Soubry disappears…last seen in Leicestershire.


That question has been on many lips the last few weeks, as she seems to have slipped from all view. Empty chaired at hustings, it’s caused a fair amount of speculation. She’s even slipped out of her self-appointed role as Head of the Tory Remainers: having her cake and eating it by mouth-piecing for disaffected Europhiles, while happily voting along with the Brexiteers.

The election has caught her on the hop though. While her decision to tack left seemed good relatively early on in the parliament -it allows her time to be seen as a sage when Brexit goes tits-up – it’s an albatross during an election. The strategy of soaking up voters leaking heavily from a pointless Farage-free UKIP isn’t going to work when you’ve been pretty outspoken about them: accusations of working-class racism up in the more Europhobic Northern half of Broxtowe are still very fresh in the air.

So perhaps no wonder she has gone to ground. But a recent idle check on the Broxtowe Borough Council has probably given more insight into her low profile. For Anna Soubry, who promised during her 2010 campaign that an MP had a moral duty to live in her constituency actually lives in Charnwood.


2017 Statement of Nomination

Where’s Charnwood? I hear you cry, thumbs clicking onto Google Maps. Well, it’s not Broxtowe. It doesn’t even border Broxtowe. It’s not even in Nottinghamshire, but rural Leicestershire: the posh bit where fox-hunts are more common than Sunday League kick abouts.

I have long suspected as much. Her expenses show that returning from Parliament at the end of the week she travels to Leicester station. She’s been doing this for some time.

Charnwood is where her partner, former  shonky-building firm director Neil Davi(D)son (sic) lives, in a large pile most likely not built by the awful firm of botch-job builders he worked for. Nowt wrong with that of course. Love needs closeness to flourish, even among awful people. But why has she moved there, rather than she move to the plush Bramcote apartment she claimed to live in?

You see, less than two years ago Anna Soubry claimed to be living the Bramcote life. Her cloying newsletters told of how she was DEFINITELY ONE OF YOU, taking the odd stroll on Bramcote Park, supping an ale in the Top House, getting their stamps from the shop that used to be Cloughies. Bramcotian through and through! Cut her, she bleeds NG9.

5963_200052928_IMG_00_0001_max_656x437 She lived in the Lawns, a lovely little development just off Town Street, tucked in near Bramcote Ridge.

When she stood for reelection in May 2015, she gave this address as her residence. However, checking the history of the property, it seems that it was only purchased on the 2nd December 2014, a few months before the election, handily. So Anna Soubry lived their for just a few months, to cash in on the ‘local aspect’ . Soon after that election was over, she hot-footed back to Charnwood away from us Nottinghamshire plebs and our utterly unreasonable desire to be represented in Parliament.

Screen Shot 2017-05-26 at 16.19.19

2015 Election Statement of Nomination

The 2017 snap election caught her off guard: now she has been cast out of the ministerial inner-circle, and the abandonment of fixed-term elections, she’s been wrong footed. No chance to move back to Broxtowe in late 2019 so she could play at being a local in the scheduled May 2020 election. So reluctantly, she entered her address as Charnwood. Ouch.

Before I’m accused of some League of Gentleman local-snobbery, some context. I have no issue with where a politician lives as long as they do a good job. Nice if they do live in it, or nearby, and have a good relationship with their constituency, and the way it works. Yet Anna has been claiming she would be ‘Broxtowe’s Voice in Westminster’, dismissing her then-opponent Dr Palmer as a man who could not deign to live in his own area. Promises were made to give up her lavish Mapperley Top home, and be part of our community. She sold herself as being ‘One of us’: a pretty condescending attitude only someone who can’t bear anyone outside her own clique would feel the need to repeat.

A couple of other questions remain. If she bought the house for purely campaigning reasons, how does she feel to adding to the borough’s housing crisis? Buying up property for purposes other than actually living in has led to a dysfunctional, hugely skewed property market, which creates massive inequality and the need to squeeze housing developments out of towns and over greenbelt.

And who has paid for this property? If someone fancies having a forensic look at her expenses in relation to claimed housing costs, be my guest. I’m sure everything is in order, but if we can’t trust her on this, what can we trust her on?








Films Sans Frontières: an invite.

I’m doing an event, and I want you to come along.

On Sunday, 19th March (two weeks today) I’m teaming up again with my good friends at Nottingham Alternative Film Network for an evening of food, film and feeling good about helping a good cause. We’ll be showing a finely curated selection of fantastic films, all themed around the current world refugee crisis. Don’t think these are all earnest tales of woe though: rather, they will show the human face, the many aspects and stories that make this something the likes of UKIP and Trump do not want you to see: these are not ‘other’, these are us.

I was delighted to raise nearly £1,500 recently for Médecins Sans Frontières recently, which I set up after reading the story of Brendan Woodhouse, the very definition of a hero. A local firefighter, he travelled to Lesvos in the winter of 2015 to help out on the rescuing of people making the treacherous crossing from Turkey; the most desperate, helpless people in the world, fleeing tyranny, violence, oppression and hunger.

We all remember the heartbreaking picture of the 2 year old washed up on a beach: I cannot look at that picture without my own son suddenly needing to be held close, held and protected from the horrors of this world, held to make him realise how lucky he is to be in born in a rich, stable country. Held so he grows up knowing that he must not accept these things, held so he knows love, held so that he will grow in the knowledge that he can change. Reading Brendan’s story, reading how he saved a baby girl’s life who had fell from


Brendan Woodhouse with a rescued refugee

the flimsy boat she was on, thus saving her to become another choking photo or idle statistic, it made me see what could be done. We can’t save everyone. We can’t have a lightbulb moment and solve the mess in Syria, Eritrea, Palestine. We can act like humans, and try to make some small difference.

Brendan will be at the event and talking about his experiences, as well as his perspective on the crisis. He will be joined by BBC producer Alva White, who spent last summer on board a MSF boat in the Med and has written and made films about the experience: fascinating, heart-breaking tales. (She’s also at this event in Nottingham Tuesday (7th March)).

We’ll even keep you fed: anyone who has attended events we’ve done with NAFN in the past knows that they’re in for a treat. You’ll get a scrumptious veggie meal included in the ticket price.

All this for just ten quid: with all proceeds going DIRECTLY to MSF. Tickets are now on sale: Book Tickets Here.

More info, and a taste of the films:

If you can’t come along, you can still help by either a) Ensure that this event is known about as widely as possible: share this post / the poster at the top of the page on social media. b) Donate to MSF either through their website, or through the Just Giving site I set up when my son was born. 

When staring into the void, don’t scream; light a candle.

Sir Peter Mansfield 1933-2017

We heard the sad news today that the inventor of the MRI scanner; Noble Laureate and excellent Beestonian Sir Peter Mansfield died last night.

As a tribute, we are posting up the interview we conducted with him in 2013. Our reporter, Darren Patterson, remembers him as a polite, modest man who loved his town (though not so much the tramworks, which were underway at the time).

Our thanks to Darren for the article, and our condolences to Peter’s family and friends.

Sir Peter Mansfield is not necessarily a name you will be familiar with, you may not have ever heard of him, despite his honoured title, however you will almost certainly be familiar with his work, you see Sir Peter was one of the people responsible for the development of the MRI scanner.

He also happens to live in Beeston Fields. So, when I found out he was to be awarded the Freedom of the City of Nottingham I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to speak to a real Beeston great.

The honour, of course, being bestowed on Sir Peter in respect of his groundbreaking work in the field of magnetic resonance imaging – aka MRI. It was Sir Peter, and his team, who discovered that MRI could be used to produce images of the body – establishing what has become one of the defining parts of modern medicine.

All this he did while working at the University of Nottingham, where he became lecturer in 1964, following two years in the States at the University of Illinois, Sir Peter admits he knew little about Nottingham before moving here.

“I didn’t know Nottingham, I didn’t really know anyone in the department, apart from one person, and that was the head of the department, Prof Raymond Andrew, and he was my external examiner for the PHD.”

Having made the choice to come to Nottingham and work with Professor Andrew, Sir Peter knew he was taking a chance, and one that didn’t always work out.

“I think these things tend to be a bit hit and miss and some people after a year or two move on somewhere else but in my case I was given a lab here in Nottingham and the freedom to set up my own research, which is what I did, and it all took off from there.”

For Sir Peter it certainly worked and he remained at Nottingham University until his retirement in 1994 and it was while there that he carried out the research and discoveries for which he is best known. The development of the MRI scanner. As with any pioneering work he was initially met with scepticism by his peers.

“When you pioneer something you have your detractors immediately and very few people involved really believe what you say. The only way you make progress is by actually showing people, and demonstrating it, and that took maybe two or three years.”

Starting with a standard NMR sized coil of 1 ½ centimeters, Sir Peter’s early work saw him imagining plants and twigs and anything else he could dig up in his garden, however over time he began to increase the size of the coil.

“We did it in stages, we made one you could put a hand or arm in, and we made one big enough to take a live rabbit and then we put a pig in, until in the end I got in the coil andproduced an image of my thorax. It was a slow process, it took about 12 years from the first idea up to it being finally adopted.” 

And so became one of the biggest and most important discoveries in modern medicine, with the MRI scanner still a major tool today, though, as Sir Peter points out it’s primary function has changed over the years. 

“One of the really big effects is in brain scanning, I did a little bit of work on that but that’s moved on leaps and bounds now, it’s the method of studying the brain. My own interest had been more general than that, so I did a bit of brain scanning but was more interested in looking generally at the body, I was looking at cardiac imaging, abdominal imaging and all sorts.”

Since moving to Nottingham, Sir Peter, along with his family have lived in the Beeston area, spending seventeen years living on the Beeston/Chilwell border before moving, eventually, to their current residence of Beeston Fields.

So what is it that Sir Peter likes so much about his hometown, other than it’s obvious proximity to the University?

“When we were younger we would often go over to the ponds and lakes over at Attenborough, which was quite nice and a pleasant stroll. When our children were younger we’d go over to Wollaton Park, which was quite nice, areas right on the doorstep.”

It seems that the area itself may well have been one of the reasons for Sir Peter remaining in Nottingham rather than choosing to take up offers elsewhere.

“We are very fortunate to be living in this area, of course none of it would have been possible without the university, from our point at least, in many ways we are fortunate which is why we stayed here, we could have moved away but we never did.

I’ve got no complaint,s put it that way.”

Well, maybe one…

“This stupid tram, I think we’re presumably about six months into the apparent three years, let’s hope it’s all worthwhile though I can’t think of anyone I have spoken to who wants a tram in Beeston.” (Editor’s note: despite not liking the tram works, he would warm to the eventual tram…and even had one named after him: see pics)


There are many great individuals and characters living in the great town of Beeston and Sir Peter Mansfield is certainly one of them, he is also, to my knowledge at least, the only person living in Chilwell to have been awarded a Nobel Prize – he was awarded his in 2003 in the fields of physiology or medicine – not bad going for someone who at fifteen was told “science wasn’t for him”. Darren Patterson


The Chinese New Year celebrations in Beeston have become part of the town. Beeston Carnival, Oxjam, Christmas Lights Switch-on. They’ve all become very popular events for us to celebrate the town, get together as a community, and boost local businesses: Oxjam alone often gives venues their busiest night of the year outside the festive period. These are not just events, they are the fabric of the town.


Photo courtesy of Stephen Miles

The Chinese New Year was of particular interest. Due to the proximity of the University, and the siting of Broadgate Park residencies within Beeston, we have a sizeable population of Chinese and Korean students. This has enriched the town in many ways: the restaurants are staggeringly good (Nosh being my particular favourite). The food shops sell stuff that can be both bewildering and delicious: my random purchases have about a 75% success rate. They bring money, diversity and skills into the town, and some stay on after their studies and enrich the town. We’re very lucky to have them.

The New Year’s Celebration was a brilliant idea to celebrate this, and bring us together. Similar events are ran in the City centre, as well as Lakeside Arts on the campus. It was wildly popular, and in the dark days of January / February a great fillip to the town.

Unfortunately, it is no more. This, from the interim MD of Liberty Leisure, Chris Laxton-Kane:

“It is with a heavy heart that we have been forced to cancel this event and we sincerely apologise for any disappointment it will cause.

“I would like to reassure the local community that we are actively planning our 2017 programme of events which will be available soon, including the ever-popular Hemlock Happening on June 10 and other events across the summer”.

Awful news. How did this happen?

First, let’s look at Liberty Leisure. This is a ‘Teckal’company; an arms-reach business that is becoming more and more popular in local government as austerity rumbles on. These are often, Liberty being an example, fully owned by the local authority. Their use is a sort of mid-way point to privatisation: they are subject to the market more readily than a council service, and if they fail, then there are consequences. It is therefore key that they work on a profit basis, rather than service provision. It’s not outsourcing as such, but somewhere between.

Since October 2016 they’ve been solely responsible for the leisure centres, events and cultural offer for Broxtowe.

Trying to get much out of Liberty is not easy. A debrief on an unsuccessful Christmas event in Stapleford saw the officers responsible for the debacle fail to show up: according to Stapleford Community Group leader, and Independent borough councillor Richard Macrae a pre-written statement was read by the interim MD, who, not attending the event, was unable to comment.

I rang them after receiving a tip-off that a whole bunch of printing had been done for the event. I asked if this was true “We’ll get back to you”

Is it true that these leaflets were bundled into a car and driven from the council to avoid embarrassment? No answer.

Why could staff not be bought in on a temp / agency basis to work the event? “I can’t answer that. As it may involve details of staff here it would contravene Data Protection laws”.

Are you subject to Freedom of Information Requests? “I can’t answer that, I’ll have to get someone to get back to you”.

I haven’t been called back yet, but will amend this article should I receive a response. While I wait, I thought i’d submit an FOI anyway, asking:

1) The reasons given for the cancellation of the 2017 Chinese New Year celebrations was ‘staffing issues’. Why was there no contingency here, and why is the use of temp / agency staff no considered?

2) What was the expenditure on the event (leaflets printed, etc) before cancellation?

3) What measures, if any, have/will been put in place to ensure the event returns in 2018?

I’ll let you know the reply.

It does increasingly feel that ruling Tories Broxtowe Borough Council are increasingly keen to run down the area they’re meant to represent. After securing the worst local government settlement in the UK, leader Richard Jackson voted to, errrr, abolish the same council he leads and place all services under the County Council (it is worth noting that he earns a great deal more money on the County Council than he does at Broxtowe).

Services deteriorate, democracy is depleted (it is impossible for an opposition councillor to ask a follow-up question in a debate: questions have to be presubmitted. Councillors and council officers have voiced their concerns about this process frequently).

We are fast losing accountability at Broxtowe Borough Council. The elected memberson the ruling party do not want you to ask why Beeston lost its toilets; why the Christmas Light switch on was a damp squib, why the DH Lawrence centre was closed down and turned into a beauty salon, why their has been an utter mess made of the Phase 2 Beeston Square development… the list goes on. The loss of a treasured event, and the obfuscation when trying to find out how this happened are sympomatic of this.

I’ll update when – if – I get any answers. Don’t be holding your breath.



The consultancy continues, with Network Rail still open to receive emails and letters and calls regarding the proposed closure of the path. The Communications Office of network Rail have been in touch here, with this comment:

Dear all,

Network Rail is holding a public event at Attenborough Village Hall on Wednesday February 8 from 3pm-7.30pm to discuss the proposals for the crossings. We hope as many of you as possible will be able to attend.


Tony Belshaw, Network Rail Communications Manager

I’ve also received many emails and messages from organisations/ people who have contacted organisations who are not happy with the decision, and it seems the objection against closure is multitudinous. If you’ve sent me an email or message and I’ve yet to reply, apologies: please nudge me and I will get round to it.

I also had an email conversation with Julie Gibbons, who ran a successful campaign at Bardon Mill, a rural station in Northumbria. While the two situations are quite different (the crossings are not easily comparable, in terms of train speed / usage etc) some information is highly useful:

Any NR consultation seems inadequate and if they can get away with things under their permitted development rights, they do, leaving the public to kick up as much fuss as possible in a short time to make them begin to listen.
The rationale behind closing crossings is a government remit for there to be 0 deaths at crossings by 2020. NR is responding to this with bridges or closure. When we asked about lights and gates they said that it does not work citing the Elsenham case
Personally I think it is time for the general public to take personal responsibility for their actions when crossing a railway track and accidents do happen.
Another point of difference with your case to that of Elsenham and ours at Bardon Mill (not that we have had any accidents) is that yours is just a crossing and is not associated with a station where people crossing maybe rushing for a train (as happened at Elsenham).
…..basically if we can help in any way, do ask. My main advice is to not give up, get some knowledgeable supporters, find out from any local signalmen or retired railway folk about possible alternative solutions and certainly don’t settle for closure.
BBC East Midlands Today did come down to make a film about the closure, and the way the public mobilised fast to oppose it. Sadly, the journalist had a bad cold and erroneously set the light levels on the camera so they whited out, and the footage could not be used. You were spared the sight of me failing to adequately attach a poster to a gate, with fingers that had turned blue in the cold.
I’ve had some interesting chats recently that I’ll put up here once I have some clarity on them: until then keep telling others about this (if they’re on Facebook get them to go here, if they’re not, send them this article. If they have no digital access, talk to them and get them to make an objection. Thanks all for the continued support in getting this sorted: communities work best when they work together, and when a grassroots campaign like this comes together, we are strong.
If you have yet to make an objection, here’s how: 
Ring 03457 1141 41, quoting reference number TSN1 121m 61ch (or simply say ‘Attenborough Crossings’), or email . Tell them you oppose closure, and if something has to be done, a bridge must be built. If you are not quite ready to voice your concerns, ring /email and ask that the consultancy period be extended.







Wow, I expected the objection to Network Rails plans to be large, but have been bowled over by the response. There have been over 4,000 unique visitors to the initial post on here in the first two days, and several hundred have now joined the Facebook group set up to oversee the campaign.

Best of all, people have done things. The most obvious, and highly effective way to do stuff is simply object directly. Loads of you have. By both email and phone call, the response has been overwhelming. After receiving a barrage of contact, many pointing out that there was something sneaky about the way the consultation was being conducted, Network Rail conceded and, after an admission that the lateness of the initial letter was wrong (due to an admin-error, apparently), they have extended the deadline to January 25th. This gives us some much needed breathing space. Well done all, this was people power in action. But there is still much work to do.

I managed to get the Nottingham Post interested in the story (I was talking to them about a different story when this broke, which proved handy timing). The BBC also gave it a mention, and i’m on the radio Christmas Eve where I’ll give it more publicity.

So, an overview of what we’ve done:

  • I designed a poster (below) which Michelle Patel kindly printed, laminated, and delivered. I will attach these to the appropriate places tomorrow.
  • County Councillors Foale and Carr have had a great deal of contact, and have united to make representations to Nottinghamshire County Council.
  • Councillor Carr has added it to the policy agenda at Borough Council.
  • An FOI has been submitted to ascertain the actual safety record of the crossing.
  • Notts Ramblers Association have been contacted: they have passed this onto their Rights of Way officer.
  • Beeston Marina has been contacted.
  • Attenborough Nature Reserve have been alerted.
  • Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust have been alerted.
  • Many local and national cycle rights groups have been contacted (including Sustrans and Pedals).
  • A campaign group in Northumbria have been in contact, having waged a similar battle (and won) in their patch. I’m chat to them later this week to get some ideas.
  • Beeston, Long Eaton, Erewash Running Clubs have been alerted (possibly more).
  • Big Wheel scheme notified.
  • The Horse Society contacted.
  • Borough councillors – MP alerted, who have responded proactively.
  • A petition set up: sign it here
  • Other stuff, undoubtedly: if I have left something off let me know (either here or by ) and i’ll add it.

A public meeting has been set up AFTER the consultation period, at Attenborough Hall, 8th Feb 2017, 3-6.30pm. I’ll give you more info on how this should be approached later.

Keep on spreading the word, get people objecting, show Network Rail what we Beestonians are made of. As someone who has worked in a press office for a large corporation before, I know how much this will terrify them and show that we won’t roll over and let them restrict our right of way.



It’s a Sunday morning as I write this. I’m sitting in my front room, 5-week old baby next to me, sipping tea and occasionally glancing out the window where people pass by at a frequent rate, despite this being a quiet, hidden away spot.


They’re all headed for the same thing: Attenborough Nature Reserve -specifically the Meadow Lane entrance.

It’s a fine Winter’s day, mild, still and bright. Families off to build an appetite before a Sunday Roast. Amateur ornithologists hoping to catch a rare migrant who has dropped by. Joggers, clad in tight lycra and red-puffed cheeks. They all pass by, to take in the beautiful pathways and ponds. We are incredibly lucky to have a world-renowned Nature Reserve on our doorsteps.

However, this may all be in danger.

I moved here four years ago with my then girlfriend, now wife. We had vague aspirations to marry and raise a child: and what better place to do so than in a quiet cul-de-sac near the Reserve? It took a bit longer than expected to get the child part of that idea, but now we’ve had him he’s had a fair few pushes around the gravel pits.

It’s great for me too: I, like many others, use the crossing to gain access to the towpath, where I can cycle into Nottingham without having to use roads. As a non-driver, this is crucial.

We – as do all those passing by window today – cross into the reserve via a bridlepath across the train tracks. There is good visibility down the track (you can see both Attenborough and Beeston stations) and it is easy to cross safely.

Network Rail, however, don’t think so. They’ve decided this crossing, along with two others (Long Lane, Barrat’s Lane No.1) are no longer viable, on safety (cost?) grounds and therefore three general options are available (there are variations, please see the scans below).

  1. Stopping up of all rights over the level crossing: total closure of all access. This would create a detour of 1.5 miles.
  2. Stepped Footbridge: this would require Network Rail acquiring land, and in some cases, residential properties. It would also exclude crossing by wheelchairs / pushchairs etc.
  3. Ramped Bridle Bridge: Again, this would require taking land / properties to build, but would mean wheelchairs/ pushchairs etc would have access.

The complete letter, with proposals, can be read here: pdf scan of Network Rail letter.

You may notice that the letter is dated 28th November 2016. This is curious. We only received it on Friday, 16th December. Any excuse that it was delayed through a fault with Royal Mail is unlikely: the birth of our child; and my birthday a week ago saw a fair amount of mail come through. We’ve been quite diligent picking it up.

This delay is exacerbated by the timing of any consultation. The letter states that we must voice any concerns before the end of December 2016. That gives just a fortnight to send in any opposition, a fortnight which, in case it somehow slipped you by, is a bit busy with Christmas right now. A cynic would say that this is no accident.

So what to do? Here is provisional five-point plan.

  1. MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD: ring 03457 1141 41, quoting reference number TSN1 121m 61ch (or simply say ‘Attenborough Crossings’), or email . Tell them you oppose closure, and if something has to be done, a bridge must be built. If you are not quite ready to voice your concerns, ring /email and ask that the consultancy period be extended.
  2. JOIN A GROUP: I’ve set up a space on Facebook where discussion can be had about the best plan of action. I’ve already had people send in details of similar cases; legal precedents; details on access legality rights. By joining the group, we can discuss progress, share good practise and have a united front.
  3. WRITE TO YOUR LOCAL REPRESENTATIVE: It looks like the County Council will have the greatest part of this, so contact your councillor and ask them to represent your views. Don’t know who that is? Go to and a simple search will give you details.
  4. TELL OTHERS: I’m not sure how widely these letters were sent out, but I do know that the majority of people who enjoy the path WON’T have been advised: just those in the immediate vicinity. We need to get the message out as wide as possible, particularly to those who don’t use social media as much. Get people talking about it. Share this post on social media. Get them wised up and fired up.
  5. ATTEND EVENT: The letter mentions that Network Rail will hold an ‘information event’ will discuss options. If this is after the consultancy period ends on 31st December, then will it be more than lip-service, just a statutory requirement grudgingly carried out? Or has it happened / scheduled to take place DURING the consultancy period: ie: when everyone is doing Christmas stuff? Either way, it is important we turn out in large numbers. Show that Beeston can’t be easily fobbed off.

There might be safety considerations. Trains are getting faster and more frequent. But the responsibility for Network Rail is to address this in a way that benefits most, not just an accountancy department in a London office. Keep Attenborough Accessible.






Life, Leif.

 (This was written before my wife gave birth to Leif, after a three day labour where she went through some incredibly tough times as he was a lot larger then expected. I must pay tribute to the NHS: the care was beyond belief, the compassion life-affirming. I am forever in their debt, and it has driven my desire to do something positive more than ever. Plus, I’m besotted by my boy, presently contentedly gurgling beside me from his snug moses basket).

By the time I publish this, Leif Richard Isaac Turpin will be born. His name? The ‘Richard’ is his grandad (yes, his name is Dick Turpin: my father in-law is an out-law). ‘Issac’ is my grandfather’s name: he died when I was very young, but I have fond memories of the little time I spent with him, sitting in front of the TV football, eating our roast dinner, with him slipping a little beer into my lemonade when my gran wasn’t looking.

Leif? We just like the name, and the phonetic autumnal reference. There are no Scandinavian roots to call back on here, other than the amount of time I spent during his gestation fighting over IKEA  instructions. 

The boy will be born in a rich country, and have a higher chance of surviving the birth than at any other time in the whole of history. He will be born at the pin-point of centuries of scientific progress, where every aspect of his arrival will be monitored. He has no idea yet just how lucky he is.

He will be born into a family who will love him completely. I loved him from the moment I heard he was there; just a poppy seed sized bundle of cells. Despite the lack of tangibility – yes, I’ve seen the scans, where shapes can be barely discerned; I’ve heard the heartbeat, much faster than our own, propelling growth. I’ve even felt his foot; kicking through my wife’s side into my ribs while we lay together in bed. Yet he is still somehow intangible. Nevertheless, he is loved, and I’m almost terrified what that will turn into when he is there, when I meet him. I’ll know by the time you read this.

He will be born into wealth. Relative wealth. I have a decent job, which pays ok, and Ellie is a professional scientist; so while we’re not exactly dripping with gold, when compared to the world as a whole we are alright. The baffling chance of birth: to be born into a stable, wealthy country that still just about believes in care from cradle to grave. 

He will not want for anything. He already has all the clothes we need for him to wear for a year, and beyond. He has toys, ready for when he wants to begin exploring. He has two beds; a moses basket for the first few months and a cot for when he’s a bit older. He has blankets, nappies, muslin squares and parents who spent three Saturday afternoons in 5 hour NCT classes learning how babies work and how to keep them happy. He has everything he needs. He will not want for anything.

Not all children are so lucky. Across the world. there are 8 million children who are fleeing from countries hit hard by war, poverty, famine. There are a further 50 million displaced children, who have had to flee to another country: while they might be judged ‘safe’ they are still in a serious situation: subject to greatly reduced life chances; xenophobia; discrimination; incarceration. It’s a global problem that is accelerating in its seriousness: over the last five years, the numbers have jumped a staggering 75%. With no resolution to conflict in the Middle East, and more pressure on resources as climate change wreaks havoc. It is easy to feel helpless

Yet we can do things. We can help: not solve the crisis single-handedly, but show some humanity and do what we can. I saw this in action when Beeston came together in response to the horrific scenes of Alan Kurdi’s body washing up on a Greek beach. The response was incredible, hundreds of people queuing to donate items to refugees trapped in refugee camp limbo. Sergio, the landlord of the White Lion pub which acted as a drop-off point, and a former refugee himself, set up a fund to raise money to get a warm meal to those trapped. He travelled down, at this own expense, several times, returning each time more determined to help. Peter Bone, a Beestonian I’m lucky to count as a friend, also visited to help

I lately read another account of selflessness in the face of what seems an insurmountable problem. Brendan Woodhouse is a firefighter originally from Durham, who has worked in Nottingham for 14 years and lives in Derbyshire.  Just before Christmas last year, he travelled to the Greek island of Lesbos. On the final day of a two-week stint, an inflatable mistook the Korakos lighthouse for safety, rather than danger, and capsized rapidly, throwing the 35 occupants – mostly children – into the dark waters, 70 metres from shore.

Brendan was driven to go to Lesbos after seeing the photos of drowned children washed up on shores, and determined to help. He began by delivering aid, then, thanks to a local charity, East Midlands Solidarity, flew to the Greek islands to help in a more direct way. This dark night, as the occupants struggled to keep afloat, this was put to the test.


Brendan ushering boats to safety

He rescued a family first, including a terrified two-year old boy. After dragging them to shore, he was straight back into the waters, where he found a baby girl, seemingly dead, face down in the water. Risking his life, he scooped the baby onto his chest, and swam, backstroke, to shore, kicking hard under the stars. A former medic in Afghanistan, he knew that time was vital, so finding a rock he could balance on quickly gave the lifeless baby and gave rescue breaths. The first had no effect, and Brendan realised he might be too late. Yet after a second rescue breath, the child spewed up a large amount of seawater, and let out a lung-clearing scream. He had saved the baby: but now had a long swim back to shore

I remember lying on my back and was looking at the stars saying ‘Come on God, help me’.

“I don’t go to church any more, I am not a religious guy and there’s me praying up to Him as I am swimming backwards.”


He made it, collapsed onto the shore badly cramping and exhausted. A Dutch colleague, Joost, took the baby and stabilised her. He would later find she had made a safe recovery, and be reunited with a family. Her name is Sewin. While facing the challenges that life will throw at her as a displaced person, at least she has life. Without Brendan Woodhouse, she would be another notch on the appalling statistics of children killed trying to find sanctuary.

I have since been in contact with Brendan, and confirm that he is very much the hero. Humble, thoughtful, and driven by a strong sense of humanity, I could never do what he did. But I could do something. Yes, it might seem futile. But if it helps save a life, just one life, then I will be able to say that my child; Leif; a child born into every comfort imaginable, will have inspired something wonderful. 

That is why I have, after chatting to both Brendan and Medecines sans Frontieres, to raise some funds – I’m hoping £500 – to mark Leif’s arrival. We would like anyone reading this to not send gifts to us for the arrival of the child – it needs nothing – but instead donate directly to the fund. If you want to buy me a pint to celebrate my new fatherhood, please, please stick the cash into the fund. My chosen pint is usually about £3, as a guide. A celebratory cigar is about the same (and as I kicked the ciggie habit 4 years ago, I wouldn’t be able to have the actual thing). 

Please give what you can. I want my child to grown up to see the essential humanity and goodness of people. We are incredibly lucky that he is born right here, right now, and we will never forget those who are not so fortunate. To see others as humans, as people, with as much right to life as them. This is much more important than any gift you could give my son. Give here:

I’ll leave the final few words to Brendan Woodhouse, who is an example to us all.

“I have an absolute mix of emotions. Yes I made a difference and was really proud that I was able to go and do that and really relieved that I was successful.

“I am really proud of the team and of the international community for individual people’s responses to what is a global catastrophe.

“But I but I am also deeply ashamed that these people are put in such a perilous situation where they are essentially exploited at every turn.

“And I am angry there are people that would look at these poor refugees from war-torn countries and question why they would want to leave a war zone.

“I get angry that some people cannot open their hearts to these people .”