Robert's Weekly Article - 24th April 2018

In a busy and crowded room at Lawn Community Centre on Friday, I hosted my second Loneliness Summit with Swindon Seniors Forum.

I was delighted to see so many people attend the event, representing key local organisations from different sectors, as well as those from the many excellent charities and local organisations we have here in Swindon.

Key speakers included Seema Kennedy MP, Co-chair of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. Seema spoke movingly about how she had looked forward to motherhood and had expected to find it a period of love, joy and excitement, but had instead found herself isolated following the birth of her son. This was one of the reasons why along with our Parliamentary colleague, the late Jo Cox, Seema set up a National Commission on Loneliness.

Following Jo’s appalling murder, Seema has been even more determined to continue this work with MPs from other parties, looking at what action we can take to combat loneliness.  Many of us will come across people whose mental and physical health are suffering because they are lonely.  The need for people to be referred to support services is clear, which is why we can do more to link up our local services, from GP surgeries to organisations like Swindon Circles, which offers befriending support for a growing number of older people locally.

Sue Dunmore from Swindon Volunteers Centre spoke at the event about how volunteering can also help to tackle loneliness.  Swindon Volunteers have volunteers from the age of 8 years old to those in their eighties and offer a wide range of volunteering opportunities. 

Sarah Bird from Timebanking UK also spoke about the health and wellbeing impact of timebanking and how it can increase self-esteem, combat loneliness and isolation and help those taking part to contribute to their local communities.  Timebanking is a means of exchange used to organise people and organisations around a purpose, where time is the principal currency.  For every hour participants ‘deposit’ in a timebank, perhaps by giving practical help and support to others, they are able to ‘withdraw’ equivalent support in time when they themselves are in need.

Finally, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, David Liddington MP, provided an update on the work of Tracey Crouch MP, the new Government Minister for Loneliness. Tracey is coordinating a Cross Ministerial Task Force who are assembling a body of evidence to form a policy on loneliness.

At the end of the event, a question and answer panel with key local organisations provided updates on work taking place across the town to combat loneliness and future ideas, including a directory of services and a community timetable. I would like to thank Swindon Seniors Forum for all of their hard work organising the event and also everyone who attended the event. Whilst we will never totally eradicate the issue of loneliness, I am pleased that we have good partnerships working across the system to tackle this issue and I will continue to do all I can to support this work.

On Friday evening, I attended a meeting at Christ Church Community Centre with Old Town residents. Following reports of drug paraphernalia being found by some local residents, Parish Councillor Nick Burns-Howell and other local representatives provided residents with updates after contacting the Leader of the Council and the local policing team.  It is reassuring that Swindon Borough Council have such a quick turnaround and aim to remove all needles within four hours of being reported.  This can be done by ringing 01793 445501 or in person, by visiting Customer Services, Wat Tyler House, Beckhampton Street, or online I would encourage anyone concerned that drug activity is taking place to report incidents as and when they occur. This will enable Wiltshire Police to build up a picture of any areas where there may be a problem.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Eco Fest at Savernake Street Social Hall on Sunday.  The event provided visitors with a variety of useful information – all with an eco-theme.   I am particularly keen on the Bee Roadzz project, which is all about supporting our pollinators, who are so vital to life on earth.  Kent Road residents are working together to make their back gardens part of this, and my own garden is proving a haven for bees as they start their important work.  My thanks to the Eastcott Community Organisation and the other groups who worked together to make the day such a success.