Eastbourne is bucking the economic trend, and meet the war veteran who is still collecting for the Poppy Appeal aged 95

Stephen Lloyd MP with Poppy Appeal collector George Thornton, and George's daughter, Val SUS-180811-102904001
Stephen Lloyd MP with Poppy Appeal collector George Thornton, and George's daughter, Val SUS-180811-102904001

Last Saturday I did one of my regular community surgeries in the Arndale. It was as busy as ever, with lots of cases to be getting on with.

Afterwards I swung by the three recently opened shops at the new entrance; Next, Fat Face and H&M, and they were packed with shoppers. We really are on the home straight now with the town centre regeneration. Yes the Terminus road building works remain a nightmare but the numerous pedestrians jostling with me as we squeezed by were all very friendly and upbeat.

The rest of the world may be going a bit bonkers at the minute but Eastbourne is bucking the economic trend. I profoundly believe that. Not least as Parliament has been debating the profound challenges so many town centres and retail companies are facing across the UK. Meanwhile, we’re opening a fully re-built £85m two storey shopping centre, seven screen cinema and nine restaurants. Plus Langney Shopping Centre is finally getting a thorough overhaul, and come next summer our new conference area will be finished.

Not forgetting that Little Chelsea was highlighted only a few weeks ago by the national media as being one of the trendiest and hippest independent areas to visit and shop in the south east and beyond. I am incredibly proud of our town and the way we keep pushing on, everyone - residents, local businesses - small and large, Eastbourne Borough Council, our numerous wonderful community groups, the local chamber of commerce - all of us, we roll up our sleeves and muck in, and it shows in the genuinely positive direction Eastbourne is taking. Onwards and upwards!

Women’s Equality Day: In July this year, I thought that an innovative and educational way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote was to ask a school, in this case Willingdon Community School, and their female students if they would be interested in putting forward a number of policies they believed would make a positive difference. Debate them with me and the other students, and then vote for the winning policy. Subsequently I’d take the winning idea to Westminster and try my level best to make it a reality.

I’m delighted the school head, Emily Beer, enthusiastically supported my Suffragette initiative. My thinking was that for the youngsters it was a good way for them to have a glimpse of democracy in action by actually taking part, and with something tangible.

The youngsters were an absolute inspiration, and the policy they chose, by over 75 per cent of the vote, was for a Women’s Equality Day on the annual Spring Bank Holiday. To celebrate all that women have done and will do in the future.

Consequently, working with my colleague Layla Moran MP the Lib Dem Education spokesperson, whose agreed to step up to lead the campaign nationally, we tabled an Early Day Motion calling for a Women’s Equality Day. It’s already got the support from MPs across the political spectrum, and this week we formally launched the campaign in Westminster. The two youngsters who originally came up with the idea, Anna Branson and Hannah Tucker, visited Parliament with a group of their female classmates from Willingdon School, along with their teacher Jo Hardwick. A really successful event, so now Layla will move onto the next stage of a national campaign. Watch this space.

Mr George Thornton: Still doing his poppy collection at 95 years young! It was a good to pop over to the Willingdon BP petrol station the other day and say hello to George Thornton, and his daughter Val. Every year he does his poppy collection outside the garage. Like many others of that heroic generation George fought in the Second World War so for him it really is personal. Colleagues lost, and in adversity lifelong comradeships made. His naval career took in a vast sweep of war actions across many seas and oceans including the bleak, freezing and highly dangerous arctic convoys.

Thank you George for all that you and others did on our behalf; and for still being there every year quietly reminding us with your poppy sales.

Privilege to know you, my friend.

That’s it folks. Have a nice weekend and I hope to see you around town.