13th July 2020

Environment Coronavirus: 75 jobs under threat at Titanic Belfast visitor centre

Environment Coronavirus: 75 jobs under threat at Titanic Belfast visitor centre


environment Titanic Belfast

Image caption

Titanic Belfast opened in 2012, coinciding with the centenary of the Belfast-built ship’s maiden voyage

The BBC understands that 75 jobs are under threat at the Titanic Belfast visitor centre.

The company has started a consultation over the potential redundancies.

It is understood a further 11 positions are under threat at TBL International, an events company linked to Titanic Belfast and the SS Nomadic.

In a staff email, the Chief Executive of Titanic Belfast said income streams had “dried up overnight” because of Covid-19 and the closure of the venues.

Judith Owens said it had used company reserves and maximized government support packages to cover liabilities, but this was “not a sustainable situation”.

Ms Owens said a lot of hard work had been involved in building the success of Titanic Belfast “and to see its future stripped away by something beyond our control is very hard to witness”.

With projected visitor numbers estimated to be reduced by 30% and the international market not expected to return for some time, Titanic Belfast has now undertaken a strategic review of its business.

Ms Owens said part of the consultation process would consider voluntary redundancy, career breaks, part-time positions and job shares.

Titanic Belfast is due to reopen on 1 August.

In a statement to BBC News NI, the company said: “Titanic Belfast Ltd, the operator of Titanic Belfast, has notified the Department for the Economy and its staff that it is beginning a period of consultation in relation to its staffing structure to secure the future of its business.

“This is an unavoidable situation given the challenging trading environment it is now operating in, due to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the global tourism industry.

“Titanic Belfast recognises that this is a very challenging time for its staff, as well as its business, and therefore will not comment further on this matter.”

13th July 2020

Environment Coronavirus: Sevenoaks family faces birth registration delay

Environment Coronavirus: Sevenoaks family faces birth registration delay


environment Catherine & Vincent Wong with baby Oliver & XavierImage copyright
Catherine Wong

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Catherine and Vincent Wong with baby Oliver and brother Xavier

A family of a baby boy who want to take him to meet his elderly grandparents in Canada cannot travel because birth registrations remain suspended in England because of Covid-19.

Catherine Wong needs to register the birth of Oliver, who was born on 14 March, so he can get a passport.

“There will be an unmanageable backlog of registrations,” she said.

Her authority, Kent County Council (KCC), hopes to restart registrations “in less than two weeks time”.

Registering a birth has been suspended since the coronavirus lockdown restrictions were announced on 23 March.

Environment ‘We were understanding’

Mrs Wong, whose husband Vincent is Canadian, had an appointment to register her son’s birth at Sevenoaks library on 24 March.

But she was informed it could not go ahead, and she should check back three weeks later.

“Naturally, we were understanding at the time… [but] there has been no change,” she said.

“Now, three months later, this is unacceptable.

“So many other businesses have adapted to the changing environment… there are ways around it that don’t necessitate in person registrations.”

Mrs Wong added the family wanted to fly to Canada as soon as travel restrictions were lifted.

In a statement, KCC said: “Kent has more locations for registrations than most other authorities, and because we need them all to be open and operating from the same date, it is taking a while to make all locations safe for visitors, including the installation of purpose-built screens.

“It is possible in an emergency, such as the need for a passport for urgent foreign travel, to register a birth face to face.

“However, as foreign travel to anywhere outside the UK is difficult if not impossible at the moment, we expect our birth registrations service to be up and running again before those travel restrictions are lifted.”

Follow BBC South East on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram. Send your story ideas to southeasttoday@bbc.co.uk.

13th July 2020

Environment Fire destroys 500-year-old Whiteleaved Oak on Malvern Hills

Environment Fire destroys 500-year-old Whiteleaved Oak on Malvern Hills


Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionFire destroys 500-year-old ‘magnificent’ Malvern oak

An oak tree thought to be about 500 years old has been destroyed in a fire.

Known as the Whiteleaved Oak, the tree stood in a village of the same name on the Malvern Hills.

Thought to have spiritual significance by druids and pagans, it attracted visitors from around the world.

Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service said the cause of the fire was currently unknown, but suggested it bore similarities to blazes started by camp fires.

Chief Druid King Arthur Pendragon said: “We, druids and pagans, feel that we are here as part of nature, not apart from nature.

“To see something like this happen to something that we revere, something that is so close to us spiritually, is very upsetting indeed.”

It is unclear who has responsibility for the tree, which was a finalist in the 2014 Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition.

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Ledbury Fire Station

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Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service said the cause of the fire is unknown

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Ledbury Fire Station

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The tree is thought to have spiritual significance by Druids and Pagans

Ledbury Fire Station said “great efforts” went into saving the tree which caught fire at about 23:30 BST on Sunday.

The fire station said on Facebook: “The tree was well alight when we attended and unfortunately it was not possible to extinguish quickly.”

The oak was “once magnificent” and “very well known”, it added.

Dave Throup, from the Environment Agency said the tree was of “considerable historic and cultural significance”.

Follow BBC West Midlands on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Send your story ideas to: newsonline.westmidlands@bbc.co.uk

13th July 2020

Environment Everton 0-0 Liverpool – a Merseyside derby draw like no other at Goodison Park

Environment Everton 0-0 Liverpool – a Merseyside derby draw like no other at Goodison Park


environment There were few fans present when the Liverpool team coach arrived at Goodison Park for the Merseyside derby

There were few fans present when the Liverpool team coach arrived at Goodison Park for the Merseyside derby

Merseyside derbies are usually played out to the backdrop of sound and fury – the first meeting between Everton and Liverpool behind closed doors was accompanied by the soundtrack of a saxophone.

The 202nd league meeting of these great rivals was the first played in such reduced circumstances and was a suitably surreal occasion lacking the passion and noise that is an integral part of these fixtures.

In derby history there have been two 19:00 BST kick-offs, the first an FA Cup fifth-round tie in March 1967 which drew a combined crowd of 106,000, with almost 60,000 watching in the flesh at Goodison Park and the rest on a big screen at Anfield.

Here, in the second, Everton and Liverpool played out this goalless draw to only the shouts of those directly involved, with less than 300 people dotted around this famous old arena.

And, lending an even more bizarre slant to a derby like no other was the sound of a very talented saxophone player lurking somewhere in the vicinity of Goodison Park.

The musician’s repertoire was occasionally repetitive but it certainly added to the mood with a stirring version of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”.

And why not?

This was, in the silence, a derby war of attrition in which an Everton side superbly organised by manager Carlo Ancelotti frustrated the Premier League champions-elect, who were ultimately thankful to goalkeeper Alisson and the woodwork as Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tom Davies came closest to ending Everton’s decade-long wait for a win in this fixture.

The Merseyside derby at Goodison Park would normally have attracted a sell-out crowd of around 40,000 fans

Portable dressing room in a car park

This game was the biggest test yet of how “Project Restart” will fare without fans, of what difference the new environment would make to such an emotional, colourful fixture so often driven by the intensity of those watching.

And there is no doubt it was not the same without those clad in blue and red but this is the new, perfectly understandable, reality.

Liverpool’s players changed in a portable dressing room tucked in the car park behind Goodison’s Sir Philip Carter Park Stand on arrival and entered in a corner of the stadium while Everton emerged from the usual tunnel.

The familiar strains of “Z Cars” and the blaring air raid siren that are now a familiar part of the ritual seconds before kick-off at Goodison Park were still in evidence, but a Merseyside derby without the roar of the crowd is a strange sporting beast to behold.

Indeed, the most prominent sound in the early stages came from overhead in what sounded like a drone or a police helicopter.

If there was one indicator that this was the first derby played out in the so-called “new normal” it was the noise levels coming from the players on the pitch.

Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, who tested positive for coronavirus in April, wore a face mask as he watched the derby

Everton captain Seamus Coleman, who had a magnificent match, was particularly vocal along with his young defensive colleague Mason Holgate, while Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson was predictably vociferous in his urgings to colleagues.

It just was not the same – nor should it be in the current global crisis but this was a game, an occasion, when the adjustment to life without fans for the time being was brought into its sharpest relief yet.

The respective managers Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp, members of the royalty of their trade, enjoyed a lengthy and clearly very warm conversation before kick-off with the smiling German an animated contrast to the laconic Italian, looking smart in a dark suit and without the usual shirt and tie.

And just to add to the sense of anti-climax from the Liverpool side of the equation, they were unable to get the win they required to set up the possibility of securing their first title in 30 years against Crystal Palace at Anfield on Wednesday.

It would have been a special moment, even with The Kop deserted and those other Anfield landmarks empty – it may still be. Liverpool could get the opportunity but it is dependent on Manchester City losing at home to Burnley on Monday.

As an occasion, this was a very sobering acquaintance with how Premier League football will be for now, purely because this was so far removed from what was normal before coronavirus brought a halt to the season in March and from what a Merseyside derby usually inflicts on the senses.

Police presence and few fans outside ground

There was a very visible Merseyside Police presence around the ground as kick-off approached because this was a fixture many feared would draw crowds and test social distancing guidance even though the game was behind closed doors.

In the end, a few supporters gathered before kick-off and a small group assembled to take photographs of players as they drove out of the stadium on to Goodison Road less than an hour after the final whistle.

Merseyside Police insisted they were confident there would be no security issues, Liverpool City Council were happy on public health grounds and both were proved correct.

There was a police presence at Goodison Park before, during and after the game

The result was the right outcome and the game ended in the subdued atmosphere in which it started, Liverpool a step closer to the crown that has eluded them for three decades and Everton showing an organisation and fitness late on that once again showed what smart work owner Farhad Moshiri did in luring Ancelotti back to the Premier League.

In the end honour was satisfied – even if there was hardly anyone there to witness it.

13th July 2020

Environment Rent day arrives for struggling retailers

Environment Rent day arrives for struggling retailers


environment shopImage copyright
Legal & General

“We’re almost 90% open with most of our retailers trading. It’s a return to almost normality,” says James Roberts the boss of Grosvenor Shopping centre in Northampton.

But there’s one big question. How many of the 50 or so retailers and food outlets will be paying any rent this week.

He laughs nervously when asked.

“Hopefully some, but we’ve only collected 56% in the last quarter,” he says.

UK landlords should be collecting at least £2.5bn on Wednesday for shop rents.

Retail landlords traditionally get paid four times a year.

On the last rent day in March, no more than half the total rent was handed over and landlords will be lucky to get a quarter of what they’re owed today.

Most high street shops, along with pubs and restaurants, have seen sales evaporate and have either been unable or refusing to pay rent.

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Bill Hughes says unless there’s an appeal for long term investors like pension funds to invest in UK real estate, infrastructure won’t get funded.

Businesses are hoarding cash to survive. But the crisis is starving landlords of much needed income, too.

The Grosvenor Shopping Centre is the kind of everyday mall you’d find in many of our towns and city centres.

It’s owned by Legal & General which invests in property to fund thousands of pensions.

“It’s not well known, or particularly transparent to people, but most retail properties are effectively owned by the normal person on the street in the UK,” said Bill Hughes, Legal and General’s head of real assets.

Environment Income ‘at risk’

Recent research by Estates Gazette, a commercial property weekly, showed that as much as 60% of all UK retail space is owned either directly or indirectly by the public, including pension funds, the public sector and individual shareholders.

It’s been a secure form of income until now.

“The risk of loss of income is really important. The pension fund owners of the built environment of the UK, they rely upon the income being produced by what hitherto have been seen as being very stable assets. And that is at risk in a way that’s never been there to the extent before.” said Mr Hughes.

Landlords have enjoyed the good times over the decades with long leases and upward-only rent reviews.

And rapidly expanding retailers were happy to sign up. But in recent years with sales shifting online, it’s become far harder for shops to make a profit.

The pandemic has accelerated this trend. The Government extended its ban on evictions for non-payment of rent until the autumn.

Occupiers are now frantically trying to secure better deals or turning to insolvency proceedings to renegotiate their debts, including owed rent.

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Mark Burlton

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Mark Burlton, the founder of Cross Border Retail, said landlords may have to get used to the fact their properties are worth less

The traditional business model of how retail property is leased is now well and truly broken.

“It’s a mess, but it’s not a mess that we can’t tidy up” said Mark Burlton, the founder of Cross Border Retail, a real estate business which advises landlords and retailers.

“I do feel sorry for them (landlords) . Absolutely. They are entitled to receive income, but I don’t believe they’re entitled to receive the same income as they were. I think they have to understand the value of their asset. And the value of their asset is what someone is prepared to pay for it. There isn’t a queue of retailers coming up behind them,” he said.

He believes upward only rent reviews should be abolished along with the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1954, the law which still underpins the leasehold system in the UK.

Environment Sales-based rent?

“It’s inflexible. We need something which is much cheaper and quicker to negotiate. We should have a system of rents based on turnover, allowing retailers to pay a rent they can afford. But in order to do that, tenants have to play their part. They have to declare what they are turning over,” said Mr Burlton.

Bill Hughes thinks the Government’s new code of practice on rental agreements should ease the tensions.

“We’re having an active conversation with tenants about can they pay, and if they can’t pay, we’re working hard to restructure things.

“Because it’s in our interest to find a way of helping cash flow to companies that would survive beyond this very difficult, unusual crisis that Covid presents.”

Environment Who pays?

Legal & General’s Bill Hughes thinks the Government should take a careful look at providing some financial support to help bridge the likely shortfall in income otherwise the “dynamic between landlords and tenants is likely to be challenging and deteriorate”.

The future prosperity of our high streets and town centres could ultimately be at stake if this crisis doesn’t end well.

Regeneration requires private sector investment as well as Government funding.

Mr Hughes says unless there’s an appeal for long term investors like pension funds to invest in UK real estate, infrastructure won’t get funded.

“They need a sensible and stable environment within which they can get some sort of return,” he explains.

Mr Burlton says he’s receiving phone calls from US private equity and venture capitalists sniffing around for opportunities to snap up some retail assets on the cheap.

“Ultimately if landlords and tenants can’t agree what the actual rent should be, then a number of landlords face the very real prospect of going bust. And then we have to be careful what we wish for because the purchasers of these assets in my opinion will likely have much shorter goals than the landlords they currently have. ”

The fate of heavily indebted shopping centre owner, Intu, will be decided by Friday. It owns some of the UK’s biggest and most popular malls, including the Trafford Centre and the Metrocentre in Gateshead.

If it can’t secure a last minute agreement with its lenders, it will go into administration which could mean the temporary closure of its sites.

13th July 2020

Environment Extra £14bn needed a year for climate, report says

Environment Extra £14bn needed a year for climate, report says


environment Electric car being charged on a London streetImage copyright
Getty Images

An extra £14bn is needed each year to help the UK meet its climate commitments, a new think tank report suggests.

Green Alliance says the cash is needed for clean transport, nature restoration, and low-carbon buildings.

Over the past three years, it says that £9bn has been spent on projects that actually increase CO2, like roads.

It comes as large UK firms make a promise to “kick-start a new approach” and “put the environment first”.

The Green Alliance think tank insists though that the funding issue must be solved in the prime minister’s economic recovery speech expected on Tuesday.

Its calculations are based on the government’s own assessment of major projects in the pipeline released on 16 June.

The government said it is determined to meet carbon targets, but the report draws attention to ministers’ plans to spend £28bn on roads.

The authors cast doubt on whether the government should spend any more money at all on projects that increase CO2 emissions.

Chris Venables, head of politics at Green Alliance, said of Tuesday’s expected speech: “This is a once in a generation opportunity for the prime minister to create the foundations of a healthier, more resilient economy.

“For ‘Project Speed’ (the prime minister’s infrastructure review) to be successful, it must be the most ambitious climate infrastructure project ever, creating jobs in every corner of the UK.

“It can’t mean a bonfire of regulations locking in polluting activities for decades to come.”

The report supports analysis by the the Trades Union Congress defining the best value for money from job-creating schemes. Road-building was judged poorly.

The calculations judge projects based on jobs created per pound of public investment.

Environment Best value projects

Best value are said to be: retrofitting buildings and creating cycle lanes, which are given a score of 20.

Electric ferries, battery factories and reforestation score 19; decarbonising industry, new electric UK buses, 18; and upgrading railways, installing electric vehicle chargers, and environmental restoration, 17.

Broadband expansion scores 15, but road-building, by comparison, scores just 10.

In a previous interview for BBC News, AA President Edmund King endorsed the role of broadband.

He told BBC News: “Arguably in future, we should invest more in broadband (than new roads), because what this crisis has shown is that the majority of companies can continue working from home, and it can be more efficient.”

Meanwhile, the government is facing legal action from a group complaining that road plans are incompatible with climate objectives.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Andrew Adonis, former head of the National Infrastructure Commission told BBC News: “We need to tackle bottlenecks in the road system but it is vital we promote a long-term shift to low carbon transport.

“The coalition agreement for the new Irish government includes a 2-1 split for all future transport capital spending to be on public transport and cycling rather than roads. We should consider doing the same in the UK.”

A government spokesperson said: “The prime minister has been clear that the UK should have the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.

“The actions we are taking to achieve our zero emissions target will help to deliver a stronger, cleaner, more sustainable and more resilient economy after this pandemic – and already there are over 460,000 UK jobs in low carbon businesses and their supply chains.”

On Monday, more than 200 business leaders will meet with Business Secretary Alok Sharma and Environment Secretary George Eustice at a Council for Sustainable Business event.

FTSE 100 firms including Unilever, Standard Chartered and Direct Line will discuss measures that business can take to cut carbon emissions with ministers as they also try to deal with the fallout of the coronavirus crisis.

Attendees will be asked to show government that they are are keen to work with them on a “cleaner, greener, more resilient economic recovery post Covid-19”.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

13th July 2020

Environment Cardiff dental school accused of racism and bias

Environment Cardiff dental school accused of racism and bias


environment X-ray of teeth and mouth being held by hands wearing blue surgical glovesImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

A letter to Cardiff University bosses lists widespread claims of racism at its dental school

Students at a Welsh dental school have written to university chiefs complaining of “racist behaviour and unconscious bias” from some teaching staff, fellow students and patients.

The letter seen by BBC Wales highlights claims at Cardiff School of Dentistry.

The authors claim black and ethnic minority students have been mocked and subjected to racist language.

Cardiff University says the letter “raises a number of extremely concerning issues”.

The letter is addressed to the senior leadership team at the dental school, which is based on the University Hospital of Wales campus in the city.

“We believe that as an educational institution, you are in the position to prevent and actively fight racism within our university community,” said the authors, who are unnamed.

“Therefore, we are writing to urge you to take action against racist behaviour and unconscious bias that takes place within the dental hospital and Cardiff University environment.”

It also highlights the wider issue of racism within dentistry, including one article which revealed black patients are more likely to have a tooth extracted rather than treated, compared with white patients

The students have asked the school’s management to release its own statement condemning all racism at the dental hospital, address the issues raised and to outline a plan of action to move forward.

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Getty Images

Image caption

The letter calls for an action plan from university leaders

They added: “You must strive to represent diversity in the curriculum and in your teaching hierarchy, support students to learn and encourage them to be actively anti-racist.

“Just as we represent the dental school, you also represent us. We implore you to take this opportunity to enact real change.”

A Cardiff University official said: “We can confirm that we have received the letter.

“As a university and a school of dentistry we take allegations of racism extremely seriously.

“We have measures in place to ensure that allegations of this type can be investigated and appropriate action taken.”

The spokesman said it was important for the university and school to consider the content of the letter and to assess “what action is required in both the immediate and longer term”.

“We are committed to creating a community based on dignity, courtesy and respect. Racism has no place,” he added.

13th July 2020

Environment Illegally-harvested shellfish ‘seized’ in Essex and Suffolk

Environment Illegally-harvested shellfish ‘seized’ in Essex and Suffolk


environment OystersImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Police and local authorities have seen a rise in shellfish, such as oysters, being picked illegally

Authorities have seized “significant volumes” of shellfish that were “illegally harvested” from the coast.

People have been stopped after collecting oysters and mussels from Southend and Canvey Island in Essex, and Shotley in Suffolk.

Shellfish that are not properly harvested are unsafe for human consumption and can carry illnesses such as norovirus.

Essex Police said illegal shellfish picking was an “emerging problem”.

The force said it seized several bags of oysters and returned them to the water following reports of mass picking of shellfish in Canvey Island.

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Essex Police

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Essex Police seized shellfish collected illegally at Canvey Island and returned them to the water

Councillor Martin Terry, from Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said the authority had worked with “foreshore officers and Essex Police to seize the significant volumes of illegally-harvested shellfish”.

“Oysters collected from Southend’s beaches are not safe for human consumption without going through a lengthy purification process or being thoroughly cooked,” he said.

Mr Terry said the commercial collection of shellfish was “tightly regulated” and that shellfish sold on the black market “could have serious consequences for public health” and would damage the reputation of the industry.

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Stour and Orwell Society

Image caption

There have been reports of people picking large quantities of mussels on the Shotley foreshore in Suffolk

Castle Point Council, which covers Canvey Island, and Babergh District Council, which includes Shotley, said they had received reports of illegal shellfish picking.

Chef Galton Blackiston, who owns a Michelin-starred restaurant in Morston in North Norfolk, said although shellfish from the east coast of England were desirable this was “purely and simply because of the quality control regulations”.

He said he only bought local shellfish “from suppliers whom I have dealt with for up to 28 years so they have been handed down the generations most of the time”.

Image caption

Chef Galton Blackiston said the purification methods used in commercial mussel and oysters production make them clean and safe to eat

The management of inshore sea fisheries is the responsibility of Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities.

Both the Eastern and Essex & Kent authorities said harvesting without a permit or licence was illegal and could impact sustainability and the environment.

Find BBC News: East of England on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you have a story suggestion email eastofenglandnews@bbc.co.uk

13th July 2020

Environment Bristol’s Freedom Youth LGBT group marks 25 years

Environment Bristol’s Freedom Youth LGBT group marks 25 years


environment Freedom Youth posterImage copyright
Freedom Youth

Image caption

Freedom works with young people aged between 13 and 25

Bristol’s oldest LGBT youth group is celebrating 25 years of helping the LGBT+ community.

Freedom Youth began on 4 July 1995, at a time when attitudes towards LGBT people in society were generally less tolerant than today.

“I’m so proud of what we have achieved, it’s phenomenal this community has nurtured so many others,” said team manager Henry Poultney.

“The environment for young LGBT people in the UK still remains a challenge.”

Freedom Youth faced stiff opposition and negative national media coverage when it began.

“‘Gay barbecues to burn lottery cash’ was the Daily Mail headline after we were given National Lottery money in June 1996 to fund social events,” said co-founder Berkeley Wilde.

“It was almost impossible to do work with schools because of Section 28.”

Section 28 was part of a 1988 law which prohibited “the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities” to younger people.

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Freedom Youth

Image caption

Mr Wilde believes Freedom could be the oldest LGBT youth group in the country

“We used to have letters in the paper against us, homophobic tirades complaining that we had funding.

“People said we were abnormal, but in those days you had to stand up and be counted,” said former chair Lesley Mansell, who held the role for five years.

Henry said the group’s focus had changed over 25 years.

“In the 1990s there was a lot of bisexuality erasure, then in the early 2000s trans issues came in.

“The last eight years for us have been around the ‘plus’ – so working with wider gender and sexual identities.

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Lowie Trevena/Molly Sanderson

Image caption

Lowie Trevena (L) and Molly Sanderson, (R), used Freedom to help discover more about themselves

Despite growing up in the age of the internet, current attendees have said the group experience helps.

“Having access to the internet helped me figure out I was queer, but it was the group that made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” said Lowie, 22, from Bristol.

“I’m always welcome and there’s a great sense of family,” said 23-year-old Molly.

13th July 2020

Science Coronavirus: Health minister says app should roll out by winter

Science Coronavirus: Health minister says app should roll out by winter


science NHS Covid-19 app

A government minister has said the NHS coronavirus contact-tracing app is “not a priority” and he was not sure it would be out by winter.

The app, which has been trialled on the Isle of Wight, was initially expected to launch nationally weeks ago.

The BBC can also reveal that the project’s two lead managers – NHSX’s Matthew Gould and Geraint Lewis – are stepping back.

And Simon Thompson – a former Apple executive – is joining to manage it.

Mr Thompson is currently chief product officer at the online grocer Ocado. He has been appointed to Baroness Dido Harding’s Test and Trace team, where he will have other duties in addition to the app.

Mr Gould and Mr Lewis had always expected to move back to their other duties this month, however they had intended for the app to have had its national rollout by now.

Science Winter target

Lord Bethell, the Minister for Innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care, said he was unable to give a date for its launch.

But he insisted that the trial “has gone very well indeed”.

He was responding to questions at the Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

“We are seeking to get something going for the winter, but it isn’t the priority for us at the moment,” Lord Bethell said in answer to a question about the app.

He admitted that was “an expectation of management answer, saying I can’t give you a date”.

Lord Bethell said it was still the government’s intention to launch it at some point.

Lord Bethell has just poured a bucket of icy water over the project that was supposed to be at the heart of the government’s test-and-trace strategy.

At the beginning of May, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people had a duty to download the app, which was expected to be rolled out nationally by the end of the month.

Plenty of people warned at an early stage that telling people via an app notification to go into quarantine might not work.

Now it seems the Isle of Wight trial has confirmed that most prefer the more human touch of a phone call.

The team behind the app have an updated version ready to go which they feel addresses many of the concerns. But it looks as though ministers and the Test-and-Trace supremo Baroness Harding have decided to put the whole idea in the deep freeze. Don’t bet on it coming back in the winter.

He also added that the trial on the Isle of Wight had shown that some people preferred humans to do the contact tracing.

“There is a danger of it being too technological and relying too much on text and emails, and alienating or freaking out people – because you’re peddling quite alarming news through quite casual communication,” he said.

Since the launch of the trial phase six weeks ago, there have been few official updates about any expected timeline, and reports that ministers are considering switching systems.

In other app developments:

  • Spain said it will trial a new app on La Gomera, near Tenerife in the Canary Islands, before deciding whether to roll it out nationwide
  • Germany’s tracing app has been downloaded 6.5 million times in 24 hours after its launch
  • The EU agreed a technical framework to allow national apps to work across borders – but it may not work well with “centralised” apps such as that planned for France

Lord Bethell said that because the disease’s prevalence was currently relatively low, “we’re not feeling under great time pressure, and therefore we’re focusing on getting the right app”.

He added: “I won’t hide from you that there are technical challenges with getting the app right, and we are really keen to make sure that we get all aspects of it correct.”

He also acknowledged that the public were highly concerned about the app, which he said was one reason an app had not been “rushed” out.

“If we didn’t quite get it right the first time round, we might poison the pool and close down a really important option for the future.”

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