Swindon has a proud history of welcoming people from different parts of Britain and the world, and over the years a significant number of people from my homeland of Wales have made our town their home, me included! Last Wednesday, people in Wales and Welsh communities near and far celebrated the life of our patron saint, St David. I was delighted to speak at the Swindon Welsh Society's St David’s Day Dinner on Saturday, which brought a number of Welsh Swindonians together plus guests and friends from other parts of Britain and further afield.
As part of the Great British Spring Clean, I took part in two local litter picks at the weekend in Westlea and Wroughton. It was encouraging to see people in both local communities taking pride in their surroundings and to work together with them in this great big tidy up. There were many other litter picks taking place in Swindon too, involving hundreds of residents doing their bit to make a difference. A big thank you to everyone for their hard work and commitment.
I am pleased to see that plans have moved a step closer to build a multi-million-pound Safety Centre in an area of Wroughton Airfield. Aimed at people of all ages, the new centre has been designed to teach visitors more about the most common causes of accidents and fires. There will also be a health zone focusing on first aid, healthy eating, safe money handling and e-safety, a realistic road safety scenario for pedestrian, cycle, motorcycle and vehicles and a crime zone that will encourage visitors to consider the consequences of their actions.
A total of £2.4m has been awarded to this local project from the Government’s Transformation fund, following a successful bid by Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service. A full planning application has been submitted to the council and subject to obtaining planning approval, it is expected that work on the new Safety Centre will begin this July.
I am glad that the Government has introduced tougher penalties for those who use their mobile phones whilst driving. Like many, I have been following a local case in the Adver where 24-year-old Lewis Stratford, who was arguing with his girlfriend on his mobile phone, crashed head-on with another vehicle killing 28 -year-old Gavin Roberts from Swindon. Mr Roberts' partner, Meg Williamson, decided to meet the other driver as part of a restorative justice programme. Where the victim decides it is appropriate, restorative justice can help in their healing process and can also help offenders learn by facing directly up to the consequences of their actions. Ms Williamson has said that she no longer feels angry about the death of her boyfriend and wanted to use her grief and pain to prevent similar tragedies happening again. Her bravery is remarkable indeed.
The message is simple and clear: don't get distracted by your mobile phone while driving. It may seem innocent, but holding and using your phone at the wheel risks serious injury and even death to you, your passengers and other road users. Having met many families of victims of dangerous driving, I have at least some idea of the pain and suffering that they go through.
Finally, I would like to congratulate former Swindon College Apprentice, Lee Flanagan, who has been named in the prestigious Centrica Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer list. Lee set up the Swindon-based plumbing and heating company CentraHeat in 2011. Since then, the business has continued to go from strength to strength, with Lee choosing to employ apprentices through his former college.