Tag Archives: plymouth

Election diary part 8: Blocking out the haters

Getting busier every day. Had a summit meeting with editors. Rambled on about all my ideas. Made plans for election night. Four weeks to go. Must stock up on coffee and Pro Plus.

Feeling excited about how we’re covering the campaign. Video is a huge part of it. For a long time I was resistant to what I saw as gimmicks to attract the most number of viewers. But I am coming round to the view that our job is entertainment just as much as information.

Went canvassing with Johnny Mercer and his team in Southway. We’ve had our differences over the last couple of years but we’re getting on much better now. Asked him some challenging questions, shared tips for blocking out the haters, then talked about cricket and our children.

Full list of candidates to be finalised tomorrow. Still not heard a whisper from UKIP.

I’m hosting a live hustings event next Thursday. Nervous already. Must stock up on alcohol.

Follow The Herald’s election coverage here.

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Election diary part 7: Complaining about the sea

Busy few days. Visited Porkies cafe in Whitleigh on Friday, which last year became known as ‘Plymouth’s most Brexit cafe’.

Bumped into Arthur Hunt, formerly known as ‘The Janner in the hat’. He had a shouty rant about the Government and the resulting video went a bit viral.

Accusations of bias from both sides. Labour say we’re giving too much coverage to the Tories. Tories say we’re in Labour’s pocket.

A councillor writes a very angry letter to the paper about me. A few years ago it would have sent me into a spiral of anxiety and self-doubt. These days I’m able to laugh it off. Just about.

Told myself I wouldn’t get drawn into a petty rows between the parties. But it wouldn’t be an election campaign without a couple of stories about misleading leaflets.

I had been feeling quite excited about the election. Then I went vox popping in Honicknowle.

Expected to make a piece about the decline of UKIP. Almost everyone I met said they have no interest in politics or are too confused and disillusioned to bother. Made me wonder whether I’m part of the media bubble.

More heated discussions with politicians than usual. I’ve never been very good at conflict. Would always rather play nice and let my writing do the talking than have a row. But now I feel I can give as good as I get.

Politicians are extremely sensitive to any hint of criticism. But we’re not going after vulnerable members of the public who can’t defend themselves. These people put themselves in the firing line and are fair game.

Enjoying the old quote: ‘A politician complaining about the press is like the captain of a ship complaining about the sea’.

Follow The Herald’s election coverage here.

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Election diary part 6: Plus c’est la même chose


The day begins with a BBC blackout on political coverage while polling stations are open for local elections. The Today programme presenters talk about hedgehogs and investment banking. I turn over to Chris Evans on Radio 2, then quickly back again.

I visit my local parish hall at 7am to cast my vote for a Cornwall Council candidate. Feel satisfied and smug. Resist the temptation for a selfie.

In Plymouth, Labour and Tories are squabbling on Twitter like schoolkids. Good to know that in this volatile political world, some things never change.

Bit of a do over Conservative MP Oliver Colvile turning down an invitation to a hustings event. His office say he can’t be everywhere at once. I point out they said no before even being given a date.

Visit Porky’s in Whitleigh, known as ‘the most Brexit café in Plymouth’. Last year everyone we met here planned to vote to leave.

This time we get a mixture of responses from leavers, remainers and one very angry Corbyn supporter who describes Theresa May as an “evil bitch” and warns: “If a Conservative stepped over my threshold I would smack them in the mouth.”

Back to base to find messages complaining we’re giving too much coverage to Johnny Mercer. “You must have a love affair with him,” one caller says. Makes a change from the usual accusations of Labour bias.

First proper hustings of the campaign early tomorrow morning at Devonport High School for Boys. Colvile will be there, as will the man he branded a “perennial runner-up”, Labour’s Luke Pollard.

Perhaps the two are destined to follow each other around, trading petty insults about defence cuts and Corbyn’s nuclear policies forever more.

Follow The Herald’s election coverage at plymouthherald.co.uk/election2017

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Election diary part 5: Good old Arthur

A brief respite from Tory and Labour mudslinging, and a visit to my favourite eccentric contact Arthur Watson.

He has featured in The Herald on a regular basis over the last few years talking about prostitution, legal highs, anti-social behaviour orders and compulsive hoarding.

He is standing as an independent candidate in Moor View, and serenaded me with his campaign song in his front garden.

Everyone should have a campaign song.


Interviewed Plymouth’s youngest voter, 18-year-old Felix Soper. Bright lad, if a little intense. Surely destined for a career in politics.

Had a meeting to plan our hustings events. They will be streamed live on Facebook Need to work on my David Dimbleby impression.

Wrote a comment piece about Johnny Mercer. Boss said it might be defamatory. Toned it down a bit.

Out and about again tomorrow to ‘Plymouth’s most Brexit café’. Tin hats on.

Follow The Herald’s election coverage at plymouthherald.co.uk/election2017

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Election diary part 4: Yes, Prime Minister

Prime Minister Theresa May visiting the South West today. Huge furore as Cornwall reporters are ‘locked in a room’ and banned from filming her at a factory in Helston. They called her on it with a very funny live blog.

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Things don’t get much better when she arrives in Plymouth. Burly security guards patrol Herald headquarters and giggling staff are warned to put their phones away.

On arrival, Mrs May is briefly shown around the newsroom before a 15-minute interview. No filming allowed. Then she’s gone, and nobody knows quite what to make of it all.

Elsewhere, the local campaign is slowly swinging into action. Senior editorial team gathers for a strategy meeting. I babble a lot, but feel a bit better about the task ahead. Key thing is to get out and speak to real people. Tired of playing umpire between warring politicians.

Someone leaves a comment on Johnny Mercer MP’s Facebook page: “I’d rather have burning coals and red hot pokers shoved up my vagina than vote for you.”

His response: “I’ll put you down as a possible.”

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Election diary part 3: Phoney war


First day back after holiday. News editor greets me by saying everyone is bored of the election already. Hard to argue. How can we make it more interesting?

I suggest we stage our own version of Gogglebox, filming Plymouth families watching the televised leaders’ debates. Seems to go down well.

Messages flying back and forth with candidates and their agents. A press release arrives from Tory MP Johnny Mercer. Says he is “standing in Plymouth Moor View against Corbyn’s North London Labour”. Strange turn of phrase.

Much mystery surrounds the identity of Labour’s candidate to challenge Mercer. Councillor Sue Dann is revealed as the winner from an all-woman shortlist.

Photo call with Pollard and Dann on the Hoe. Drizzling and cold. I ask them both whether Corbyn is the best person to be Prime Minister. They insist people in Plymouth are more interested in local candidates.

Arrange to meet with a Labour source. Text message comes in: “We need a strong and stable interview in the national interest”.

Arrange to meet with a Conservative source. We stand in a lift, he hands me a crumpled piece of paper and leaves.

Roll on June 9th.


Election diary day one: Kudos from Krishnan

Hello. My name is Sam and I am a political reporter at the Plymouth Herald in Devon. I usually use this site for my hobby of writing about cricket. But for the next few weeks I’m going to try to keep a General Election diary. Here it comes.

Day one:

Accusations of bias and unfairness from Labour, Tories and independents, all before 9.30am.

Politicians and their press officers are texting and direct messaging me more than usual. Can’t decide whether they are my best friends or sworn enemies. A sure fire sign of election fever.

Went round in circles trying to figure out what the Green Party are playing at. Turns out they offered an ‘alliance deal’ to Labour to defeat Oliver Colvile. Labour eventually said no.

My story got re-tweeted by John Harris from The Guardian and Krishnan Guru-Murthy mentioned it on Channel 4 News.

My phone was going crazy, but I was busy dealing with a two-year-old having a tantrum and a four-month-old vomiting up her dinner.

I tried to tell them I’m a pretty big deal now.

My son thinks I work in a toy shop.

Off on holiday tomorrow. Lord knows what will have happened by the time I return.

Follow The Herald’s election coverage here.

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Plymouth star Steph named in Western Storm development squad

by Sam Blackledge


A Plymouth cricketer has made it on to a list of 12 young talents chosen to train with Western Storm.

All-rounder Steph Hutchins, aged 18, plays for Yelverton Bohemians and Devon Women.

Taunton-based Western Storm, captained by England skipper Heather Knight, have chosen Steph in their development squad, along with her Devon teammates Daisy Meadowcroft and Evie Pitman.

Western Storm general manager Lisa Pagett said: “There are 12 girls on the programme and they have been selected from all across the region.

“There are players from Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Gloucestershire and Wales in the squad and they have all been nominated by their respective counties as players of genuine potential.

“30 players were nominated from within the South West to attend a talent observation day where they were put through their paces by the Western Storm Coaches, under the watchful eye of ECB scouts.

“We consider the 12 players who have been selected on this programme to have real potential and moving forward could well develop in to cricketers who will play for the Western Storm or be involved in ECB programmes in the future.”

The year-long programme is not solely about cricket, Lisa says.

“As well numerous training days, which will be spread across the region to include the Cooper Associates County Ground, the Brightside County Ground and the University of Exeter, there are various other elements to the initiative in place in order to help these players to develop in the best way that they can,” she added.

“There will be strength and conditioning support, nutritional advice, plus work in to the psychology of the sport.

“It’s not just about them developing as cricketers, it’s about helping them to develop as people.

“There is much more to the programme than just playing cricket, it’s about helping to educate the players as well.”

This piece was first published in the Plymouth Herald.

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Single-minded Steph has eyes fixed on England honours

by Sam Blackledge

A talented young cricketer is hoping to take a giant step towards the ultimate dream of representing her country.

Steph Hutchins, who turns 18 later this week, has long been touted as an exciting prospect with bat and ball, having progressed through the youth section of Yelverton Bohemians.

Now the sports-mad teenager, who has played football for Plympton and Tavistock and is also a qualified referee, is hoping to be added to the Western Storm development squad.

Taking a break from studying for a double diploma in sport at Tavistock College, Stephanie tells The Herald her passion for cricket started early.

“In Year 5 we had a new head teacher,” she says.

“There was a Kwik Cricket competition and he entered a girls’ team and a boys’ team.

“My brother started playing at Yelverton, I watched him and thought ‘I really want to start playing’, so I joined the school team.

“One night at my brother’s training session the coach’s wife said ‘She should go for county trials, she’s got real potential.’

“The first time I played hard ball cricket was at the trials, and it went from there.”

Steph Hutchins (picture by John Allen for the Plymouth Herald)

Steph, who lives in Horrabridge, says the game came naturally to her at first but she was more interested in football.

She had junior trials with Devon at the age of 11 and immediately volunteered to keep wicket – an early sign of her go-getting approach to life.

“I really wanted to drive and be better, that’s how I’ve always been, whereas my brother was quite happy playing where he was,” she says.

At an age when most teenagers are pinning posters of pop stars to their bedroom walls and fretting over homework, Steph was busy setting herself targets.

“Back then it was to play in the age group squad,” she says.

“Then it was to play with (Devon captain) Jodie Dibble; then to play with Devon women in the full squad; and now it’s Western Storm, the England development programme and then England.”

Steph discovered she had a knack with the ball when she graduated to the Yelverton men’s team three years ago.

“I was in the nets with my brother doing a training session with James Carr at Tavistock,” she says.

“My brother was batting, I was bowling. James said: ‘You should bowl spin more often, you’re good at it’.

“He told his brother, who at the time was my county coach.

“Since then they’ve really worked hard on my bowling, making sure I had the right posture and everything, and it’s just become natural. I’m a bowler now.”

That was the moment everything started to click.

Her idol was Plympton’s Cait O’Keefe, who is just a year older but was part of the Western Storm side which made it to the final of this summer’s Kia Super League, and has also represented England Under-19s.

Steph Hutchins (picture by John Allen for the Plymouth Herald)

Steph’s journey has not been all plain sailing, however.

She fractured her left shoulder during her first year playing for Devon and is wary of injuring it again.

But it will take more than the odd niggle to stop what feels like an inevitable progression to the highest level.

She is awaiting news of the next England development programme – does she think about wearing the Three Lions on her cap one day?

“I’ve always had it in my mind,” she says.

“I went for trials in my first year of bowling but I just didn’t quite feel ready. I had probably only been bowling for a month or two.

“Now I feel more ready, I feel like a have a shot at getting in, I just need to keep developing and training hard.”

The professionalisation of the women’s game, and its increasing popularity, has been a huge boost for the sport.

But Steph admits it makes the competition much fiercer than ever before.

“With the England development programme, because there are so many girls at a good standard of cricket it’s getting harder to break your way in,” she says.

“You’ve got more quality coaches coming into it, the training is better. It’s a lot harder now than what it was, but you’ve just got to keep working.”

Chris Cottrell, senior player and coach at Yelverton Bohemians, says Steph is one of the most gifted young cricketers he has seen.

“She is dedicated and passionate about the game,” he says. I can see huge talent there.

“She wants to know everything and she is a lovely person.

“She is not a girly girl, she is quite unassuming but single-minded, she just gets on with the job.”

This piece was first published in the Plymouth Herald.

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Meet The Crippled Cricketer

By Sam Blackledge

When Patrick Medhurst-Feeney walks to the crease with a bat in his hands, everything goes quiet.

“Before a match my brain is going nuts,” he says.
“I am looking for danger, looking for anything that is not right. It’s what I was trained for.

“As soon as I step on to the cricket pitch, all that goes away.

“It just shuts off all the noise and the fear inside me.”

Patrick joined the Army at the age of 19, and was posted to his first tour of Afghanistan in 2011 as a veterinary technician.

Just weeks after the operation ended, during an adventure training exercise in Germany, he suffered a severe back injury.

After two years of physiotherapy he was deployed again, this time as a vehicle search dog handler.

“That job took its toll on me,” he says. “I was in and out of the patrol base in Helmand Province and eventually my back just gave up the ghost.”

He was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birimingham, and eventually back to Plymouth.

But as his physical scars healed, Patrick realised he was suffering from a different sort of trauma.

“My second night back home was firework night,” he says.

“I was frightened by the explosions. I ended up having a massive panic attack and a breakdown.”

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and referred to Help for Heroes at HMS Drake.

Embarking on the long road to recovery, he discovered the charity was looking to form a cricket team.

“I thought I would give it a go,” he says.

“It just ignited this love of cricket again and gave me a focus.”

These days Patrick is a popular member of Yelverton Bohemians, a village club in the Devon league with three thriving teams and a picturesque ground off the A379.

He has re-modelled his batting technique and accepted his physical limitations – the league authorities have even amended the rules to fit him in.

“I’m not able to run, so I rely on a runner when I’m batting,” he says.

“Usually you can only have a runner if you’ve hurt yourself during the game, but they made an exception.

“I can still play proper cricket shots and I can field close in. I just can’t go racing around the boundary.”

One of Patrick’s team-mates says he took a blinding slip catch during a friendly game last weekend. He admits old habits die hard.

“That part of my cricket brain tells me I can still dive around,” he says.

“It hurts, but I still get that buzz from being involved.”

Patrick says the unique nature of cricket makes it a perfect fit for his recovery.

“If you don’t focus on the ball you get hit, and it bloody hurts,” he says.

“I can stand out there for a whole afternoon and not do anything, but because I am focusing on the ball, and what everybody is doing, I shut my brain off from worrying about what is around me.

“It makes me feel happy and relaxed. After a game I have two or three days of a mental high.

“It gives me that endorphin rush. I find I’m more proactive at home, I’m more involed in everything. My wife loves it too, because it gets me out of the house!”

The social side of the game is just as important as what happens in the middle, he says.

“It’s one of the big things I have missed since I left the Army. You’re always part of a unit, part of a group. When I got injured I lost that.

“Now I can be a normal person, just one of the lads again.”

Yelverton coach Chris Cottrell says Patrick is an inspiration.

“He is just absolutely fantastic,” he says.

“He’s a lovely lad. I know he’s been through his dark times, but this is bringing him back out into the light.

“Just to see the love that he has for the game when he goes out there, rather than sitting at home thinking too much, I am so proud of him.”

Check out Patrick’s blog, The Crippled Cricketer, at thecrippledcricketer.wordpress.com.

This article was first published in the Plymouth Herald. Pictures by Penny Cross. 

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