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In Conversation with: Johnny Mercer MP

By Mitch Gregory

At the end of last month I had the opportunity to interview the MP for Plymouth Moor View and newly-appointed minister, Johnny Mercer. I met Mr. Mercer – whom every other Plymouthian attending the surgery that morning dubbed ‘Johnny’ – after what looked to have been a busy morning. I was greeted in the reception by Johnny Mercer himself, shaking my hand and jovially leading me to his conference room. I could already tell that the usual Tory-stuffiness didn’t apply to this man and come the start of the interview the tables had already turned when Mercer asked me about my degree and about Generation Plymouth’s recent conception.

Getting onto the questions, I asked Mercer a few questions on the state of politics at the moment, and how he felt about it all.

“What is the Conservative Party doing to help young people, and, if you were on the campaign trail, as you may well be soon, how would you convince someone like me to vote Conservative?”

Mercer acknowledges that policies for young people “Have been done badly in the past – in a kind of patronising way” and that this problem still exists in both parties. Throughout his answer he keeps coming back to the idea that the best way to have won his vote before he became an MP was to enact policies that were “going to change my life”. Mercer admitted that he rarely voted before getting into his political career. At this point he refers to a Conservative policy wherein they attempted to win over young voters with Nando vouchers, denouncing such things as examples of this “patronising” approach to young people.

He accepts that housing is a massive issue for young people, anecdotally telling me that he was only able to buy his own home after he became an MP in 2015. He reaffirms his belief that tuition fees are right and that “people should pay for higher education”, although he adds that the way the interest is calculated on student debt is “incorrect” and that he would prefer a more means-tested system. These sorts of policies, Mercer argues, are the sorts of ones he would happily campaign on. He firmly believes that young people “are not stupid and they just want something to vote for.” An example of which is how Labour’s 2017 manifesto pledge to scrap tuition fees has started an “awakening amongst students” who’ve “had a smell of the Jeremy Corbyn stuff and realised it’s a pack of lies, so they’re looking for something else.” He does also add that “they’re not naturally Conservative voters, I’d say, but they’re not stupid” reiterating the need to focus on policies to attract young people.

I followed up the question asking him for examples of policies that the Conservatives are implementing to help young people. Returning to housing he praises the Help To Buy scheme, but believes it could go further. And of course he adds that we need to build more homes and make planning permission easier. He wants a grown-up conversation about housing. A grown-up conversation would be quite the triumph in these times.

Much of politics and the Parliamentary arithmetic nowadays is about Party – we tend to vote Labour or Conservative, rather than for the specific candidate. So do you consider yourself foremost as a Conservative MP, or as the representative for Plymouth Moor View?

“I’m Plymouth’s member of Parliament, right? For me it’s very, very clear in terms of my priorities. And one of the things I was frustrated about when I came into this was how people seemed to say ‘I’m going to do everything for Plymouth’ and then get in and completely change their mind.” The example he uses for this broken trust is, of course, Brexit. He argues that Plymouth voted to Leave and that vote should be respected. He targets other politicians in Plymouth, saying that they will do whatever they can to frustrate the result. He admits he voted Remain, but says that should a second referendum come about, he’d probably vote to Leave. He thinks that if he were to campaign to Remain now he’d be breaking the trust the people of Plymouth Moor View put in him.

Further on what you were saying about being the representative for Plymouth, rather than just adhering to the Party whip, do you believe it was right to expel the group of 21 independent conservative MPs?

“It’s a really, really difficult issue. I don’t want to expel anybody – well, I say that…I do want to expel some people. You know, those who particularly have unpleasant characteristics in the Conservative Party.” He adds that every Party, being mass-membership organisations, need to abide by rules of decency. He returns to the question and reaffirms that he doesn’t want to see any colleagues expelled, however people like Mercer have been “crying out for leadership for the last three years. This country is in a very specific place, a very contested place, a very angry place, and Boris Johnson has a very clear method to lead us through this particularly turbulent time, and to be honest I support him one-hundred percent.” He says the sadness of seeing his colleagues leave the Party must be put after the state of the country.

Do you believe the prorogation of Parliament was the most sensible thing to do? In terms of supporting the country through this, as you say, contested time?

“I think it’s been quite significantly overblown”, he says confidently, “actually it’s four days extra that we would usually be in session because of the Party Conferences.” But he surprises me when he denounces “inflammatory politics” and adds that if it were him making the decision he’d have laid out his reasons for prorogation far clearer. He praises Johnson’s leadership once again.

Do you believe he [Johnson] will get a deal?

“Yes. I do believe he will get a deal.” No ambiguity there then. As soon as I begin to mention the possibility of an extension he shuts down the question and reaffirms that we will be leaving the European Union on October 31st. He says it’s a matter of trust with his constituents.

Moving onto other issues, there are climate strikes going on across the world at the moment. The Conservative Party policy is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, however UN projections have predicted that by 2050 there will be 200 million climate refugees and a further billion people in vulnerable conditions as a result of climate change. Do you think the Government is doing enough?

“People like me already want to be in a world with net-zero carbon emissions […] we are acutely aware of the effects of climate change and we are living through them.” His tone at this point is very sincere, he’s a man of 38, born into a generation, like ours, who understand the dangers of climate change. Yet he plays it safe, saying that “When a country is trying to realign its economy, there are lots of factors at stake”. He acknowledges that the world as a whole have not taken climate change seriously enough for too long, but “Greenpeace have said that this is the greenest government they have ever seen in the UK.” He wants things to move faster, of course, and he supports the school-children strikes, however he denounces Extinction Rebellion for closing down roads in London and “breaking the law”. A balance is vital for all of these things, according to Johnny.

On the state of the natural world he says he spends “half my life in the sea!” and that fellow Plymouth MP, Luke Pollard’s, work on creating a protected marine reserve in Plymouth is good, adding that he “supports anything great about Plymouth.” He tempers his praise with advice that these things need to “mean something” for the people living in Ernesettle and areas outside of Plymouth Sound. He doesn’t have time for “press releases and bluster”.

I conclude the interview by asking Mercer about his new role as a minister, tasked with setting up a new Office for Veteran’s Affairs, which is his driving force as a former serviceman in the British Army. He hopes it will bring together all areas of government and the third sector to create “world class veterans care to those who served in this country and their families.” I thank him for his time and he responds, in his incredibly enthusiastic, casual manner, “Great! Cheers bud.”

The Ladder (Review)

By Tobias Chalcraft

If you seek a production that will convert procrastination and grief into motivation, look no further than THE LADDER at the Theatre Royal Plymouth.

This intimate, absorbing & emotional show is a real treat for drama fans. The use of excessive volumes, audience interaction and unorthodox casting leaves you engaged and entertained for the duration of this Brechtian-styled performance.

Simple props, including a laptop, water bottle and stationery, provide the cast with a beneficial set of tools to add to their presentation – this includes the use of a water bottle as a spanner in a game which ends up with serious repercussions. Microphones are also scattered around the stage, to allow lines to be delivered with emphasis and boldness, but also to provide a cosy, podcast-like atmosphere at times.

On reflection, the introduction to THE LADDER really sticks out. ‘Emerging’ actor Hugh Hughes, portrayed by Shôn Dale-Jones, starts off by entering the audience to greet us and shake our hands, whilst we are unaware that the show has even started. It is this interaction that ensures we continue to root for him, whether that is by laughter or stunned silence. This is returned by Hughes, who shares his thoughts and feelings like we are imaginary companions.

Initially, the casting of Julian Spooner as the Father is interpreted as comedic, due to the fact he is visibly younger than his on-stage son. However, Spooner’s acting soon captivates hearts and minds as the audience develop empathy for a character that has faced a broken family, illness and a livelihood lost at the hands of urbanisation in the late 1900s.

The layers of an onion are perhaps inferior to the quantity of sub-plots within THE LADDER, and these expertly intertwined stories are tied up by three main events: Hughes’ fascination with Greta Thunberg and the Youth Climate Strikes, his writer’s block and the death of his Father, as a result of him falling off a ladder.

This web of plots provides THE LADDER with its ability to confidently convert unpleasant and relatable behaviours, such as grief and procrastination, into pure motivation to do better in the world. This created a big struggle in reviewing this show, as the simplicity of being absorbed into the storyline maintains a high level across the production – which at one point will allow you to experience joy, sympathy and inspiration in a matter of minutes.

Breaking Creatives: A New South West Series

By Katie Stote

Would you consider yourself a Creative? Do you produce creativity in your day to day life or career? Are you interested in the local creative economy in your area? If you answered YES to any of those questions, Breaking Creatives is the series for you. If, by some small chance, you didn’t answer YES, Zoe Bloss’ new YouTube series Breaking Creatives will inevitably change your mind.

On the 1st of November a new interview series, Breaking Creatives, will be gracing the world of YouTube. As its title suggests, the series is a celebration of creativity which is hidden in some of the most unlikely places. We sat down with Devon based actor, youtuber and, most importantly, creator of the Breaking Creatives series, Zoe Bloss, to find out more about the series and what inspired her to begin her challenging and innovative project.

Each episode of the Breaking Creatives series features one self-starting creative who is, as Zoe passionately describes, “making waves in their industry”. Each interviewee either works in a creative industry or uses creativity in their career. When asked what inspired her to begin the series, Zoe explained,

“I started the series to try and begin a discussion about the creative economy and the value of having a strong creative economy; I really don’t think we value creativity in the right way. I see creativity in every industry, not just in creative jobs.”

Through interviewing people from a broad range of careers ranging from poets and photographers to STEM and music industries, Zoe aims to demonstrate that creativity is a versatile and useful skill to have, develop and nurture.

However, the Breaking Creatives creator isn’t only highlighting how creativity is imperative for a variety of industries; she is also hoping to inspire the next generation of creatives. After reading an abundance of articles about the lack of access for creative subjects in schools, Zoe decided to try and help creative students who may be feeling anxious about their future prospects.

“I worry about the lack of access to a wide range of subjects in schools. It’s not necessarily their fault, it’s just the situation we are in right now. Sometimes, if you see someone who has similarities to you, doing something that you are interested in doing, that can be a really big motivator. If I could just show people that these really cool people exist, then that’s amazing. The normal jobbing creatives are out there, making it happen for themselves, they’re everywhere and we just don’t necessarily know about them. So, we just need to show young people there are these really cool people, who aren’t necessarily in the well-known creative hubs and cities, doing these really cool things for themselves, by themselves; then maybe their goals will feel that much more attainable.”

Zoe Bloss, creator of Breaking Creatives

For Zoe, it was imperative to shine a light on creatives from as wide a variety of locations as possible. Her passion to inspire people from all locations and backgrounds is so strong that, during the interview process, she has travelled by car and train over 600 miles without any financial funding or support. She explained:

“It was so important to me to not just have people in London. I’m so glad I’ve got Hadeel Ayoub who is in episode two, she is incredible, but she is the only one based in London. I wanted to get as much variety as possible. I don’t know if I’ve fully achieved that yet, but that was really important to me.”

Hadeel Ayoub, who features in episode 2 of Breaking Creatives

Breaking Creatives also highlights an incredible sense of community which can be found within the creative economy. At a time when it is easy to feel more disconnected and fearful of each other than ever, Breaking Creatives reminds us of the beauty of mutual trust and support. The project wouldn’t have been possible without trust; the interviewees had to place trust in Zoe that their work would be handled with respect and sensitivity, whereas, Zoe, travelling to their towns and cities, was trusting that each creative would be as kind and generous with their time as she hoped.

Breaking Creatives is more than a YouTube series. It’s an inspiring celebration of creativity in its most incredibly varied forms, of working hard for more than monetary gain and supporting strangers without seeking anything in return. Zoe is hoping to continue her inspiring work on Breaking Creatives; creating more content for you to enjoy and giving creatives across the country some much deserved recognition.

To find out more about the series, head to Zoe Bloss’ YouTube Channel, ‘Blossom Bite‘. The first episode of Breaking Creatives will be uploaded on the 1st of November 2019.

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Why You Should Study Conservation Biology

By Tobias Chalcraft

To quote Kermit the Frog, ‘it’s not easy being green’. As climate change and related environmental crises increasingly decorate the media, there’s a growing demand for more people to take on a more sustainable mindset. Hannah Hall, 21, is starting her march to the front line of this cause via undergraduate studies in Conservation Biology, here in Plymouth.

When asked what guided her towards her chosen area of study, Hannah said, “I’ve always had a keen interest in conservation and ecology, ever since I was a child watching David Attenborough documentaries, an interest I feel as though many people my age share. So, when I found out I could study a course at university which allowed me to learn more about these wonderful places I had seen on TV growing up, I couldn’t think of anything more perfect”.

When hearing about the material covered on her course, including cellular genetics, ecosystem services and population ecology, it is safe to say that Conservation Biology goes way beyond gardening. “The first year allows for everyone to be on the same level of knowledge, covering subjects such as introduction to biology, animal and plant physiology and evolution. The depth and content of these subjects is similar to what is covered at A-Level biology but acts as a nice refresher into the area after a long summer break”.

In the second year of the course, Hannah highlighted that the material moved more specifically towards conservation, covering “ecology, principles of conservation, methods of conservation, animal behaviour and optional modules” as well as a field trip to Mexico.

Overall, Hannah hopes her course will allow her to pursue a career in research, as she aims to undertake both a masters and PhD after completing her degree next summer. However, her current plan does not involve sticking around in the UK. As deterioration increases in less developed tropical countries, Hannah wants to move abroad in order to work towards a more sustainable development in these exploited areas by seeing “how governments can work with the local people and conservationists, that allows a substantial income but also retains the quality and biodiversity of the surrounding environments”.

So, why should others study Conservation Biology in Plymouth? “This course is great for teaching transferable skills. The tutors, professors and lecturers are extremely supportive and are available to talk to almost whenever. They also give a keen focus on current issues and problems”. There is also a big focus on current affairs, as Hannah recommended that prospective students “get themselves up to date on current conservation and ecology issues in the UK and around the world”, as this can demonstrate an interest in the course and help to get the most out of lectures. 

To compliment her first two years of university education, Hannah is about to conclude a placement year in which she has spent time in both Nepal and Peru. In her final month in South America, Hannah now looks towards her final year of undergraduate studies. “I am planning to write my dissertation on seed germination trials of an endangered Adean plant called Puya raimondii under different temperature regimes, as these plants are very sensitive to climate change”. However, permits and permissions are required to export the seeds from Peru to England and due to the difficulty in obtaining these permits, experiments on plants closer to home may have to be carried out instead.

If her dissertation is of good enough quality, Hannah’s dissertation supervisor seeks to publish her work in a scientific journal, making her a published academic before even achieving her undergraduate degree.

When asked what drives her studies, Hannah replied, “Since I have started my degree, I have been extremely lucky to travel to countries such as Mexico, Thailand, Nepal and Peru and not only seen the pristine, tidy, clean and seemingly perfect areas which are made so to attract tourists but also, what I call behind the scenes. In Thailand and Peru, I saw large areas of rainforest cut down to make way for agricultural crops and animals. In Nepal, I saw how poverty stricken the rural communities were and how heavily they rely on crop agriculture as income, but which in current years is becoming less reliable as monsoon seasons become shorter and temperatures change. Knowing that I have the skills needed to make an actual change to this world, whether big or small, makes me strive to do the best that I can!”

Perhaps with more Conservation Biologists promoting a more pro-environment development of our planet, there may be less of an excuse for good ol’ Kermit to sing his aforementioned lyric. 

For those interested in studying Conservation Biology at University of Plymouth, you can follow Hannah on Twitter @Hannah_Con_Bio to find out more about the course or to ask her any questions.

A Cafe with a Twist

By Lacey Mannell

Taking drinking coffee to a competitive level, Twist Board Game Cafe offers a new way to drink your latte whilst having fun. 

Twist was recommended to me by a friend who’d visited a few times with family. Located near the Armada Centre in Plymouth City Centre, it’s easy to get to, and a great place to relax after a day of shopping. Originally, I wasn’t all that interested in the cafe, but as soon as I went, I kept wanting to go back. 

It’s a bit like a book you don’t want to put down, which aligns with Haley’s, the founder of Twist, own ideas for her cafe. Haley described Twist as the book she wants to read, a place of: ‘chilling with friends, board games, tasty homemade food and quality drinks.’

Twist was created around seven core values: fun, inclusive, conscious, exciting, social, quality and easy-going. I believe the cafe meets all of these values. 

It’s both fun, exciting and social, with great games that encourage people to engage as a group – whether this is by competing or teaming up. There are no limits to who can play games, with a £4 charge for under 16’s and a £5 charge for those over 16. The cafe is both clean and modern; with wooden tables that look like boards and a menu including a variety of cakes (which tasted delicious) and a range of beverages from coffees to gins. The atmosphere is calming; a room full of people relaxing and having fun (unless they’re losing at Monopoly, or when a Jenga tower falls over).

There are a variety of two to eight player games on offer. From Scrabble, Monopoly and Ludo, to party games like Chameleon (one of my favourites) and Bucket of Doom or First Dates. There are quick games that take a maximum of five minutes and games that can take up to an hour (I never quite realised how long Scrabble takes until I played with my friend at Twist). There’s a bit of something for everyone, whether you like something strategic, or simple and fun. 

One of the best aspects of the cafe is the welcoming staff members, or more specifically, the ‘Gurus’. There are Gurus who help with the games, taking the time to set them up and go through the rules, and even making recommendations if your table is in need of something new. 

Twist Board Game Cafe is a lovely addition to the list of places for a nice day out in Plymouth, and I’d definitely recommend it for anybody who’s looking for a day of fun and laughter. 

For more information on the cafe visit: https://twistbgc.co.uk/about/

British Firework Championships 2019

By Megan Dibben

The British Firework Championships 2019 took place in Plymouth last week. With the amazing turn out of the weather, the outstanding entertainment and the spectacular fireworks displays, it is safe to say the two day event was a brilliant and unmissable one.

There was a lot of speculation as to whether Wednesday night would be worth attending due to Plymouth’s unpredictable weather, however many people were pleasantly surprised by the clear skies; perfect for viewing the fireworks late into the evening. Thousands of people flooded the Barbican’s narrow streets and crowded onto Plymouth Hoe awaiting the firework displays, and by 9pm it was difficult to even roam around the roads due to the amount of people who had arrived. This was an outstanding turn out, and it was lovely to see the people of Plymouth come together for a wonderful night.

The fireworks weren’t the only attraction however, as there were many local acts who performed for the crowds earlier in the evening – and they were spectacular! These included Ocean City Sounds Barbershop Chorus, a four part harmony singing group of around 50 men, Stage Stars musical theatre group and Street Factory dance group. On Thursday evening there were more fantastic performances from Plymkids musical theatre group and Natasha’s Bollywood Dance. These groups gave outstanding performances both nights, adding to the buzz of the evening and providing a wonderful build up to the fireworks displays at the end of the night.

Finally, the moment we all came for arrived, and the first bang of a firework silenced the crowds. The vibrant explosion of purple, red and blue above our heads was stunning, and for one moment everyone was looking in the same direction, watching in awe.

The competitors for Wednesday night were Nemisis Pyrotechnics, Aurora Fireworks and Phoenix Fireworks, however the third display was sadly cancelled due to technical issues. Thursday’s competitors, there were Illusion Fireworks, Selstar Fireworks and 1st Galaxy Fireworks. Selstar Fireworks were crowned the winners of the British Firework Championships 2019 the next day.

All of the displays were absolutely breath-taking however, and I think everyone who watched them can agree with me. Overall, both nights ended on a beautiful finish thanks to these brilliant competitors.

Photo provided courtesy of Will Hexter (Instagram: willh.jpg)

Considering Calling Clearing? Why Wait?

By Mitch Gregory

Clearing. That dreaded word that every A-Level student shudders at the sound of, especially on Results Day. Clearing is so often associated with failure, rejection, and as a last resort; but how far from the truth that is!

I’ve been working in the University of Plymouth’s call centre for Clearing this year, and as a result I’ve seen would-be-students given another chance to go to University and study something they’re really passionate about, even when their A-Level results told them they couldn’t. The misconception that Clearing is for the desperate students who want to go to University and the desperate lower-tier Universities trying to fill their spaces is inaccurate. Throughout the Clearing process the University makes sure they’re filling their spaces with students who they see potential in, and similarly the student is just as critical and rigorous with their choice of University as they were in the first instance when they made their application on UCAS Track.

So how do you do it? Are you considering phoning up a University Clearing service in a change of heart bid to get into University, but unsure how or when or what to say? Let’s see if I can help.

When you phone up Clearing all you need are your grades and an idea of what course you’d like to study. Your helpful call-handler (who is probably a student at the university already!) will take some details from you and check that the course is available and you fit the entry requirements in some way. If that all goes smoothly then voila! You’re given an invitation to apply to the University via UCAS Track and hopefully, all being well, you’re accepted! Even if you don’t quite meet the requirements for your course – maybe you don’t have that elusive B in a science or your GCSEs were a bit lower than the University would like – they don’t give up on you just yet. You’ll probably be put through to an Academic from that course, or maybe through to another section of the admissions team for their consideration. They may take into account your work experience or offer you a Foundation course so that you can learn the basics before starting your BA/BSc/BEng. The absolute last resort is that the University has nothing available, but even then there’s always another University just down the road!

All I really wish to say is that CLEARING IS OKAY. If you’re going through, or considering going through, Clearing, it isn’t the end of the world. Instead it is the start of something that will probably change your life. I’m about to go into my third-year of University and although I didn’t go through Clearing, I know a lot of my friends did. When you’re all there studying together and having the time of your life, whether you went through Clearing or not is irrelevant.

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