There’s now just one week until Christmas, and Swindon is looking more festive by the day! The lights in Old Town are looking fantastic this year, too. The reality for me and most MPs is that we carry on working in our constituencies right up until the big day, making visits to organisations and meeting residents. As ever, my diary is looking very busy!
Over the last few weeks, one of the things I have enjoyed most is visiting local schools to talk to students about my work as an MP. These visits form part of Parliament Week, which is an annual programme of activities and events designed to inform, inspire and connect people all over the UK with democracy and the world of politics.
Parliament Week is a great opportunity for organisations here in South Swindon to engage their audiences or members in this national programme, and I always try and add my voice to this exciting project. Last Friday, I had a really good Q&A session with pupils from Westlea Primary School. My thanks to all the staff at the schools who have hosted me so far. I am very much looking forward to visiting more schools in the New Year.
On the subject of schools, I was quite overwhelmed by the number of local pupils who sent me their Christmas card designs for the competition I launched a few months ago. There were so many excellent entries that I spent quite some time choosing a winner! I was delighted to present a certificate to the winning pupil at Brookfield Primary School on Monday.
Last Saturday, I was at the Toothill Community Centre with the Toothill Big Local who provide support and improve their community through the use of grant funding from the National Lottery Fund. It was great have a cup of tea and a chat with local residents who are so passionate about improving their local area.
For those who haven’t heard about Big Local, it’s an exciting opportunity for residents in 150 areas around England to use at least £1m to make a massive and lasting positive difference to their communities.
Big Local is run by Local Trust, which is working with £200m from the Big Lottery Fund and a range of partners providing expert advice and support for residents. Over the last ten years, Toothill in Swindon has been awarded £1 million to spend, and I pay tribute to their work and dedication.
I was also in Wroughton on Saturday to host another advice surgery outside Ellendune Community Centre, alongside Cllr Cathy Martyn. We weren’t very lucky with the weather, but we enjoyed listening to the concerns of some new and familiar faces from the local area.
All of my upcoming surgeries are now advertised on the ‘surgeries’ page at www.robertbuckland.co.uk. I’ve also started posting all upcoming surgeries on social media, so please keep an eye out on Facebook and Twitter. As ever, you can always phone my office or drop me an email for more information or if you don’t have access to the internet.
As this year comes to a close and the festivities draw ever closer, let us all spare a thought for those who are ill or alone, and remember those who are not so fortunate to be surrounded by their loved ones. A simple act like a phone call or a visit can make all the difference.
I recently hosted a meeting at my constituency office with members of a group called the Swindon Older People's Forum, which was set up to promote the welfare and interests of older people in the local area. Loneliness was one of the key issued discussed at the meeting.
As a community, we all have a responsibility to identify people with care needs such as loneliness, and provide support to improve their health and wellbeing. There is no single solution that can tackle loneliness, which is why having a range of solutions is very useful.
I’ll shortly be doing a piece on my website and social media to raise awareness and show my support for a very important campaign called “No one should have no one at Christmas”, which has been set up by the charity Age UK. The campaign aims to raise awareness and to tackle the heart-breaking fact that the festive season will be a very lonely time of year for many older people.
I’ve worked with Age UK on a number of occasions during my time as a Member of Parliament. In the summer, I went to an ‘Age Champions’ gathering alongside other MP’s to discuss many of the issues affecting people in later life from those who are experiencing them, and what government and communities can do in coming years to make the UK and South Swindon a better place to grow older.
At some stage, many of us will rely on the kind of support that is offered by charities like Age UK, and I will continue to do all that I can to help elderly residents in my constituency.
The Department of Health has supported the development of a 'digital toolkit' for local commissioners, developed by the Campaign to End Loneliness, to support them in understanding and commissioning services to tackle loneliness and social isolation in their communities.
The Government has also funded the Social Care Institute for Excellence to develop and run the Prevention Library, which includes examples of how to prevent, reduce or delay people's care and support needs from deteriorating. Local authorities can learn from emerging practice, and exchange ideas and experience of the impact that information, advice and befriending services can have on tackling loneliness.
I am also pleased that the Government is integrating and improving health and social care, and local authorities will be given greater powers so they can raise revenue for adult social care, supported by an extra £1.5 billion and an improved Better Care Fund.
Lastly, I would like to use this opportunity to thank Patsy Moloney and all volunteers at the Christmas Care Shelter in Swindon, which continues to provide invaluable support for the homeless and lonely, as well as temporary shelter over Christmas. The shelter is based at the Queens Drive Methodist Church on Whitbourne Avenue over the festive period, and donations like food and bedding are always very welcome. If you have something that you would like to donate, you can contact my office or Patsy on 01793 642368.