss-making contracts”.
Mr Blair opened the factory in 1997 and then returned for a visit in 1999 with his wife, Cherie, when the company had an artist in residence on the premises. In February last year, Volante made about 30 redundancies after an order with a major customer came to an end. Last week, Steelcraft closed its doors and was in consultation with local business support organisation, the Shildon and Sedgefield Development Agency, in an attempt to save the company. At the time, Councillor Lucy Hovvels, Mayor of Sedgefield borough, said: “We are a small community and we rely on small local companies like this to help generate income back into the area. “This is a real blow for this community.”

Downturn in orders sends boat builder into liquidation December 8th 2006
original article The Northern Echo
ABOUT 30 jobs were under threat last night after it emerged that a Trimdon-based boat building business had run into financial difficulties. The Northern Echo has learnt that canal boat maker South West Durham Steelcraft is in liquidation, after a prolonged shortage of work and lack of orders. Steelcraft, which employs about 30 people at its base on Trimdon Grange Industrial Estate, remained closed yesterday. The company is understood to have been consulting local business support organisation the Shildon and Sedgefield Development Agency in an attempt to save the company. Last night, Steelcraft’s situation was said to be a “blow for the community,” and workers at the site, in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s constituency, spoke of their fears at being out of work only weeks before Christmas. One worker said the staff’s hours had been reduced recently, but they did not know the extent of the situation. The worker, who asked not to be named, said: “This is bad news for us – things are obviously worse than we thought. We don’t know what’s going to happen – but my concern is that Christmas is not even three weeks away. “There’s never a good time to be out of work, but this must be the worst.”  The company was set up in 1989, and is well regarded in the industry.
It has built more than 500 boats, and has designed and built shells for some of the country’s largest boat companies, including Simolda and Pennine Cruisers.
Councillor Lucy Hovvels, Mayor of the Sedgefield borough, which includes Trimdon, said it was bad news for the area. She said: “We are a small community, and we rely on small local companies like this to help generate income back into the area. “This is a real blow for this community, and the factory employs a lot of local people. “We rely on local businesses like this one helping the economy. “We are all hoping there can be some solution soon, especially with it being so near Christmas.”
John Flynn, Steelcraft’s founder and owner, last night said he did not want to comment on the situation.

Durham community group celebrates opening of new play space 26th July 2006
From – News for the public sector and beyond:
A community group in a County Durham town was today celebrating after a new play space opened with help from a charity that funds regeneration projects in former coal mining areas. A grant of £35,103 from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust (CRT) has enabled the Skerne Play Park Association to pay for the first phase of the redevelopment of a playing field in Trimdon. The site has now been turned into a multi-use games area for the community. The Skerne Play Park Association was formed by local parents who were concerned about the lack of a safe play space for children. The group is working with Trimdon Parish Council to develop the project, which has received support from the police, local schools and residents. The next phases will include the creation of a toddler and junior play area, a sensory garden and a seating area.
CRT trustee, Peter McNestry, said: “It is great to see a community working together to create a public space that residents of all ages will be able to enjoy, especially during this hot summer weather. “We congratulate the campaigners for their hard work and are delighted to be able to support their redevelopment plans.” The CRT supports community activists and voluntary groups working to improve facilities and opportunities for residents of coalfield areas.

If they can march why can’t we? 29th June 2006
From the Northern Echo website by Mike Amos
ALMOST 125 years after 74 men and boys died in the Trimdon Grange Explosion, villagers have been warned against marching in their memory on Durham Big Meeting day. Police say that they won’t supervise the traditional early morning parade through the village – a mile from Prime Minister Tony Blair’s constituency home – nor any other local Big Meeting march unless road closure orders have been applied for. Angry officials claim however, that when around 25 members of Real Fathers for Justice marched through the Trimdons on June 16, almost as many police officers – and the force helicopter – were deployed to supervise them. Employing a “road management” company would cost about £600.
“We’ve been told that it’s illegal to march on the road and that we could lose our houses in the event of an accident and a compensation claim, but the march will go ahead no matter what they say,” says one of the organisers.
“We lost 74 men at Trimdon Grange lodge in one shift, plenty more at other times, and now they’re telling us that for a few minutes once a year we can’t remember them in the way that we have for more than 100 years.
“We’re only working lads trying to maintain the traditions of the Gala, but they’re trying to put pressure on us by talking of losing our houses.”
The explosion, immortalised in a song by Tommy Armstrong, occurred in the early hours of February 16, 1882. Almost every family in the village lost a close relative. A heated meeting earlier this month between police, council officials and representatives of five former colliery communities in Sedgefield borough – Spennymoor, Ferryhill, Fishburn, Chilton and the Trimdons – was told that police had no powers to halt or re-direct traffic without a road closure order.  A Durham police spokesman said that banner parade organisers across the county had been invited to appear before their local safety advisory group – particularly since Heritage Lottery funds had become available to restore banners.
The spokesman added that, last year, marches were thought to have taken place without formal road closures. “Organisers would have been liable if there had been accidents, injury or even death. That remains true for any event where advice is not sought or followed.”
The Real Fathers for Justice march was “a legitimate demonstration by a recognised pressure group” near the Prime Minister’s home, say the police. “It was a one-off event, unlike the Miners’ Gala which is a major annual public gathering.” Led by the Reg Vardy band playing Gresford – the miners’ hymn – the Trimdon gathering will defiantly halt at 7.20am on Saturday, July 8, outside the Aged Miners’ Homes before marching down the main street and then taking a coach to Durham.
“We’ve been told it will be illegal but it’s definitely going ahead and that way we might get the police there after all,” says the organiser, who has asked to remain anonymous. “We’ve nothing against Fathers for Justice but it’s crazy that they can come from all over Britain to march through Trimdon and we can’t. The only way we won’t march in memory of those lads is if they lock up every one of us.”

Bank Top Stables – Owner left animals to rot 3rd March 2006
Bank Top Stables Update
Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court today jailed Lee Howard, 39, of Douglas Street, Middlesbrough, for six months.He was charged after the RSPCA discovered animal remains at Bank Top Stables in Trimdon last May. Magistrates also banned him from keeping animals for life. 29-03-06

A MAN who callously abandoned more than 30 animals at stables was warned today he faces jail.
Lee Howard cruelly left the animals to starve to death because he could not cope with what “life was throwing at him“. Horses, dogs, chickens and rabbits were condemned to a death sentence when Howard left them locked up in without food or water in filthy stables. Out of more than 30 animals only three dogs survived – by eating the remains of the others. RSPCA officials discovered the horrific scene at Bank Top Stables in Trimdon, Co Durham following complaints from neighbours about the smell and the noise of barking dogs.

Upon entering the premises they found the rotting remains of 13 horses, four dogs, 11 hens and a black and white rabbit, which had been left unattended for at least two months. There were also skulls of horses and other bones lying around the stable’s courtyard. The scene was so gruesome that RSPCA and police were overpowered by the smell coming from the stables and maggots could be heard crawling over the carcasses of the dead animals.

Howard, a finance company worker, had denied one count of causing unnecessary suffering to all the dead animals and three counts of causing unnecessary suffering to a rottweiler and two border collies by abandoning them at the stables. On the morning of the 39-year-old’s trial at Bishop Auckland Magistrates’ Court he changed his plea and admitted all the charges. Prosecutor Kevin Campbell, for the RSPCA, told JPs that the animals were each housed in different stable blocks. “As each door opened an absolute horrendous and gruesome picture there was an animal, usually a horse, in various stages of decomposition,” he said. “The horses were clearly dead and had been there for some time. One of the police officers heard dogs eating and devouring the horses. “The smell was overpowering.” Mr Campbell then played the court the video the RSPCA made at the time of the grisly discovery. Howard, of Douglas Street, Middlesbrough, kept his head bowed throughout the 10-minute film.
“The smell in here is just unbelievable,” said Chief Inspector Neil Mitchell in a commentary accompanying the video. “As you can tell the smell in here is incredible. The maggots are everywhere.” A female voice in the background added: “That’s disgusting.”

Jane Scott, defending, said Howard had been suffered from depression and financial difficulties following the death of his mother and was in a “downward spiral“. She added: “He simply could not cope with what life was throwing at him and he simply walked away.”
Magistrates also heard that Howard had avoided a jail sentence in January after admitting fraud. He was sentenced to a six-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, when he pleaded guilty to four charges of making a false instrument and 10 of false accounting. Howard, a self-employed loan company worker, made up the names of clients to pocket thousands of pounds from his bosses. The scam emerged after he was questioned in connection with the gruesome discovery at the stables.
He was also told by a judge at Teesside Crown Court to complete 200 hours’ community service and pay £2,195 in compensation and £200 court costs after pocketing £6,098. Chair of the bench Beryl Swinbanks told Howard he was facing a possible jail sentence.
“We have heard what has been said by the prosecutor and defence solicitor today,” she told him. “We are going to adjourn for a pre-sentence report as we feel we need to know more information about you.”

The maximum sentence for animal cruelty is six months jail. Howard was remanded on unconditional bail until sentencing on March 29 at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court. Speaking shortly after the discovery in June last year, RSPCA Inspector Mark Gent said: “When I got there, I smelt a terrible smell and knew there was something wrong and phoned the local police who attended and we broke in and found quite a shocking sight.
“I have smelt it before, sadly, but you know that smell and I knew instinctively there was something wrong. “I have never seen anything on this scale before.”