It was a busy start to the New Year for me where I had the pleasure of visiting a number of important projects and organisations to see just what they do locally.
Three stood out for me as they are perfect examples of what so many people are doing in and for our town day in day out every month of year. The first was Oakwood Primary School in Hampden Park, to be shown around by the Head as well as meet the children from Year 5 and take their questions. The school is not in the wealthiest area of town but was a joy to visit. The staff are clearly fired up and love the job of being responsible for giving the youngsters a good start on their education pathway. This really showed when I spent an hour or so listening and talking to the Year 5 students. For a bunch of 10-year-olds I was enormously impressed with not just the quality of their questions but also the range and depth. The class is booked to come up to Parliament for a day in March and I for one am already looking forward to seeing them then, if not before. We are blessed with many fine schools across Eastbourne and Willingdon and it’s something I’ve always considered a priority for me as your MP to do all I can to support and encourage. Cliche it may be but having a decent education really can be a silver bullet for anyone’s life-chances. What I witnessed at Oakwood Primary reassured me the children are not only in good hands but they’re being taught in a school which is absolutely determined their young charges meet their potential. A real pleasure to visit.
Brain Injuries: One of my other meetings was to monthly peer groups held by East Sussex Headway. This is a support group for people who’ve had brain injuries mostly through either a stroke or having been in an accident. It was good to meet so many people and again, as with Oakwood, I was bowled over by the obvious commitment and dedication to their group of all those involved. I first learnt about the very real challenges presented by head injuries when I was last your MP. It was only then that I learnt that for the vast majority a head injury is a life-changing experience. And not a pleasant one to put it mildly! And not being a clinician I had always assumed that the surgeons just opened you up, sewed up the damage, and everything moved on as per. Nothing could be further from the truth and I was reminded of that this week. Rehabilitation to improve matters can take years and is still very patchy across the country, including our own area. There were a number of key issues and questions raised with me that I will take up with our local NHS and with the Department of Health back in London. The charity which provides a lot of support and information to those with brain injury - East Sussex Headway - clearly have become experts in their field. I was pleased to work with them and their national organisation before, and look forward to doing so again.
It was also good to visit Gateway Church this week. A Christian community based in their absolutely stunning new(ish) building off Lottbridge Drive. Like so many other churches across Eastbourne and Willingdon they do an enormous amount of good work in the community. Frankly it can sometimes be taken for granted just how much our churches do locally for others or even ignored perhaps. Well, by me! I am very grateful for what Gateway and so many other churches do within our town. As I wrote in my column only last week about ‘keeping what we have by giving it away’, such a kind and community-focussed philosophy is practised assiduously by many organisations locally and our churches are, more often than not, on the front line practising what they preach. And that’s what counts for me.
Rail Fares: I was disappointed the planned annual hike in rail fares is still going ahead. Commuters from Eastbourne have had a pretty rough time of it for a couple of years now what with Southern Rail’s often deplorable service, as well as the industrial dispute. I wrote to the Prime Minister before Christmas asking for her government to cap this year’s fare hike in the same way they froze fuel duty in their recent budget. If it’s okay to help motorists, surely it should be okay to help Southern Rail (and beyond) rail users?
That’s it folks. Have a good weekend and I hope to see you around town.